Even the Founding Fathers Had to Worry About Gay-Baiting
By Thomas A. Foster
Mr. Foster teaches history at DePaul University. He is the author of Sex and the Eighteenth Century Man: Massachusetts and the History of Sexuality in America and editor of Long Before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America.
... An unusual image from a Massachusetts colonial newspaper reveals that even the founding generations had to watch how they carried themselves. The satire implied that the Freemasons, that venerable, but disturbingly secretive, fraternity that so many of our Founding Fathers belonged to – the group that was made popular in the movie National Treasure -- were engaged in homoerotic intimacy. The satire included a graphic engraving that appeared on the front page of the Boston Evening Post in 1751.
It was one of the few times for an engraving to appear in a newspaper accompanying a poem. Together the image and poem mocked the Freemasons and their virtuous manhood – an early version of gay-baiting to be sure. The rarity of an engraving in itself would have captured readers’ attention. The image itself, however, was designed to shock. It depicted two smiling men, one bent over receiving a trunnel, or wooden spike, the other, with a hammer raised overhead, ready to strike.
The poem included several lines that implied the Freemasons enjoyed penetrating each other as the image depicted:
I’m sure our TRUNNELS look’d as clean
As if they ne’re up A—se had been;
For when we use ‘em, we take care
To wash ‘em well, and give ‘em Air,
Then lock ‘em up in our own Chamber,
Ready to TRUNNEL the next Member.