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Documenting Intimate Matters: Primary Sources for a History of Sexuality in America
Documenting Intimate Matters: Primary Sources for a History of Sexuality in America
Documenting Intimate Matters: Primary Sources for a History of Sexuality in America
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Documenting Intimate Matters: Primary Sources for a History of Sexuality in America

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Over time, sexuality in America has changed dramatically. Frequently redefined and often subject to different systems of regulation, it has been used as a means of control; it has been a way to understand ourselves and others; and it has been at the center of fierce political storms, including some of the most crucial changes in civil rights in the last decade. Edited by Thomas A. Foster, Documenting Intimate Matters features seventy-two documents that collectively highlight the broad diversity inherent in the history of American sexuality. Complementing the third edition of Intimate Matters, by John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman—often hailed as the definitive survey of sexual history in America—the multiple narratives presented by these documents reveal the complexity of this subject in US history. The historical moments captured in this volume will show that, contrary to popular misconception, the history of sexuality is not a simple story of increased freedoms and sexual liberation, but an ongoing struggle between change and continuity.
Release dateDec 5, 2012
Documenting Intimate Matters: Primary Sources for a History of Sexuality in America
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    Documenting Intimate Matters - Open Road Integrated Media


    The Marital and Reproductive Matrix, 1600–1800

    Sexuality in colonial America has a particularly incorrect reputation for being static and staid. The draconian pronouncements made by Puritan ministers against adultery and a host of other nonmarital practices have come to characterize all of early America. In seventeenth-century America, religion dominated the discourses of sexuality but by the eighteenth century a flourishing trans-Atlantic print culture both reflected and popularized an increasingly broad variety of ideas about sex and sexuality and the development of a plethora of nascent sexual subcultures. Abundant research on the history of sexuality in early America has shown remarkable variation. Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans developed unique sexual cultures in the broad context of colonialism and they also created new practices and identities through cross-cultural interactions. This rich variety of sexual customs, practices, experiences, laws, and cultural symbolisms is also divisible by decade, region, religion, gender, class, and a host of other factors. By the end of the eighteenth century, in the early decades of the young republic, rhetoric of equality and liberty infused discussions of sexual responsibility and tied sexual practices to national identity.


    Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641)

    The earliest capital laws of Massachusetts Bay Colony underscore the interconnectedness of religion, politics, and sexuality in the formation and development of the Puritan colonies. Massachusetts outlawed a variety of sexual behaviors. For some, it reserved the most severe penalty, death. Surprising to modern readers, others such as rape, incest, and pedophilia are noticeably absent. What can laws tell us about what a society values? What are the limitations of legal statutes as a source for historians?


    1. (Deut. 13. 6, 10. Deut. 17. 2, 6. Ex. 22.20) If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.

    2. (Ex. 22. 18. Lev. 20. 27. Dut. 18. 10.) If any man or woeman be a witch, (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,) They shall be put to death.

    3. (Lev. 24. 15, 16.) If any person shall Blaspheme the name of god, the father, Sonne or Holie Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous or high handed blasphemie, or shall curse god in the like manner, he shall be put to death.

    4. (Ex. 21. 12. Numb. 35. 13, 14, 30, 31.) If any person committ any wilfull murther, which is manslaughter, committed upon premeditated malice, hatred, or Crueltie, not in a mans necessarie and just defence, nor by meere casualtie against his will, he shall be put to death.

    5. (Numb. 25, 20, 21. Lev. 24. 17.) If any person slayeth an other suddaienly in his anger or Crueltie of passion, he shall be put to death.

    6. (Ex. 21. 14.) If any person shall slay an other through guile, either by poysoning or other such divelish practice, he shall be put to death.

    7. (Lev. 20. 15, 16.) If any man or woeman shall lye with any beaste or bruite creature by Carnall Copulation, They shall surely be put to death. And the beast shall be slaine, and buried and not eaten.

    8. (Lev. 20. 13.) If any man lyeth with mankinde as he lyeth with a woeman, both of them have committed abhomination, they both shall surely be put to death.

    9. (Lev. 20. 19. and 18, 20. Dut. 22. 23, 24.) If any person committeth Adultery with a maried or espoused wife, the Adulterer and Adulteresse shall surely be put to death.

