Legal Cases Appealed: January 1, 1800-December 31, 1899
OutHistory.org Legal Research Project
This website has enlisted a group of Harvard law librarians in a project to copy and place on OutHistory.org the published reports and the original records of all the 19th-century U.S. legal cases (about 150) that include the terms “buggery,” “crime against nature,” or “sodomy.”
The Project was conceived by Jonathan Ned Katz, the Co-Director of OutHistory.org, who approached William B. Rubenstein, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, for assistance. Rubenstein enlisted several Harvard law librarians in this ambitious reclamation project. The librarians' recent database searches have already revealed about 45 additional cases mentioning buggery, crime against nature, and sodomy that had not shown up in Katz's earlier research.
Katz believes that "the original legal records in these cases will certainly reveal fascinating new details about U.S. social life and legal history in the 19th Century.”
An example is the published report, brief and abbreviated, of an 1897 Texas case. It involved a libel charge against the pro-African American publishers of a statement that Irish conductors employed by a Galveston street car company, who discriminated against “colored ladies,” were “the descendants of Oscar Wilde [meaning that they commit the crime of sodomy]” – the bracketed explanation is in the published report. The libel was affirmed by the appeals court. The brief published account and other documents relating to this case are reproduced or cited on OutHistory.org at W. L. Jones v. The State (Texas): November 24, 1897.
“That case touched tellingly on race, class, sexuality, and gender as indicated in the brief published report," says Katz, “and the original legal records, and any newspaper accounts and other documents about it will, I’m convinced, provide additional intriguing details about what was going on.”
One startling document referring to this case has already been discovered and is reprinted on OutHistory.org at: William Cowper Brann: "The Complete Works", 1898. It contains extremely derogatory language about and threats against the African Americans said to have committed the libel.
The former Coordinator of OutHistory.org, Lauren Gutterman, added: “We at OutHistory.org are asking LGBTQ community members and their friends nation-wide to help retrieve the forgotten documents that reveal the hidden LGBTQ past. The non-profit, educational OutHistory.org is appealing for volunteers to help with this research,” she added, “it’s a new, web-based form of participatory history making.”
The Legal History Project involves, first, online research to find and copy the old published reports of these cases. The original publications are in the public domain. An example is the case already cited: W. L. Jones v. The State (Texas): November 24, 1897
Second, the Project involves research in the archives of many states or territories, including: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, and in the archives of the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The original legal records in at least some of these 19th century cases do exist," says Katz, as indicated by his earlier success in locating these document in two cases, the earliest, in Maryland in 1810 (Davis v. State), and a case in Texas, in 1867 (State v. Campbell). Katz found those original court records in the Texas State Archives, Austin, and the Maryland State Archives, Annapolis. The original records will be added to OutHistory.org.
Researchers will need to discover which archive holds each state's or territory's legal case appeals records or lower court rulings, send for copies, receive the copy, and upload it to OutHistory.org. In some cases, handwritten early legal records will need to be transcribed. Katz says that OutHistory.org will reimburse the researchers for the cost of copies if necessary.
Third, the Project involves research in old newspapers and secondary sources to see if any relevant additional information about the cases or the accuser, accused, prosecutor, attorneys, or judges can be found. "The public can help with that research," suggested Katz who can be contacted at the OutHistory.org email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A chronological, annotated timeline of all the 19th century cases that mention "buggery," "crime against nature," or "sodomy" appear with the case citations on OutHistory.org at:
Origin date: November 10, 2010 Last revision: June 18, 2013.