Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America

ISBN : 9780199335428

Rachel Hope Cleves
296 ページ
162 x 236 mm

Charity and Sylvia is the intimate history of two ordinary women who lived in an extraordinary same-sex marriage during the early nineteenth century. Based on diaries, letters, and poetry, among other original documents, the research traces the women's lives in sharp detail. Charity Bryant was born in 1777 to a consumptive mother who died a month later. Raised in Massachusetts, Charity developed into a brilliant and strong-willed woman with a passion for her own sex. After being banished from her family home by her father at age twenty, she traveled throughout Massachusetts, working as a teacher, making intimate female friends, and becoming the subject of gossip wherever she lived. At age twenty-nine, still defiantly single, Charity visited friends in Weybridge, Vermont. There she met Sylvia Drake, a pious and studious young woman whose family had moved to the frontier village after losing their Massachusetts farm during the Revolution. The two soon became so inseparable that Charity decided to rent rooms in Weybridge. Sylvia came to join her on July 3, 1807, commencing a forty-four year union that lasted until Charity's death. Over the years, the women came to be recognized as a married couple, or something like it. Charity took the role of husband, and Sylvia of wife, within the marriage. Revered by their community, Charity and Sylvia operated a tailor shop employing many local women, served as guiding lights within their church, and participated in raising more than one hundred nieces and nephews. Most extraordinary, all the while the sexual potential of their union remained an open secret, cloaked in silence to preserve their reputations. The story of Charity and Sylvia overturns today's conventional wisdom that same-sex marriage is a modern innovation, and reveals that early America was both more diverse and more accommodating than modern society imagines.


Preface : Miss Bryant and Miss Drake Were Married to Each Other
Book 1 : Childhood
Chapter 1 : A Child of Melancholy - 1777
Chapter 2 : Infantile Days - 1784
Book 2 : Youth
Chapter 3 : O the Example! - 1787
Chapter 4 : Mistress of a School - 1797
Chapter 5 : So Many Friends - 1799
Chapter 6 : Discontent and Indifferent - 1800
Chapter 7 : Never to Marry - 1800
Book 3 : Love
Chapter 8 : Charity and Mercy - 1805
Chapter 9 : Charity and Lydia - 1806
Chapter 10 : Charity and Sylvia - February 1807
Book 4 : Marriage
Chapter 11 : The Tie That Binds - July 1807
Chapter 12 : Their Own Dwelling - 1809
Chapter 13 : Wild Affections - 1811
Chapter 14 : Miss Bryant Was The Man - 1820
Book 5 : Community
Chapter 15 : Dear Aunts - 1823
Chapter 16 : Stand Fast in One Spirit - 1828
Chapter 17 : Diligent in Business - 1835
Book 6: Senescence
Chapter 18 : The Cure of Her I Love - 1839
Chapter 19 : Sylvia Drake
W - 1851
Afterword : A Tale That is Told


Associate Professor of History, University of Victoria