Mary Jones aka Peter Sewally of New York City was put on trial June 11th 1836 for pick pocketing a wallet containing 99$ from a white john with whom she had done business with the night before.
During their arrest Mary had attempted to throw out two additional wallets hidden in their bosom and the police upon taking Mary’s key and entering their home found dozens more wallets, watches and trinkets belonging to dozens of the cities male Upperclass whom although knowing Mary had stolen from them had become fearful to report to police least their vices be known to an increasingly moral conservative public.
Upon Mary’s interrogation and strip search it was discovered they were born as a man and had created a leather device in the shape and form of a vagina tied around their waist to keep clients from learning Mary’s T and birth sex (Although there is some dispute that the men were well aware of her male identity that she performed in the daytime)
On trial (in as far as I know) in the earliest known first person account of Queer life in United States Mary Jones went on record stating :“I have been in the practice of waiting upon Girls of ill fame and made up their Beds and received the Company at the door and received the money for Rooms &c and they induced me to dress in Women’s Clothes, saying I looked so much better in them and I have always attended parties among the people of my own Colour dressed in this way — and in New Orleans I always dressed in this way”
In so doing Mary Jones explained that there existed an active and known community of what would now be called gays, transsexuals, and drag queens in both the most populated city in United States and the blackest city in the United States during the pre-Emancipation era populated solely by black and mixed race people.
Of course Mary was convicted of Grand Larceny imprisoned for five years but not before being humiliated during trial and her image sensationalized by the press. Additionally days after their initial release Mary was sentenced a second time to Sing-Sing for a five month period for daring to walk about in female attire again before finally disappearing from the records.
It can be argued that this community of which Mary belonged to was the foundation of the later Black Drag Cakewalk balls known in late 19th century New York City, the queer rent parties and gay social life of 1920’s Harlem and eventually the Ballroom/Vogue community formed in the 1940’s to Present.
Although their life was marred in controversy caused by the multipronged discrimination so common for black gender and sexually variant people (then and now) for exisiting out, open and matter of factly Mary Jones was able to create a “beginning” for recorded black Queer life and history in this nation.
This is outside the usual purview of Medievalpoc, but a recent influx of questions about people of color, sexuality and gender diversity from history can be answered in this post.