    10. (Ex. 21. 16.) If any man stealeth a man or mankinde, he shall surely be put to death.

    11. (Deut. 19. 16, 18, 19.) If any man rise up by false witnes, wittingly and of purpose to take away any mans life, he shall be put to death.

    12. If any man shall conspire and attempt any invasion, insurrection, or publique rebellion against our commonwealth, or shall indeavour to surprize any Towne or Townes, fort or forts therein, or shall treacherously and perfediouslie attempt the alteration and subversion of our frame of politie or Government fundamentallie, he shall be put to death.


    Jane Sharp, The Midwife’s Book (1671)

    English midwife Jane Sharp was a rarity as a female author of a popular genre in early America, the European medical and midwife manual. Such books espoused medical understandings of the day. Early modern understandings of biology embraced a commonality of male and female bodies, positing female genitalia as inverted male anatomy. The following excerpt also attests to the emphasis on female sexual pleasure in sexual relations between husband and wife. Early understandings of reproduction held that male and female orgasm was necessary for reproduction. This medical belief gave rise to recognition of pleasure-based sexual relations that did not solely focus on male sexual pleasure. In the 1960s, the clitoris would again become central to discussion of female sexual pleasure.

    The Clitoris is a sinewy hard body, full of spongy and black matter within it, as it is in the side ligaments of a man’s Yard, and this Clitoris will stand and fall as the Yard doth, and makes women lustful and take delight in Copulation, and were it not for this they would have no desire nor delight, nor they would ever conceive. Some think that Hermaphrodites are only women that have their Clitoris greater, and hanging out more than others have, and so show like a Mans Yard, and it is so called, for it is a small exuberation in the upper, forward and middle part of the share, in the top of the greater slit where the wings end. It differs from the Yard in length, the common pipe and the want of one pair of the muscles, which the Yard hath, but it is the same in place and substance; for it hath two sinewy bodies round, without thick and hard, but inwardly spongy and full of holes, or pores, that when the spirits come into it, it may stretch, and when the spirits are dissipated it grows lose again. . . .

    The Clitoris in Women as it is very small in most, serves for the same purposes as the bridle of the Yard doth, for the womans stone lying far distance from the Mans Yard, the imagination passeth to the spermatical Vessels by the Clitoris moving and the lower ligatures of the Womb, which are joyned to the carrying Vessels of the Seed, so by the stirring of the Clitoris, the imagination causeth the Vessels to cast out that Seed that lyeth deep in the body, for in this and the ligaments that are fastened in it, lies the chief pleasure of loves delight in Copulation; and indeed were not the pleasure transcendently ravishing us, a man or a woman would hardly ever die for love.


    Anne Bradstreet, To My Dear and Loving Husband (1678)

    The following document comes from a book of poetry authored by one of America’s earliest published female voices. Anne Bradstreet wrote poetry in seventeenth-century Massachusetts. The poem, emphasizing the loving bond of husband and wife, complicates our view of Puritan intimacy and romance. It was published in a book of poems six years after her death.

    If ever two were one, then surely we.

    If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee;

    If ever wife was happy in a man,

    Compare with me, ye women, if you can.

    I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold,

    Or all the riches that the East doth hold.

    My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,

    Nor ought but love from thee give recompence.

    Thy love is such I can no way repay,

    The heavens reward thee manifold I pray.

    Then while we live, in love let’s so persevere,

    That when we live no more, we may live ever.


    Witchcraft Trial of Catherina Lujan, New Mexico (1708)

    In British and Spanish America, witchcraft accusations continued sporadically long after the larger panics of the seventeenth century. The following case, translated from the original Spanish, comes from a witchcraft trial involving three Pueblo Indian women in New Mexico: Catherina Lujan, Catherina Rosa, and her daughter Angelina Puma-Zho. Their accuser was a Spanish woman, Doña Leonor Dominguez. The excerpts below begin with testimony from participants in the case, followed by the statement by the judge. The governor eventually ruled that the witchcraft charges were false. In 1680 Pueblo Indians staged the first successful rebellion against European colonial rule. By 1693 Spanish control had been regained. Witchcraft trials throughout the eighteenth century followed a typical pattern of Pueblo women as the accused, with sexual contact, consensual and forced, at the very center of the concern.

