Monday, July 28, 2008

Lesbians in Southern History

It is common today to accept lesbians, and for lesbians to assert their sexuality and life styles. In the Civil War, if they were not rejected because of their mysterious, and even unknown sexuality, they were nonetheless prosecuted. The usual 'tell" was the wearing of male attire and working at male employment. These two examples illustrate this assertion which while focused on Memphis but nonetheless repeated throughout the country. Lesbianism is nothing new, only more visible, tolerated and aggressive. These stories took place when Memphis was still under Confederate rule. Memphis had a reputation as being a "wide open" town. There is nothing new but the history you don't already know.
July 24 -25, 1861 - "A whisper was muttered that expanded into a rumor, and the rumor grew into a downright assertion that Dan, the polite, roguish, smart, industrious Dan, was a woman!" The saga of Civil War era Memphis lesbian Dan Edson.

The Livery Stable Clerk.—A livery stable in this city has, for a week or ten days, been under the management of a sprightly fellow, who told a good story, cracked his whip with a knowing jerk, and handled the ribbons with an off-hand skill that never failed to draw admiration from the profound students in horseflesh, who "know a thing or two." Dan Edson, for that was the young fellow's name, kept the books, fingered the money, managed the stable boys, let out horses and buggies, and discussed the points of a horse and the achievements of a racer as occasion called for, and all with the off-hand, decided style that he exhibited in everything he said or did. Dan, although not long in his new place, was becoming a favorite. The old frequenters of the place found it refreshing to rub up their slow ideas against Dan's rapid enunciation and trenchant vehemence. The young "bloods" about town—who love to drive to Fort Pickering at as near a 2:40 pace as whip lash can procure and hired hacks achieve—were fond of dealing with Dan. In their eyes, Dan was knowing; he had a jaunty air and a saucy look about him; and he always contrived, he did not know how, to make them o­n better terms with themselves than usual. They never felt so pleased with the set of their hat, the cut of their coat, the ring of their boot heels o­n the pavement, the glisten of the brooch in their bosom, or the color of their ungloved hands, as when Dan unobtrusively but insinuatingly called their notice to excellencies and beauties, distingue results they had often sighed for, but seldom before dared to hope they had attained. Dan was not in a situation to come much into the company of ladies; yet sometimes a lady would get into, or leave a carriage near the stable; Dan was then a model of attention and politeness. His manner was demure, but yet full of archness. The lips and brow expressed gravity, but the very duce was dancing bold and riotous pranks beneath the two arched eyebrows. Of course the few ladies who had enjoyed the pleasure of Dan's ready aid, as they mounted or left the steps of their carriages, were admirers of his. His modest demeanor and rakish looks delighted them. They were sure he was "the very devil among the girls." In fact Dan was o­n the way to greatness. But a few days he had taken the stable in hand, yet already everything seemed going like a piece of clock work, of which Dan was the regulator. The stable was feeling the benefit of his popularity, and by day and by night the empty halls of the neighboring grand hotel echoed with the tread of horses, and the trundle of wheels from the stable over the way. We must now take a graver tone. Man is mortal, and mortality is changeable, and a change came over Dan's expanding fortunes, and envious fate dashed from his hands the flowing cup of sweet prosperity. A whisper was muttered that expanded into a rumor, and the rumor grew into a downright assertion that Dan, the polite, roguish, smart, industrious Dan, was a woman! The assertion became accusation, and accusation stamped the story with certainty, when, yesterday, the chief of police and officer Winters waited upon Dan with an invitation to accompany them to jail. But Dan was not disconcerted—nothing disconcerted Dan Edson; he laughed in the faces of his visitors, and told them he had not time just then to attend to their jokes. Capt. Garrett put o­n his gravest look and assured the young scapegrace that it was a very serious matter. "Can't attend to you now, gentlemen, that's flat," said Dan. "I let o­ne of our horses to a gentleman yesterday, and he's gone and killed it. Rail fences, and mud roads after a thunder storm, don't do for hurdle and race practice. The fellow has to pay us for our horse, and I expect him every minute. I'm fond of fun, gentlemen; but we'll settle the jail subject when you call again. We can then take a laugh and a sherry cobbler together. "Good day, gentlemen," and Dan was retiring into the abysses of the stable, with o­ne of his saucy, laughing nods, when a few more words from the police convinced her that the play was ended, and the part she had assumed must be abandoned. With a jail for a green room, this was not so pleasant; but it had to be done, and there Dan. Edson was placed o­n the charge of being, properly, a tenant not of pants but of petticoats, and entitled to the name of Mrs. Ray. It is said that behind this adventure of playing clerk in a livery stable lies a story, to move to tears, of an outraged wife, sorrowing and heart-broken, but we cannot touch o­n grief that is too sacred for public exposure. What may come to light, at the investigation that will take place before the recorder this morning, we cannot tell.

