Long Before Reading Gaol

Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert was an early Dutch settler who explored portions of Central New York between 1634 and 1635. His accounts of the Mohawk and Oneida peoples and their settlements are some of the only first hand accounts we have of these First Nation communities as they existed before conflict and disease caused widespread dislocation.

Van Den Bogaert’s career in New Netherland, from his arrival in 1630, at 18, up until 1647 was modestly successful. He was a barber surgeon,  married, had property in New Amsterdam. In the Fall of 1647, however, accused of sodomy with his servant Tobias, a crime which carried a sentence of death under the laws the Dutch East India Company maintained in New Netherland, Van Den Bogaert fled to the Mohawk Valley to avoid answering charges. Pursued and captured, he had his property confiscated, was held at Fort Orange, and recognizing no doubt that his fate was all but sealed, died while attempting to escape across the frozen Hudson, when the ice gave way beneath him.

Van Den Bogaert was one of several men who died as a result of Dutch colonial sodomy laws, including Jan Creoli, who was choked to death and burned to ashes, and Jan Quisthoust van der Linde, accused as Bogaert had been of sodomy with his servant, who after conviction was tied in a sack and thrown in the river to drown.

The British were no more lenient when it came to their own colonial edicts, establishing in 1665 the death penalty for any male over 16 engaged in sodomy. The English buggery statute came into effect in New York in 1674. In various iterations this law would keep buggery a capital offense in the UK until 1831.

After Independence, New York retained the death penalty for sodomy, defined as anal sex or bestiality between others, in laws adopted in 1787 and 1788. It wasn’t until 1796 that New York’s criminal code reduced the punishment for sodomy from death to up to 14 years of solitary confinement or hard labor.

A flower has been placed in Van Den Bogaert’s memory at the Dutch execution grounds in Lower Manhattan, a testament to the state violence that New Netherland and later New York were to maintain against LGBT members of the community until well into the 20th Century. It is also a tribute, made on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, to those like Van den Bogaert who refuse to accept the fate handed to them by prejudice. The flower stands in recognition of those around the world who must run, hide, fight, and who sometimes die because of who and how they love, who and how they are. 

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