Skip to main content

An Older Law

June 2024
1min read


The 1656 New Haven-colony statute on youth crime that is quoted in Thomas Hine’s story “Teenagers and Crime” (September) is actually somewhat older than the author suggests: Deuteronomy, chapter 21, verses 18-21 (“If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken to them: then shall his father and his mother lay hold of him, and bring him out to the elders of the city, and to the gate of his place; and they shall say to the elders of the city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, and he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die …” [translation from the Jerusalem Bible (1998)]. The adoption of the New Haven statute may have reflected the colonists’ religious heritage, and not a real or perceived outbreak of juvenile delinquency. Interestingly, just as Mr. Hine notes that the New Haven law seems not to have resulted in any actual executions, talmudic sources conclude that the conditions that would cause a court to decree the death penalty under the biblical sanction “never occurred and never will occur.”

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.

Donate