The Daily Agenda for Saturday, December 7
December 7th, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Pennsylvania Colony Enacts New Sodomy Law: 1682. Sodomy laws seemed to come and go in Pennsylvania. The colony had originally included Sodomy in a long list of offenses which were considered capital crimes, but the first assembly in 1676 held under the proprietorship of William Penn codified Quaker leniency in its law reform when it limited the death penalty to murder. This effectively left Pennsylvania without a sodomy law for the next six years, when the colony instituted this new law:
…if any person shall be Legally Convicted of the unnatural sin of Sodomy or joining with beasts, Such person shall be whipped, and forfeit one third of his or her estate, and work six months in the house of Correction, at hard labour, and for the Second offence, imprisonment, as aforesaid, during life.
This law would remain in effect until 1693, when William Penn fell out of power and was replaced with a Royal governor who repealed most of Penn’s legislation, including the non-capital sodomy law. No new law would be enacted until 1700 (see Nov 27).
The Trial of Captain Edward Rigby: 1698. Captain Rigby had already been acquitted of a charge of sodomy by a court-martial in early 1698, but Rev. Thomas Bray, a member of the societies for the Reformation of Manners — a kind of a Family Research Council of its day — was convinced of Rigby’s guilt and worked out a plan to entrap him. The bait, William Minton, was the servant of one of Bray’s parishioners and had been previously approached by Rigby. The snare was set, Rigby was caught red-handed, and was arrested and hauled into court. The trial record shows that, this time, Rigby pleaded neither guilty nor not guilty, apparently on the hopes that there would be a problem with the indictment itself which would cause it to be thrown out. The court however found the indictment sound, and since Rigby didn’t enter a plea, the proceedings continued as though he had admitted his guilt. Then several affidavits were read, with all of their salacious details:
That on Saturday the Fifth of November last, Minton standing in St. James’s Park, to see the Fireworks [i.e. the Guy Fawkes Day bonfire], Rigby stood by him and took him by the hand, and squeez’d it; put his Privy Member Erected into Minton‘s Hand; kist him, and put his Tongue into Minton‘s Mouth, who being much astonish’d at these Actions went from him; but Rigby pursued him, and accosted him again; and after much Discourse prevailed with Minton to tell him where he lodged, and to meet him the Monday following about Five a Clock, at the George- Tavern in the Pall mall, and to Enquire for Number 4. Minton the next day Acqainted Charles Coates, Esq; (with whom he lived) with what had happened to him the Night before, and desired his Advice and Direction therein; who with a Worthy Divine then present (being willing to detect and punish the Villany designed by Rigby) directed Minton to apply himself to Thomas Railto Esq; a Justice of the Peace for Middlesex; who being informed of what past between Rigby and Minton, appointed his Clark with a Constable, and two other Persons, to go with Minton to the George-Tavern, who were to stay in some Room adjoyning to the Room whereinto Minton should go: and if any Violence should be offered to him, upon crying out “Westminster” the Constable and his Assistance should immediately enter the Room.
That on Monday the Seventh of November last, about Four of the Clock in the Afternon, Rigby came to the George-Tavern, and left Number 4 at the Bar, with Directions, That if any Enquired for that Number, to send them to him; after Rigby had been about an Hour at the Tavern, (Minton not coming) Rigby called up one of the Drawers, and in a Passionte manner, bid him go to Minton‘s Lodgings, and enquire for a young Gentleman; and if he were within, to tell him a Gentleman staid for him at the George-Tavern; the Drawer accordingly went, but Minton not being within, the Drawer return’d that Answer to Rigby.
