The Queer History of the United States: Part 2

Episode · 2 years ago

The Queer History of the United States: Part 2


Gay war heroes, cross-dressing soldiers, and disgraced lieutenants. There is so much more to the Revolutionary War than the fight for independence.  Be sure to follow Eric on IG! Your host is Levi Chambers, co-founder of Gayety. Follow the show and keep up with the conversation @Pride. Want more great shows from Straw Hut Media? Check out or website at Your producers are Levi Chambers, Maggie Boles, Ryan Tillotson and Edited by Sebastian Alcala Have an interesting LGBTQ+ story to share? We might feature U! Email us at *This podcast is not affiliated with Pride Media. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit

Straw hut media. When you studied the Revolutionary War in school, you probably learned about Paul Revere's midnight ride, the shot heard round the world, Thomas Paine's common sense, the Declaration of independence. You might have even learned about Baron von Steuben, the Prussian Lieutenant General who whipped the American troops into shape during the darkest hours of the revolutionary war. But chances are your history teachers left out the part where that same Baron von Steuben was probably gay. Today, on pride we move into part two of our series on the Queer history of the United States. With the help of Dr Eric Servini, will learn about two revolutionary war heroes who were honored despite their transgressions and one lieutenant who was chased out of town. I leave chambers, and this is pride. Last week, in part one of our series, we learned about gender in the indigenous nations of North America. We learned about the Spanish conquistadors and the ways they justified some of the violence against native people on Gender Deviation. We also learned about how the British colonies viewed and punished same sex behavior. Today, we forge ahead into the later seventeen hundreds, about seventeen, seventy five, until seventeen eighty three, when the thirteen colonies decided to fight for independence from British rule. We're going to be talking about the revolutionary war. There's Dr Eric Servini again, our guide through this six part series on the queer history of the United States. So then, let's get started with this. Where does the gainess start with the revolutionary war? Well, I think you can't talk about the revolutionary war unless you talk about Baron von Steuben. We ever heard of them? No, okay, so he might be one of my favorite characters in all of gay American history. The year is one Thousan sevent hundred and seventy seven. The colonies have been fighting for independence for almost thirteen years. British soldiers have won a series of battles and have taken Philadelphia. Winter is coming and the outlook is not good. George Washington leads his twelve thousand man army and their four hundred wives and children twenty miles northwest of Philadelphia to valley forge. For the winter, men have to forage for Hey because there's a scarcity of betting. Some soldiers have no shoes, conditions are on sanitary and people are dying from influenza, Typhas, typhoid, fever and dysentery. The troops are struggling and morale is low. And then Benjamin Franklin, our favorite. Here's about this guy. His full name was Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich, Fernandand Steuben. People call him Baron von Steuben to save breath. He was a military officer from Prussia, so modern day Germany. Everybody knew Baron von Steuben was an excellent military man. He had joined the PRUSSIAN army at age seventeen and served as second lieutenant in the seven year war. Later he was promoted to first lieutenant, then captain, and then served as a personal assistant to Frederick the great, the King of Prussia. Despite his years of military success, he ended up cast out and unemployed in the reason for that was he had been accused multiple times of homosexual behavior. So he was literally floating around trying to get someone, some military, to here him to run the troops, you know, run the run the military game.

