Scores of women, including those holding church membership, were prosecuted in seventeenth century New England courts for bearing children outside of wedlock. San Francisco Metro Map At the same time, more and more New Englanders were appearing before church congregations and in court, charged with lewd speech, fornication, adultery, bigamy, rape, incest, sodomy, and bestiality. Many of these people were caught in the act, because Puritans believed that they had a right to keep a sharp eye on the activities of their neighbors in order to guarantee that everyone behaved in a proper manner.
The distance between settlements in colonial Country and the distance between the New World and the Old made it easy for some to begin extramarital relationships without detection. Colonists were notoriously lax in following the legal requirement that one marriage be dissolved before entering into a new one. Additionally, the requirements for official separation were difficult. The simple declaration that a marriage had failed would not dissolve it.
If one spouse claimed adultery, the guilty parties would suffer public condemnation, as well as physical punishment. In the Southern colonies, sexuality was much less restricted for a number of reasons. The ratio of men and women was severely skewed, and women were in short supply. Restricting sexuality only to marriage deprived most young men in the South of any access to a legal sexual relationship. However, unmarried indentured servants who engaged in sexual relations could find themselves charged in court as economic and moral liabilities. Pregnancy left a servant unable to perform her duties and therefore deprived her master of labor that he had purchased.
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