The Stone Wall


stone wall

I was thrilled to discover I live just down the road from the childhood home of the author of America’s first lesbian autobiography, The Stone Wall. The book was published in 1930 in Chicago under a pseudonym. It wasn’t until 2003 that the author’s birth and married names were discovered by Tufts University doctoral candidate Sherry Ann Darling in what historian Jonathan Katz calls “a major example of creative, historical detective work.” I was just as excited to find that the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, NYC – oft cited as the place the Gay Revolution began in 1969 – was originally opened the same year the Stone Wall was published, as a tearoom and in probable tribute to the author.

I first found mention of the autobiography in The History Project’s Improper Bostonians (1998). One tantalizing sidebar paragraph: ”’Mary Casal’ (her real name is not known) was born in Western Massachusetts in 1864. Her autobiography, The Stone Wall, published in 1930, is the amazing psycho-sexual self-portrait of a young woman’s growing awareness and acceptance of her lesbian identity. For a time, she taught in a ‘very select girls’ day school on Beacon Hill’ and is quite possibly included in [a] photograph of Miss Ireland’s school… ”

stone cover

Casal’s Massachusetts’ roots were not mentioned in earlier notice by lesbian literature authority Barbara Grier or historian Jonathan Katz. Darling includes Grier’s 1976 review reprint in an online OutHistory bibliography   :

Grier, Barbara (alias: Gene Damon). “Life History of a Lesbian: Mary Casal. Reproduced from  Lesbian Lives: Biographies of Women from the Ladder. Editors Barbara Grier and Coletta Reid. Diana Press 1976 :

“Apparently this is an undoctored life history of a Lesbian. Mary Casal wrote her life story in a casual conversational and entirely frank manner. Since Miss Casal was born in 1864 and was at the time of writing 65 years old, the complete detail of her love affair is almost amazing. Miss Casal was born in New England on a farm and apparently was a part of the class described as upper middle class. Her parents were a rather odd mixture, her mother a descendent of the very pure Puritans and her father a descendent of a distinguished English family of artists and musicians. She was the youngest of nine children and her childhood friends were all male… By the time she had completed her college education she had had three or four … crushes and one of them had apparently been physically satisfactory. In her effort to make her autobiography utterly untraceable, Miss Casal has obscured the sequence of her life to an extent that makes dates impossible to find in relation to her big love affair. However, somewhere in her middle thirties she met and fell in love with a girl two years younger. The affair was entirely complete and very happy for both women for many years, approximately fifteen years or a little more. During these happy years the women discovered many other women of like temperament and the authoress expresses her initial surprise at this, because previously Mary and her friend Juno had thought they were the only women in the world who loved another woman.

Miss Casal’s revelations about the Lesbian world of New York and Paris around the turn of this century are most interesting. Although Miss Casal tries to give the impression that she was never a professional author, it is hard to believe in view of the quality of writing in her memoirs. I heartily recommend this as almost a class[ic] case of lesbianism. Unfortunately the book is very rare and quite expensive. Those willing to take the trouble can borrow the book through the Library of Congress.”

lesbian lives cover

This review by Grier was likely published in the Ladder before The Stone Wall was reprinted in 1975 by Arco Press. A more recent reprint in 2018 by Forgotten Books makes hardback and paperback editions more readily available. The Stone Wall  is also now available for free online.

Jonathan Katz offered a much longer critical review of The Stone Wall in his work Gay American History (1976). OutHistory.org has now made this available online.

I encourage anyone to read The Stone Wall. It is a concise two hundred pages. Given that the author would have been the age of my grandmother when she wrote it, I was struck by her unusual frankness about sex. Her autobiography also provides examples of of what are now called #MeToo moments in late 1800s-early 1900s. Casal discusses childhood abuse and struggles with marital sex. She also gives accounts of intimacy with other women and entry into the subculture of women like her. Nowhere does she refer to herself as a lesbian, though Sherry Darling discovered that Casal’s editor/publisher referred to her a lesbian in correspondence with others and may have edited out anything he considered “too hot” for 1930. At the age of sixty-six, the last of her family still alive, she was not too reticent, although she did disguise some facts to spare her peers.