    Doña Leonor Dominguez, native resident of this Providence, wife of Miguel Martin, appears before your lordship in due form and manner according to law, and of my own will affirm: that being extremely ill with various troubles and maladies which seemed to be caused by witchcraft, having been visited by persons practiced and intelligent in medicine, who gave me various remedies, which experiments were followed not only by very slight improvement but also every day increased my sufferings and supernatural extremity, and although I am a catholic christian, by the goodness of God, I know that there have been many examples in this Province of persons of my sex who have been possessed by witchcraft with devilish art, as is well known. . . . I ask that you may be pleased to . . . take my legal declaration and solemn oath of what passed between me and the three Indian women of the village of San Juan, whom I suspect, promising to declare the occasion, cause and reasons for my suspicion, and in order that likewise it may be seen from the condition in which I find myself, which is also a matter of public knowledge and notoriety. . . .

    .   .   .

    I, the Captain Juan Garcia de las Ribas, examining justice . . . went to the house of Tomás Girón, where I found, in bed, ill and suffering, Doña Leonor Dominguez. . . . This declarant, being on Holy Thursday last in the church . . . saw beside her an Indian woman of San Juan, called Catherina Lujan and further off . . . another, who is the wife of Zhiconqueto, the painter; that she heard this Catherina Lujan say to the wife of the said Indian: ‘Is this the wife of Miguel Martin?’ and she answered: ‘Yes, it is’; and that at this time this declarant heard the wife of the said Indian painter, and one of her daughters say to the said Catherina Lujan: ‘Now’; and that the latter said: ‘Not yet’: and that, then, full of terror this declarant left that place where she was kneeling, and fell on her knees further off, and this time the wife of the said Indian said to the said Catherina: ‘It would be better now’; and being on her knees behind this declarant, the said wife of the Indian came close to her and put her hand on her back beside her heart; and then, as she did so, her entire body behind to itch, and this declarant . . . has not lifted her head since then. . . .

    .   .   .

    I, the Captain Juan Garcia de las Ribas, examining justice, in pursuance of this cause, required to appear before me Angelina Pumazho, an Indian of the village of the San Juan, wife of Domingo Pobicoa and . . . having been asked if it was true that she had illicit intimacy with Miguel Martin that she should so say and declare it: She said that she had not had improper intimacy with the above mentioned and in order to make it clearer they should confront her with the said Miguel Martin and that she would say to his face that she had not been, and, even if they killed, she could say nothing else, because she knew nothing else. . . .

    .   .   .

    I, the sargento mayor, Juan de Uribarri, appointed judge in this cause, pursuant to the writs, required to appear before me Martin Fernandez. . . . Asked if it is true that being one day in the house of the Indian painter called Zhiconqueto, Miguel Martin and his wife, Leonor Dominguez came there, to whom the wife of the said Indian Zhiconqueto, wanted to give breakfast. Leonor Dominguez said she did not want it because she was fasting and that this declarant told the said Leonor Dominguez: ‘Eat, no harm will be done you by this Indian, who is the mistress of your husband, Miguel Martin.’ and anything further that passed there. This declarant said, that . . . Miguel Martin came and after awhile his wife, Leonor Dominguez, who, on starting to go up the stairs, nearly fell and having refused to lie down in a hammock he saw that she ate what was given her, and he did not hear the said Leonor Dominguez say what she declares nor did he see other demonstrations other than that it appeared to him that the said Leonor Dominguez was jealous; she asked of him a little lime and he heard nothing more. . . .

    I had appear before me, Miguel Martin, husband of Leonor Dominguez, to whom I administered the oath. . . . Asked why he denies this when in a conversation . . . he confessed that he had had criminal intimacy with two Indian women of the Village of Taos and with another of the village of San Juan, and that when they were alone he confessed to his said wife, Leonor Dominguez, that it was the Indian who is the daughter of the said Zhiconqueto; why did he say that and why he denied that he was married soon after the wedding. let him speak and declare; declarant said that all this which is asked him is of no use and is malicious and trumped up and that neither the one nor the other happened; and this is his answer.


