Windy City Media Group Frontpage News

THE VOICE OF CHICAGO'S GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY SINCE 1985

home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2021-09-01
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
Donate

Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

LGBT HISTORY MONTH: Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben
by Mark Segal, National Gay History Project
2012-10-02

This article shared 7027 times since Tue Oct 2, 2012
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


"There are few historians today who would doubt that Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was gay."

That's how this article began last year, and since its publication, no accredited historian has refuted its main theme that without von Steuben there would be no United States of America and that von Steuben, in today's terms, would be considered a gay man. In this update, we add new historical material to the growing list of details that support these claims. These additions to his story could make von Steuben the first case of the American military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" And very well, by his own deeds and actions.

To appreciate the contributions von Steuben (1730-94) made to the American Revolution, consider this: Before his arrival in Valley Forge in 1778, the Revolutionary Army had lost several battles to Great Britain and, without him, the United States might still be the British colonies.

Before Valley Forge, the Revolutionary Army was a loosely organized, rag-tag band of men with little military training. The military fumbled through the beginning of the war for independence lacking training and organization. Gen. George Washington and the Continental Congress knew that without help from additional seasoned military experts, the colonies would clearly lose. Since Washington himself was the best the colonies had, they looked to Europe for someone who could train the troops. To that end, Washington wrote the colonies' representative in Paris, Benjamin Franklin, to see what he could come up with. Franklin, a renowned inventor, was treated as a celebrity in the French court. This would be pivotal in achieving his two major objectives in France: winning financial support for the revolution and finding military leaders who could bring a semblance of order to the Revolutionary Army.

Franklin learned of a "brilliant" Prussian military genius, Lt. Gen. Baron Frederich von Steuben. Von Steuben had a string of successes (some self-embellished) with the Prussian army. There was one problem. He'd been asked to depart because of his "affections for members of his own sex." This became urgent in 1777 when he literally escaped imprisonment in what is now Germany and traveled to Paris. In Paris, Franklin was interviewing candidates to assist Washington back in the colonies when he discovered von Steuben.

During the interview process, Franklin discovered von Steuben's reputation for having "affections" with males and the issue became pressing as members of the French clergy demanded the French court, as in other countries, take action against this sodomite. They had decided to make their effort a crusade and run him out of France.

Franklin had a choice: He decided von Steuben's expertise was more important to the colonies than his sexuality.

At the same time, another colonial representative was in France with the explicit job of recruiting experienced military personnel from Europe to train the Continental Army. He was Silas Deane, a former representative to the first Continental Congress and friend of Franklin. Deane is best known for recruiting the Marquis de Lafayette. He also had a side job as a spy for the colonies. Besides being intelligent themselves, Franklin and Deane knew how to spot intelligence. It would have been impossible for either to not know about the reputation of von Steuben.

Franklin, working with Deane, decided von Steuben's "affections" were less important than what he, Washington and the colonies needed to win the war with England. Deane learned of von Steuben's indiscretions—and that the French clergy was investigating—from a letter to the Prince of Hechingen, his former employer, which read in part:

"It has come to me from different sources that M. de Steuben is accused of having taken familiarities with young boys which the laws forbid and punish severely. I have even been informed that that is the reason why M. de Steuben was obliged to leave Hechingen and that the clergy of your country intend to prosecute him by law as soon as he may establish himself anywhere."

Deane, along with Franklin, acted quickly before the clergy could deport or imprison von Steuben and plotted to send him to the colonies to serve with Washington. Von Steuben was given an advance for passage to America and began as a volunteer, without pay.

Once he'd arrived in Valley Forge, Washington was concerned about von Steuben's inability to speak English so he appointed two of his officers who spoke French to work as his translators. One of those officers was Alexander Hamilton and the other his close friend John Laurens. Within months, von Steuben gained Washington's confidence and began to transform the colonial army.

Washington and Franklin's trust in von Steuben was rewarded. He whipped the rag-tag army of the colonies into a professional fighting force, able to take on the most powerful superpower of the time, England. Some of his accomplishments include instituting a "model company" for training, establishing sanitary standards and organization for the camp and training soldiers in drills and tactics such as bayonet fighting and musket loading. According to the "The Papers of Von Steuben," the following is a timeline of his achievements.

