10/15/13 - the pig-man hunts of new haven

In today's selection -- sexual mores have changed significantly through time and across cultures. In New England in the early 1600s, the age of consent was ten (and this age of consent remained true in some U.S. states until the late 1800s), and one of the concerns of the populace was guarding against "men secretly in league with the Devil to impregnate barnyard animals":

"You've heard of the witch hunts in Salem, but I'm guessing you're not as familiar with the pig-man hunts of New Haven. The most troubling sex fiends of those days weren't pedophiles (the age of consent in the colonies was ten, if that tells you anything) but men secretly in league with the Devil to impregnate barnyard animals. The fear was that the resulting malevolent offspring (called 'prodigies' -- my, how the meaning of that word has changed over time) would silently infiltrate the fledgling America and muck it all up with evil for the God-fearing folk. The settlers had gotten this strange idea from the teachings of the violently prudish medieval scholar Thomas Aquinas, who coined the term 'prodigy' to refer to any hybrid creature sprung from the loins of another species but borne of human seed. According to him, prodigies could also be conceived through sex with atheists, but it seems there were far fewer of those milling about the colonies than solicitous swine.

"It's unclear if any of the early Americans I'm about to de­scribe were what today's sexologists would call 'zoophiles,' indi­viduals who are more attracted to nonhuman animals than to human ones. They may have merely used members of other spe­cies as surrogates for human partners in obtaining sexual gratifi­cation (as half of all 'farm-bred' adolescent males have done, according to Alfred Kinsey in 1948), or they could have been falsely accused of such acts altogether. Yet some modern scien­tists believe that zoophilia is a genuine sexual orientation repre­sented by as much as a full 1 percent of the human population. Just as it's impossible for nonzoophiles to become aroused by the steaming, mottled member of a Clydesdale ..., 'true zoophiles' can't get (easily) turned on by human beings. One such man -- a physician from suburbia, incidentally -- could only consummate his mar­riage to a woman by closing his eyes and imagining his new bride as a horse. Strangely enough, the marriage didn't last.

"Centuries ago in the newfound colony of Plymouth, zoophilia was obviously not a known sexual orientation (again, the psycho-sexual construct of an 'orientation' wouldn't appear until the late nineteenth century). But the hysteria over Satan's prodigal litters reached dramatic heights with the 1642 trial of a sixteen-year-old boy named Thomas Granger. This randy adolescent had been indicted for taking indecent liberties with what seems an entire stable full of animals, including 'a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey.' I realize the turkey part is a bit distracting (and how one goes about having sex with a large clawed bird is better left unexamined), but even more remark­able is the legal diligence and sobriety with which this case was prosecuted.

"There was little question in these righteous minds that the boy should be dispatched to the flames for his egregious viola­tions of natural law, but there was confusion on the bench over which sheep, exactly, he'd been defiling, and therefore which of them should be killed and which of them spared. This was cru­cial to sort out, not only because livestock was a valuable com­modity in the beleaguered settlement, but also because if they executed the wrong sheep, they risked the unthinkable happen­ing: a monstrously bleating, hoofed prodigy might drop unde­tected onto Plymouth. So, naturally, a lineup of busily masticating victims was staged for Granger. With a trembling finger, the boy pointed out those five amber-eyed ruminants that had been tar­gets of his secret woolly lust. Court records indicate that the ani­mals were then 'killed before his face, according to the law, Leviticus XX. 15; and then he himself was executed.' "



Jesse Bering




Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Copyright 2013 by Jesse Bering


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment