Legal case: S. Norman, M. Hammon; Plymouth, March 6, 1649

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"Lewd behavior . . . upon a bed"

Plymouth Court records included the accusation against two women, Sara Norman and Mary Hammon (or Hammond):

We present [charge] the wife of Hugh Norman, and Mary Hammon, both of Yarmouth, for lewd behavior each with [the] other upon a bed.... [1]


Research by J. R. Roberts in the Plymouth manuscript records provides background information on Norman and Hammon. At the time of the above charges Mary Hammon was fifteen years old, and recently married. Sara Norman's age is unknown, but she was apparently somewhat older, as she had been married in 1639. About the time of the court's first charge, 1649, Hugh Norman, Sara's husband, deserted his wife and children.


A marginal note in the Plymouth court record of March 6, 1649 reported that Mary Hammon was "cleared with admonition" - perhaps because of her youth. Sara Norman's case was evidently held over for later judgment.


A year after the first charge, on March 6, 1650, Sara Norman was cited again in the Plymouth court records, this time accused of "unclean practices" with a male, Teage Joanes. This charge was subsequently dropped, when her accusor pleaded guilty of perjury (see 1649, Oct. 29).


On October 2, 1650, the records report the outcome of the original charge against Sara Norman. The court punished her with a warning, and asked her to acknowledge publicly her "unchaste behavior" with Mary Hammon. This punishment, though publicly humiliating, was lenient compared to the death penalty imposed for male-male "sodomy."


Patriarchal custom was evident in the fact that court records in this case referred to the "wife of Hugh Norman"; although Sara Norman was publicly charged with a serious crime, her whole name was used only once in the documents.


The court record of 1650 said:

Whereas the wife of Hugh Norman, of Yarmouth, hath stood presented [in] divers Courts for misdemeanor and lewd behavior with Mary Hammon upon a bed, with divers lascivious speeches by her also spoken, but she could not appear by reason of some hindrances unto this Court, the said Court have therefore sentenced her, the said wife of Hugh Norman, for her wild behavior in the aforesaid particulars, to make a public acknowledgment, so far as conveniently may be, of her unchaste behavior, and have also warned her to take heed of such carriages for the future, lest her former carriage come in remembrance against her to make her punishment the greater.


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References

  1. Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), p. 92-93, citing Shurtleff, Plymouth, vol. 2, pp. 137, 148, 163, and J. R. Roberts, .. 'leude behaviour each with other upon a bed': The Case of Sarah Norman and Mary Hammond," Sinister Wisdom, no. 14 (Summer 1980).
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