That about six a clock Minton came to the George Tavern, enquired for Number 4. and was shewed into the room where Rigby was, and [t]he Constable and his assistance were placed in a Room adjoyning; Rigby seemed much pleased upon Mintons coming, and drank to him in a glass of Wine and kist him, took him by the Hand, put his Tongue into Mintons Mouth, and thrust Mintons hand into his (Rigby) Breeches, saying, “He had raised his Lust to the highest degree,” Minton thereupon askt, “How can it be, a Woman was only fit for that,” Rigby answered, “Dam’em, they are all Port, I’ll have nothing to do with them.” Then Rigby sitting on Mintons Lap, kist him several times, putting his Tongue into his mouth, askt him, “if he should F[uck] him,” “how can that be” askt Minton, “I’le show you” answered Rigby, “for it’s no more than was done in our Fore-fathers time”; and then to incite Minton thereto, further spake most Blaphemous words, and said, “That the French King did it, and the Czar of Muscovy made Alexander, a Carpenter, a Prince for that purpose,” and affirmed, “He had seen the Czar of Muscovy through a hole at Sea, lye with Prince Alexander.” Then Rigby kist Minton several times, putting his Tongue in his Mouth, and taking Minton in his Arms, wisht he might lye with him all night, and that his Lust was provoked to that degree, he had — [ejaculated] in his Breeches, but notwithstanding he could F[uck] him; Minton thereupon said, “sure you cannot do it here,” “yes,” answered Rigby, “I can,” and took Minton to a corner of the Room, and put his Hands into Mintons Breeches, desiring him to pull them down, who answered “he would not, but he (Rigby) might do what he pleased”; thereupon Rigby pulled down Mintons Breeches, turn’d away his shirt, put his Finger to Mintons Fundament, and applyed his Body close to Mintons, who feeling something warm touch his Skin, put his hand behind him, and took hold of Rigbys Privy Member, and said to Rigby “I have now discovered your base Inclinations, I will expose you to the World, to put a stop to these Crimes”; and thereupon Minton went towards the door, Rigby stopt him, and drew his Sword, upon which Minton gave a stamp with his foot, and cry’d out “Westminster“; then the Constable and his Assistance came into the Room, and seized Rigby, who offer’d the Constable a Gratuity to let him go, which he refusing, carryed Rigby beore Sir Henry Dutton Colt, before whom Minton charged Rigby (who was present) with the Fact to the effect before related; who being askt by Sir Henry Colt, “Whether the Fact Minton had charged him with were True,” Rigby denyed not that the Charge against him was true, only objected against some inconsiderable Circumstances, which no ways tended to the lessening of the Charge.
You’ve gotta love late seventeenth century English for stuff like this. Anyway, Rigby was sentenced to stand three days at the pillory for two hours each, a £1,000 fine, a year in prison, followed by seven years’ probation. It wasn’t entirely unusual for prisoners to be seriously wounded or even killed at the pillory as crowds threw rotten garbage (and sometimes rocks) at them. But Rigby’s fate could have been far worse: the standard punishment for sodomy cases was death by hanging. Being an officer in the Royal Navy may have factored into the court’s leniency. Rigby survived his ordeal and fled to France after his release. There, he converted to Catholicism, and entered the French navy where he was a well regarded officer.
[Source: Rictor Norton. Ed. “The Trial of Capt. Edward Rigby, 1698.” Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. (Updated 11 July 2013). Available online here, where you can find much more information, including accounts from several contemporary newspapers.]
5 YEARS AGO: José Sucuzhañay Murdered in Brutal Hate Crime: 2008. Two men were waling arm in arm late at night after leaving a bar from a long night of drinking. Three men in a maroon SUV saw them and, and one of them yelled out, “Check out those faggots over there.” Two jumped out the SUV and attacked the couple. One of the attackers broke a bottle over José’s head. When he fell to the ground, another began beating him with an aluminum baseball bat while the others kicked and punched him. All were yelling anti-gay and anti-Hispanic slurs. The other victim ran and called 911 on his cell phone, Meanwhile, the assailants piled back into the SUV and drove away.
The men who were assaulted were not faggots, but brothers from Ecuador, from a culture where showing affection is relatively common. Romel Sucuzhañay was relatively lucky, having received only minor injuries. But José sustained massive head injuries and was soon declared brain dead. Doctors tried to sustain him on life support until his mother could arrive from Ecuador, but his heart stopped five days after the attack and one day before she could get there. José also left behind two young daughters.