Enter French General, Count Claude Louis, who sees the value of this well trained and unemployed PRUSSIAN officer. The count introduces von Steuben to the one and only Benjamin Franklin, who then introduces him to the one and only George Washington. Washington is the the general of the condental army. All the colonies are reporting to him, and so he hires von Steuben, this allegedly homosexual man, or at least sexually deviant man, and assigns the very young Alexander Hamilton to be fun students assistant. Baron von Steuben arrives at Valley forge in February of one thousand seven hundred and seventy eight, after the troops have been there for about three months. It's freezing, everyone's in terrible mood, it's not looking so great, and he starts training the troops in later he said, you know, there is no discipline at all among that the continental army. So he starts implementing his PRUSSIAN drill techniques. And not only does von Steuben with the soldiers into shape, he whips the whole encampment into shape. He organizes the tents and huts so that command officers and enlisted men are grouped together. He puts the kitchen on one side of the camp and the latrine. On the other, he establishes rules to keep everything more sanitary, and his practices are used in the US military for another hundred and fifty years. And so I have to say, even though, that the conditions and valley forge, you know, where they were camping out, wasn't so great, he he made sure that they still had some fun and there's some evidence that maybe there was even some homosexual or at least homo erotic activity going on, like a circle jerk. I don't want to go that far, but I think my favorite instance that we have is he actually threw some parties while he was there at this, you know, military encampment, and one of them he had rule, and the rule was men were only allowed to attend his party if they came, without quote, a whole pair of pants, and so arguably that could have mend ripped pants or, you know, pants and bad condition. Technically there are breaches. We know that heads. Chances are they may have come in various states of undress. You either wear a really old pair of them that were kind of torn up and not, you know, in good shape at all, which of course they may have had as soldiers, or you wear nothing at all and I and there's evidence that they interpreted it as meaning you don't wear any pants. So they show up to this event they got no pants on, balls are swinging or they've got breaches on with strategically placed holes, probably around the button. It is a certain as a historian I can't I can't comment on that possibility. But you know, we don't have evidence that it wasn't that. I'll put it that way. So while von Steuben was a man on the streets, he most definitely was a freak in the sheets. But more important than that, we know that the revolutionary war was won by the United States of America, by the continental army, largely because of his trading right. It became a professional army because of Baron von stupid, and all of the colonies knew that right one America won the war. They recognized Van Steuben despite, you know, the rumors or the whispers that we're going on at the time that America won the colonies one the war because of this Prussian immigrant. So you know, towards the end of the war, you know by one thousand seve hundred and eighty three, he had become George Washington's chief of staff and then even after that, Congress made sure that he was taken care of for the rest of his life and even now many cities in America celebrate him. It's a huge German holiday.

If you've seen the movie fairrispeeler's Day off the prey they go to. That is von Stuben Day, and Philadelphia also hosts events. Chicago has a Vun stupend day parade. There's a stupid Ville in Ohio. So we are consciously or not, celebrating a gay hero, right, and I think if people knew that you know this, this somewhat obscure holiday, we might not know who V on stupen was, or maybe we know that he really helped us out during the war. It was a gay hero and I think people should recognize him as such. So it's really an interesting story because you have this dude who's throwing like circuit parties sort of right. Well, you know, I three hundred year old circuit parties with assles breaches day would I we don't have any evidence about what actually happened during these parties. All we know is that he invited men over without wearing full pair of pants, right. That's that's it and we do know that there was pretty clear evidence that people that Franklin certainly knew about the homosexual activity allegations Washington, most likely new because what's your first question when you hear about this army officer drifting around Europe? Well, why is any working for the PRUSSIAN's right? So I think there must have been some at least don't ask, don't tell type of situation going on where, because it was contained within Europe. It's some of these allegations and you know, he was pretty private about it and we only know about some of these relationships or through letters that he wrote, which were, of course private until historians read them. So, you know, it's carrot. We have to be careful not to say all right, he was a gay man, but certainly people high up knew about it and I think people probably in his inner circle knew about it. So yeah, I think it's safe to say that. You know, maybe now we can think of him as a gay hero and we can claim him as as that. Now another piece of evidence that we have that he was a homosexual. Of course, they didn't have that category at the time, so we can only really speculate what he would have been if we brought him here to two thousand and twenty. But another piece of evidence that we have is that after the war he moved in with two men who may have comprised the three of them a throuble, and later in his life he actually adopted them, which was really a common option for same sex lovers who wanted a legal union way before gay marriage was legal. And so if you look at the letters between them, there's some suggestions that, you know, that was more than just a friendship or, you know, taking them under his wing. He really really did love them, one of them maybe more than the other. So there's there's only some drama in that in a three way situation like that. But so that those are the pieces of evidence that we have that that he was what we now call gay. So it is safe to say then, that there was, at the very least, what did you call it, like homo erotic activity going on during the revolutionary war. Are there examples of actual like gay sects during this time period? There are, and we have to preface that by saying, you know, we don't have that much evidence of actual sodomy. Right, sodomy was still against the law. However, most of the cases were not actual sodomy accusations but rather attempted sodomy, right, because you had to prove that penetration right according to the British law. So there was that tradition. When we come back, a lieutenant is convicted of attempted sodomy and...