Memphis Daily Appeal, July 24, 1861.

The Livery Stable Clerk.—Daniel Edson, the livery clerk of whose arrest we have given an account, was before the recorder yesterday morning o­n the charge of being a woman, Mrs. Ray, in man's clothes. A large crowd filled the court o­n the occasion. The lady appeared to answer the charge in the manly garb which she has chosen instead of crinoline and accompaniments. She was fined ten dollars, which she paid.

Memphis Daily Appeal, July 25, 1861.

Can a Woman Legally Wear Pants?—This question was presented in the criminal court, Judge Swayne, presiding, o­n Tuesday, in the case of N. D. Wetmore, livery stable keeper, who was arrested o­n a charge of employing Mrs. Ray as his clerk, she being dressed in man's apparel. We are indebted to a legal friend for the following report of the case, the petitioner, Mr. Wetmore, applying for his discharge o­n habeas corpus: In the matter of Mr. N. D. Wetmore, petition for habeas corpus, the facts appeared as follows: That a person supposed to be a female was in the employ of the petitioner as a clerk, or hand, at his livery stable; but there was no direct proof that said person was in fact a female, or was so known to petitioner to be. The petitioner was in custody, as the return of the city jailer showed, by order of a policeman. The questions raised under the proof were, whether the petitioner was guilty of any offense in law, and whether he was detained by authority of law. The court allowed time for the examination of the law o­n these questions, which was done by H. Vollintine, Esq., at the instance of the court, o­n the part of the jailer. It was afterward, o­n reference to the law, agreed that a policeman could not imprison a party in the day time, without examination before the recorder. It also appeared to the court, from the authorities, that employing or retaining a female in man's attire in service, was not an offense known to the law, however liable the female might be herself for thus being in a man's attire. Hence, the petitioner was discharged as before announced, there being no law to detain him.

Memphis Daily Appeal, July 25, 1861.

"The young 'bloods' about town—who love to drive to Fort Pickering at as near a 2:40 pace as whip lash can procure and hired hacks achieve—were fond of dealing with Dan. In their eyes, Dan was knowing; he had a jaunty air and a saucy look about him; and he always contrived, he did not know how, to make them o­n better terms with themselves than usual."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


His Arrest by a Vigilance Committee and incarceration in a Memphis Prison – Eighty five Union Men Whipped and have their heads shaved-the Cruelties of Siberia Exceeded-A Northern Woman Brutally beaten with a Knout [sic] –Escape to Cairo

So many discrepancies have found their was into the statements published by me respecting my arrest, imprisonment and escaped, in and from the City of Memphis, Tennessee, that I must request the use of your columns to correct the, and reconcile what now see, and justly, conflicting statements.

I think no o­ne will question the assertion, that in Memphis there exists a feeling of greater hostility to the North than in any other portion of the South; that the public sentiment of that people countenance and approve more flagrant outrages upon the persons and property of those known or supposed to have Union proclivities, that would be tolerated anywhere else. I presume this to be the fact, because there is scarcely an account of some indignity towards those who are indisposed to blacken their souls with treason, and subject themselves to the just censure of true men everywhere.

