Legal case: Plaine executed; New Haven, 1646

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"a monster in human shape"

The New Haven Colony court executed William Plaine (or Plane), one of the original settlers of the town of Guilford.[1]


In 1639, Plaine had been a signer of the Covenant in which the first Guilford settlers, while still aboard ship bound for New England, promised, "the Lord assisting," to be helpful to each other "in every common work, according to every man's ability and as need shall require." They had also promised "not to desert ... each other," without the consent of the majority of the signers. The organization and membership of the church was left until actual settlement. Plaine was assigned a home lot of two acres, and, in 1645, was appointed by the Town Council to build the dam for the Town Mill, and to inspect chimneys as a fire precaution-responsibilities suggesting he was a trusted resident of Guilford. But the following year various charges were brought against him.

The Charges

According to John Winthrop, the charges were that Plaine, though "a married man ... had committed sodomy with two persons in England," and "had corrupted a great part of the youth of Guilford by masturbations ... above a hundred times." When asked about such "filthy practice," Plaine "did insinuate seeds of atheism, questioning whether there was a God."

The Punishment

Winthrop reported in his journal that Governor Eaton of the New Haven Colony had written to the governor of the Massachusetts Colony seeking the magistrates' and church elders' advice about Plaine's punishment. All agreed that he "ought to die," giving different reasons "from the word of God." Winthrop added: "indeed it was horrendum facinus [a dreadful crime], and he a monster in human shape ... , and it tended to the frustrating of the ordinance of marriage and the hindering the generation of mankind." Winthrop's reasons for considering Plaine's activities so wicked, their alleged anti-marriage, anti-procreative effects, summarized two main Puritan objections to sodomy.

Plaine's alleged "questioning whether there was a God," and his unrepentant sexual activity, suggests an active defiance of basic Puritan beliefs and laws.

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  1. Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), pp.90-91, citing: Winthrop, History, vol. 2, p. 324. Winthrop gives the year of Plaine's execution as 1646; Smith (below) says it was "about 1648." Research Request: It would be useful to know of any further documentation of this execution in New Haven or other records. The problem in exactly dating and documenting this execution suggests there may be other executions, severe punishments, or cases which are, so far, unknown. Also see Bernard Christian Steiner, A History of the Plantation of Menukatuck, and of the Original Town of Guilford, Connecticut (Baltimore: Steiner, 1897), pp. 25, 45, 53, 86, 227, 260; Ralph D. Smith, 'T'he History of Guilford, Connecticut from its First Settlement in 1636. From the Manuscripts (Albany: J. Munsell, 1817), pp. 11-12, 15.

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