Sodomy Law: Pennsylvania, May 31, 1718

Death for sodomy and buggery

The death penalty for "sodomy and buggery" was reinstated in Pennsylvania, revising the colony's law of 1706. This revision brought Pennsylvania law into conformity with English statute and common law.(1)

The new statute's reference to "any person or persons" who committed "sodomy or buggery" theoretically allowed female-female relations to be included, though, in practice, "sodomy" probably meant intercourse between men, or possibly, between a man and woman.

The law of 1718 provided death for thirteen crimes: (1) treason, (2) murder, (3) manslaughter by stabbing, (4) serious maiming, (5) highway robbery, (6) burglary, (7) arson, (8) sodomy, (9) buggery, (10) rape, (11) concealing the death of a bastard child, (12) advising the killing of a bastard child, and (13) witchcraft.

The sodomy provision read:

... if any person or persons shall commit sodomy or buggery, or rape, or robbery ... he or they ... shall suffer as felons, according to the tenor, direction, form and effect of the several statutes in such cases respectively made and practiced in Great Britain, any act or law of this province to the contrary in anywise notwithstanding.

This law remained in effect until 1786 when, after the Revolution, Pennsylvania legislators were the first to revoke the death penalty for sodomy.(2) 



  1. Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), p. 130, citing Mitchell and Flanders, vol. 3, p. 202; Barnes, Evolution, pp. 38-39.
  2. Mitchell and Flanders, vol. 3, p. 281.