Legal Case: Clark v. Winn, North Carolina, March, 1718
Attempted sodomy charge as libel
In an early case involving an accusation of attempted sodomy, John Clark charged William and Edward Winn with libeling him by charging him with that act.(1)
In his formal charge against William Winn (or Wynn), in the North Carolina General Court, John Clark, Esquire, declared that he (Clark) was "a good, honest, Chaste, and faithful Subject of our Sovereign Lord the King." Clark had "always from his Nativity . . . behaved himself with a good Fame, Character and Gesture." He had "been of a Good and Chaste life . . . among his Neighbors." He had "always lived unsuspected, unstain'd and without blemish of any matter of Incontinence, unchastity, Sodomy, Buggery, or any Such Nauseous, Scandalous or Notorious crime."(2)
Behaving himself so well, Clark had not only long enjoyed the "Esteem" of his neighbors, but had "got much benefit and advantage by Trading and Merchandizing with them." And by "living an honest, Chaste and Vertuous Life for many years past" Clark had "been thought worthy" by the Governor, Chief Officers, and Magistrates to be employed in "Posts of very Considerable Trust and Credit," Captain of a militia company and justice of the peace in Bath County. Clark still acted as an officer of justice. His neighbors had also chosen him as their representative in the colonial Assembly.
Clark charged that Winn's "long continued" and premeditated "Wicked malice" had been intended to injure Clark in his "good Name, Fame, Credit, Trade, Reputation, and Esteem among his Neighbors," the governor and other officers, and to bring Clark "into utter disgrace, Shame, and Infamy among them, and all other good, honest and lawful people."(3)
Clark charged, specifically, that Winn, on March 20, 1716, had "falsely and Maliciously, in the presence and hearing of divers good and honest Subjects," uttered "Scandalous, malicious, wicked and most injurious words" against him. Winn had followed Clark, "with a loud voice," saying that he, Clark, "would have Buggered me, and use[d] divers ways to seduce and persuade me to it." Winn had also said "divers other times, without any Provocation," that Clark was a "nasty fellow, and used his Endeavor [tried] to Bugger me," several times for many months past. Winn had also publicly declared that Clark "wanted to bugger my brother and I, and often persuaded me to let him do it."
Winn's malicious words had not only brought Clark into "great Disgrace, Trouble, Shame, Scandal, Injury, Scorn, [and] hatred amongst his Neighbors," the governor, chief officers, magistrates, and others, but had "Damnify'd" and hurt Clark "in his Trade and Commerce." Winn's charges had also brought Clark
into very Great and apparent Dangers of Prosecution . . . for that most Notorious abominable, Odious, Shameful, and most hated Sins of Buggery and Sodomy, whereby he may undergo the disgrace and trouble of ... Imprisonment, Trial for his Life, and the Danger of losing all his Estate."
Clark had also been forced, he said, to "Expend great Sums of money" to defend "his Reputation and Credit." Clark repeated that he was "much Damnify'd" and had sustained damages of "Two hundred pounds Sterling," for which he was bringing suit against Winn.(4)
William Winn's brother, Edward, was also charged by Clark, according to the same form, with having said on March 20, 1716, that Clark "had Buggered me," and that Clark "would have Buggered me," and had used "divers ways and means to Seduce and persuade me to it."
Clark also charged Edward Winn with having publicly declared that he (Clark) "wanted to Bugger my Brother and I," had often tried to persuade Edward Winn "to let him do it," and had "endeavored [tried] Several others (meaning young men in the neighborhood)." Clark also claimed two hundred pounds damages from Edward Winn.
A lawyer for the Winn brothers asked that his clients be allowed to answer the charges at the next court session, in July. Unfortunately, no further records of this case are known to exist.(5)
- Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), p. 128-130, citing Wm. S. Price, Jr., ed., assisted by Ruth Clow, Langston and Donna Holmes Goswick, The Colonial Records of North Carolina (Second Series). Volume V. North Carolina Higher-Court Minutes 1709-1723 (Raleigh, N.C.: Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, 1974), pp. 16466. Katz thanks Stephen W. Foster for informing him of this document and furnishing a photocopy.
- Price, p. 164.
- Price, p. 165.
- Price, p. 165.
- Price, p. 166.