This Day (NS@W Edition)

Published:August 27, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

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


7 Comments on “This Day (NS@W Edition)”

  1. Michael C. Lucas

    So Adam Goodheart admittedly states he trespassed into the site and drank a bottle of wine toasting Cornish’s memory????

  2. Jeffrey

    I read on that William Couse was age 29, and some other sources note the same age. It is written as age 19 on your website.

  3. Brendan Wolfe Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Jeffrey. You’ll find the answer in our entry on Richard Cornish. When he published the original documents related to this case back in 1924, H. R. McIlwaine erroneously transcribed Couse’s age as twenty-nine rather than nineteen. The latter is, in fact, the correct number.

  4. Brendan Wolfe Post author

    JoAnne, the link to the photo went to a WordPress site that, sadly, no longer exists. I don’t remember any longer if the proprietor of the site took the photo or owned the photo or what. Sorry for not being more helpful.

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