Sodomy /ˈsɒdəmi/ is generally anal sex, oral sex or sexual activity between a person and a non-human animal (bestiality), but may also include any non-procreative sexual activity. Originally, the term sodomy was commonly restricted to anal sex, and is derived from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in chapters 18 and 19 of the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Sodomy laws in many countries criminalized not only these behaviors, but other disfavored sexual activities as well. In the Western world, however, many of these laws have been overturned or are not routinely enforced.
By this definition and in terms of this case in particular, the act of sodomy is one where there is non-procreative sexual activity involved. Essentially, a man having a sexual relationship with another man, or more accurately by my definition of this case, a man having a sexual relationship with an uneducated 14-year-old boy.
It is interesting; however, not surprising that the main act of evil in this case is the act of having non-procreative sex and not that a grown man is having non-consensual sex with a boy. This is because, as far as I could tell, there was no real age of consent. I read in some places that the age of consent was 10, in other places that it was 16 and in other places that there was no legal age of consent. There were minimum ages for marriage, which could easily be lowered with parental consent; however, I guess law makers of the time did not think to create a law for an age of consent for sexual relationships, which is why I believe the victim’s age is not brought to question. But, God forbid two men have sex. Even though age was not as important in the the 1750’s, I make it a point to look at this trial with a more modern perspective, and I would regard this case to be more so about pederasty than sodomy. There are many instances through out this trial where the prisoner, Mr. Bradbury does not deny that he said things that were less than appropriate and acted in inappropriate ways. In fact, it seems as though he may have even been pushing that fact, as to hide his guilt in the actual committing of sodomy. Which is like basically saying, “I did not completely commit this crime, and therefore I am innocent.” Unfortunately, it seems as though this defence was enough, because there were no attacks to these claims. No one stood up to say, “Ummm… It’s actually still pretty bad to stalk a young boy around town and sleep in beds with him… Isn’t it?” But, no. Essentially, it was okay to act inappropriately in bed with a young man, so long as you did not penetrate him.
There are a few factors that lead to the lengthiness and attention
that was put into this trial. Firstly, the prosecutor is a 14-year-old boy
who was abandoned by his father after changing his religion from papist
(Roman Catholic) to protestant. The other factor that leads to the attention that was given to this accusation was that the accused was a Mr. Charles Bradbury, a preacher. A well-respected and followed preacher of the time, such as himself, could not possibly have committed such a crime. They may not have been as well aware of this concept at that time, but someone’s title does not necessarily or definitely define them… Luckily for Mr. Bradbury though, during the 18th century, many people trusted the title of a preacher or man of God to do the right thing and to practice what they preached.
During the prosecution, young James Hearne is continually asked about the numerous occasions that Mr. Bradbury had allegedly committed sodomy with him. During the questioning, Hearne very modestly described the indecent actions displayed by Bradbury, despite his discomfort in talking about these situations. I can relate to this discomfort that he displayed, because, I myself, do not wish to re-write these facts, even though they have nothing to do with me:
Hearne. “After we put the candle out, and we were in the bed, he flung his legs about me, and kiss’d me; and first tried with his finger to enter my body, then he tried with his y – d, and did enter as far as he could, and his s – d came from him…”
Again, I would like to clarify that I see this as a man taking advantage of a boy, and not a man and a man having sex. However, the court at the time would have seen it as two men having sex, but with one of the men (James Hearne) apparently not being aware of the severity and wrongness of this action, and therefore being taken advantage of by Mr. Bradbury. Since some of the words are blanked out for modesty’s sake, it can be difficult to understand the true meaning of what was said in the court room; however, I think that we can imagine the correct words in this context.
Luckily for Mr. Bradbury, he had many supporters and followers who maintained that he was innocent of any such crime, such as the Pickerings and the Browns. Their main argument was cemented around the fact that the boy had previously taken back his accusation and had signed a document that stated that he had lied and that he was sorry. However, I do not know that these couples are the most reliable of the bunch, because they were often seen drunk, and furthermore, had lost this signed document, and needed to get young Hearne to sign it a second time!