Nearly three months later, police arrested Hakim Scott and Keith Phoenix, and charged them with murder and assault as hate crimes. Phoenix, an unemployed felon who was out on parole, showed no remorse. “So I killed someone — that makes me a bad guy?”, he said to police. Surprisingly, Phoenix was tried twice — the first jury deadlocked. But the second one convicted him of murder and assault as hate crimes. Scott was convicted separately of manslaughter and assault, but without the hate crimes enhancement. Judge Patricia M. DiMango sentenced Phoenix to 37 years to life in prison, and Scott to 37 years. José’s mother was magnanimous after the sentencing. “This is a very sad day,” she said through an interpreter. “It’s sad for my family and for the family of the defendants. I feel very sorry for the defendants, and of course there is a huge emptiness in my heart because of my son.” But Romel, the surviving brother, was traumatized by the whole experience. “My future is in pieces,” he said. “I have mental problems. And it is all because of the ignorance of these people and this distant event.”
140 YEARS AGO: Willa Cather: 1873-1947. Born in Back Creek, Virginia, Willa and her family moved to Nebraska when she was nine years old, and settled in Red Cloud. At the age of fourteen, she seems to have adopted a male persona, named “William” or “Willie,” with studio photos of her at the time had her sporting a crew cut and wearing male clothing, a practice she continued as a student at the University of Nebraska, and she often signed her letters “Aunt Willie” for much of her life. Willa also had a college crush on a fellow student, Louise Pound. In a letter written to another childhood friend, Cather describes, in surprisingly candid detail, a date she went on with Pound: “I am pretty well now, save for sundry bruises received in driving a certain fair maid over the country with one hand, sometimes, indeed, with no hand at all. But she did not seem to mind my method of driving, even when we went off banks and over haystacks, and as for me — I drive with one hand all night in my sleep.” This is an exceptionally rare glimpse — perhaps the only admission we have in writing — of Cather’s attachments to other women, although scholars have combed her novels and examined each morsel for other clues over the years.
Cather began her writing career in college, with campus and local newspapers in Lincoln. After graduation, she moved to Pittsburgh, and then New York, where she worked in journalism before becoming managing editor of McClure’s magazine. In 1908, Cather became close to Edith Lewis, an advertising copywriter, who became Cather’s devoted “companion and housemate for nearly 40 years” — for the rest of Cather’s life — then heir after Cather’s death.
Cather’s first novel, Alexander’s Bridge (1912, was serialized in McClure’s. The story, of an engineer who designed the longest bridge in Canada, was influenced by her most recent travels to London, Boston and Canada. Years later though, she would renounce the workm saying it “was very like what painters call a studio picture… Like most young writers, I thought a book should be made out of ‘interesting materials,’ and at that same time I found the new more exciting than the familiar.” she returned to Red Cloud for a visit and realized that the backward, provincial country she couldn’t wait to flee as a younger woman was now the place that would spark her imagination. She immediately completed her Prairie Trilogy: O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Antonia (1918). All of them were written in a distinctly Western style: low key, laconic, direct. Praise for My Antonia was particularly effusive. Sinclair Lewis hailed it for making “the outside world know Nebraska as no one else has done.” Essayist Randolph Bourne wrote, “Here at last is an American novel, redolent of the Western prairie, that our most irritated and exacting preconceptions can be content with… Miss Cather, I think, in this book has taken herself out of the rank of provincial writers and given us something we can fairly class with the modern literary art of the world over that is earnestly and richly interpreting the spirit of youth.”
Her next novel, One of Ours, wasn’t published until 1922, and was inspired by the death of a cousin during the Great War. It came out to mixed reviews, but sold well and won her a Pulitzer in 1923. She wrote four more novels, but with the Jazz age in full bloom and the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway exploding onto the scene, Cather’s works seemed frumpy, overly nostalgic, and disconnected from the modern world in comparison. When the country was plunged into the Great Depression, Cather was viewed as irrelevant. She became reclusive, burned old drafts and personal papers, forbade anyone from publishing or quoting from her letters. When she died in 1947, her will severely restricted scholar’s access to her papers, a restriction that Lewis strictly enforced. This frustrated scholars for decades, particularly those who were trying to tease out details of the reclusive author’s private life. In 2011, her nephew and second executor Charles Cather died, and the copyrights passed to the Willa Cather Trust, which dropped the ban on quoting or publishing her letters, raising hopes among scholars for a rich new source of material. But when Knopf released The Selected Letters of Willa Cather earlier this year, those looking for a more personal glimpse of Cather’s life were disapointed. It turns out that Cather’s surviving letters were as circumspect as she was.
