Post Classifieds

UConn History professor's research sheds light on colonial bestiality

By Ashley Maher
On April 17, 2014



Thursday afternoon at the UConn Co-op Bookstore in the Storrs Center, Richard Brown and Doron S. Ben-Atar gave a talk on their co-written book, "Taming Lust: Crimes Against Nature in the Early Republic."
The book covers the topic of bestiality in the colonies, and is a historical study of sexual crimes against animals in New England during the colonial period. Brown and Ben-Atar found many clusters of these crimes within the New England colonies, more specifically in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and particularly focused on two cases. One crime that put on trial and convicted two men in their eighties for bestiality and had them executed by hanging, and the other case, two teens were put on trial for the same offense.
"This seemed to us," said Brown, "to be a very strange situation that we hoped to explore further."
"This book is unusual in so many ways," said Ben-Atar. "There is a great deal of uncomfortable air surrounding the topic of bestiality. But there is evidence of it everywhere. The issue became: 'how do we explain this and give the reader as much information as possible?'"
The two historians began by trying to get a broader understanding of this crime as a phenomenon. They found people who commit this crime "tend to take part in animal abuse, which leads to animal sadism," said Ben-Atar.
They closely studied the two trials. Looking at who took part on the juries,

who played the parts of lawyers and who acted as witnesses or prosecutors. They were able to gain a great deal of specific trial information on the subject that gives the book much more depth on the trials themselves as well as the cultural reaction to them.
The trials originally came about by witnesses who said to have had seen these acts taking place by particular offenders. In one of the cases there proved to be four separate witnesses who claimed to have seen one of the offenders commit the act on six separate occasions.
"It became somewhat of a witch hunt," said Brown. Many people came forward with accounts of people who had committed these acts. Sometimes the criminal's own family members would be part of those to come forward.
"Most of the animals that had been abused were domestic farm animals. Cows, turkeys, chickens, horses, dogs, etc," said Brown.
The talk was then opened to the audience for further questions posed towards the authors to further explain their findings on the puzzling subject matter. The audience, filled with many other professors of history as well as human development and family studies faculty posed interesting as well as challenging questions which the author's answered with knowledge in their historical work as well as in great detail.
There proved to be a great deal of knowledgeable discourse between the two authors and the audience that lead to a historical conversation that proved to be both shocking and enlightening. Although the subject is a historical taboo which is often left out of much of the historical conversation of this time, the two authors presented their work with a great deal of information and intelligence on the subject.

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