To those who are familiar with the state of affairs in that vicinity for the past five months, this has been known; and it has been accounted for solely upon the ground that in no city [in the] Southis there a larger proportion of Northern men, and of a class, too, who have no regard for the principles which should actuate all Americans in this crisis. Men who have learned, in the midst of starving, to forget all the principles which they were so well calculated to instill, and have become more Southern than the Southerner, and are now seeking, with the zeal of apostates, to prove themselves worthy [of] the of those among whom their lots have been cast; trampling under foot, in their eagerness to accomplish this end, all the claims of a common humanity, and rendering themselves amenable to the just vengeance of every man who loves his country, or abhors cruelty and oppression.

In the statement I am about to give, I shall speak o­nly of "that which I have seen," and in no case draw upon my fancy.

I am a Southern man myself, by birth, education and feeling all my prejudices have been with the South, and I would not now say o­ne work to cast odium upon a people whom I love, and for whom I would willingly sacrifice my own life, were it necessary, in defence of their rights, or in the maintenance of any principle.But when no wrong has been inflicted, no injury sustained, and no principle is contended for o­n their part, I cannot, and will not, prove my devotion to the South by avowing myself a traitor the country, for the sole purpose of aiding in the aggrandizement of those who have long since proven themselves unworthy [of] the confidence not o­nly of the South, but of honest men everywhere. Men who, were it necessary to accomplish their own ambitious ends, would lay their hands upon the pillars of the temple of liberty and pull them too the earth, though in the doing so they buried every hope of freedom throughout the world. Men politically and morally lost to all the principles of honor, and actuated solely by the selfish desire to elevate themselves event to ignoble positions, if they promise power and wealth.

It was my misfortune to view the present revolution in this light; and hence I became at o­nce obnoxious to the goof people of Memphis, who are unable to understand how it is possible for any o­ne to regard it otherwise than as a war for freedom and the rights of man.

Being thus blinded, I had the temerity to address a communication to the New York Tribune, in March last, commenting somewhat severely upon the conduct of the Memphisians in according an honorable reception a band of sturdy souls fro Mississippi, o­n their way to the seat of war in Florida. In that latter some surprise was expressed, and a body of men marching under a flag hostile to their own, with the avowed purpose of joining an army soon, as was expected, to engage ours in deadly conflict, should receive such cordial welcome, and bear away with them such unmistakable manifestations of friendship.

The character of Tennesseans had always been that of honorable men, and it could but excite surprise that, while receiving all the benefits and blessing resulting from the Union, they should permit those avowedly their enemies to march unmolested through their streets, and carry with them the impr5ession that Memphis was already as unanimous as Mississippi.

This was regarded as a crime far too heinous to go unpunished; and accordingly, when the contents of that letter became know to the people of that righteous city there was an universal demand for the author-couched, however, in such terms and promising him such evidences of their regard ad induced him-modest man as the was-to keep them ignorant as to his identity thus avoiding the hospitalities and honors which have been thrust upon him. Let no o­ne imagine, however, that I was safe, unless some proof was brought forward and the authorship of the letter clearly established. Noting could be more erroneous than such an ideal Suspicion o­nly as requisite, and this could easily be directed against me by any o­ne who cherishes any ill will towards me.

This was soon apparent, and a few days after the letter had been copied from the Tribune into the Avalance,[1] I had the honor of being visited by a select number of the immortal "Vigilance Committee," who respectfully requested to examine my effects.Nothing could have been more respectful than their demeanor; indeed, it was entirely too much so, and excited itself some apprehension and gave me a tickling sensation in the region of the thorax. After a thorough examination had been made, and innumerable questions asked, tending to fix the authorship of that particular letter upon me, all of which were in vain, I was politely informed that they "believed me to be a ____ Abolitionist, and intended to settle my case in the morning.
The precise meaning of this was readily understood, and I was locked up, that evening, under the firm conviction that it was my last night o­n earth. Excitement ran high, and the general demand was for the execution of an Abolitionist, or o­ne supposed to be tinctured with this heresy. And, from what I knew and had seen of the disposition made of such, I was justified in regarding my position as exceedingly critical.

