1807: No Less Sacred to Them than the Tie of Marriage

Silhouette of Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake (c. 1805-1815)

I passed a few days in the valley of one of those streams of northern Vermont, which find their way into Champlain. If I were permitted to draw aside the veil of private life, I would briefly give you the singular, and to me most interesting history of two maiden ladies who dwell in this valley. I would tell you how, in their youthful days, they took each other as companions for life, and how this union, no less sacred to them than the tie of marriage, has subsisted, in uninterrupted harmony, for forty years, during which they have shared each other’s occupations and pleasures and works of charity while in health, and watched over each other tenderly in sickness; for sickness has made long and frequent visits to their dwelling. I could tell you how they slept on the same pillow and had a common purse, and adopted each other’s relations, and how one of them, more enterprising and spirited in her temper than the other, might be said to represent the male head of the family, and took upon herself their transactions with the world without, until at length her health failed, and she was tended by her gentle companion, as a fond wife attends her invalid husband. I would tell you of their dwelling, encircled with roses, which now in the days of their broken health, bloom wild without their tendance, and I would speak of the friendly attentions which their neighbors, people of kind hearts and simple manners, seem to take pleasure in bestowing upon them, but I have already said more than I fear they will forgive me for, if this should ever meet their eyes, and I must leave the subject.

William Cullen Bryant: Letters of a Traveller; or, Notes of things seen in Europe and America (1850) (source)

Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake met in 1807 and fell quickly in love. For the rest of their lives they lived together, ran a tailoring business, and were accepted by relatives and their community as a married couple. They are buried together under a shared headstone in Weybridge Hill Cemetery, Addison County, Vermont.

The silhouette card of the couple (c. 1805-1815) is possibly the first depiction of a same sex couple. (source)

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