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Charity and Sylvia A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America



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Oxford University Press
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  • Charity and Sylvia A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America
    Charity and Sylvia A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America


Conventional wisdom holds that same-sex marriage is a purely modern innovation, a concept born of an overtly modern lifestyle that was unheard of in nineteenth century America. But as Rachel Hope Cleves demonstrates in this eye-opening book, same-sex marriage is hardly new.

Born in 1777, Charity Bryant was raised in Massachusetts. A brilliant and strong-willed woman with a clear attraction for her own sex, Charity found herself banished from her family home at age twenty. She spent the next decade of her life traveling 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 a pious and studious young woman named Sylvia Drake. The two soon became so inseparable that Charity decided to rent rooms in Weybridge. In 1809, they moved into their own home together, and over the years, came to be recognized, essentially, as a married couple. 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 their many nieces and nephews.

Charity and Sylvia is the intimate history of their extraordinary forty-four year union. Drawing on an array of original documents including diaries, letters, and poetry, Cleves traces their lives in sharp detail. Providing an illuminating glimpse into a relationship that turns conventional notions of same-sex marriage on their head, and reveals early America to be a place both more diverse and more accommodating than modern society might imagine, Charity and Sylvia is a significant contribution to our limited knowledge of LGBT history in early America.

Author Biography

Rachel Hope Cleves is Associate Professor of History, University of Victoria

Table of Contents

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

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