The Trial of George Spencer

For George Spencer, the legal woes that led to his execution began with the birth of a piglet in 1642.  

Life in 17th century New England was hard enough for servants, but Spencer’s odd physical appearance made him even more suspect. Described in historical accounts as ugly and balding, he also had “butt one eye for use, the other hath (as it is called) a pearle in itt, is whitish & deformed” which gave him an even more sinister appearance. Spencer was also notorious for his use of profanity, vulgar behaviour, and generally being a “habitual troublemaker.” Perhaps even more unforgivably for the time, he was also an open atheist and only read the Bible when ordered to by his employer. Still, despite being charged with assorted crimes, the worst punishment he ever got was a flogging. It was this flogging that likely led to his moving to the New Haven Colony in what is now Connecticut.

Not that George Spencer managed to keep out of trouble for long. Between his sinister appearance and his reputation for immoral behaviour (the exact nature of the “immorality” he engaged in being left up to the fevered imagination of his neighbours). Regularly accused of various illegal and depraved sexual acts, it was probably not surprising that he had difficulty keeping a job for long.

And then came the birth of the piglet in question…

Belonging to one of Spencer’s former employers, the piglet was described as being a “prodigious monster” with only one eye. When spectators commented on how much the piglet resembled Spencer, the accusations began. While sex between humans and animals has always been illegal in most places, what made it a capital crime was the strange belief that such a “crime against nature” could produce bizarre hybrids with human and animal traits. Though no actual cases of such hybrids were ever reported, enough examples of deformed livestock and children happened to keep the rumours alive. People accused of bestiality were prosecuted just as harshly as witches and the animals believed to be “tainted” by the crime were executed along with them.

To read more, check out my new Swift blog post on the James Randi Educational Foundation site.


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