Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln



Paul Royster

Date of this Version



This is a well-known execution sermon from seventeenth-century Massachusetts, delivered on the occasion of the sentencing to death of a young man convicted of bestiality—specifically of copulation with a mare, in which he was discovered in the open in broad daylight. Samuel Danforth, who wrote and delivered the sermon, would have known the condemned young man very well. Benjamin Goad had been born into Danforth’s congregation at Roxbury and had grown up under his pastoral care. Danforth was also familiar with the anguish of a parent over the death of a child, having suffered the deaths of eight of his own children; he would himself be dead within the year.

Danforth’s discourse describes the various practices associated with the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, including self-pollution (masturbation), whoredome (prostitution), adultery, fornication, incest, sodomy, buggery, and bestiality, and his text is replete with biblical examples. He defends the sentence of death as necessary for the preservation of the church and society. He applies the example made of the condemned to the need for general reformation among all the spectators, who share in man’s fallen and immoral nature: “The gross and flagitious practises of the worst of men, are but Comments upon our Nature. Who can say, I have made my heart clean ? The holiest man hath as vile and filthy a Nature, as the Sodomites, or the men of Gibeah.” (p. 14) The sins and abominations of “uncleanness” offer false promises of pleasure, secrecy, impunity, and the possibility of future repentance. As means of preservation, Danforth recommends the audience to beware of pride, gluttony, drunkenness, sloth and idleness, disobedience to parents and masters, evil company, irreligion, and profaneness.

The sermon is a fascinating and valuable document. Though the case of Benjamin Goad was by no means unique in colonial New England, Danforth’s open and public discussion provides illuminating insights into Puritan moral attitudes and social practices. The work is known largely by reputation; it is the first so-called “execution sermon” but has never been reprinted or anthologized. It has previously been available only on microfilm (of a partially defective copy) or in a facsimile compilation with limited distribution. This edition is an online full-text PDF version, with notes and bibliography. It can be printed out complete on 21 sheets of letter-size paper.