Maybe Let’s Not Read More Puritans

Maybe Let’s Not Read More Puritans January 19, 2021

Take a moment to look at this tweet exchange:

Scottie Crawford says he wishes “more people would read more Puritans and church Fathers.” Religious reformer Jo Luehmann responds with “SERIOUSLY? Just war theory cool with you? Dancing as sinful? Demonizing of indigenous people? All cool with you? Hmmk.” Luehmann has a point.

But for a quick moment, let’s consider Crawford’s call. Let’s read some more Puritans. We’ll start with the trial of George Spencer.

I’m going to pull directly from Wikipedia here, but this story can be found elsewhere as well:

George Spencer is described as an ugly, balding servant with a glass eye. He is believed to have lived for a time in Boston and while there was found guilty of receiving stolen goods. His punishment was a flogging. He then moved to the New Haven Colony, and continued to be a “habitual troublemaker”. He was open about his lack of faith, never praying in the years of being in Connecticut and only reading the Bible when forced to by his master.

When a sow gave birth to a malformed, one-eyed piglet it was considered a manifestation of God’s proof of Spencer’s sins. Spencer was arrested, and the Puritan authorities deemed the birth a work of God. They believed that this was irrefutable evidence that an act of bestiality had taken place. He was charged with “prophane, atheistical carriage, in unfaithfulness and stubbornness to his master, a course of notorious lying, filthiness, scoffing at the ordinances, ways and people of God”.

Is this the kind of thing Crawford wants us to read?

Look, here’s more!

Having witnessed a repentant child molester being whipped for his crime Spencer believed that his best option was to confess. On the realisation that this might lead to a death sentence he retracted his statement. He repeated this confession and retraction again, trying to find the best solution to his situation.

When the trial began the magistrates knew the necessity of having two witnesses to the crime. They used Spencer’s retracted confessions as one witness and the stillborn piglet as the other, ruling that this was sufficient to determine his guilt. On April 8, 1642, the sow was put to death by the sword and Spencer was hanged.

Yeah that’s not great.

This two witnesses thing is wild. Spencer’s retracted confessions were one witness … and the piglet was the other?? So they hung him. Just like that.

But maybe it’s an anomaly. Right? I mean if Crawford wants us to spend more time reading the Puritans,  this can’t be all that representative. Let’s try another. Let’s look at the trial of Thomas Hogg.

[Hogg] was considered a liar and a thief, and his appearance offended his neighbours. Women of various social positions … reported his indecency, as he allowed his “filthy nakedness” (penis and scrotum) to show through his breeches. Hogg, who suffered from a painful inguinal hernia, argued that his indecency was not intentional.

[Hogg] was already awaiting trial for theft, dishonesty and indecent exposure when he was brought up on charges of bestiality, after a sow gave birth to two piglets that resembled him.

This sounds … scientific.

Hogg’s mistress, Mrs. Lamberton, found the birth to be a sign from God, and told the authorities that one of the “monsters” had “a fair and white skinned and head, as Thomas Hogg is”, and the other “a head like a child’s and one eye like him, the bigger on the right side, as if God would describe the party, with the description of the instrument of bestyalie.”

Theophilus Eaton, governor of the colony, and his deputy brought Hogg to a barnyard where the crime was supposed to have taken place. They ordered him to scratch the sow under her ear, after which “there appeared a working of lust in the sow, insomuch that she powred out seede before them.” Hogg was then ordered to scratch another sow, but she was not stimulated.

Yep, very scientific.

The governor and deputy governor were frustrated that, despite their experiment, Hogg denied the charges. Without the confession, the “impudent liar” could not be hanged because the requirement of two witnesses could not be met. Instead, he was convicted of lying and stealing, for which he was severely whipped and incarcerated. While imprisoned, Hogg was kept on a “mean diet and hard labor, that his lusts not be fed.”


This “two witnesses” thing is wild. Literally, one of the witnesses is the pig.

Oh, and check this out:

There’s … an important (and sad) overlap here for women who bore disabled babies or deformed, stillborn fetuses. Often when a woman delivered such a “monster,” they were assumed to have either consorted with the devil or had been impregnated by an animal, and in either case, sometimes accused of witchcraft.


Maybe let’s not read more Puritans.

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