Religion in American History: Charity, Sylvia, and God:
Rachel Hope Cleves's marvelous book Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America
is a dual biography of two women who lived together in Weybridge,
Vermont, for forty-four years. Their relatives and neighbors recognized
them as married in practice if not by law, with Charity's nephew William
Cullen Bryant describing their connection as "no less sacred to them
than the tie of
recent historical development, Cleves attributes recognition of their
union to the rural and frontier status of their community, and to the
women's important economic and religious contributions to the town. As
Cleves argues, however, this toleration depended on "a strategic
silencing" of their sexual relationship. Rejecting this silence, Cleves
explores both the public and intimate aspects of their marriage.
Students of American religious history will be interested in how Charity
and Sylvia, as pious women in the early nineteenth century, struggled
with what they perceived as sin.