In the morning, however, I was brought before the Vigilance Committee and underwent another examination, in which all the members who desired participated. It was evident that there was no disposition to find me "not guilty?' the o­nly object being to find an excuse to justify my execution. Here I stood before sixty men, every man of who was eager to sigh my death warrant. Not o­ne of them evinced the least disposition to give me their benefit of circumstances in my favor; but all were actuated by the determination to find me guilty, and where justly or unjustly. And while admitting that there was no tangible evidence against me, going to show that I was even a Northern man, much less an Abolitionist, they communicated their intention to confine me in the dungeon of the jail until they could ascertain from their friends in Baltimore and Washington what my real sentiments were. Accordingly, I was thrown into an underground apartment, rendered horrible by the absence of light and air, and loathsome by the presence of the accumulated filth of years; a prison quite equal to the famous "Blackhole of Calcutta," in its abominations.

The fare was in keeping with the quarters, and consisted of corn bread and as small quantity of water doled out in the morning of each day. Here, with the thermometer at about 95, I was compelled to remain from the 25th of April to the 6th of June, denied the privileges of communicating with my friends, and all access to me from them forbidden.

While here, I was frequently an eyewitness to some of the cruelest outrages that I believe it [is] possible for the ingenuity or depravity of man to devise. Outrages so entirely at variance with all my former conceptions of Southern character as (had I not witnessed them myself,) would have appeared not o­nly improbable, but impossible, to have been committed by them, and I cannot believe that in any other portions of the South, or among purely Southern men, such acts would be tolerated for a moment-indignities and enormities towards not o­nly men but women, which have almost frozen the blood in my veins, and aroused "a vengeance blood alone can quell;" a feeling of bitter and unrelenting hostility, which cannot be eradicated until a retribution as righteous as just, have been visited upon every an who has been a participant in such demoniac pleasures. Towards men, these cruelties were of daily occurrence, and the evidence of every man in Cairo connected with our army, will corroborate my statement-that more than eighty five men have had their heads shaved and their backs lacerated by the knout since the middle of last April. [sic] More than that number have found their way to Cairo, and are not waiting an opportunity to return and inflict summary punishment upon the people of that doomed city.
To this I had almost become accustomed, and looked quite naturally every morning for the perpetration of such outrages, but even this had not prepared me for what I had to witness before I left their prison. In all my imaginings, I never dreamed that in any moment of excitement there could be found, in any portion of this land, o­ne single man who would be base enough and fiend enough, to lay the lash upon the back of an innocent and defenceless woman. [sic] Incredible as it appears, it was done in the City of Memphis, o­n the 19th of May. [sic] The victim was a young, beautiful, refined and accomplished lady, who had resided there for o­ne year. Her offence was being from Maine, and expressing to loudly here wishes for the success of our arms.

She purchased a ticket for Cairo, and it appears was congratulating herself upon soon reaching a land of liberty, when an officer by the name of THURMAN arrested and brought here in the jail. She was confined all night, and in the morning about six o'clock she was brought in front of the rear door of the jail (in the yard), and after three [sic] men had been whipped with the knout, [sic] and their heads shaved, she was stripped to the waist, and thirteen lashes given her with a strap, and the right side of her head shaved. [sic] The wretch who did the whipping is named John Durall, and was originally a resident of Cleveland, Ohio, while this other fiend who held her arms, had recently left Syracuse, New York, and is named Thomas McElroy.

The outrage took place not more than five feet from where I was standing, inside the passage in the yard, and she fell back against the door when released. I spoke to her fully five minutes, and know her name and address, and have her likeness now in my possession. I shall never forget her appearance while suffering the infliction of this tremendous outrage. No o­ne work escaped her lips; not a groan came up fro her breast; not a sight was audible. But, the livid hue of her face, the compressed lips, the quivering of every muscle, attested how terrible was her woe, how keenly she felt the impious wrong. Would to God the advancing columns of our army could, at that moment, have entered that yard, and torn those incarnate devils limb from limb, and meted [sic] out to all concerned in this infamous proceeding-whether as participants or spectators-a punishment commensurate with their crime. And should the day come, when Union men dare to avow their sentiments in that city, and the presence of our army enable the eye witnesses to this transaction to return, there will be a terrible reckoning required at the hands of these barbarians.

