June 09, 2011

Sex Lives of the Puritans, Part 3: Gay Pride Post

Image taken from this site.

The Boston LGBT Pride Parade will happen this Saturday. Floats with house music and gyrating go-go boys will thunder through the city's most historic districts, undoubtedly causing the Puritans to roll over in their graves at King's Chapel and Old Granary Burying Ground.

What would the Puritans have thought of a gay pride parade? They would have disapproved, but allegedly they also would have been puzzled by the concept of "gay" people. According to historians and social theorists, Puritan culture didn't recognize people had different sexual orientations, but simply thought people performed different sexual acts. Sex was something you did, not something you were.

So technically there were no gay Puritans, just Puritans who sometimes sinfully and illegally had sex with people of the same gender. Sometimes over and over, and again and again. In fact, there were so many repeat offenders the Puritans should be embarrassed they didn't invent the concept of gayness! It was right there under their noses.

For example, take the case of Thomas Roberts, who lived in Plymouth Colony in the early 1600s. In 1636 he and a neighbor named John Allexander were found guilty of "lude behavior and uncleane carriage one with another." In 1637, Roberts was found guilty of "disorderly living" with Abraham Pottle, Walter Duell, and Webb Adey. And in 1641, Roberts was ordered to stop living with a man named George Morrey.

It sounds to me like Thomas Roberts was gay - and very popular.

Here's another example. Michael Wigglesworth (1631-1705), a Malden minister and author of a popular and cheery-sounding poem titled The Day of Doom, used a secret code to write in his diary about the lust he felt for his male divinity students. For example, on July 4, 1653 he wrote of

"Such filthy lust also flowing from my fond affection to my pupils whiles in their presence."

On his physician's advice he married, hoping to cure the unwanted feelings, but consummating the relationship with his wife didn't work. Instead, he wrote,

"I feel stirrings and strongly of my former distemper even after the use of marriage the next day which makes me exceeding afraid."

I guess closeted gay clergymen have a very long history in this country. I just wish I could travel back in time and introduce the concept of sexual orientation to Rev. Wigglesworth. It might have cleared things up for him.

Looking back, I think it's pretty clear that some of this country's earliest English settlers were indeed gay, even if their culture didn't have that word. I bet this Saturday when the Pride Parade goes past those old cemeteries some of the Puritans buried there will be happy to watch!

I got this information mostly from the Boston History Project's Improper Bostonians. Lesbian and Gay History from the Puritans to Playland. The History Project is supposed to have a booth on City Hall Plaza after the Pride Parade, and I'm sure they can tell you more about this subject.


Anonymous said...

I think the word that would trigger them the most is "Pride".

Rich Clabaugh said...

Thanks for the post Peter! An intriguing bit of history I didn't know about!