The Devil’s Business:
The Ugly Consequences of Bestiality in Colonial America Resulted in the First Juvenile Execution
Dale M. Brumfield
“And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast.” -Leviticus 20:15
IN AUGUST, 1642, an oblivious Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts man walked into a barn to encounter a teenage boy engaged in a sexual act with a horse.
Thomas Granger, who was only 16 years of age at the time and obviously suffering from some form of mental illness, was eventually found guilty on September 7 after confessing to bestiality with a total of 12 animals, including “a mare, a cowe, two goats, diuers sheepe, two calues, and a turkey. [sic]” He was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging and was the first known juvenile to be sentenced and executed in what was to become today’s United States.
Granger was the son of Thomas and Grace Granger. He had two sisters and a brother and worked as an indentured servant to Lord Brewster, of Duxbury. He apparently began to indulge his perverse sexual urges in his young teens. As objectionable as his acts are, however, they pale in comparison with the bizarre punishment this disturbed young man was forced to endure at the hands of the ultra-orthodox, Old Testament purveyors of the Law of God.
New England experienced what could be rightfully termed a bestiality panic between 1640 and 1645. When the Great Migration finally ceased in 1641, the region probably had a higher percentage of young unmarried men than at any other point in its history. In Massachusetts, the ratio of men to women in 1641 was about 132:100, at a time when it may still have exceeded 400:100 in a colony like Virginia. Young unmarried men, usually without known family attachments, provoked most of the cases of bestiality in the 1640s.
Like the Jews in Palestine, the New England Puritans were convinced that their presence in this new territory would be endangered if they provoked God’s wrath by allowing sexual abominations to go unpunished. To those early colonists, bestiality, or “buggery,” was considered the…