Washington dulls out punishment. Welcome back. Before the break we talked about Baron von Steuben, who not only helped America when the revolutionary war but was also most likely what we now call gay and, despite the laws against homosexuality, is still celebrated as a hero. Now we'll talk about a revolutionary war lieutenant who didn't get the hero badge. When we look at records from the Revolutionary War, there are more than three thou disciplinary court marshals, so plenty of bad conduct going on. Of those court marshals, only two of them involved attempted sodomy. So yes, it is safe to assume that there is plenty of gay sex going on during the revolutionary war. Right there. This is an all male environment in these camps time and time again. Used to look at the Kinsey study from from more recent times. You look at any kind of analysis of same sex environments there is going to be homosexual activity happening. One of those two cases involved a lieutenant named Frederick Enslin, and it began with the charge of slander. A fellow soldier was court marshaled for spreading a rumor that Enslin was attempting to commit sodomy with someone else, and that man was acquitted and they said okay, all right, this this rumor might actually be valid. So on March ten, one thousand seven hundred and seventy eight, Lieutenant Frederick Anslin was brought to trial for attempting to commit sodomy with a soldier named John Monhort. Now we don't really know what actually happened. Chances are it was not some sort of consensual activity. Chances are John Monhoort, you know, was saying, all right, this lieutenant was, you know, doing something inappropriate or trying to make a move that I didn't condone, regardless, and then was ultimately found guilty. So this is where we get a little bit of complexity about the situation and about George Washington, because we know that George Washington, as you know, the general of the Continental Army. He approved the sentence. So after the Court Martial, the verdict was handed down. He was the one who said, okay, I'm in to order the punishment for him. And what was that? Well, this punishment, I think, is really interesting and it immediately raised comparison to one of my favorite shows, game of thrones, where cercy gets in trouble and has to walk through kings landing with, you know, the the the priest or, whoever. It was, the mean. None, yea, at the mean. Yeah, that's what it was. It was the the nun says exactly with the bell say right, very, very similar to Suation. So George Washington ordered, and I quote here, with abhorrence and detestation of such infamous crimes, that he be Enzlin, this lieutenant, be dismissed with infamy. And the exact punishment was he ordered him to be drummed out of camp by all of the drummers and fighters in the entire army. So he literally was marched out of camp in disgrace with drummers drumming, telling everyone that this is what will happen to you if you try to commit sodomy. So pretty dramatic punishment. It wasn't the death penalty, though. Right like this guy survived. But I think it's important to say even though we only have those two cases, we can guess that there were plenty of sodomy offenses that were occurring privately and consensually. And one of the reasons why historians say, well,...

