Long Before Stonewall

Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America

414 pages

July, 2007

ISBN: 9780814727508



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Thomas A. Foster is Professor of History at Howard University, in Washington, DC, and author of  Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man: Massachusetts and the History of Sexuality in America, and Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past. He is also editor of Long Before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality (NYU Press, 2007), New Men: Manliness in Early America (NYU Press, 2011), and Documenting Intimate Matters: Primary Sources for a History of Sexuality in America. Foster tweets at @ThomasAFoster.pasting

All books by Thomas A. Foster

2007 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Although the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City symbolically mark the start of the gay rights movement, individuals came together long before the modern era to express their same-sex romantic and sexual attraction toward one another, and in a myriad of ways. Some reflected on their desires in quiet solitude, while others endured verbal, physical, and legal harassment for publicly expressing homosexual interest through words or actions.

Long Before Stonewall seeks to uncover the many iterations of same-sex desire in colonial America and the early Republic, as well as to expand the scope of how we define and recognize homosocial behavior. Thomas A. Foster has assembled a pathbreaking, interdisciplinary collection of original and classic essays that explore topics ranging from homoerotic imagery of black men to prison reform to the development of sexual orientations. This collection spans a regional and temporal breadth that stretches from the colonial Southwest to Quaker communities in New England. It also includes a challenge to commonly accepted understandings of the Native American berdache. Throughout, connections of race, class, status, and gender are emphasized, exposing the deep foundations on which modern sexual political movements and identities are built.


  • “Thoughtful, persuasive, solidly constructed, and likely to endure the test of time.”


  • “Half the 14 essays in this interdisciplinary study of seventeenth- through nineteenth-century America are reprints—though it’s useful to have work that appeared in academic journals collected in one place. Among original work, Ramon A. Gutierrez's revisionist perspective on Native American berdache will raise the most eyebrows: rather than exalt their same-sex spirituality, fashionable among gay liberationists and radical faeries alike, the author's theory is that they led lives of sexual ‘humiliation and endless work, not of celebration and veneration.’ Among the reprints, Caleb Crain's account of a romantic triangle among three Philadelphia men that began in 1786, culled from their diaries, is the sweetest. Several essays draw on court records dating back as far as three hundred years to unearth queer lives, while others glean an intriguing and instructive glimpse of the past through a reading of Colonial-era fiction and journalism.”

    Q Syndicate

  • “Illuminate[s] the complexity, breadth, and social impact of sexuality in history.”

    The Gay & Lesbian Review

  • “An excellent introduction to the dynamic new work on sexuality in colonial and early national America, which not only expands our understanding of early America but forces us to rethink paradigms and periodizations that have long governed histories of sexuality in the U.S. A valuable contribution.”

    —George Chauncey, author of Why Marriage?

  • “A powerful interdisciplinary compilation that will keep specialists and general readers thoroughly engaged. . . . Long Before Stonewall redirects our attention to a period of American history that for too long has been undervalued as a field for scholarly inquiry into sexuality.”

    Journal of the Early Republic