It is a delight to see historians recover more of her story, linking her solitary work to a much larger, vibrant subculture.   In 2004, David Carter, investigating Stonewall: the Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, discovered that the same year Casal’s autobiography was published, a tearoom named Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn opened on Seventh Avenue South in Greenwich Village NYC. The owner was Vincent Bonavia.

In those Prohibition days, the tearoom gained a reputation as one of the most notorious in the Village. Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn was raided for selling liquor. Carter also  postulated that its name selection sent a coded message that lesbians were welcome there. Casal and her woman partner lived for a number of years in Greenwich Village.

In Sherry A. Darling’s dissertation on Mary Casal, she uncovered the underground lesbian community centered around actresses in the legitimate theatre in NYC circa 1890-1920 that the author was part of. Darling believes, based on her research, that one character in Casal’s memoir is a male impersonator and actress who introduced Casal and her partner to others in that circle.

In 1934 the tea room, now a bar, moved to two former stables that had been merged and renovated at 51-53 Christopher Street, the current site of the Stonewall Inn.

stone stables

In this pre-1930 photo, the horse stable on the left #53 had already been converted to use as a bakery and the third floor of the stable on the right had yet to be razed.

 

bonnies-stonewall

This 1939 NYC tax photo shows Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn sign on the far right over the joined buildings. Source:NYC Municipal archives.

The business changed hands and function over the decades but retained some variation of the same name on the old signage.

Stonewall-6edt

Matchbook cover circa the 1940s before it became a restaurant. Courtesy of Tom Bernardin.

 

In 1969, as the Mafia-owned gay bar the Stonewall Inn, it returned to its uproarious origins.

Stonewall- daviesnypl1

Diana Davies photo of the Stonewall Inn taken Sep. 9, 1969 after the June-July riots had closed it down. Note on the sign that “Restaurant” had replaced “Bonnie’s.” Photo courtesy New York Public Library.

Through extensive research into the few concrete details in The Stone Wall, Darling discovered that Casal was Ruth Fuller Field, born and raised in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Field later lived with her husband in nearby Montague on the Connecticut River. Casal had written that as a young lady she had spent the summer with a married sister whose family was great friends with the neighboring Governor, who had recently lost his wife. Given the approximate time period Darling was able to identity the Governor. Through his diaries and local property deeds, she identified his friends and neighbors. Through the genealogy records of those friendly neighbors and corroborating detail in The Stone Wall Darling found the name of the sister who had visited them that summer: Ruth Fuller Field.

I easily found confirmation that the person Darling identified as using the Casal pseudonym grew up in Deerfield. These documented details about Ruth Fuller Field echoed elements in Casal’s autobiography as well.

There is the 1870 U.S. Census record filled out by Deerfield’s historian George Sheldon. Ruth W. is the youngest, at 5, of six children living with their parents Joseph and Lydia Fuller. A black “colored” male farm laborer also lived with them.

stone 1870 census

George Sheldon also wrote Deerfield’s history and genealogy in 1896. In it, Sheldon included the Joseph Fuller family, noting that he was a teacher of music as well as a farmer and that by then he resided in Mont[ague]. In addition to the children in the 1870 census, three deceased children were listed. Ruth W. is the last of the living children listed. She was born June 17, 1864. She married Feb 12, 1887 to Frank A. Field of Mont[ague].

There appear to be no street names or house numbers back then, but an online search of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Society’s collection provided details about Ruth’s most famous uncle, George, who painted landscapes of the neighborhood where the Fuller families lived. Called the Bars, because of some residents’ use of whole tree trunks stacked up to make fences, it was several miles south of (Old) Deerfield center, just past the saw and grist mills on the Deerfield River.

I was curious about just where that might be. It sounded as if it was on or near one of my favorite drives, a back way to Old Deerfield that passes through woods and farm fields before it comes out along the Deerfield River, where I might pass an acre of lavender in bloom.

When I searched for old maps, I found a watercolor tinted lithograph online dated 1871, from an atlas of Franklin County by Frederick Beers. The mills on the river (Mill Village) were marked south of Deerfield center. The race, a small canal, diverted the river to the mills. Each building was marked with its function or the names of its residents. Clustered together on the road south of the mills were the Fuller residences!

1971 map of Deerfield closeup Fuller neighorhood_edited-1

Enlarged neighborhood detail from 1871 Deerfield map by Frederick Beers.

The J.N. Fuller family (Ruth’s) lived next to Joseph’s father Aaron and his mother Sophia, and across the road from his brother George, who became the acclaimed painter even as he struggled to make a living as a farmer.

A Mill Village Road starts across the highway from where I live. Since it was a sunny March day when I found the map, I copied it and drove down that road. I passed by odd housing developments and cornfield stubble still under melting snow. The road started to descend toward the river.

Coming around a wooded bend, I saw a sign on the right side of the road, the Bar’s Farm Stand. Pulling over into its vacant, muddy little parking lot, I stared straight ahead at an old gambreled house, large and immaculately preserved. It looked like the one in photos at the PVMA identified as belonging to George, Ruth’s uncle. Across the street were two houses, just as marked on the old map. One, a boxier, old white painted house was in the position marked as the residence of Ruth’s grandfather Aaron. Next to it, with a driveway lined with sugar maples, sap buckets hung out, was a dark-stained wooden house. It was just where the map indicates Ruth’s family would have lived.

JN Fuller home Mill Village-1

Photo by Kaymarion Raymond, March 2019

The cluster of old houses were indeed located on a plateau, higher ground above the river flood plain with woods uphill and fields around that would have been in hay or planted with potatoes. As I continued north toward Old Deerfield, the road dropped down to the river, met Stillwater Road. The one room school the Fuller children attended at that crossroads was gone. Where the mills would have been on the river was now a dairy cow pasture, but running through it was a winding shallow gully that must have been the remains of the race that diverted water to the mill wheels. If I had gone farther, I would have passed a favorite Fuller swimming hole. Already I’d gone by a man pulling on his waders, getting ready to fish in the river.

SOURCES:

__Casal, Mary.[Ruth Fuller Field.:] The Stone Wall: An Autobiography. Eyncourt Press. Chicago. 1930. Free online PDF.  https://archive.org/details/stonewallautobio00casa

__The [Boston] History Project. Improper Bostonians. Beacon Press, Boston. 1998.

__Darling, Sherry A. “A Critical Introduction to The Stone Wall: An Autobiography.” Dissertation, Tufts University. 2003. Hat tip to Anne Moore UMass archivists for accessing a copy of this for me.

__Katz, Jonathan Ned. Introduction, Mary Casal, pseudonym of Ruth Fuller Field: The Autobiography of an American Lesbian (1930). Outhistory.org. http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/casal

__Darling, Sherry Ann. Bibliography, Mary Casal, pseudonym of Ruth Fuller Field: The Autobiography of an American Lesbian (1930). http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/casal.         includes article by Grier cited below:

__Grier, Barbara (AKA Gene Damon). “Life History of a Lesbian: Mary Casal.” Lesbian Lives: Biographies of Women From the Ladder. Editors Barbara Grier and Coletta Reid. Diana Press.1976.

__Carter, David. Stonewall: the Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004.

__ Landmarks Preservation Commission (NYC).June 23, 2015, Designation List 483LP-2574STONEWALL INN, 51-53 Christopher Street, Manhattan. Includes pieces of the building history not included in other sources.

__Stonewall photos used here, and many more, gathered from various sources into an excellent online slideshow.  https://www.nyclgbtsites.org/site/stonewall-inn-christopher-park/

__”The 40 Songs on the Stonewall Inn Jukebox June 1969.” Just for fun if you read this far,  oldtimer nostalgia. Playlist on Spotify by Douglas Bender on Feb 18 2014.“[Motown] is not an audible sound. It’s spiritual, and it comes from the people that make it happen.” – Smokey Robinson. Record Compilation Credit: Williamson Henderson, President SVA. https://www.charentonmacerations.com/2014/02/18/stonewall-jukebox/

__Deerfield Mass. Census of 1870. Schedule 1, Inhabitants, Page 6.

__Sheldon, George. A History of Deerfield, Massachusetts: The Times when the People by Whom it was Settled, Unsettled and Resettled. Volume 2. Press of E.A. Hall & Company, Deerfield Mass, 1896.

__Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Society. Deerfield Massachusetts online collection. Much information online about George Fuller, Ruth’s Uncle, including paintings and descriptions of their neighborhood. http://www.memorialhall.mass.edu/collection

__Beers, Frederick. “Deerfield.” Atlas of Franklin County. 1871. http://historicmapworks.com/Map/US/8346/

cold brook farm

https://openarchives.umb.edu/digital/collection/p15774coll6/id/6268

In the Field family since 1866.

Cold Brook Farm, Montague, MA
Description ‘125 acre plantation, 6 or 8 buildings, electric water-powered generator, sawmill, cider mill, 26-room house for summer guests, dairy and beef hogs, tobacco, onions, asparagus, various garden vegetables, steamboat landing, Black family as cooks, had electricity before the town was electrified.’
Contributor Name Parzych, Joseph A.
Decade 1990-1999

 

Mysterious Hanging in 1676


Thomas Cole, the Oxbow

I only had the vaguest sense of the Puritan origins of Massachusetts when I moved here from out of state. In my search for Northampton’s queer past, I have become more and more astounded that from a foundation of severe social constraint this Commonwealth has moved to become a national leader in gay rights and same-sex marriage. It’s as though, even as Puritanism and capitalism seems to still prevail, the state’s rebellious radical roots surface from time to time as well.

Among the colonies of Europeans trying to plant themselves on the east coast of this continent, the Massachusetts Bay Colony had a reputation for extreme intolerance. While chartered by the King of England and under that law, the settlers were secretly religious radical separatists intent on establishing a new Eden, separate from the English Anglican Church, in which everyone belonged to a congregation based on the same ideologically “pure” Christian covenant.

Throughout much of Massachusetts, one sees remnants of this past in the frequent presence of the white spires of Congregational Churches, whose founding dates back to the origins of those towns, when the towns were not distinguished from religious congregations. The colonizers went beyond English law to form this new society by requiring every new plantation (as towns were often called) to be strictly organized around Church, State and Family. The church mandated attendance by all, whether townspeople were admitted members or not. Initially, only those men who were full Church members and property owners constituted town government, with a vote and the ability to serve in offices both in the town and in the government of the colony. Everyone had to live within extended family households headed by such patriarchs.

This congregational social form was reflected in the regulated development of each new plantation as specified in detail by the Colony’s government. The meeting house was built first in what would be the center of the community. It was used for both church and government meetings. All dwellings, in early Nonotuck/Northampton on four acre lots, were built within a half-mile walking distance of the meeting house. The commonly held land of woods, pasture and field surrounded this center.

From James Trumbull, History of Northampton. Historic Northampton’s digital map collection. The Meeting house was at the intersection of Main and King Streets. Its common was probably where punishment stocks were located and where this hanging may have taken place.

It’s hard to imagine how small, closed, and conformist early Nonotuck, as it was first called, would have been. While the founding fathers may have been as interested in establishing their own estates as in creating a religious community, they did follow the Puritan blueprint dictated by the colony. The settlers were a single congregation that literally built the town around the church.

Within it, individual behavior came under constant, but often unsuccessful, regulation. No one could settle or even visit for more than ten days without permission. From the beginning, no single persons were allowed to live alone, but had to be part of an established household monitored by a patriarch for “disorderly living.” As the plantation grew, tithingmen were appointed to regularly inspect ten to twelve neighboring households to enforce the Sabbath and the 9pm curfew. They were also on the alert for idleness and drinking.

Amongst such constraint and near constant oversight, the existence of people who we would today call gay, lesbian, queer, or transgressive in some way would have been severely challenged. Research in queer history, summarized in a recent post , demonstrates that same-sex eroticism and gender crossing existed from the very founding of the Massachusetts colonies. It is likely to have existed in Northampton as well, yet is still hidden history.

A standard source on the history of the early settlement is James Trumbull’s History of Northampton (1898), the first and largest published town history. There is only one major entry suggestive of queerness in this entire two-volume work: a mysterious hanging in 1676 in which neither the man nor his crime are named. Under the heading “First Capital Punishment in Northampton,” Trumbull quotes from the journal of Rev. Simon Bradstreet of New Haven:

“July 1676. A souldier in ye Garrison at Northampton in ye Collony, was hanged. * * *    He was condemned by a councll of warre. He was about 25 or 26. He was but a stranger in this county, prest out against the Indians.”

Trumbull found no other reference to this hanging and remarks on the lack of facts, noting that “the crime must have been of a more than usually reprehensible character.”

from James Trumbull History of Northampton

I am left to wonder if this man was hung for sodomy, one of the Colony’s capital crimes. Although only one such execution has been discovered so far in Massachusetts, historians have suggested from records for all the eastern Colonies that sodomy was disproportionately punished by death. Such executions most  often occurred during early colonization, within communities struggling to survive.

We do not know what form the execution took beyond it was a hanging. Here is an artist’s later interpretation of a hanging that took place that same year (1656) in Boston on the Commons of Ann Hibbins for witchcraft. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Hibbins#/media/File:ExecutionAnnHibbins1.jpg

Northampton had been established for barely twenty years and consisted of eighty households at the time of the hanging. It had also recently suffered both internal dissension and external threats. In the past year, the settlement had undergone witchcraft and sumptuary law trials. The conflict between displaced Indigenous people and settlers had been raging throughout New England. Just four months previous to the hanging the plantation had been attacked by five hundred Native Americans who had broken through the recently erected palisade, killing five settlers and burning ten buildings. The attack on Northampton was one of the last of the southern campaign of “King Phillip’s War,” and the reason militia from outside the area had been garrisoned in the settlement.


 

Although the judgement was reached by a “councll of warre,” it is very likely that Northampton militia officers, other settlement officials, and its minister Rev. Stoddard were part of the council. It is quite possible that Stoddard may have read a sermon published and widely circulated two years before on the sins of Sodom. Attributed to Boston’s Rev. Danforth, it urged the death penalty for sodomy and bestiality as a way to set an example for youth and avoid God’s vengeance on the community. Was the extreme measure a way for a settlement feeling under siege to placate a deity? The very lack of facts about the hanging suggests active censorship. Was this because the capital crime committed was “filth…not fit to be known in a public way, so as to prevent further spread of the idea as a pathogen? We are left to wonder if Rev. Bradstreet simply didn’t know any more about this case or if he was one of those ministers who literally applied the injunction that it was “wickedness not to be named.”

If any early court records for Northampton exist, they still remain to be examined for similar obscuring language. Although Jonathan Edwards scholars have made a start, search needs to be done for the entire colonial period for any local examples of lesser offenses known to have prosecuted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony that covered same-sex eroticism or gender crossing such as: “unchaste or lewd behavior, unseemly practices, uncleane carriage one with another, uncivell living together, licentiousness, lascivious speech, disorderly living” and improper dress.


SOURCES:] 

 

__Katz, Jonathan. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A.: a Documentary History. Meridian, 1992.

__Katz, Jonathan. Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary. Harper & Row, 1983; reprint NY: Carroll & Graf, 1994.

__[Boston] History Project. Improper Bostonians: Lesbian and Gay History from the Puritans to Playland. Beacon Press. Boston. 1998.

__ Haskins, G. L. Law and Authority in Early Massachusetts – A Study in Tradition and Design. Macdonald & Co.1960.

__Trumbull, James Russell. History of Northampton Massachusetts from its Settlement in 1654. Press of Gazette Printing Co. Northampton, Mass. Volume I, 1898. Volume II, 1902.

Available online: Volume one: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=pst.000004746782;view=1up;seq=11 

Volume two: https://books.google.com/books/about/History_of_Northampton_Massachusetts.html?id=PrkWAAAAYAAJ

Further reading:

__new perspective; Our Beloved Kin: Remapping a New History of the King Philip’s War by Lisa Brooks, an interactive website. https://ourbelovedkin.com/awikhigan/index

__ McLain, Guy A. Pioneer Valley: a pictorial history. Virginia Beach, Va. Donning Co. 1991. By the Director of Wood Museum of Springfield History, it has an excellent essay on the largely exploitive economic relationship of the European settlers and the local indigenous people. Readily available in local libraries.


 

 

 

 

Tea rooms for students


Includes mentions of Northampton, Smith and Mt. Holyoke Colleges

Restaurant-ing through history

College and high school students of the 20th century led many eating-out trends and customs. Not only did they help make certain foods popular, they also influenced meal habits and adopted frequent restaurant-going as part of their social lives.

Drive-ins, coffee houses, and vegetarian restaurants were some of the types of eating places heavily shaped by student patrons in the middle and later decades of the last century. But a bit earlier, in the early 20th century, the eating places of choice for many college students were tea rooms that attracted women students. Not than men students didn’t also like tea rooms. An example was The Cactus Tea Room, built in 1917 with weird carvings of university types adorning its eaves, and serving both male and female students at the University of Texas in Austin.

Although tea rooms were more likely to be found near residential colleges, high school…

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Wickedness Not to bee Named


 

Here’s the wicked place this blog starts from. Most of Northampton’s queer history it is still missing, hidden until an informed search can be made of the town’s early documents. Thanks to the work of gay and lesbian historians, though, we have a lens through which to view that past in the knowledge that same-sex eroticism and cross-gender expression existed in Massachusetts from its very beginning. Jonathan Ned Katz provided the first book, Gay American History, in 1976. The first regional history, Improper Bostonians,was published by the [Boston} History Project, in 1998. Since then, an increasing amount of scholarship has provided greater detail and filled in many of the gaps in knowledge of New England’s queer past. What follows is a brief summary of 17th century Massachusetts deviant history. My intention is to provide a context for the founding of Northampton in 1654, and for both the expression and constraint of certain behaviors in the new plantation.

higginson fleet 1629

Higginson fleet 1629

In 1629, the newly patented Massachusetts Bay Company “sent divers ships over [from England] with about three hundred people.” Aboard the bark Talbot, Rev. Francis Higgeson wrote in his diary, “This day we examined 5 Sodomiticall boyes, which confessed their wickedness not to bee named. The fact was so foul we reserved them to be punished by the governor when we came to new England, who afterward sent them backe to the company to bee punished in ould England, as the crime deserved.”

When Thomas Hutchinson wrote the first history of Massachusetts, History of the Colony and Province, around 1760, he deliberately omitted these two sentences about “sodomy.” They were discovered in the handwritten manuscript and restored to the public record by historian Jonathan Katz. They give evidence of the struggle of the authorities to control same-sex eroticism from the very founding of the Colony.

References to the Biblical city of Sodom, which God destroyed for its sinfulness, are the source for the word “sodomy,” as the greatest sin of that community. However, Katz cautions that at the time the term “Sodomite” referred to any of Sodom’s sinful citizens and their whole array of vices, but rarely to persons guilty specifically and only of sodomy.

A year after the Talbot delivered its immigrants  to the Massachusetts Bay, the man who was to become the Colony’s first Governor wrote an impassioned goodbye to a male friend before embarking from England with the next fleet of colonizers. In 1630, John Winthrop wrote to William Springe,”…I must needs tell you, my soul is knit to you, as the soul of Jonathan to David: were I now with you, I should bedew that sweet bosum with tears of affection…” The History Project discovered this letter and explains that masculine friendships were customary at the time. Such relationships allowed for open expressions of love as well as being “bed-fellows,” without the accusation of sodomy.

john winthrop

John Winthrop

The Massachusetts Bay Colony’s authority, and that of the earlier established (1620) Plymouth Colony, was resisted by Europeans who had already settled here. Most notorious among them was Thomas Morton, who had set up his own Merrymount Colony near present day Quincy.  The pagan, poet, and admirer of indigenous people was banished several times for challenging the Puritan monopoly in the area.

Morton had a successful trading post and agrarian colony run equitably with former indentured servants. Their celebration of May Day,  with an 80 foot tall May pole, provided the Puritans with an excuse to crack down on their competitors. According to Plymouth Colony’s governor William Bradford, in 1628, Morton and other male settlers at Merrymount were guilty of “great licentiousness.” The men’s consorting with Indian women is mentioned along with what Bradford called worse practices associated with ancient Roman feasts. Bradford explained that “…sodomy and buggery (things fearful to name) have broken forth in this land oftener than once…”  Plymouth militia chopped the Maypole down and arrested Morton, ultimately charging him with selling firearms to the Native Americans, and holding him for return to England.

Frederick_Goodall_Raising_the_Maypole

A poetical interpretation of the Merrymount May pole celebration

The “worse practices” in the case of Thomas Morton may have referred to interracial sex. It could also be an oblique indication that the European men may have had intimate relationships, not only with Native American women, but with each other and/or Native American men.  It is possible that the various groups of First People present in new England had very different attitudes toward same-sex intimacy and what we now call gender roles.  Though no mention has yet been found in records from the eastern colonies for the Eastern Woodlands people, other early European explorers of the continent as well as later observers in the rest of the country discovered  gender and sexual expression differing from the Europeans in at least 130 Native American societies. More exploration of First People from their own perspective needs to be done.  Individuals crossed gender in dress, work, and speech as well as sexual activity. French explorers called the men a derogatory “ber dache”.  There were also women who were gender variant.

In 1636, the Reverend John Cotton drafted the first set of laws for the Colony, which were based on the Old Testament. Under those crimes designated as capital, which were punishable by death, Cotton included “Unnatural filthiness, whether sodomy, which is carnal fellowship of man with man, or woman with woman, or buggery, which is carnal fellowship of man or woman with beasts or fowls.” Cotton’s proposal wasn’t adopted, but is notable for his inclusion of women. Only New Haven Colony eventually included women in a similar statute as a capital offense.

When Northampton was settled in 1654, it came under the Body of Liberties, which were adopted by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1641. Article 8 in Capital Crimes quoted directly from the Old Testament, Leviticus 20:13: “If a man LYETH WITH MAN-KINDE as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed abomination. They both shall surely be put to death.A revision in 1648 added the stipulation:  “except one who was forced or be under 14 years of age in which case he be severely punished.” This statute would stand until 1698, when “sodomy” was changed to “buggery,” grouped with bestiality, and the phrase “contrary to the very light of Nature” was added.

In 1983 in the Gay/Lesbian Almanac , Jonathan Katz compiled records of at least twenty legal cases in the eastern Colonies involving charges of “sodomy” or other erotic acts between men or between women from 1607 to 1740. Seven of these occurred in Massachusetts Colonies *. Within these twenty cases, there is good evidence of four men having been executed for “sodomy,” and two to four others may also have been. Only one has been found to occur in Massachusetts.      Legal historian George Haskins speculates that a greater concern about non-procreative sexual acts occurred at the beginning of the colony because of the need for more laborers. He notes that passage of sodomy law and a cluster of sodomy, bestiality, and related cases in 1641-42 coincided with an economic depression, a halt in immigration, and the return of new colonists to England (or movement to other colonies), in part, because of the growing reputation of Massachusetts for intolerance.

Katz agrees that “sodomy” and other non-procreative crimes (including rape, bestiality, adultery, and masturbation) were considered to be, not only sins against the family and posterity, but also threats to the economic prosperity of the colony. Perhaps because prosecution of capital crimes required two witnesses, the colonial court records discovered by Katz indicate same-sex eroticism was most often punished as a lesser offense. These were variously charged as unchaste or lewd behavior, unseemly practices, uncleane carriage one with another, uncivell living together, licentiousness, lascivious speech, and disorderly living.” Punishments included public repentance, fines, whipping, branding, disenfranchisement, and banishing.