...we don't have that much evidence and there weren't that many that got caught was chances are the commanding officers didn't report it upwards. They wanted to avoid embarrassing their unit so they handled it internally. You know, they might have gotten a slap on the rest or something like that, because of course, if you're a commanding officer, the last thing you want is for the entire continental army to know that there's homosexuals in your unit, right, especially if it was consensual and involved two men. So that's at least one explanation for why we don't have that many instances. But I think it also says you know, even if Washington maybe was looking the other way, with Baron von Steuben, sometimes you didn't have a choice. Right, this was this verdict was handed to him. He had to say, all right, given the norms of the eighteen century of you know our British heritage and how we view homosexuality or homosexual behavior. We have to stay consistent and he couldn't really look the other way. So at this time, when you say like attempted sodomy, does that mean like it didn't fit or like what was the situation there? We really don't know. It could have been any number of situations. We have. Next time we'll talk about early America and we have letters between, for example, cowboys, right, or these male friendships that that blossom kind of among the elite on the eastern coast where, you know, they were very intense friendships and they often shared a bed and there are sometimes allusions made two things being stuck in places where, you know, to platonic friends might, might might not be engaging in that kind of behavior. So we don't really know exactly. Did make up a reason, reason for well asleep and my weener ended up in his ass. I don't know what happened. Weird? Yeah, I mean maybe. I I think it's pretty clear that this endsln case was not necessarily a consensual, you know, instance. This, this Endslin case, was probably an instance of someone making a move or even sexually assaulting this other soldier, regardless the others, the other soldier was not was not interested whatever he was trying to do. So what happened to Lieutenant Enslin? We have no idea. We don't know what happened to him. They just drummed him out of town and then we're like yeah, that's that and that is that. That is all the information that we have. Are there instances and which, like Washington or Hamilton, spoke on their own about homosexuality? Never explicitly. They never said, oh, I know von Steuben is is a homosexual, for two reasons. One, that were didn't exist. Right it? We're not there yet for another hundred years. And second, they didn't really think of it that way. It's something that anyone was capable of and of engaging it, but this idea of endzln being a homosexual would never have occurred, or the idea of von Steuben being a sexual homosexual. No, no, but perhaps he was a sodomite, right, and so I think there is this question of, you know me, maybe there's some sort of identity being placed upon him by society. It's another question of whether he identified himself as a sodomine. So we really don't know. But usually when they're talking about this homosexual behavior, it's in terms of sin, or if it's not in terms of sin, and if there maybe some of this homo erotic language in the letters especially, we'll talk. We'll talk about Hamilton. It's in terms of you know, it just kind of the same way we talked now about like locker room talk, right, or a...

...lot, you know, two guys just, you know, having a good time, kind of the beginning of these these pornos right, where, you know, two guys kind of joking about their sexual prowess like that was a really big topic of discussion back then. But then sometimes it would cross the line into all right, are we talking about sexual prowess with women or with me? And so those are the questions that we ask. Is Historians of saying, all right, we can't say they were homosexuals, but certainly there's this homo erotic element that may have suggested sexual activity. Got It. So they would have been like have the little locker room talk, right, HMM, yeah, the ladies love my big Dick. You want to touch it? Kind of thing, in so many words. Yeah, yeah, and we don't know if it certainly wasn't that explicit, but they it would sometimes cross the line, I think, to make it pretty clear that there was. It was more than a friendship. Eric says that one reason we don't hear much about these homo erotic or romantic male relationships is that the culture of male friendships has changed a lot. People chatted differently with each other. Two male friends. It was okay to say I love you, and now that's a little bit weirder. Right, we have the no homo culture. Back Down there was no such thing because there was no no homo. There was no homo at all. So it was just assumed that it was no homo until maybe it was something more. Okay. So, like I'm picturing, have you ever seen Hocus pocus? Yes, I'm picturing everyone talking like the people in the beginning and like Bacaray binks's village, like what hast thou done with my that kind of thing. So I'm just trying to figure out, like how would it there? You don't have words like homosexuality. They're not explicit, so it had to have been a very like poetic Homo eroticism. Yeah, and if you look at these letters, you know they're they're pretty they can be pretty graphic, like you see references of like Oh, like, you're going to try to poke me again while whilst we sleep, and right it, it's pretty clear what's going on in some instances. Still, Eric says that even physical affection between male friends was in no way an indicator of sexual preference at the time, and you still see it and even other cultures. You know, if you go to India now, you see plenty of men walking around the street holding hands, and so there's certainly this this idea of no homo or right or this masculinity where there can be no physical affection. That's a pretty recent phenomenon in our own culture. In before then, you know, it was much more common to you know, share a bed or to be physically affectionate. So back then, is it safe to say that affection was much more open? Right, absolutely, and especially among women. That's something you see with these romantic friendships between women. Usually with men, you would have a best friend where maybe lines we're crossed, maybe things were a little blurry, it was truly the number one person in your life, that was your number one companion. Then as soon as you got married, that your wife became the new number one. Among women, it was much more common for those relationships to kind of be maintained and I think it was also more social acceptable back then. But we'll talk more about the the romantic friendships next time. There's another big reason we don't hear much about the Homo eroticism of the founding fathers and historic war heroes. All these men had descendants who knew their letters and writings would be of interest to the public. What did they do? They burned some of the letters or they threw them out or they altered them. Right, there is plenty of instances where you see, oh, this line definitely used to be here right in this letter. But you know, you may have a nephew. You saw it with Michelangelo, right. He had a great grand nephew who literally changed all...

