This study examines cases of fornication, bastardy, and paternity cases brought before the courts in Essex County, Massachusetts between 1640 and 1692. Prosecution and conviction rates, sentencing patterns, and socio-economic data, as well as attitudes, were analysed to determine that women who bore illegitimate children were punished more severely than their male partners, and regarded with contempt by the majority of women. Couples who married following out-of-wedlock sex faced less opprobrium and were reintegrated into the community following a series of humiliating shame rituals.

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