K is for Keeping the Wrong Kind of Company



Woe to those unwise Puritans who hung out with the wrong crowd. Community leaders had little patience for dissent and were apt to punish any behavior they considered deviant. The church and civil authorities were pretty much the same group of people, and they placed a high premium on religious and social conformity.

Authorities meted out punishments for what they considered undesirable social behavior, including swearing, drunkenness, idleness, gambling, flirting, and gossiping. Drinking was permissible, but excessive alcohol use was a punishable crime

Other punishable crimes included failure to attend church, outspoken criticism of church authority figures, and desecration of the Sabbath. The Puritans considered non-normative sexual practices ranging from extramarital relations and sodomy to bestiality as sinful, criminal, and deserving of swift punishment.

Social customs such as proposing a toast may seem harmless to modern day thinkers but was against the law. Puritans were allowed drink in moderation but considered toasting as pagan in its origins. They also feared that the practice would lead a person down the road to perdition.

James Downing, my 9th great-uncle, was one of those young men who kept the wrong company on many occasions. He was a great disappointment to his father, the illustrious Emanuel Downing. Sir Downing was one of the magistrates in 1639 in Salem when his son was admonished in court. A group of young men had just been accused of excessive drinking and James had evidently been “keeping company” with them. James was advised to “take great heed of such company.” It was reported in the court records that James “manifested great remorse which gladdened the hearts of his friends.” James Downing was fortunate to have a father who could wield influence, but the court scene smacks of blatant favoritism and partiality.


Some young men, such as Daniel Owls were notorious and defiant rapscallions. Daniel was fined and had to sit in the stocks for “leaping and dancing at his house and had “like to fall into the fire” (whatever that means.) His answer to the charge was “I do not care for the best magistrate in the Land. If I met them in the field, I should slash them for I have been a pretty fellow in my time.”

Young women also had their problems. Elizabeth Johnson, a servant, was severely whipped and fined for “unseemly practices” between her and another maid. Elizabeth also “stopped her ears with her hands when the Word of God was read.” She obviously wasn’t cut out for the Puritan lifestyle.

Marie Chandler evidently had many unchaste and immoral male friends, but surely deserves some sympathy. She self-confessed to fornication with four men and was to be severely whipped. Marie’s sentence was delayed until the next Lecture Day because of “having sore breasts and boils.” Poor Marie was probably suffering from the consequences of numerous past dalliances.

Unfortunate Marmaduke Barniston probably didn’t have many friends but couldn’t stay out of the courts. In 1637 he was whipped for frequent lying, burglary and running away. He made a return appearance during the next court session for filing off his lock.