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Read the Revolution: Vicious and Immoral with John Gilbert McCurdy

June 06, 2024
6:30 PM - 8:00 PM
Museum of the American Revolution, 101 S 3rd St
Philidelphia, PA 19106 United States

In June 1774, Robert Newburgh, the chaplain to the 18th Regiment of Foot “stood accused of ‘Vicious and Immoral Behaviour,’ which broke down into six separate charges: perjury, prevarication, falsehood, ‘Scandalous and Indecent acts,’ conduct ‘Derogatory from the Sacred Character, with which he is Invested,’ and having treated his commanding officer ‘in a Disrespectful manner.’” Stemming from rumors that Newburgh engaged in a same-sex relationship in his native Ireland, the above charges marred his character and his military career. Newburgh, stationed in Philadelphia at the start of the Revolutionary War, spent his time defending himself in multiple court-martials and civil suits, instead of providing the spiritual guidance for which he was hired.

Dr. John Gilbert McCurdy’s newest book, Vicious and Immoral: Homosexuality, the American Revolution, and the Trials of Robert Newburgh, which builds on research from his book, Quarters: The Accommodation of the British Army and the Coming of the American Revolution, uses the trials of Newburgh as a lens to examine queerness during the late 18th century. McCurdy uses the juxtaposition of rebellion and the status quo to illuminate the drastic difference between Britain’s prosecution of men accused of having same-sex relationships and the growing “lack of interest in prosecuting homosexuality” in the burgeoning American republic. This stark contrast can also be seen in Newburgh’s detractors (who wanted to squash rebellion) and his supporters (who eventually fostered sympathy for the American cause).

Read an excerpt about Robert Newburgh’s enlistment of Enlightenment ideals to help defend himself following his arrest and formal charge of engaging in same-sex behavior in the summer of 1774.

Dig Deeper: Join author and historian Dr. John Gilbert McCurdy at the Museum on Thursday, June 6, for a special presentation exploring surprising truths about LGBTQ+ history in early America.

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Excerpt from the Text
In the spring of 1774, events in America were moving quickly towards crisis. In early May, Lieutenant General Thomas Gage resumed command of His Majesty’s forces in North America. The second son of an aristocratic family, Gage had ascended the ranks of the British army, rising through the officers’ corps until he was named commander in chief of the North American Establishment. Along the way, he married an American woman and fathered eleven children. Gage was an exceptional bureaucrat, but he had no idea how to stop a revolution.

For the past nine months, Gage had been in London, sharing his thoughts on how to suppress American insubordination. He met with the king and prime minister, and he impressed them with his knowledge of colonial affairs. Events had grown steadily worse in America since 1763, and repeated conciliation had not worked; Gage advised taking a harder line.

—John Gilbert McCurdy, Vicious and Immoral: Homosexuality, the American Revolution, and the Trials of Robert Newburgh (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2024), 139-145.

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