You might wonder why Hearne would retract his statement if it were in fact true, but you must understand that this boy was all alone in the world, and depended on strangers to give him shelter and to keep him alive. Unfortunately, his main access to a roof normally came from Mr. Bradbury’s connections. By accusing Bradbury of this crime, he would have lost all of that. To the judge, he claimed that the only reason that he lied and made the retraction was because Bradbury had threatened to kill him, and that his own father too, would kill him for having changed his faith from Roman Catholic to Protestant, if he ever found him, therefore convincing Hearne to retract what he had said and to be aided in leaving the country:
Hearne. He put his y – d into my body. There was stuff came from his body. I said I could not bear it. Then he took it out, and said James, your father swears vengeance against you for following me, and says if he ever sees you, he’ll knock your brains out. I would have you get away. Then I said, I would very willingly go abroad.
The Crime That Shall Not Be Named
I think we all know where I am going with this. We are (for the most part) all familiar with the popular Harry Potter novels, and know that if I am suggesting that this crime was so bad, that it should not be named–that it was BAD. Voldemort Bad. This trial really demonstrates the seriousness that courts and justices had in regards to the act of sodomy. Just by reading the initial paragraph that summarizes the accusation gives you a really good indication of just how severe this crime was:
Charles Bradbury was indicted, for that he, not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being mov’d and seduc’d by the instigation of the devil, on James Hearne , feloniously did make an assault , and the said James Hearne , did carnally know, and with him, the said James, did commit that detestable crime not fit to be named in a christian country, called sodomy , April 14.
If you think about it, the act of sodomy was like the crime that shall not be named. Sodomy in the 18th century was the Voldemort of all crimes, if you can believe it. I realize that in this post, I show my disgust in an older man taking advantage of a young boy, but you should remember that it is sodomy that is being questioned in this trial. People of the 18th century really did hate sodomy. They did not care about the age of James Hearne. They cared that two men had sex on multiple occasions, and they would have been furious and disgusted by it. Of course, we still have intolerance today, but can we all just take a collective sigh of relief that it is no longer punishable by DEATH? “sigh.”
So, back to the case… We have an incredibly serious crime, a preacher, and an impressionable young man who has switched religions, went back and forth in whether or not he wanted to accuse Mr. Bradbury or not, and who has seemed to be aimlessly drifting along. Who do you think the people of the time would have wanted to believe? James Hearne does seem incredibly wish-washy, this much is true; however, he did end up taking the matter to court, thus risking his life and furthermore, disclosing what would have been embarrassing and intimate details about his lying with Mr. Bradbury, which I think would have taken a lot of strength to have done. I would tend to side with James Hearne, because even though there were no other witnesses to the actual act of sodomy, as they were always alone in a dark room, the fact remains that they were alone in a bed in the dark, plenty of times.
You might remember that I had previously mentioned the lack of anyone standing up and saying, “stalking boys is bad too, Mr. Bradbury…” well, Bradbury would go out of his way to lie with James Hearne. For example, Mr. Whitaker, one of the people defending Hearne, had said that he had very poor lodgings for both Hearne and Bradbury to sleep in, but Bradbury still insisted upon doing so. Mind you, Bradbury could have undoubtedly lied elsewhere.
Hearne. …I went to Mr. Whitaker’s house, that night to lie. Mr. Whitaker said, he had but poor lodging for me; but if I accepted it, I should live there till he got me a master; and on the Tuesday night following, Mr. Bradbury came and desired to know if he could lie there.
Another important detail about Bradbury’s staying at the Whitaker’s comes from Margaret Whitaker,
Q. Did Mr. Bradbury lie at your house in that time?
M. Whitaker . He did four or five times; the reason why he did it was ; that he was nearer his preaching place, than his own home, and he wanted to spend an evening with my husband. I told him I had a bed, but it was a very small one; where Hearne lay , was up two pair of stairs, he said any place, he did not mind any thing. So I mov’d out of my own bed, and we lay in the little bed, and let him and Hearne lie in our own bed.
