I found 230 sodomy cases using a keyword search of “sodomy” in the electronic database 19th Century U.S. Newspapers, produced by Cengage Learning, a unit of Gale. The Cengage database covers the entire 19th century and includes newspapers from throughout the United States, but its coverage is necessarily selective, not comprehensive. The database does, however, allow keyword searching and is an excellent tool for this type of research.

Teachers may want to assign students to do further research on these cases in newspapers available locally.

OutHistory requests that readers report additional findings to 

The information presented in this exhibit is sorted chronologically, the earliest cases first. The database spreadsheet has the following columns:

(A) date of incident (or date of newspaper issue, if incident date is unknown),

(B) name of plaintiff,

(C) place of incident,

(D) newspaper title,

(E) date of newspaper issue,

(F) crime charged (only “sodomy” is included),

(G) name of the court hearing the case (if known), and

(H) selected text quoted from the newspaper. This final column is at times very brief, if only the personal name and the crime were reported by the newspaper. 

In most cases, a charge of “sodomy” means sexual contact between two men. When it is clear from the newspaper coverage that the contact was between a man and a child, the crime appears as “sodomy (pedophilia).” When the crime clearly involved a man and an animal, it appears as “sodomy (bestiality).” In some cases, it cannot be determined from the newspaper if the case involved a child or an animal (or for that matter, a man and a woman). Further research will be necessary to determine the exact nature of the crime charged.

The information on the spreadsheet has been taken directly from the newspaper listing, and so it may not be accurate. When a personal name appears in an article or series of articles with multiple spellings, the most likely spelling has been chosen as the entry form. The alternate forms appear in the text column, usually followed by [sic], and researchers should be prepared to search in other sources under those spellings as well.

In the U.S. legal system, only convictions that were appealed to a higher court appeared regularly in published court reports. Most of the cases listed on this spreadsheet were probably never appealed. Further information might be found in local newspapers, police reports, or many of the resources found in local historical societies.

For related material, see: