LGBTQ Studies and the History of Early America

Solicited by the OAH Committee on the Status of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Historians and Histories

Saturday, April 2, 2022, 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Colonial/Revolutionary; LGBTQ History and Queer Studies; Sexuality


LGBTQ histories might be mostly clustered around the recent past, but the theoretical and research methods from the field offer historians of Early America critical opportunities.  This panel brings together scholars whose work interrogates notions of gender, sexuality, and intimacy in the British Empire and the Early Republic.  Taken together, they suggest how queer history can transform our understanding about pivotal moments in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Likewise, their work pushes LGBTQ historians to consider a much longer temporal scope and deeper connections to the colonial past. Moments of global imperial expansion or political upheaval inevitably provoked uncertainties and anxieties about the most intimate matters in one’s neighbors’ (and one’s own) lives.

Papers Presented

Trans Feminist Histories, Piece by Piece

This paper will showcase a series of short, partial, and evocative newspaper reports, published in a range of local newspapers and newsletters between the early eighteenth century and the late nineteenth century, that tell the stories of people who willfully castrated themselves. In these reports—most of which are highly sensationalized and absorb fewer than 50 words—we find a possible, if also speculative, source for the histories of what we might today term trans or nonbinary gendered experience. While it would be something of a historical overreach to assert that the subjects of these perplexing little news reports were transgender, the sheer number of these reports, and their persistence over time, suggests a host of important questions and insights for scholars working on the history of gender and the expansiveness of gendered experience in the colonial and early national period.

Presented By
Greta L . LaFleur, Yale University

Bodies in Motion: Intimacies among Men in a Globalizing Eighteenth-Century World

Clement Crooke composed his will, shortly before he died in Murshidabad on the Hooghly river in Bengal, seventeen thousand nautical miles from his birthplace in St. Kitts, in the British West Indies. His first request was that he be buried as near as possible to his “late friend” John Mathews. Crooke was part of a tidal surge of Anglophone men whose lives unfolded in a series of temporal segments that stretched from America to Asia. Together such people created and occupied an Anglophone-oceanic world: a series of linked geographies stretching from America to Asia, and an imagined cultural community, with particularly dense connections between the Greater Caribbean and India. This paper explores how these forces of globalization expanded and transformed intimacies between males, those undertaken by choice, and others coerced. It considers the centrality of emotional intimacy, embodied eroticism among and between men, and sexual domination/submission predicated on power over another and violence.

Presented By
Clare A. Lyons, University of Maryland

“And Called it Macaroni”: A Buggery Trial in Revolutionary America

In August 1774, British Lieutenant Robert Newburgh was tried for buggery. This paper employs Newburgh’s court martial to open a window into same-sex intimacies in the era of the American Revolution. It explores the homophobic tropes employed by Newburgh’s accusers, including claims that soldiers called him “she” and that he was a macaroni. It also asks how fears of homosexuality connected to rebelliousness and insubordination. It also examines Newburgh’s defense, especially his appeal for equal rights, language he borrowed from the impending republic. Newburgh’s court martial suggests that a sexual revolution was already at hand in eighteenth-century America.

Presented By
John G. McCurdy, Eastern Michigan University

Session Participants

Chair: Anthony Mora, University of Michigan

Presenter: Greta L . LaFleur, Yale University

Presenter: Clare A. Lyons, University of Maryland

Presenter: John G. McCurdy, Eastern Michigan University