Billye Talmadge: 1929. Raised in Oklahoma and Missouri by a single mother after her parents separated, Billye Talmadge spent all of her life as a teacher, of one sort or another. She began teaching eighth grade English by the age of twenty-one, and later found her true calling as a well-recognized special education teacher (the state of California named her Teacher of the Year in 1971).
Talmadge also spent all her life as a student, less formally speaking at least. While home for a brief visit from college in 1949, one of her friends told her she was in love with another girl, news which shocked Talmadge. She went to the dean of women at her university looking for answers, and the dean provided Talmadge with several books, including Radclyffe Halls The Well of Loneliness. Talmadge said that reading it was “like coming home.” Looking to learn further, Talmadge sought out “the biggest butch on campus.” She recalled, “I asked her name, to make sure she was the right person, and then I said, ‘Are you a lesbian? Because I think I am and I need to know what this is all about.’”
Six years later, Talmadge and her then-partner, Jaye “Shorty” Bell, became involved with the Daughters of Bilitis, which had been founded a few months earlier but was on the verge of folding (see Oct 19). Joining the group was a huge risk for Talmadge. “There were twenty-seven reasons why you could lose your teacher’s license in California at this time, above all if you were a card-carrying Communist or a suspected homosexual.” Nevertheless, Talmadge, Bell and a few other newcomers helped to inject new life into the nascent organization. Talmadge organized the group’s “Gab’n’Java sessions, and when the Daughters established their newsletter The Ladder, Talmadge contributed several articles.
Talmadge also became something of a one-woman social services volunteer for the group. DoB founders Del Martin (see May 5) and Phyllis Lyon (see Nov 11) remembered Talmadge as “intuitive about somebody who might have a problem,” particularly if a woman was troubled or a victim of abuse. “Talmadge recalled, “It was not unusual to get a call at 3 a.m. saying that we had somebody who was trying to commit suicide.” The Daughters found a local psychologist, Dr. Blanche Baker, who trained Talmadge, Martin and Lyons in counseling and crisis management. She also took calls whenever police arrested a lesbian or raided a bar:
We had one of your members who was picked up drunk, and she was drunk. But she was also dressed butch, and the officer damn near beat her to death. He kept calling her a dyke, and a queer, and a son of a bitch, all this type of stuff. I was called and I went down and bailed her out. … I could hardly recognize her she was so badly beaten.
Talmadge quickly learned her way through the legal system. When San Francisco police raided the Tay-Bush Inn and arrested ninety-nine men and four women (see Aug 13), Talmadge, Martin and Lyons arranged lawyers for the women, who urged them to plead not guilty and ask for a jury trial. That was a gutsy move, because it only increased the chances of their names and occupations appearing in the local paper. A lot of the men pleaded guilty and paid an eleven dollar fine — which also got them a permanent police record. Everyone’s names, addresses and employers were printed in the paper anyway, but the women saw their charges dismissed and no entries to their records.
In the 1960s, Talmadge’s interests turned to the spiritual. She was an early member of San Francisco’s Council on Religion and the Homosexual and, later, a spiritual group known as The Prosperos, which held that God, as male and female, was present in every person. “It was an educational group, primarily,” she explained. “Sexuality was one of the major topics. I got involved and became a teacher, with the goal of helping people to find themselves; not what I want them to be, but to find themselves and to express whatever that self is.”
By the late 1970s, Talmadge withdrew from The Prosperos, and turned her attention toward helping her partner, Marcia Herndon, an ethnomusicologist, write seven books. They remained together from 1974 until Marcia’s death in 1997. At last report, Billye Talmadge had recently moved to an assisted-living residence in Portland, Oregon.
[Sources: William Fennie. “Billye Talmadge (1929- ): Some Kind of Courage.” In Vern L. Bullough’s (ed.) Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context (London: Routledge, 2002): 179-188.
Marcia M. Gallo. Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement (Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2007): 9.]
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