...the pronouns in Michelangelo's poetry to make his poems about women, and they weren't. And Not until, you know, hundreds of years later did historians find basically the smoking God that then the grand nephew, Michaelangelo the younger, had admitted to saying, Oh, there's no way we can possibly publish these poems in their current form. There's way too much masculine love here. So we found. You know, the evidence that actually this history has been changed, and not for the good. When we come back the story of a war hero named Robert Shirtlift, Aka Deborah Samson. Welcome back. Up to this point we've talked about a gay war hero and about a disgraced lieutenant. Now we'll talk about the woman who decided to disguise herself as a man and join the military. Born in one thousand seven hundred and sixty near Plymouth, Massachusetts, Deborah Samson grew up very poor and became an indentured servant at the age of ten, but she educated herself. She became a teacher during the summer and was weaving during the winter, but still didn't have that much money. At the time, the continental army incentivized soldiers by paying them for their service. So in one thousand seven hundred and eighty two, as the revolutionary war raged on, she decided to enlist. Of course, only men were allowed to join at the time, so Deborah Sampson became Robert Schrloff. She joined to the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment and at West Point, New York, she was assigned to the light infantry and she was given some pretty dangerous jobs she was in charge of scouting some neutral territory, trying to basically spy on the British. She even led a raid on a British home and captured fifteen men. For almost two years Deborah managed to avoid detection. It helped that she was tall and broad, but she also had to make sure she never went to a doctor. So while she was carrying out some of these pretty dangerous missions, she was injured several times. She got a gash in her forehead from sword. She was shot in her left thigh and to avoid seeing a doctor, she literally extracted that that pistol ball by herself. Deborah was finally discovered just months before the war ended when she fell sick in Philadelphia and lost consciousness. She was taking to hospital and a doctor said Whoa wait a second, this is this is not the typical male soldier. Still she received an honorable discharge. Why? Because everyone recognized this woman was was a hero. After the war, Deborah lived the rest of her life as a woman. She married a man, had three children and received a military pension from the state of Massachusetts. Then, in one thousand seven hundred and ninety seven, a newspaper publisher named Herman Man Ghost wrote her memoir, titled The Female Review, or memoirs of an American Young Lady. Five years after that she embarked on a yearlong lecture tour about her time in the military, and sometimes she would show up to these lecture halls and giving speeches in full military regalia. So you can just imagine the everyone clamoring to see this this military hero. When Deborah died at the age of sixty six, her husband petition Congress for military spousal benefits. After all, his wife had been a soldier, and so Congress actually said our all right, you have a point, we will go ahead and give you the the the benefits that are usually reserved for women. So the whole family kind of benefited from this upending of gender norms. We...

...know Deborah Sampson went back to life as a woman after the war, we know she used Feminine Pronouns and we know she married a man, but her bold rejection of the rigid gender norms at the eighteen century is definitely Badass. I'm not sure we can call her a queer person, but I think we can call her behavior during the war certainly as transgressive and certainly as as subvert pursive but to have someone actually celebrated for transgressing those gender norms, I think is really really makes this case really significant and interesting. Next week we will move into the early years of the United States. So after America has one the revolutionary war, it's one, it's independence, and we'll be talking about number one, one of my favorite historical characters of all time, Alexander Hamilton, and looking at how he may have been sexually deviant in his own way, and then also one of my favorite instances of a same sex female marriage that that occurred in the very, very early years of the United States of America. Pride. It is a production of Straw media. If you like the show, leave us a rating and a review on Apple, podcast, spotify or wherever you're tuning in from. Share us with your friends, subscribe and follow us on Instagram, facebook and twitter at pride. You can follow me at Lee by chambers and you can find Dr Eric Servini at Riice Ser v I, and I that's at Eric Servini. Pride is produced by me be by chambers, Maggie Bowls and Ryan Tillotson, edited by Sebastian Alcohola. The lineback then was it was tiny rows, like they're holding hands and kissing. It's fine, their comrades. Oh No, no, now there are a couple right now. Yes,.

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