Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America (Hardback)
  • Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America (Hardback)
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Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America (Hardback)

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£25.49
Hardback 296 Pages / Published: 03/07/2014
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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.

Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
ISBN: 9780199335428
Number of pages: 296
Weight: 566 g
Dimensions: 236 x 162 x 21 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS
Rachel Hope Cleves draws on family papers, diaries, memoirs and poems to reconstruct their lives much more fully than ever before, and to weave them into the larger history of the early American frontier. It is a triumph of painstaking research, and a moving love story. * The Guardian *
Historian Cleves meticulously reconstructs the lives of two women who lived together for decades in a small Vermont town in a relationship described by people who knew them as a marriage. Ironically, in an era when women had few legal rights, Charity and Sylvia enjoyed more independence being bonded to each other than they would have if each had been married to a man. * Jim Higgins, Books of the year 2014, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel *
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America. I thought it might be dull and overly scholarly, but this interesting and well-researched biography brings to life Charity Bryant, a strong-willed and independent teacher whose intimate friendships with women often attracted gossip, and Sylvia Drake, a quiet intellectual who was several years younger. * Stephanie Perry, Books of the year 2014, Readers Lane *
I loved Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America by Rachel Hope Cleves, not just for the story of two lives ahead of their time, but for the way Cleves sets the stage for the tale. We get a good sense of what life was like in the late 1700s and early 1800s, not just for lesbians but for every person brave enough to try to settle a new country, and that's every bit as interesting as the story of two women who did something that early Americans didn't think was even possible. * Terri Schlichenmeyer, Books of the year 2014, Washington Blade *
In 2014, 18 new states began performing same-sex marriages, while Massachusetts marked the 10-year anniversary of its own law. Charity and Sylvia's story struck a chord by attesting that similar partnerships existed in New England as long as two centuries ago, just without a license. * Amanda Katz, Books of the year 2014, Boston Globe *
Charity and Sylvia is an important contribution to the field. Finally, a historian has documented a long-term same-sex relationship in the early republic ... a compelling story that fills a long-standing void in the history of sexuality. * John G. McCurdy, Journal of American History *
Cleves's work advances our understanding by illustrating how a social history, which reconstructs and analyzes social relationships over the course of a lifetime, can move beyond tropes and character types to reveal self-definitions and lived experience ... Cleves's careful reading of the archival remnants of this couple's life suggests a powerful new narrative in the history of Christianity and homosexuality: Charity and Sylvia, a couple who lived openly in a pious same-sex marriage in antebellum America, were recognized by their community as exemplars of Christian faith. * Mark E. Kann, American Historical Review *
Cleves has uncovered an astoundingly rich and detailed documentary record about this couple. She tells their story with a grace and style that will captivate readers even as her approach to categorising their relationship raises many questions that will most likely prompt discussion and debate for years to come. This is an important book that deserves to become a classic in the field. * Richard Godbeer, English Historical Review *

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