Under Puritan law, adultery was a capital crime. Although only a few adulterers were hanged, they were frequently taken to court, and even married couples sometimes found themselves facing the Salem and Ipswich Courts for suspicion of the bride being pregnant on her wedding day:
- Mathew Stanley, July 1649 “for drawing away the affections of the Daughter of John Tarbox, his wife, without libertie first obtayned of her parents–fined 50s. or to be whipped for fornication, but fine to be remitted if they marry together.”
- Danyell Kellum and his wife Mary, fined September, 1650, 20 shillings “for fornication, a child fully grown, in the opinion of the women then present, having been bom twenty-eight weeks after their marriage.”
- Job Bishop of Ipswich presented January 26, 1651, “for fornication, his wife being delivered of a child twenty weeks after their marriage.“
- John Gilman, “now of Ipswich, presented January 26, 1651, for unlawful enticing of Hanna Gross, daughter of the widow Cross, using means to draw her affections contrary to the minds of her mother.”
- Henry Cowes and wife Charity were fined 40 shillings for “fornication before marriage.”
When Ipswich resident Sarah Roe had an affair with Joseph Leigh in 1673 while her husband was away at sea, their neighbors testified in court against them. The two were found guilty of “unlawful familiarity” and severely punished:
Court held at Ipswich, Mar. 25, 1673
From the Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts Vol. V
Judges: Mr. Bradstreet, Mr. Symonds, Major Denison and Major Hathorne.
Jury of trials: Lt. Appleton, Daniell Warner, Symon Tompson, John Addams, Tho. Burnam, Trist. Coffin, Win. Chandler, Tho. Hale, Jo. Pearson, Sam. Platts, Ezek. Mighill and John How.
Writ: William Row v. John Leigh; for insinuating dalliance and too much familiarity with his wife, drawing away her affections from her husband, to the great detriment both in his estate and the comfort of his life.
- Mary Sparke, (the wife of Taverner John Sparke), deposed that being at William Rowe’s house, together with Thomas Day and his wife one Sabbath day at night, there arose a discourse between us about fishing, and some of them asking him whether he intended to go fishing. He answered that he had intended not to go out of the town this winter although he said he had an invitation by a letter from a friend to go to the Isle of Shoals to split fish by the month.
- Gov. Samuel Graves and Grace Graves testified that their sister, the mother of Sarah Roe, consented to the match of her daughter Sarah with Roe, “because we had Intelligence from ye Island where he lived that he was a man of a Good Carriage, of a Good estate, able to maintain a wife, as also that he was very Industrious to improve his estate. Sarah Roe at first was unwilling to accept, but at his second coming, distance of time betwixt the match, went on to our apprehension with mutual satisfaction. But since the business fell out about John Lee accompanying her, we know that he hath been much distressed in his spirit. He told us that when he first married Sarah, she cared cared well to her husband, till John Lee frequented the House, being “her Company when her husband was abroad a fishing.” Speaking of her husband Wm Roe, John Leigh spoke of him in a deriding way, with disparagement of his person. Sarah answered,” Well why is he not as other men? If you had been a sea man as long as he, you would have had wrinkles in your forehead as well as he.”
- Elizabeth Hunt, aged about thirty-six years, deposed that Sarah Roe, being at deponent’s house the Monday before her marriage, said what she had said against Wm. Roe was in jest, for she loved him better than any man in the world, and she said that Sarah would have loved her husband well enough if John Leigh had not kept her company after she came from the Shoals.
- Mary Fullar, wife of James Fullar, deposed that she had heard Sarah’s Aunt Peettar wish her to have a care what she did, and not to marry him if she did not love him. She also told her she had better break of it now than afterwards if she could not love him, for that would be a disgrace to herself and to all her friends too. “Do not you fear, saith Sarah, I love him well enough.”
Sworn in court, June 17, 1673.
Sarah Roe’s defence: “that she was guilty of wanton and idle dalliance to her shame and sorrow; that she never heard of such words as they attributed to her; that she had but one witness whereas in some cases three are necessary to prove one guilty, referring to Deut. 19 : 15, etc.”
John Leigh’s answer to a complaint made against him by Will. Row, for unlawful familiarity with his wife: “that the woman was a near neighbor to him for many years while she lived at Mr. Hubberd’s and he knew her well and “it may be as some have supposed had some thoughts of matching with her, but providence ordering things otherwise;” that he had exceeded the bounds of prudence, but that he tried to avoid her….that the stories circulated have been such as far better men than he would find it hard to controvert, being imaginary and circumstantial; that he never violated her chastity, etc.”
Verdict in the case of Wm. Row v. John Leigh: For the Plaintiff
Sarah Row, for unlawful familiarity with John Leigh, and abusing her husband, was sentenced to the house of correction for one month, and to suffer the discipline thereof according to law, which the keeper is required to execute, and on the next lecture day to stand all the time of the meeting from the last bell ringing in the meeting house at Ipswich, on a high place where the master of the house of correction shall appoint, in open view of the congregation with a fair white paper written in fair capital letters FOR MY BAUDISH CARRIAGE, open also to the view of the congregation. She should also give bond of £30 not to abide in the company of John Leigh.
John Leigh, complained of for unlawful familiarity with Sarah Row, was sentenced for his great offence to be severely whipped, to pay a fine of £5, to be bound to good behavior, and not to come in company with Sarah Row.
Read the entire story in the Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts (Vol. 5), published 1916.