Puritan-Life-Puritan-Morality-Enforced

Though cases are rarer and punished to a lesser degree, women were also included in this proscription. Katz found two court cases in the Massachusetts colonies  and minister commentary from five New England ministers that made references to acts of women with women.

Three cases of cross-dressing in the 1600’s, two involving women wearing men’s clothing, hint at enough of a phenomena that the Massachusetts Colony passed a law in 1695 prohibiting the wearing of the clothes of the opposite sex.

Statutes concerning “sodomy,” and particularly some legal commentaries and trial records, are fairly explicit. Outside the courtroom, however, there is a marked reticence to be so frank, as though these actions, even the knowledge of them, were infectious. In addition to Rev. Higgeson’s wickedness not to bee named and Bradford’s “things fearful to name,” Katz documents instances in which “buggery” is referred to as a sin “amongst Christians not to be named,” and a note that the private confessions of some youths being tried were so filthy that they were “not fit to be known in a public way.” Katz observes that in Puritan Colonies , sodomitical impulse was not thought of as a sexuality or an identity, but as an inherent potential that could be drawn out of the fallen by bad example.

This, then, was the colonial culture that informed Northampton’s beginnings in 1654.

 

*Multiple Massachusetts colonies; Plymouth Colony founded 1620, Massachusetts Bay colony founded 1628, Maine Colony founded sometime 1640s, all three joined together under one charter as the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.

 

Further reading online sources:

__http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/the-age-of-sodomitical-sin/1620s/legal-case-boys-massachusetts-

__Thomas Morton became a popular figure in American literature and his myth is hard to sort from the facts. Multiple online sources are available; http://ancientlights.org/morton.html

https://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h576.html

https://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/morton.html

Morton’s account of the revels at Merrymont: http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/bdorsey1/41docs/19-mor.html

The new English Canaan text https://archive.org/stream/newenglishcanaan00mort/newenglishcanaan00mort_djvu.txt

__An entry site for indigenous peoples queer history is chapter 17 of  An Online Guide to LGBT History https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/pwh/index-am.asp#c17

__Bowen, Gary. “Transgendered Native Americans.” American Boyz. 1996. http://web.archive.org/web/20030213203638/http://www.amboyz.org/articles/native.html

__Parker, Wendy Susan. “the Berdache Spirit.” http://reconciliation.tripod.com/berdache.htm

_Multiple sources Native American gender variance: http://www.angelfire.com/on/otherwise/native.html

SOURCES:

__Emmerson, Everett H. Letters from New England: the Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1629-1638. University of Massachusetts Press, 1976.

__Katz, Jonathan. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A.: a Documentary History. Meridian, 1976. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/991788.Gay_American_History

__Katz, Jonathan. Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary. Harper & Row, 1983. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/766631.Gay_Lesbian_Almanac

__[Boston] History Project. Improper Bostonians: Lesbian and Gay History from the Puritans to Playland. Beacon Press. Boston. 1998. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/194550.Improper_Bostonians?ac=1&from_search=true

__ Haskins, G. L. Law and Authority in Early Massachusetts – A Study in Tradition and Design. Macdonald & Co.1960.

__Foster, Thomas A. Long Before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America. New York University Press. New York, New York. 2007. https://nyupress.org/books/9780814727508/

__D’Amelio, John and Freeman, Esther. Intimate Matters: a History of Sexuality in America. University of Chicago Press. 1988. https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/I/bo14770063.html

 

 

 

The Vast and Beautiful World of Indigenous Europe


Our Pre-History needs to be reclaimed as part of decolonization. Our sacred roots may be only remembered by our long gone from body ancesters, but if we are brave we can call them.  Lyla June speaks to this in her article in Moon magazine__ long long ago another aspect of history to value. http://moonmagazine.org/lyla-june-reclaiming-our-indigenous-european-roots-2018-12-02/

And then hear her song: