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Long Before Stonewall

Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America

Thomas A. Foster

Publication Year: 2007

2007 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Although the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City symbolically mark the start of the gay rights movement, individuals came together long before the modern era to express their same-sex romantic and sexual attraction toward one another, and in a myriad of ways. Some reflected on their desires in quiet solitude, while others endured verbal, physical, and legal harassment for publicly expressing homosexual interest through words or actions.

Long Before Stonewall seeks to uncover the many iterations of same-sex desire in colonial America and the early Republic, as well as to expand the scope of how we define and recognize homosocial behavior. Thomas A. Foster has assembled a pathbreaking, interdisciplinary collection of original and classic essays that explore topics ranging from homoerotic imagery of black men to prison reform to the development of sexual orientations. This collection spans a regional and temporal breadth that stretches from the colonial Southwest to Quaker communities in New England. It also includes a challenge to commonly accepted understandings of the Native American berdache. Throughout, connections of race, class, status, and gender are emphasized, exposing the deep foundations on which modern sexual political movements and identities are built.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

This project has been enormously gratifying to work on. I owe a debt of gratitude to the many people who helped along the way by offering suggestions for authors, pointing me to relevant essays, giving general advice, and sending emails of encouragement and expressions of enthusiasm for...

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Introduction: Long Before Stonewall

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pp. 1-16

In mid-eighteenth-century Massachusetts, the engraving featured on the cover and on the facing page, published in the Boston Evening Post, depicted the Freemasons of Boston engaged in anal penetration with a wooden spike or treenail. Treenails were commonly used in ship-building in the eighteenth century and joined timbers by becoming engorged when...

Part I: Colonial Native Americas

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1. Warfare, Homosexuality, and Gender Status Among American Indian Men in the Southwest

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pp. 19-31

For the last forty years, and particularly since the height of the gay liberation movement, there has been a rather prolific scholarly project committed to a quest for the historical roots of contemporary homosexuality. In this search for older forms, alternative patterns, and cultural variants of signification of sexual behavior between and among men, one can point...

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2. Weibe-Town and the Delawares-as-Women: Gender Crossing and Same-Sex Relations in Eighteenth-Century Northeastern Indian Culture

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pp. 32-50

In May 1770, Moravian missionary David Zeisberger was acutely discomforted when he came upon a “Women’s Town” on the banks of Beaver Creek in northwestern Pennsylvania. Zeisberger’s company had paddled up the river to find a good location for a new mission site when they encountered a village of unmarried women. Zeisberger spent most of his...

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3. “Abominable Sin” in Colonial New Mexico: Spanish and Pueblo Perceptions of Same-Sex Sexuality

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pp. 51-77

In June 1731, two Pueblo Indian men, Antonio Yuba and Asensio Povia,were accused of committing an “abominable sin” (“pecado nefando,” or, in this case, anal intercourse) in a pasture outside of Santa Fe.1 Yuba, from the pueblo of Tesuque, and Povia, from the pueblo of Nambé, were liter-ally caught in the act by Manuel Trujillo, a Spanish resident of Santa Fe...

Part II: Colonial British America

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4. “The Cry of Sodom”: Discourse, Intercourse, and Desire in Colonial New England

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pp. 81-113

Nicholas Sension settled in Windsor, Connecticut, around 1640, married in 1645, and became a prosperous member of his community during the ensuing years. Sension’s marriage was childless, but his life appears to have been otherwise unexceptional save in one regard: in 1677, he appeared before the colony’s General Court, charged with sodomy.1 The frank and...

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5. Border Crossings: The Queer Erotics of Quakerism in Seventeenth-Century New England

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pp. 114-143

One of the more arresting stories circulated in the English pamphlet literature attacking the emerging Quaker movement of the 1650s concerned a Quaker who purportedly committed an act of bestiality: “What doe you think of the Quaker that acted that most abominable, unnameable sin with a Mare? What doe you think of it, was it not from his light within?”...

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6. Hermaphrodites and “Same-Sex” Sex in Early America

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pp. 144-163

Individuals born with ambiguous genitals (then called hermaphrodites, now intersexed) provoked a particular unease in early America. The biblical story of Adam and Eve established and authorized a rigid binary system of appropriate sex. Despite the occasional occurrence of ambiguous and contradictory genital markers in the extrabiblical world, it was...

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7. Mapping an Atlantic Sexual Culture: Homoeroticism in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia

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pp. 164-203

At the end of the eighteenth century, Ann Alweye, a male transvestite, lived with John Crawford in a relationship presumed to be sexual. Half a century earlier, Mary Hamilton had fled England for the New World after her conviction for “pretending herself a Man” and living as husband to Mary Price. Both Alweye and Hamilton were members of the greater Philadelphia...

Part III: Romantic Bonds in the Early Republic

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8. An Excerpt from Surpassing the Love of Men

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pp. 207-216

By the mid-eighteenth century, romantic friendship was a recognized institution in America too. In the eyes of an observer such as Moreau de St. M

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9. Leander, Lorenzo, and Castalio: An Early American Romance

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pp. 217-252

On 1 August 1786, a Princeton undergraduate wrote of his twenty-seven-year-old friend, “after recitation [I] went to Leander—he gave me a hair ribbon and I promised to sleep with him to night” (Lorenzo 58). More than two centuries later, it is hard to read this sort of diary entry without either exaggerating or pooh-poohing its hint of sex. In the late eighteenth...

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10. The Swan of Litchfield: Sarah Pierce and the Lesbian Landscape Poem

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pp. 253-276

One of the most important documents of love between women in early America is a poem by Sarah Pierce. Pierce is a well-known figure in the early Republic as the founder of the Litchfield Female Academy, often called the first American institution of higher education for women. Among her students were Catherine and Harriet Beecher, and her...

Part IV: Reformers in the New Nation

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11. Sexual Desire, Crime, and Punishment in the Early Republic

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pp. 279-302

The American Revolution ushered in a “sexual revolution” that lowered restraints on sexual desire but heightened fears that youths would fail to exhibit republican virtue.1 One indicator of impending failure was the perceived growth of crime in cities such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Beginning in the 1780s, penal reformers argued that the primary...

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12. The Black Body Erotic and the Republican Body Politic, 1790–1820

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pp. 303-330

An eroticized black male body appears in a number of antislavery writings published and republished in America between 1790 and 1820. In these writings arose two entirely new elements in American writing. First is an erotic representation of the black male body—its visage, hands, muscle, skin, height, sex—unparalleled by the representation of any other body...

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13. What’s Sex Got to Do with It? Marriage versus Circulation in The Pennsylvania Magazine, 1775–1776

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pp. 331-356

The “It” of my title is the United States. Americanist scholarship has focused on the uneven development of American nationalism as it emerged well after the Revolution, in the antebellum period.1 But nonetheless, as devotees to the cause of Revolution well knew, a sense of group cohesion was needed not only for mustering the patriotism necessary for...

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14. In a French Position: Radical Pornography and Homoerotic Society in Charles Brockden Brown’s Ormond or the Secret Witness

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pp. 357-383

Charles Brockden Brown’s Ormond or the Secret Witness (1799) is the most radical novel written by an American until perhaps Melville’s Moby Dick (1850). Brown’s narrative rejects middle-class aspirations of individual merit and commercial success by looking to nurture a community based on the values of rational cooperation and mutual betterment. Though...

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pp. 384-390

Let’s face it. For many U.S. historians who teach and research the history of sexuality, early America is an unfortunate inconvenience. It does not provide us with a route to the present. We cannot turn to it for the origins—even the distant attenuated origins—of our own world in which sexuality is bound closely to and has helped constitute a regime of mass...

About the Contributors

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pp. 391-392


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pp. 393-404

About the Editor

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pp. 405

E-ISBN-13: 9780814728147
E-ISBN-10: 0814728146
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814727492
Print-ISBN-10: 0814727492

Page Count: 448
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Homosexuality -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • Gays -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
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