My dissertation, currently titled "Implanting American Sex & States West of the Appalachians," traces how settler men and women comprehended, established, flouted, and challenged a social and a legal order of sexual behaviors and desires amongst themselves and in conjunction with the nascent American states in the Trans-Appalachian West during the Early Republic (1785-1825). At the heart of these orders was the monogamous marriage contract between two consenting parties of different sex, a vision of orderly sex that helped settlers and settler states delineate gender, race, and membership in settler communities among the variety of peoples who resided in the region. I draw primarily on state and county legislative and judicial records from four resulting states in the region, Alabama, Indiana, Mississippi, and Ohio. This broad focus enables us to see how settler and settler states’ ideal order of sexuality, and how states attempted to regulate sexuality, was strongly similar within the region and between the region and the existing American states and communities to the east.
Focusing on the primarily rural communities of the early republican Trans-Appalachian West moves the history of sexuality in Early America away from its frequent urban and East Coast focus and emphasizes that Americans, as well as American states, retained a strong interest in regulating sexuality during the Early Republic even if the methods had changed. Settlers and settler states also more frequently connected to call out and punish men, not women, who had transgressed sexual ideals and they focused their energies on the primarily European-descended settlers, not the non-white peoples who lived amongst them or elsewhere in the region. Using the lens of sexuality demonstrates one of the few topics where settler men and women both helped legitimize the expansion of American government and society across the continent, in contrast to works that emphasize the more male institutions of the military, politics, and economics.
1. I am completing an article for review that uses the over 100 surviving letters of a courtship that lasted from 1818 to 1821 of an elite, Euro-American, New England-born couple to demonstrate how Euro-American settlers imagined they could establish their cultural norms of courtship, marriage, romance, and emotion in the new Western states. In contrast to my dissertation, this article focuses on the emotional parts of defining and ordering sexuality, of particular significance to middle class and elite Euro-Americans who dominated American culture and politics in an era that emphasized sentiment and affective ties.
2. A second article examines the rise of beaches as places of leisure, public spectacle, and public sexuality in Florida between 1880 and the 1920s. I trace how the popularization of beaches, the wearing of swimsuits, and the revealing of skin and bodies changed the way male and female American beachgoers thought about their bodies, helped sexualize American culture, and encouraged other Americans to believe greater state authority was needed to halt the growing public acceptance of sexuality. The research and initial draft of this article won the J. Leitch Wright, Jr. Award for Outstanding Research from Florida State’s history department.
Non-Normative Households: If the ideal household in colonial and Early Republic America was headed by a heterosexual married couple, how common was this ideal? In particular, how common was this ideal in places without long-standing European/Euro-American communities (ex. the early British colonies, first communities in the First American West)? What other non-ideal households existed and how prevalent were they? How can studying census records, with a focus on who made up a household, help us queer early American history and settlement?
Sodomy/Bestiality in the early rural United States: This comes out of my dissertation project. There is a surprisingly large number of civil, and some criminal, court cases in the territories/states of the early West that involve bestiality. Historians of sexuality have primarily focused on uncovering the other part of sodomy, same-sex love, desire, and sex, during the early 19th century, neglecting the more common public discussion, according to courts, of sodomy in terms of sex with an animal. What can these cases tell us about American manhood, Americans' understandings of the connections of humans and nature, and a primarily rural and agricultural American society?
The 1820 Queen Caroline Affair: The American press was fascinated by this high profile divorce case, more so than by any local divorce(s) or the growing normality of divorce in American society. What can this event tell us about Americans' opinions of divorce and their remaining connections to and fascination of British culture, politics, and royalty?
In my travels and research for my dissertation, I came upon many, usually very dusty, documents. I knew I could not use them for the dissertation, but they sparked my interest. I'm not sure what the final projects will look like yet, but these are some of the collections and ideas I have.
Knox County, Indiana Court Records (1780s-?): Home to the first American territorial capital of Indiana, as well as a previous French settlement, these are some of the earliest records available for United States settlement of the Northwest Territory. Perhaps a history of women & gender in the courtroom like Cornelia Dayton completed for colonial Connecticut? Perhaps a broader social history of the county like Faragher's Sugar Creek? In short, we need more localized studies of communities during the Early Republic and this extensive set of court records would allow this to happen.
Posey County, Indiana Circuit Court Case Files (1815-1855)
Governor of Ohio Pardons and State Penitentiary Files
Indiana State Penitentiary Records
Cuyahoga County, Ohio Divorce Case Files (late 1800s)
Greene, Greene-Roelker, and Wulsin Collections at the Cincinnati History Library & Archives: A fantastic collection of personal correspondence that covers many key aspects of 19th century American history--courtship & marriage, immigration, race, growth of the middle class, sectionalism, urbanization
Banner Picture: "Craig Divorce Notice." Independent Republican, Chillicothe, OH; December 13, 1809, pg1.