In May of 1751, Michael Levi stood in the Old Bailey, surrounded by judges, neighbours and the victim, and admitted to the abominable crime of sodomy. The court read this, along with the victims statement as proof of his guilt, and Michael Levi was punished with death.
His story is one of many in the 18th century on sodomy. This had spread throughout the 18th century and became a very popular offense. It was often too hard to prove penetration and ejaculation occurred which meant many men accused of sodomy got off with a lesser charge of assault, which was not punished by death. Luckily for Benjamin Taylor’s sake, this was not the case. When a person was convicted of sodomy in the 18thcentury up until 1861, they were always punished by death. In the case of Michael Levi, he is rightfully executed at the Tyburn due to the appalling crime of sodomy against a twelve year old boy. When a man takes advantage of youth, the decision for punishment should not be hard, nor should it be anything other than death.
This young Jewish street trader was charged with sodomy against Benjamin Taylor, an infant of twelve years of age. The boy had been lead to Levi’s chamber, his breeches unbuttoned and then raped. He admitted to feloniously, wilfully and diabolically committing he crime of sodomy.
There are many different types of sexual offenses in the 18th century. Some include indecent assault, rape and sodomy. Many men were given a lesser charge of indecent assault when the evidence was not strong enough to charge the criminal of sodomy. This meant instead of being put to death, the man would be imprisoned for up to two years when committed against a female and up to ten years when the same crime was committed against another male. This seems unfair considering it is the same crime, and depending on who the victim is your sentence could be five times as long. Sex with another man was even illegal in parts of the United Kingdom until around 1982. Rape was another crime that was apparently hard to be proven. Most got off or were prosecuted for assault with intent to rape.
According to the Old Bailey, Michael worked as a street trader in Holborn and had a stall under the Baptist’s Head, an alehouse, in which he has a room. Approximately a week after the March 25th sexual assault, one of Benjamin’s play fellows, Robert, told his father, who told another boys father, who then told Mr. Taylor about the alleged sexual encounter.
Thomas Lambord, father of Taylor’s friend, said:
I am father to the last witness. This affair came out last Friday, upon a falling out between Benjamin Taylor and the prisoner; then Mr. Robert’s son told his father, and he ( the elder) came and told me on Saturday morning, that my son was served so. I sent for my son, and ask’d him in a cool manner, who said it was true. In what shape, said I; he gave the same account as now, and I found the boys all to keep in the same story.
Mr. Taylor confronted his son who said Michael Levi had him carry up boxes to his stall, threw him on the bed, unbuttoned his breeches and raped him. Michael Levi was then convicted of sodomy and punished with death.
Homosexuality is becoming more accepted in today’s culture compared to the 18th century. As stated above, homosexual acts were illegal for many years in the United Kingdom. In the 18th century there were places such as molly houses for these homosexual acts to be experienced. It was very common for these homosexual acts to go on, but yet they were kept quiet because of the punishment a person could receive. It seems that homosexuality is becoming more common, but in reality more people feel safe to come out in the world with the real them. It was just as common for these “unlawful” acts of homosexuality to occur then as it is now.
Michael is one of the many men caught for doing a homosexual act that appalled the people in the 18th century and still does today. He was a street trading man who was spoke highly of by him neighbours and friends who all agreed “I never heard of him charg’d with any indecent action.” And his friend from a mutual club says, “I never heard but that he behaved very well, or we would not have kept him in the club; he is esteem’d a virtuous, sober young fellow.” Even with Michael’s defence from his friends, there was considerable evidence against him. With no witnesses to say that he did not commit this crime, he would be finished. There was no stopping the court on prosecuting with the amount of people telling Benjamin Taylor’s story with no alterations throughout the entire trial.
During the trial, Michael Levi did not utter a word. In his defense, Levi did not speak once from what is on the Old Bailey records. When the friends and neighbours spoke highly of him and were certain he could not be capable of such a thing, he did not agree nor disagree. Michael Levi did not demand anything in court to help defend himself most likely because he knew these allegations were true.
In Benjamin Taylor’s recount, he addresses the court telling the events that led up to the sexual assault. Taylor states:
He lives in Holborn, and has a stall under the Baptist’s Head, and alehouse; he lies on nights up the yard belonging to the house, he has a room there. He ask’d me to carry up his boxes, and when he had shut up his stall, and all his things carried up, he lock’d the chamber door; then he unbutton’d my breeches and threw me down on the bed on my face, he unbutton’d his breeches and put his c—k into my backside…A quarter of an hour…I perceived something wet…It fell on my backside.
In this boys scared and embarrassed confession, he explains what Michael Levi did to him. The boys detailed story was much of the same as other boys who did not try and charge Levi such as Thomas Lambord, a 14 year old friend of Benjamin Taylor’s. This suggests to the court that the victims story is not only convincing, but true.
Today, many are still too embarrassed to come forward when they are sexually assaulted. Especially young boys who are assaulted by older men. These boys are to scared to tell someone about these illegal assaults and many men are let off with no punishment because of this. The fact that this young boy had enough courage to testify should be seen as a very hard thing to do. I am sure Benjamin Taylor had a lot of people who did not agree with his story, but when someone takes advantage of a child, or anyone for that matter, they should be punished accordingly.
The fact that Benjamin Taylor’s story did not alter when he told it to the court, nor did it change when his father and friend retold the incident in which Benjamin had told them was enough to punish Michael Levi to death. According to the Ordinary of Newgate’s Account, Michael Levi was executed at the Tyburn on Monday June 17, 1751. In today’s courts, this trial would have went similar, except Levi would have done a life sentence for sexual assault instead of being put to death. In the Old Bailey in 1751, there was no hesitation for the court to punish this crime with death, as in many places sex with another man was illegal. There is no argument for Michael Levi to change the Old Bailey’s decision other than the good words spoke about him by his friends. This was no where near enough to keep this man off of death road.
In the end, Michael Levi was handed exactly what he deserved. No one should be able to get away with sexual abuse against a young boy. This would have appalled the 18th century for not only the reason that this little boy was sexually assaulted, but by the fact that this was a homosexual act. The only way for little Benjamin Taylor to come to peace is to have Michael Levi rightfully punished and taken to the Tyburn. When a man takes advantage of a young boy, the decision for punishment should not be difficult, nor should the victims testimony be taken lightly—this man, and every man guilty of this crime, should be harshly punished.