—February 1778: Arrives at Valley Forge to serve under Washington, having informed Congress of his desire for paid service after an initial volunteer trial period, with which request Washington concurs

—March 1778: Begins tenure as inspector general, drilling troops according to established European military precepts

—1778-79: Writes "Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States," which becomes a fundamental guide for the Continental Army and remains in active use through the War of 1812, being published in over 70 editions

—1780-81: Senior military officer in charge of troop and supply mobilization in Virginia

—1781: Replaced by Marquis de Lafayette as commander in Virginia

—1781-83: Continues to serve as Washington's inspector general, and is active in improving discipline and streamlining administration in the army

—Spring 1783: Assists in formulating plans for the postwar U.S. military

Washington rewarded Von Steuben with a house at Valley Forge which he shared with his aide-de-camps Capt. William North and Gen. Benjamin Walker. Walker lived with him through the remainder of his life, and von Steuben, who neither married nor denied any of the allegations of homosexuality, left his estate to North and Walker. His last will and testament, which includes the line "extraordinarily intense emotional relationship," has been described as a love letter to Walker.

Speculation over who von Steuben slept with abounded from Prussia to France to the United States. Yet he never once denied it. The closest he came to the topic was to ask Washington to speak on behalf of his morals in a letter to Congress that would authorize the disbursement of his pension. And why did he ask Washington?

Since his arrival in Philadelphia to assist the Revolution, von Steuben had financial issues caused by a Continental Congress that often didn't keep its funding promises, a challenge compounded by his own personality: von Steuben at times could be cold and aloof, which was problematic when diplomacy was needed with an important member of Congress. He also had a tendency to live and spend extravagantly, especially on his uniforms, which were often emblazoned with epaulettes and medals of his own design.

Due to his financial picture—and misconceptions about his association with Deane, who, along with Franklin, brought him to the Revolution, but who was later disgraced as traitor to the United States—von Steuben had to fight for his pension.

Adding to that were the constant rumors about his sexuality, which by 1790, reached one of the revolution's first families, the Adams of Massachusetts.

Charles, the son of John and Abigail Adams—the second president and First Lady of the new union—was what today would be called the black sheep of the family. Early on, Abigail considered him "not at peace within himself." His biggest problem was alcoholism but, as revealed in letters among the various members of the family, the Adams had other concerns.

As John Ferling writes in his biography "John Adams: A Life," "there are references to [Charles'] alleged proclivity for consorting with men whom his parents regarded as unsavory." One of these men was von Steuben, who, as Ferling writes, many at the time considered homosexual. Charles had become infatuated with and adored Von Steuben. It is clear in the family letters that the Adams were concerned about a relationship between Charles and von Steuben. Von Steuben's sexuality was an open secret, one that he himself never challenged, other than to ask Washington to defend his moral character.

Washington, always the diplomat, wrote of the general and friend, rather than of von Steuben's personal life, practicing today's notion of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

The Baron is a puzzle. At first, I really didn't like him: The man himself was pompous, cold and theatrical, and his uniforms and title were stage props for an officer who didn't even speak English when he got to Valley Forge. But I respected him for what he did to help Washington's ragtag army to defeat the British, eventually leading to the creation of our country. His knowledge created the first sense of military discipline in the colonies. My appreciation for him came from his most recent biographer Paul Lockhart, whose book, The Drillmaster Of Valley Forge, offers a complete look at von Steuben's work.

There is one story in the book that could be considered rather scandalous in today's terms: Von Steuben most likely threw the first underwear party in the United States military, at his house in Valley Forge.

As Lockhart writes, "The Baron hosted a party exclusively for their lower-ranking friends. He insisted, though, that 'none should be admitted that had on a whole pair of breeches,' making light of the shortages that affected the junior officers as they did the enlisted men."

You can see, however, that von Steuben's humanity and love of his troops underlied his actions.

The nation that von Steuben helped found has memorialized him with numerous statues, including those at Lafayette Square near the White House and at Valley Forge and Utica, N.Y. (where he is buried) and German Americans celebrate his birthday each year on Sept. 17, hosting parades in New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago.

If George Washington was the father of the nation, then von Steuben, a gay man, was the father of the United States military.


This article shared 7027 times since Tue Oct 2, 2012
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

LGBTQ+ activists celebrated at Fahrenheit Chicago Honors, launch of Lorde, Rustin & Bates, inc.
2021-10-24
In the beautiful, amber atmosphere of the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton St., numerous well-known Chicago LGBTQ+ activists gathered to celebrate each other and look toward the community's future. The sixth annual Fahrenheit Honors cocktail reception, ...