    John Lawson on Native American Women, North Carolina (1709)

    John Lawson, an English naturalist who traveled extensively in the American Southeast, wrote about his observations of Native American societies in his New Voyage to Carolina, which was published in 1709. English culture officially forbade cross-cultural relations and considered Native American culture to be uncivilized and inferior. However, especially in backcountry regions, cross-cultural families were not uncommon, and individuals of Euro-Native American heritage often held unique positions as cultural go-betweens, facilitating trade and diplomacy. Observations of Native American cultures written by Europeans offer historians rich sources on two fronts: such writings can tell us much about European attitudes and beliefs, but they can also be used to tease out a history of sexuality of Native American cultures. How might Native Americans have viewed the social and cultural practices of Lawson and other Europeans? Virtually all early Native American societies trace historical developments through oral culture. Such cultures left no written records.

    As for the Indian Women, which now happen in my Way; when young, and at Maturity, they are as fine-shap’d Creatures (take them generally) as any in the Universe. They are of a tawny Complexion; their Eyes very brisk and amorous; their Smiles afford the finest Composure a Face can possess; their Hands are of the finest Make, with small long Fingers, and as soft as their Cheeks; and their whole Bodies of a smooth Nature. They are not so uncouth or unlikely, as we suppose them; nor are they Strangers or not Proficients in the soft Passion. They are most of them mercenary, except the married Women, who sometimes bestow their Favours also to some or other, in their Husbands Absence. For which they never ask any Reward. As for the Report, that they are never found unconstant, like the Europeans, it is wholly false; for were the old World and the new one put into a Pair of Scales (in point of Constancy) it would be a hard Matter to discern which was the heavier. As for the Trading Girls, which are those design’d to get Money by their Natural Parts, these are discernable, by the Cut of their Hair; their Tonsure differing from all others, of that Nation, who are not of their Profession; which Method is intended to prevent Mistakes; for the Savages of America are desirous (if possible) to keep their Wives to themselves, as well as those in other Parts of the World. When any Addresses are made to one of these Girls, she immediately acquaints her Parents therewith, and they tell the King of it, (provided he that courts her be a Stranger) his Majesty commonly being the principal Bawd of the Nation he rules over, and there seldom being any of these Winchester-Weddings agreed on, without his Royal Consent. He likewise advises her what Bargain to make, and if it happens to be an Indian Trader that wants a Bed-fellow, and has got Rum to sell, be sure, the King must have a large Dram for a Fee, to confirm the Match. These Indians, that are of the elder sort, when any such Question is put to them, will debate the Matter amongst themselves with all the Sobriety and Seriousness imaginable, every one of the Girl’s Relations arguing the Advantage or Detriment that may ensue such a Night’s Encounter; all which is done with as much Steadiness and Reality, as if it was the greatest Concern in the World, and not so much as one Person shall be seen to smile, so long as the Debate holds, making no Difference betwixt an Agreement of this Nature, and a Bargain of any other. If they comply with the Men’s Desire, then a particular Bed is provided for them, either in a Cabin by themselves, or else all the young people turn out, to another Lodging, that they may not spoil Sport; and if the old People are in the same Cabin along with them all Night, they lie as unconcern’d, as if they were so many Logs of Wood. If it be an Indian of their own Town or Neighbourhood, that wants a Mistress, he comes to none but the Girl, who receives what she thinks fit to ask him, and so lies all Night with him, without the Consent of her Parents.

    The Indian Traders are those which travel and abide amongst the Indians for a long space of time; sometimes for a Year, two, or three. These Men have commonly their Indian Wives, whereby they soon learn the Indian Tongue, keep a Friendship with the Savages; and, besides the Satisfaction of a She-Bed-Fellow, they find these Indian Girls very serviceable to them, on Account of dressing their Victuals, and instructing ’em in the Affairs and Customs of the Country. Moreover, such a Man gets a great Trade with the Savages; for when a Person that lives amongst them, is reserv’d from the Conversation of their Women, ’tis impossible for him ever to accomplish his Designs amongst that People.

