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Rankin Family History Project

William Potter's Crime

In 1662, William Potter, was called to testify to the charges of capital crimes with "sundrie animals" brought by his wife and son. In 1666, his daughter, Rebecca Potter, was found guilty of "indiscretions" with John Thorpe.

At a Court of Magistrates, held at Newhaven for the Jurisdiction,
the 26th of May, 1662.

Present, the Government, Deputy Governor, Mr. Fen, Mr. Treat, Mr. Crane, Magistrates.

William Potter was called before the court to answer to what charge or accusation as they understand from examination is layd against him, viz: that he hath comitted the sin of bestiality with sundrie creatures.

The Governor told him, that first he must mind him of his carriage before the magistrate: when he was examined, that when you heard what your wife & son testified to your face, yet you was not affected as you should have beene, whether true or false, but stood in a stupid way, making deniall of what was testified that they could not fasten it as a charge against him, yet told him that the puidence of God was soe strange in it, (his neare relations thus charging of him.) that if he was guilty God would bring it forth to light, & soe, with as much solemnes as they could, left it with him & alsoe with Mr. Gilbert to gainne any further discovery as he could; and now it seemes since, (it may be by some better dealing with him in the busines, & Gods jealousie against him.) God hath brought it forth out of his owne mouth; and seeing the church hath done their duty, which they well approved of, they as ministere of justice call him to account, to speake the truth in the case, & deale plainely, as standing before the great God of heaven & earth, his judge & theirs, & to make acknowledgment of the facts, how, when, & with what creatures.

He answered that first when he was before the magistrates he answered with a distinction, & thought their testimony could not take away his life, but being before the church & helped over something that stucke with him, he did confesse & judge himselfe worthy to be cut off from among men & to be given over to be among devills;

And now he confessed more paticularly, the first time he said was in old England, at prentise, when he was about eleven yeare old, & after when he came to New England these temptations followed him, though sometimes they left him some yeares together, & then he thought God did worke upon his soule, & the temptation left him a great while, but after he coming to live at Mr. Gilberts farme it returned againe, & he acted with a cow wiich is now gone, & after coming to his owne farme his lust followed him, though he thought he should have got power against it, &

When the man was hanged for the same act he was much startled, but after still the temptation went on, & it strooke a dampe upon his spirit that it was not right with him, & there he acted first with a bitch, which he hanged thinking he should be free from the temptation when she was gone, but it still pursued him, & he acted this wickednes wth two sowes, one of which was that of which his son testifies, there is alsoe a yeareling heifer, a two yeare old, and a cow that he had beene vilely naught withall this spring, alsoe three sheepe, of which he said he told his wife which they were; these was all he said, only his attempting with his old mare which is now dead; & then confessed that he had gone far from God, but prayed, & desired their prayers, that he might not goe further from him and desired to have what meanes might be affoarded for his everlasting good, acknowledging the Lord to be righteous whatever became of him.

He was asked with what he covered these wicked courses? He answered that he went on against the checkes of his conscience, & did not consider the compasse of his sin, he had some dislikes of it but was overcome still, & when he son discovered him, he had noe heart to speake to him, but was affected with teares, that he, being an old man, should be a foole in his latter end.

He was minded of his sin before the magistrates, that he should speake soe against his knowne light, & of his excusing it to his wife when she told him of it.

He said he thought his excusing of it to her was a forerunner of these sins after.

Much was said by him by way of acknowledgment of his evill, but in a confused way, as that sometimes he was filled with horror & that his sin lay upon him night & day, & that he was such sins the nature of them did harden his heart, & that he was filled with shame & confusion for the dishonor that he had done to God & that he had caused the name of God to be blasphemed among the heathen.

He was told that such sins was judiciary sins, according to Rom. 1, 24, when men like not to retaine God in their knowledge, they are just judgments of God upon such under such light as he hath lived under, & that he should come to such a degree of sinning & to such an age ws a thing to admiration & astonishment of all that heares him.

He said he thinkes now all he did was to be seene of men, though sometimes he had other thoughts, yet now he hath nothing but his sin left upon him & is discouraged, & his sins affright him from God, though sometimes some hopes may be in him.

He was asked what pvoking sin he sees that might pvoke God thus to leave him? He answered that he had neglected duty in secret, & had not kept his watch over himself & way, & was very unconstant in family duties formerly, though something better of late.

He was asked how he was educated? He answered, well, & was taught to reade.

He was then seriously advised & warned to take in the agravations of his sin, for he had beene a continuall liver in this sin from his childhood, & that he had beene exceedingly hardened in it, that he should goe on in it after he saw others put to death for the same acts & such like, & was told that his sins was wonderfull, therefore was wished to be serious about repentance, & to take heed he did not word it out to the last.

He was further questioned, that seeing he had acknowledged more then was charged against him, whether he had not defiled himselfe with any woman besides his wife.

He answered noe, neither with woman, mayd nor child, that was certaine.

The Court haveing considered the case p'ceeded to sentence, & first read the law to him, & then the Governor asked him if he had anything to say why the court should not p'ceede to judge him according to the law.

He answered noe, but his great matter was betweene God & his soule, to desire him to give him repentance.

The Governor then declared, that seeing it is soe, they could doe noe otherwise, and he therefore in the name of the court did declare to William Potter that the law read was the sentence of the court, to be executed upon him, viz: that he be hanged on the gallowes till he be dead, & then cut downe & buried, & the creatures with whome he hath thus sinfully acted to be put to death before his eyes.

He answered that he had in himselfe the sentence of death before For the time of his execution, it was left to the magistrates of Newhaven with the advise of the elders. *

* Mather, who gave an account of this case, Mag. B. vi. Cap. v. Ap. iii. states that he was executed on the 6th of June.

Source: Records of the Jurisdiction of New Haven.

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