When the Puritans arrived in the New World due to their rejection in England for their beliefs, they recognized that accomplishing the demand of perfection in God’s eyes was unattainable. The standards set out by God were beyond human reach. Upon settling in New England, the Puritans realized the necessity of having a law enforcement system with religious obligations, particularly in addressing the matter of sexual temptations. Understanding that humans could never fully obey God’s teachings and would constantly face temptation, the Puritans established specific punishments for various sexual offenses, including fornication, adultery, rape, and buggery or sodomy.
In the 1630s, during the time of the puritans, engaging in acts of pleasure required being married. Both male and female servants would engage in sexual activity and face punishment from their masters. Interestingly, as pointed out by Morgan, instances of women having sex or being raped usually involved their own masters.
The illegal sexual actions in the colonies were often driven by the fact that many males were already married. Therefore, to satisfy their sexual desires, these men would have to marry another woman (as sex was only allowed within marriage). Both seventeenth-century and current laws consider bigamy and polygamy as crimes. Consequently, this left men with two options: engaging in illicit sex or marrying again and risking being caught for both activities.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony was established by the Puritans as a place to practice and worship God according to their own beliefs. The colony had a strict government with little democracy and placed a strong emphasis on hard work and education. Those who displayed weakness and failed to practice self-denial would face punishment.