Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America by Rechel Hope Cleves

Dec 11, 2020 20:18

from (originaly from amazon?)

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.

to explain this; "Charity took the role of husband, and Sylvia of wife, within the marriage." charity is listed first in tax records and in the census, which didn't record the names of women and dependents until 1850. she bought sylvia a ring, which she presumably used as a wedding ring (men didn't really wear them until WW2 when the were pushed as a reminder of wives left behind for married me serving). all the domestic chores were handled by sylvia, since charity hated them. both of them sewed & mended clothes to make a living.

it is a very interesting read. chairty was the aunt of poet & long time editor of the new york post william cullen bryant and was a poet herself, as were several members of her family. it also briefly touches on lesbian history in america after the revolution and how the bryant & drake families were influential members of their community. as well how difficult it was for an unmarried woman to be independent during the late 1700s & 1800s. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.


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