On this day in 1624, Richard Cornish, master of the merchant ship Ambrose, allegedly forcibly sodomized William Couse, a nineteen-year-old member of the ship’s crew. This is according to testimony provided in court by Couse several months later. Additional testimony raised the possibility that the two men’s relationship later turned consensual, but as our entry points out, a ship’s master had considerable authority over a cabin boy, and Couse may have had few means of effective resistance. As it was, he pressed charges and Cornish was tried, convicted, and executed.
Strange, then, that Cornish should become something of a gay icon: honored by William and Mary Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae, Inc., with an endowment fund, and honored in the New York Times by Adam Goodheart, author most recently of 1861: The Civil War Awakening. This is from 2003:
Last Thursday, when I heard the news of the Supreme Court’s decision ruling a ban on homosexual conduct unconstitutional, I happened to be traveling near Jamestown, how a historical and archaeological park. So I bought a bottle of Virginia chardonnay, sneaked into the site (it had been closed for the day), sat down on the grass next to a wall of crumbling brick, and drank a silent toast in Cornish’s memory.
It’s telling, perhaps, that Goodheart did not offer any details of the charges against Cornish, writing only that “his case was the first recorded sodomy prosecution in American history.” Which it was, but the “forcible” part is a striking omission, don’t you think?
PREVIOUSLY: For the record, I’m repeating myself.
IMAGES: Ships at Jamestown (Mr. Williamsburg); gay flag