1677:The sodomy trial of Nicholas Sension of Windsor, Connecticut, reveals that Sension has been open about his desire for men for more than 30 years.|
Acts v. Identity
Looking at historical evidence of homosexual behavior, it is hard to figure out how people in the past understood and interpreted same-sex sexuality. In New England, for example, laws and religious thinkers condemned many different kinds of sexual activity (both heterosexual and homosexual) as sinful acts, but it is not clear whether people who engaged in sexual activity with people of the same sex were considered to be a different kind of person - like a "gay man" or a "lesbian" in modern society. It is also unclear whether all members of the society shared the official attitude toward homosexuality expressed by harsh anti-sodomy laws.
The 1677 sodomy trial of Nicholas Sension offers some interesting clues as to popular attitudes toward and perceptions of homosexual activities in colonial society. Historian Richard Godbeer points out that Sension had been open about his desire for other men for many years, and had not faced any serious punishment for his behavior despite his notoriety. His neighbors who testified in court had resisted his advances, but hadn't felt the need to report him to the authorities. Godbeer notes that witnesses at the trial also used language which might suggest that they understood Sension to be a different kind of person who was attracted to other men.