Thursday, January 10, 2008

Secret Life of von Steuben

Having listened to the ongoing debate over homosexuals serving in the military, I felt that this would be an appropriate topic to post.

History teaches us that Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was a Prussian soldier who came to America and inspired massive improvements to the Continental Army at Valley Forge. What is often forgotten, however, is why von Steuben came to America in the first place. If you dive into his military history, one can easily foresee a bright future for von Steuben in the Prussian Army. So why help the Americans?

What is "conveniently" left out of the history books is the fact that von Steuben left the Prussian Army because of accusations that he was a homosexual and that he regularly had sexual relationships with young boys. As a result of the allegations, von Steuben decided to find work as a soldier elsewhere. Thanks to the help of Benjamin Franklin (who greatly embellished von Steuben's credentials) von Steuben was given the responsibility of training the Continental Army while at Valley Forge.

Von Steuben was accompanied to Valley Forge by his "handsome" 17-year-old secretary, which added fuel to the speculation that he was indeed a homosexual and a boy lover. A few of the men in the Continental Army were even leery of von Steuben, feeling that he had homosexual leanings. Needless to say, this made things difficult for von Steuben, especially in the sexually intolerant 18th century.

Despite a huge language barrier and the homosexual allegations (which most historical consensus agrees is probably true), von Steuben was effectively able to instill a high level of discipline into the Continental Army, which greatly improved their performance on the battle field.


Brad Hart said...

You are right about this being a hot button political issue, Lindsey.

I think that this is an interesting and controversial topic that you bring up. From what i've read (and I am by no means and expert on von Steuben), the homosexuality issue is hotly debated within the historical community. I do know that there are some Prussian records that have existed of several young boys that claimed to have been sexually involved with von Steuben. Beyond that, I know of no other evidence. If anyone has any other evidence I'd sure love to hear it.

Lindsey Shuman said...

From what I've read, it sounds like the historical consensus is that von Steuben was, in fact, homosexual.

I don't want to beat this issue up too much. My personal feeling is that sexual orientation has no bearing on the military. I just wanted to point out the fact that America has had successful soldiers that happened to be homosexual.

I too would like to read any additional info on the issue.

Raven said...

von Steuben was a stud! He did what virtually nobody else (including the mighty G. Washington) could do, which was make the Contintental Army disciplined. Gay, straight, Prussian, or whatever else, von Steuben was awesome.

David Mabry said...

I read a paper once asserting von Steuben's homosexuality but the sources were very shaky. While an interesting fact if it can be proven (which I sincerely doubt), I do not believe it has any significant bearing on the incredible constributions that he made to the American cause. His training of the Continental Army enabled them to actually feel and look like an actual military force rather than a collection of patriotic farmers waving guns and running from their military superiors, the British.

Anonymous said...

What primary source data leads you to this conclusion?

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Anonymous said...

Very interesting but troublesome that he was probably gay and was attracted to young boys. Too many people already don't get the distinction between gay and pedophile.

I am a college student interested in finding out about black-letter sex laws in late 19th-early 20th century U.S. Any suggestions on where to look?