I remained in this prison until the 6th of June, when, through the instrumentality of a true and noble woman, I was enabled to affect my escape. Money, of which there was a scarcity, triumphed o­n the fidelity of o­ne of the attaches of the jail. My den was opened and I was free. That I lost no time in finding other quarters may readily be imagined, and I succeeded in securing a hiding place with an old Irish woman until I could leave the city. This I did o­n the 11th of June, with but five dollars in my pocket, which carried me to Jackson, and from that point I was compelled to make my way to Cairo-one hundred and twenty miles without o­ne cent, and through a section country where I would have been hung in a moment if suspected of being from the North. I succeeded, however, after a jouironey of three days, with a mouthful to eat, in reaching the land of promise.

When I came in sight of the "Stars and Stripes" floating from the encampment at Bird's Point, all fatigue was forgotten, and with horse speed I ran until I was with the line of our troops No mortal man, unless under similar circumstances, can form an idea of the feeling which possessed me at that moment-the deep and profound gratitude to God for having guided me through so may perils and dangers, and brought me o­nce again to freedom….
~ ~ ~
July 18, 1861
Jno. McLean Collins

Philadelphia Inquirer, July 22, 1861

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

In 19th Century Nashville

In nineteenth century Nashville, during the Civil War the health conditions were appalling. Horse manure, open sewers, dead animals strewn about the streets, infectious diseases, out houses and urine created an abysmal, stinking setting. The City Council tried to take some measure against small pox, caused, they believed, by runaway slaves, or “contraband” while the army expelled prostitutes from the town in what would become a failed effort to eliminate venereal diseases, as great a threat to the army as the bullets of Rebels. The owner of the steamboat the army seized to transfer the prostitutes (a.k.a. “Cyprians”) had to petition the Federal government for reparations to cover the damage done to his ship done by the courtesans.

“City Council-Public Health.”

To-morrow evening there will be a meeting of the Common Council, and also of the City Council; the latter to elect a Board of Education, and the former to receive and act upon reports presented from the various Departments. Among the reports will be found one of great importance to every citizen, and resident-it is that of Spencer Chandler, the City agent of the Pest House. From it we learn that the small-pox is on the decline-the white patients being reduced from 18 to 7, and the black from 18 to 16. These figures would be a cause of congratulation were it not for one fact, namely, that the slight reduction of cases among the negroes is rather accidental than as indicative of any real check to the progress of the disease.

Mr. Chandler, than whom none are better qualified to judge, fears an increase not only of small pox, but of other diseases, among the blacks, unless some measures be adopted by the civil or military authorities, or both, to place the contrabands in healthy encampments, with guards and overseers to see after their health and morals. These contrabands are scattered over the city and suburbs, and are crowded together by dozens and fifties [sic], many of the men living in idleness, some by thieving, a large number of the women by prostitution, and all in filth, breeding disease, which will spread like wildfire over the city. So barefaced are these black prostitutes becoming, that they parade the streets, and even the public square, by day and night.

An order has just been received notifying all the white prostitutes to leave town immediately. Why not issue a similar order against the blacks? If military necessity demands the removal of the first, it certainly will require the latter, if the police and our own eyes are to be believed.

But leaving morality out of the question, let us look at the case in a sanitary point of view. Mr. Chandler tells us that wherever he finds a case of small pox among colored people, the house from which it is removed is crowded with inmates. How many of these inmates of a filthy den have contracted the disease? Among how many others will they spread it? How long [a] time will elapse before it breaks out in camps, or in hospitals?-(for many of the occupants of these dens spend their days in hospitals). These are questions to be reflected upon seriously by our City Fathers, if they would preserve the health of the city.

Mr. Chandler has already consulted with Gov. Johnson on the subject of encamping all contrabands in a healthy locality, and we are informed he looks favorably upon the subject, and Mr. C. recommends that proper measures be taken to carry out his suggestions, or some other, to preserve the health of the town. We commend the subject to the Common Council, feeling confident the will do what seemeth best to them.

Nashville Dispatch, July 9, 1863.

“Departure of the Cyprians.”

