Puritan New England was known for its harsh moral codes. Rather than adopting England's laws to serve the colonies, they turned to another source- the Old Testament. Although individuals were rarely prosecuted for this crime in England, it did warrant capital punishment. How differently would sodomites and buggers be treated in a society that was ruled by an even harsher code than Europe's? Oakes' findings may contradict your initial assumptions.
The first finding that would shake the foundation of your beliefs regarding Puritan New England was that homosexual acts of sodomy was quites widespread, but prosecution was rare and punishments in turn were light. This struck me as peculiar as the crime was punishable by death yet most of the guilty parties faced whipping, burning, public shaming and banishment instead. Mirroring the trends of England, there were initially no laws that prohibited same sex acts between women. Laws were implemented at one point only to be repealed shortly after.
Despite the fact that few were prosecuted, same-sex acts between men were thought to be very common in Puritan New England. A fact that Governor Bradford lamented. This may not make sense at the moment: the prevalence of male homosexual acts, religious fervor yet a small amount of defendants and light sentences. According to Oakes, it was a matter of Manpower. As prevalent as these acts were perceived to be, along with the legal punishment of the crime (execution), many men would have died. Mass executions would significantly burden and hamper the colonies' economic state as they would be bereft a multitude of workers.
Makes sense now, doesn't it? However, where one crime lacks enforcement, a tremendous zeal can be found in another. It was stated before that although the terms buggery and sodomy were often interchangeable, bugger was more often associated with bestiality. Puritan New England was enthusiastic in punishing these criminals, even when evidence was far from substantial: a far cry from their treatment of sodomites. Considering the circumstances, was buggery a greater evil than sodomy?
Yes. Oakes listed a handful of reasons why, but perhaps the most important one was a misconception that many in the time period held: That man and beast could conceive. The fear of what resulted from a union between man and beast must have struck fear among the masses. Oakes adds that humans with physical deformities were thought to have been a result of this unnatural union.
The procedure of execution is also consistent with those of Europe. The accomplice in the crime (the animal) would be beheaded in front of its human "counterpart" and burned. Then the bugger would be executed.
That wraps up this series on sodomy, which was loosely based on my Senior thesis for History in the Fall of 2009. I thought I would share my findings with my loyal reader(s), and I can honestly say despite the grade I received, I was happy with my work. Speaking of grades, I'm not even sure what my grade on the paper was at all. I had a "B" average throughout the majority of the course and ended up with one at the end, so I'm sure it hovered around there. I usually like to incorporate images in my post, but the subject matter was racy enough already.