Crime and Scandal

Thomas Kemble, The Kissing Puritan

Capt. Thomas Kemble was a prominent ship’s captain in the 1650s in Massachusetts, but that didn’t stop him from getting into trouble for kissing.

thomas kembleKemble’s life is well documented. As a merchant who settled in Charlestown, Mass., he imported metal goods and household necessities for resale to his warehouse. In return, he shipped lumber from mills he owned in Kittery, Maine, and the New Hampshire seacoast back to England.

In addition to the more mundane aspects of his trade, he also was consigned a group of 272 Scottish prisoners of war. They were  probably captured during the Battle of Worcester in September of 1651. During that fight, Oliver Cromwell’s forces defeated the Scottish armies loyal to King Charles II.

Kemble had the task of finding something for the prisoners to do. He most likely put some to work in his sawmills  and sold others off as indentured servants. As indentured servants, the prisoners were not exactly slaves, as they could work their way to freedom. Few of the Scotsmen taken to the colonies, though, ever returned home after their unsuccessful defense of the king.

Thomas Kemble, Lawbreaker

Though prominent and prosperous, Kemble did not rise above the law. And the Massachusetts Puritans had plenty of laws to control social behavior. They punished adultery with death (though they rarely executed anyone). They banned gambling, fancy clothing, living with Indians and smoking in public.puritan punishment

Missing Sunday services would land you in the stocks. Celebrating Christmas would cost you five shillings.

In 1653, Thomas Kemble set sail on business, leaving New England for three years. Upon his return, his wife greeted him at the door to their home.

There, he kissed her.

And with that one act, he broke two Puritan laws. His kiss was adjudged ‘lewd and unseemly behavior.’ And, to make matters worse, it happened on Sunday, and so he failed to keep the Sabbath properly.

Thomas Kemble spent two hours in the stocks for his crime.

Later, Kemble’s daughter, Sarah Kemble Knight, kept a travel diary of her journey alone, on horseback, from Boston to New York City in 1704. One of the most useful  diaries of the period, historians still use it today.

This story about Thomas Kemble was updated in 2019. 

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