Q. Did he lie there four or five times with Hearne ?
M. Whitaker . He did in our bed, and my husband and I above in the other at the time.
Q. Has he ever wanted to lie at your house, before the boy came to your house?
M. Whitaker . No; he never has. I never spoke to him before his coming there .
Q. Did he ever want to lie there after the boy was gone?
M. Whitaker. No, he would not, although I ask’d him several times ; then he would say it was a great way to go, I used to say it was no farther than usual.
What is of particular interest here is that Mrs. Whitaker accurately describes what Bradbury’s reasoning was for having to stay at their house, being because it was closer to his preaching place. However, after the boy no longer lived there and Mrs. Whitaker kindly invited Bradbury over for his convenience, he declined and in fact replied that it would be inconvenient for him to stay there. Thus, directly contradicting and discrediting his previous reasons for having to lodge there, despite the lack of space available.
I would conclude by mentioning that the prosecution was far more compelling than the defense. Granted, they both had their strengths and weaknesses, I would suggest that the defense had fewer strengths and more weaknesses.
With that being said, the verdict was that Mr. Charles Bradbury was acquitted and therefore innocent.
Why, you might ask? Because, seemingly on a whim, young James Hearne again says that he was lying the whole time and that nothing indecent occurred between he and Mr. Bradbury.
Q. to Hearne. Is this the truth? had you this conversation in the Poultry-compter ? what do you say to it?
Hearne. Yes, I had; he is innocent .
Court. You have sworn now he is guilty , how do you reconcile it? do you now say he is innocent?
Hearne. He is innocent.
Council for the crown .
Has any body spoke to you since you came into court?
Hearne. No . (He cry’d)
Q. What do you cry for?
Hearne . My conscience accuses me; and because I have spoke lies .
If you read this trial in its entirety, then I think that you will be as shocked as I was by the quick ending. The questioning went on for a long time, and both sides had said their piece. Quite frankly, I believed that Bradbury would be declared guilty and he would be punished. Is it possible that Hearne may have also felt that he was going to win the trial, and therefore had a rushing feeling that he should stop his lies before they ruin someone’s life? Or, was he still afraid of being killed by Bradbury or one of his followers? I find it very confusing that a court would take a crime so seriously, just to end it so abruptly with an acquittal. After looking at the statements from both parties, it is apparent to modern readers that an unlawful and wrong act occurred, on a regular basis. However, we would more likely see this as a crime of pederasty, which is in many cultures a branch of pedophilia, while those in the 18th century, would have seen it as a crime of sodomy. Since the boy recanted his statement of Bradbury being guilty of sodomy, there was no reason for the court to question the ethics of what did happen.
What Does This Say About the Laws and Ethics in 1755?
From this account of an 18th century trial and crime, I would be stating the obvious, in saying that the justice at the time was not looking at the wrongfulness of the alleged acts in the right way. At least by today’s standards. The emphasis being put on the sodomite instead of the rapist, or pedophile or pederast, speaks to the shift of priorities from then to now. Had this account occurred in this century, then I believe that Mr. Bradbury would not have been allowed to walk free, for not having participated in non-procreative sex, but rather he would be punished, monitored, and publicly shamed for his inappropriate behavior and actions with a young boy for the remainder of his life.
I would like to add, that up until 1861, all proven acts of sodomy were punishable by death. In order for someone to be guilty of this crime, there would have needed to be two people who witnessed a man penetrate another man and ejaculate. After 1861, the punishment for this crime was lessened to time in prison; however, less evidence was needed to convict someone of the crime. Due to the necessity of eye witnesses, very few men were actually convicted in the 18th century, but it was still seen as one of the most detestable crimes. Oddly, lesbianism wasn’t a big deal.