Yet it is an absolute fallacy to assume that all early Americans were both Christian and churchgoers. It seems that the Puritans take up too large a place in the cultural memory of contemporary Americans. Certainly the good people of New England who lived in close knit communities found church attendance incredibly important. But those who lived in the southern colonies of the Chesapeake would have found attending church troublesome. Many lived miles apart from each other on isolated farms. In fact, in many places outside of New England, preachers traveled on a yearly circuit. They may only have been in a particular village for a few weeks a year. European visitors traveling through North Carolina in the colonial era complained of the backwoods folks who believed in common-law marriages, in which they simply proclaimed themselves married and began living together. While such a union may have violated colonial laws, which were based on English Common Law, they were often accepted by the community and tolerated by the governing officials due to the scarcity of clergy in remote areas.
Within marriage, sex was considered incredibly important in bonding together husband and wife. Midwifery manuals such as “Aristotle's Masterpiece” taught that both man and woman must orgasm in order to conceive a child. Thus, prior to the discovery of the role of the sperm and egg in conception in the late 18th century, the sexual pleasure of both partners was greatly encouraged. But how exactly did colonists do the deed when many of the earliest Americans lived in one room houses?
Other sex crimes included adultery, the punishment for which might include death in the harshest cases, fines, whipping, wearing of the letters AD on an outfit or branding of the forehead! Can you imagine if all the adulterers of contemporary society were either jailed and fined or put to death for their indiscretion? I would imagine that the population would drop precipitously.
- Richard Godbeer “The Sexual Revolution in Early America"
- Sharon Block “Rape and Sexual Power in Early America"
- John D’ Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman “Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America"
- Jonathan Katz “The Invention of Heterosexuality"
- Thomas A. Foster “Long Before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America” and his “Sex and the 18th Century Man: Massachusetts and the History of Sexuality in America”
- Clare A. Lyons “Sex among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender and Power in the Age of Revolution, Philadelphia, 1780-1830”
- Stephanie Koontz “The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American Families, 1600-1900"