Unusually talented at navigating the lethal Mediterranean Sea, notoriously dangerous in the early 17th century from roving pirates, British Master of merchant ships, Richard Williams alias Cornish, was one of a handful of ship captains who repeatedly returned from the Mediterranean with his crew and cargo intact.
Later, across the Atlantic, while riding aboard his merchant vessel at anchor in the James River, he was accused of sodomy. When the transgression reportedly happened, only three men were aboard ship. Though the sole witness testified he heard no one cry out, not even a scuffle, Cornish was hanged.
However, a year later, at great risk, four sailors separately, and without knowing others had done the same, insisted publicly that Cornish never should have hanged. These men risked their lives speaking out publicly against the colonial Governor (a crime at the time).
Today, Cornish is believed to be the first person put to death in America for being found guilty of the crime of sodomy.
The truth about what happened, never before unearthed, rewrites American colonial history. He is a modern day folk hero to the American LGBTQ+ community and others. The College of William and Mary Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae Association (GALA) created the Richard Cornish Endowment Fund in his name, demonstrating his importance.
“…put to death wrongfully” Richard Williams alias Cornish Executed in Jamestown for “unnatural crimes”(a working book title) is an historical nonfiction account of Richard Williams alias Cornish’s life – based on Arlene’s research.
Published in Global Maritime History, her piece, Sodomy, Justice, and Folk Heroes: Richard Cornish ‘…was put to death wrongfully’ puts Cornish’s execution into greater historical context.