Gay News

LGBT HISTORY MONTH Angela Davis, revolutionary
2021-10-24
By Victoria A. Brownworth - "You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time," said Angela Davis, 78, the country's most famous living revolutionary. She was born ...


Gay News

llinois Holocaust Museum hosts talk on Stonewall and the LGBTQ-rights movement
2021-10-24
On Oct. 17, Skokie's Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center hosted a "Legacy of Stonewall and the LGBTQ Rights Movement" panel discussion to kick off its latest exhibit, "Rise Up: Stonewall and the LGBTQ Rights Movement." ...


Gay News

LGBT History Month: Staten Island museum throws open Austen's closet door
2021-10-22
It's been a long time coming, but officials at the Alice Austen House on New York's Staten Island have thrown open the closet door, now fully embracing the lesbian pioneer and photographer who lived in the ...


Gay News

LGBT History Project: Tee A. Corinne: Photographer of lesbian sexuality
2021-10-19
By Victoria A. Brownworth - Over her decades as a lesbian photographer and artist, Tee Corinne said, "I'm one of the most obscure famous artists." Famous? Yes. Obscure? Certainly not within artistic circles nor within the queer art world where she ...


Gay News

Legacy Walk plaques added for Pauli Murray, Matthew Shepard
2021-10-17
- The Legacy Project unveiled two bronze plaques recognizing LGBTQ+ historical figures Pauli Murray and Matthew Shepard on Oct. 16. The plaques, part of Northalsted's half-mile Legacy Walk, recognized Murray and ...


Gay News

LGBT History Month: '40s and '50s instant photography gave LGBT people 'Safe/Haven'
2021-10-15
Two men dressed in drag for a tea party, and two women cuddled up at the beach. Today these might be benign photographs but, in the early 1950s, they were memories shuttered away from public view. ...


Gay News

Kit Kat Lounge hosting Kamayan feast Oct. 24
2021-10-15
Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club, 3700 N. Halsted St., in honor of Filipino American History Month, will host a special "diva-infused" Kamayan feast featuring Chef Jordan Andino on Sunday, Oct. 24. Andino is the creative ...


Gay News

Activists speak about former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington's LGBTQ legacy
2021-10-14
by Max Lubbers - LGBTQ+ advocates reflected on former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington's legacy at Center on Halsted Oct. 13, discussing his role in the city's Human Rights Ordinance and outreach to the LGBTQ+ community. A display of 1980s Windy ...


Gay News

LGBTQ History Month: Pauli Murray, architect of history
2021-10-13
By Victoria A. Brownworth - (Note: The pronouns she/her are used in keeping with Murray's own writings, but Murray was a transmasculine and gender-nonconforming lesbian.) Some say Pauli Murray is the most important U.S. activist many have never heard of. An ...


Gay News

ART Contemporary yet timeless exhibition 'Young, Gifted and Black' arrives at Gallery 400
2021-10-13
To be a Black art collector is to stand on the shoulders of a proud lineage. Throughout history, Black patrons have supported Black artists when nobody else did. Bernard Lumpkinā€”a New York City-based art patron, educator ...


Gay News

Coming Out for LGBTQ+ History
2021-10-11
October 11th is National Coming Out Day, a day established in 1988 by members of the LGBTQ+ community to encourage people to stop hiding and be open about their identity. Coming out increases visibility of the ...


Gay News

LGBT History Month: Reclaiming 41, journey to heal notorious trauma for LGBT Mexicans
2021-10-11
Until recently, Alberto B. Mendoza hated 41. He cringed if his dinner bill or hotel room number had the number in it, and with the countdown to his 41st birthday, he dreaded the year to come. ...


Gay News

Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, in 30th year, holds induction ceremony at Sidetrack
2021-10-07
The Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, celebrating its 30th year, held its annual induction ceremony for 2021 inductees October 6 at Sidetrack, sponsored by Sidetrack, J&L Catering, Rick Aguilar Photography, and Dalila Fridi and Elizabeth McNight. ...


Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Songs for Nobodies
2021-10-07
Title: Songs for Nobodies. Playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith At: Northlight Theatre at the North Shore Center for the Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd. Tickets: $30-$89. Runs through: Sunday, Oct. 31 You won't find their names in the history ...


 



Copyright © 2021 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 
 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS







Sponsor
Sponsor


 



Donate


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.