Early Connecticut Laws (1650)
Bill Long 7/31/09
Lying, Profane Swearing, Fornication and Other Vices
The Code is careful to make a distinction between profane swearing and blasphemy. The former is committed by a person who
"shall sweare rashly and vanely, either by the holy name of God or any other oath, and shall sinfully and wickedly curse any.."
"hee shall forfeitt to the common treasure, for every such severe offence, ten shillings..."
We have, however, in the section under "capital" crimes, the following, relating to blasphemy:
"If any person shall blaspheme the name of God the father, Sonne or holy Ghost, with direct, express, presumptuous or highhanded blasphemy, or shall curse in the like manner, hee shall bee put to death. Lev. 24:15, 16."
Since the "cost" of making this mistake is quite significant, one would hope that the distinction between profane swearing and blasphemy was crystal clear to the people...Hm.. why didn't the Code give some examples?
Lying and "Contempt" for God's Word
What about the "open contempt of God's word?" This subject is discussed under the "ecclesiastical" heading. The lengthy preamble talks about the essential importance to the preacher for the health of all Christian states. It then provides the "aw:
"That is (if) any christian, so called, within this jurissdiction, shall contemptuously beare himselfe towards the word preached, or the messengers that are called to dispense the same in any congregation...either by interrupting him in preaching, or by charging him falsely with an error, ...(every such person) for the first scandall be convented and reproved openly, by the magistrates, at some lecture...
But if it happened a second time, worse things follows:
"they shall either pay five pounds to the publique treasure, or stand two houres openly, uppon a block or stoole foure foott high, uppon a lecture day, with a paper fixed on his breast written with capital letters, AN OPEN AND OBSTINATE CONTEMNER OF GODS HOLY ORDINANCES..."
Now you can see where Nathanial Hawthorn got his ideas...
Well, what about lying? Is it just some unfortunate situation in life or is there some financial or other punishment that attends it?
"LYINGE. Whereas truth in words, as well as in actions, is required of all men, especially, of christians,...(he) who shall wittingly and willingly, make or publish any lye, which may bee pernicious to the publique weal, or tending to the dammage or injury of any perticular person...such persons shall be fyned for the first offence, ten shillings, or if the party be unable to pay the same, then to bee sett in the stocks so long as the said courte or magistrate shall appointe.."
We would think that sexual sins, so severe in the mind of many Christians today, would have been punished with great severity. Inded, the Code will distinguish between fornication and adultery, but fornication alone is my interest now. What does the Court order?
"That if any man shall committ fornication, with any single woman, they shall bee punished, either by injoyning to marriage, or fyne, or corporall punnishment, or all, or any these, as the Courte or magistrates shall appoint, most agreeable to the word of God."
Pretty high view of marriage, don't you think?
On Idleness and Gaming
The Code also has to say some things on these subjects. The object of its concern for "gaming" has to do with playing, of all things, "shuffle board." Apparently it was a pretty engaging and distracting game. Here are the words:
Uppon complaint of great disorder, by the use of the game called shuffle board (can't you just imagine this in homes for seniors?)...whereby much precious time is spent unfruitfully, and much waste of wyne and beare occasioned...
a fine of twenty shillings shall be levied on the operator of the gaming establishment and five shillings on the players. I guess I would really like to know more about this game...
But this is all part of the Code's condemnation of idleness. One of the most "overbroad" (to use current legal terminology) categores of law in this Code, idleness is defined as spending time "idlely or unprofitably." Especially singled out are those that are "common coasters, unproffitable fowlers, and tobacko takers." It would be nice to know who exactly these people are. Perhaps they spend their evenings playing shuffle board. In any case, the penalty levied on idle people is fully in the discretion of the court.
Let's turn now to a consideration of capital crimes and one other subject.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long