We tend to view gay marriage as a cultural and legal development of the 21st century.
But did you know that some early Americans lived openly as same-sex married couples?
Rachel Hope Cleves, a Professor of History at the University of Victoria in British Columbia and author of Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America, reveals the story of Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake, women who lived as a married couple in Weybridge, Vermont between 1807 and 1851.
This episode originally posted as Episode 013.
About the Show
Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.
It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.
Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.
Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.
In this episode, we chat with Rachel Hope Cleves, an Associate Professor of history at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, about the story of Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake, two women who lived openly as a married couple in Weybridge, Vermont between 1807 and Charity’s death in 1851.
Rachel will reveal who Charity Bryant & Sylvia Drake were and whether their relationship stood as unique; Why William Cullen Bryant and other friends and family members described Charity and Sylvia’s relationship as a “marriage;” And, more information about early American views on sex, marriage, and single, unmarried women.
Please note: Although this episode discusses early American views on sex, sexuality, and marriage, it does not speak to these topics in a graphic way. All language in this show is clean, but we do say the word “sex” and mention that early Americans were concerned with sex and sexual pleasure.
What You’ll Discover
- How Rachel discovered the story of Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake
- Who Charity and Sylvia were and why they are important historical figures
- Why William Cullen Bryant described the relationship between his Aunt Charity and Sylvia Drake as a “marriage”
- Whether the same-sex relationship between Charity and Sylvia was unique
- How early Americans viewed the institution of marriage
- When and why early American men and women married
- What early Americans thought about sex
- Why some early American women opted not to marry
- What work opportunities existed for unmarried women in early America
- Information about early American property laws and how they applied to women
- How the Bryants and Drakes viewed and reacted to Charity & Sylvia’s same-sex marriage
- Whether Charity & Sylvia’s co-habitation raised some eyebrows or unwanted attention in the small community of Weybridge, VT
- Whether it was possible for two men to live in a same-sex marriage in early America
- Information about Rachel’s latest research project
Links to People, Places, and Publications
- Rachel Hope Cleves
- Rachel’s Research Blog
- Twitter: @RachelCleves
- Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History
- Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America
- The Reign of Terror in America: Visions of Violence from Anti-Jacobinism to Antislavery
- Episode 004: Thomas Foster, Sex and the Founding Fathers
- Episode 027: Lisa Wilson, A History of Stepfamilies in Early America
- Episode 032: Michelle Marchetti Coughlin, One Colonial Woman’s World
- Episode 120: Marcia Zug, A History of Mail Order Brides in Early America
- Episode 175: Daniel Epstein, House Divided: The Revolution in Ben Franklin’s House
What might have happened if Sylvia and Charity had not moved to the small, frontier community of Weybridge? Would these women have been able to setup their household in a more established community?
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