    But one great Misfortune which oftentimes attends those that converse with these Savage Women, is, that they get Children by them, which are seldom educated any otherwise than in a State of Infidelity; for it is a certain Rule and Custom, amongst all the Savages of America, that I was ever acquainted withal, to let the Children always fall to the Woman’s Lot; for it often happens, that two Indians that have liv’d together, as Man and Wife, in which Time they have had several Children; if they part, and another Man possesses her, all the Children go along with the Mother, and none with the Father. And therefore, on this Score, it ever seems impossible for the Christians to get their Children (which they have by these Indian Women) away from them; whereby they might bring them up in the Knowledge of the Christian Principles. Nevertheless, we often find, that English Men, and other Europeans that have been accustom’d to the Conversation of these savage Women, and their Way of Living, have been so allur’d with that careless sort of Life, as to be constant to their Indian Wife, and her Relations, so long as they liv’d, without ever desiring to return again amongst the English, although they had very fair Opportunities of Advantages amongst their Countrymen; of which sort I have known several.

    As for the Indian Marriages, I have read and heard of a great deal of Form and Ceremony used, which I never saw, nor yet could learn in the Time I have been amongst them, any otherwise than I shall here give you an Account of; which is as follows.

    When any young Indian has a Mind for such a Girl to his Wife, he, or some one for him, goes to the young Woman’s Parents, if living; if not, to her nearest Relations; where they make Offers of the Match betwixt the Couple. The Relations reply, they will consider of it, which serves for a sufficient Answer, till there be a second Meeting about the Marriage, which is generally brought into Debate before all the Relations (that are old People) on both Sides; and sometimes the King, with all his great Men, give their Opinions therein. If it be agreed on, and the young Woman approve thereof, (for these Savages never give their Children in Marriage, without their own Consent) the Man pays so much for his Wife; and the handsomer she is, the greater Price she bears. Now, it often happens, that the Man has not so much of their Money ready, as he is to pay for his Wife; but if they know him to be a good Hunter, and that he can raise the Sum agreed for, in some few Moons, or any little time, they agree, she shall go along with him, as betroth’d, but he is not to have any Knowledge of her, till the utmost Payment is discharg’d; all which is punctually observ’d. Thus, they lie together under one Covering for several Months, and the Woman remains the same as she was when she first came to him. I doubt, our Europeans would be apt to break this Custom, but the Indian Men are not so vigorous and impatient in their Love as we are. Yet the Women are quite contrary, and those Indian Girls that have convers’d with the English and other Europeans, never care for the Conversation of their own Countrymen afterwards.

    They never marry so near as a first Cousin; and although there is nothing more coveted amongst them, than to marry a Woman of their own Nation, yet when the Nation consists of a very few People (as now adays it often happens) so that they are all of them related to one another, then they look out for Husbands and Wives amongst Strangers. For if an Indian lies with his Sister, or any very near Relation, his Body is burnt, and his Ashes thrown into the River, as unworthy to remain on Earth; yet an Indian is allow’d to marry two Sisters, or his Brothers Wife. Although these People are call’d Savages, yet Sodomy is never heard of amongst them, and they are so far from the Practice of that beastly and loathsome Sin, that they have no Name for it in all their Language.

    The Marriages of these Indians are no farther binding, than the Man and Woman agree together. Either of them has Liberty to leave the other, upon any frivolous Excuse they can make; yet whosoever takes the Woman that was another Man’s before, and bought by him, as they all are, must certainly pay to her former Husband, whatsoever he gave for her. Nay, if she be a Widow, and her Husband died in Debt, whosoever takes her to Wife, pays all her Husband’s Obligations, though never so many; yet the Woman is not required to pay any thing (unless she is willing) that was owing from her Husband, so long as she keeps Single. But if a Man courts her for a Nights Lodging, and obtains it, the Creditors will make him pay her Husband’s Debts, and he may, if he will, take her for his Money, or sell her to another for his Wife. I have seen several of these Bargains driven in a day; for you may see Men selling their Wives as Men do Horses in a Fair, a Man being allow’d not only to change as often as he pleases, but likewise to have as many Wives as he is able to maintain. I have often seen, that very old Indian Men (that have been Grandees in their own Nation) have had three or four very likely young Indian Wives, which I have much wondered at, because to me they seem’d incapacitated to make good Use of one of them.

    The young Men will go in the Night from one House to another, to visit the young Women, in which sort of Rambles they will spend the whole Night. In their Addresses they find no Delays, for if she is willing to entertain the Man, she gives him Encouragement and grants him Admittance; otherwise she withdraws her

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