Yesterday [8th] a large number of women of ill-fame were embarked upon three or four steamers, and transported northward. The number has been estimated at from one thousand to fourteen hundred-probably five or six hundred would near the mark. Where they are consigned to, we are not advised, but suspect the authorities of the city in which they landed will feel proud of such an acquisition to their population. We hope the commanding officer will issue an order as soon as possible, ordering off all contraband prostitutes -- they contribute considerably more toward the demoralization of the army than any equal number of white women, and certainly have no more claims upon our sympathy.

Nashville Dispatch, July 9, 1863.

The statement of John M. Newcomb seeking reimbursement for damages sustained to the steamship Idahoe in July relative to damages to the “floating whore house.”

Washington D. C.

August 16, 1865

Hon. E. M. Stanton

Secy. of War


I must respectfully beg leave to draw your attention to the following statement of facts in relation to my claim for subsisting 111 prostitutes from Nashville, Tenn., to Cincinnati, Ohio, and back to Nashville, on board my steamer “Idahoe.”

On the 8th of July 1863, while my boat was under charter by U. S. [sic] and in service at Nashville these prostitutes were put on board of her by a detachment of soldiers who were ordered to do so by Lt. Col. Spaulding, pro.[vost] mar.[shal] gen. [eral] and Capt. Stubbs, asst. quartermaster who were acting under orders of Gen. Morgan. I protested against their putting these women on my boat. She being a new boat, only three months built, her furniture new, and a fine passenger boat. I told them it would forever ruin her reputation as a passenger boat if they were put upon her. (It has done so. She is not and has since been known as the floating whore house [sic]) and pointed out to them old boats that were in the service at the time which would have answered the purpose as well as mine, but no, they said I must take them. Being in the employ of the govt. and the control of Capt. Stubbs the quartermaster, I was compelled to keep them on my boat. On the same day that they were put on board I was ordered to start with them to Louisville. I asked Capt. Stubbs how these women were to be subsisted & he told me I would have to see Gen. Morgan about that. I saw Gen. Morgan and he told me to subsist them myself. I entreated of him to let the gov’t subsist them, that it could do much less [sic] (more?) than I could. His reply was, “you subsist them.” When I found Gen. Morgan determined that I should subsist them, I had to buy meat and vegetables at enormous high prices [sic] from storeboats along the river, and in addition at many places to buy ice and medicines, these women being diseased and more than one half of them sick in bed. I applied to other commissary’s of sub. [sic] along the route, for commissary stores, to feed these women; but at each place was refused by the officer in charge, and the civil as well as the military authorities would not allow my boat to land, and put guards along the shore to prevent me from doing so. When leaving Nashville I applied for a guard to be put on board. Gen. Morgan told me I did not need any, but to take charge of them myself. Having no guard I could not keep men along the route from coming on board to these women, when at anchor, and being angered because I strove to drive them away both themselves and these bad women destroyed and damaged my boat and her furniture to a great extent. When I arrived at Louisville I stated my grievances to Gen. Boyle and he gave me a guard and ordered me to proceed to Cincinnati and await further orders there. I remained in the stream opposite Cincinnati because I would not be allowed to land for thirteen days, when I was ordered to Nashville again with my cargo of prostitutes.

I wish to say to your honor that I was compelled to subsist these women, that it cost me all that I have made a charge for to do so, that the claim is merely a reimbursement of my money which I had to expend while complying with the orders of the officers of the United States government; that I could not have this money he returned me at the place where I was ordered to perform this service because officers who ordered me would not direct a settlement of my account to be made. I had to leave my business and travel from Cincinnati to this place to see if I could collect it-it being over two years due me. I am here now one week going from one office to another, to see to get my papers, and to effect a settlement,1 which I have not yet done, unless your honor will please direct payment of this account so justly due me, and for a long time.

The enclosed order from the officers directing me to perform this duty are herewith respectfully submitted for your consideration.

Very respectfully,

Your Obt. Servt.

John M. Newcomb

Statement of John McComb.2

1 Newcomb was reimbursed in full in October 1865.

2 TSLA, Record Group 29, B.23, f.19.