Thomas(ine) Hall was an intersex person in 17th-century colonial America who caused controversy by switching back and forth between genders. The Jamestown court ruled that Hall was both “a man and a woman” and ordered him/her to wear male and female clothing simultaneously.
A baby was born in England around 1603, baptized by the name Thomasine and raised as a girl. Hall began alternating between male and female identities upon reaching adulthood. Hall cut his/her hair and served as a in the English military, fighting in France against Catholic persecution of the Protestant Huguenots. Next Hall earned a living as a woman doing needlework and making lace.
Hall heard of job opportunities in North America. Around 1626 s/he switched to male attire and took a ship to Virginia, where he worked as a male servant. Gossipy neighbors noticed that Hall changed between male and female dress and mannerisms, and rumors spread that Hall had both male and female sex partners.
Neighbors tried to settle the gender question with careful inspections of Hall’s body during sleep and at other times. Results were indeterminate, since Hall lacked a “readable set of female genitalia” and had a “small penis” (one inch long). Apparently Hall had the condition that modern society calls intersex or hermaphrodite.
An official inquiry was begun and reached the court of Jamestown, Virginia in 1629. With Governor John Pott presiding, the court heard from Hall and several witnesses. In the first such decision in early colonial history, the court ruled on April 8, 1629 that Hall had a “dual nature” and was both “a man and a woman.”
In Europe such cases had been resolved by forcing the person to adopt one gender permanently. But Hall was ordered to pay a fine and wear a mixed-gender outfit men’s clothing with a woman’s s cap and apron. The court’s goal was to subject Hall to shame and ridicule with this hybrid attire. Nothing definite is known about what happened later in Hall’s later life.
“The most alone soul in the world”
A portrait of Hall in her/her unisex attire was sketched by an artist who blogs under the pen name Corpse Debutante. “All we can really know is that Tom Hall must have been the most alone soul in the world at that moment, and furthermore, that s/he looked ridiculous,” Debutante wrote when posting the portrait on her blog.
There was no church yet in Jamestown at the time of Hall’s trial, but Jamestown settlers were members of the official Church of England. In contrast, the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts was founded by Puritans, who opposed the Church of England. Puritan theologians generally considered intersex people “abomination unto the Lord” (based on Deuteronomy 22:5) for threatening society’s use of clothing to distinguish men and women. Some contemporary theologians such as Susannah Cornwall see intersex people as providing a valuable challenge to rigid religious assumptions. Her books include “Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ: Intersex Conditions and Christian Theology.”
Hall’s life is described in books such as “Founding Mothers and Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society” by Cornell University history professor Mary Beth Norton, a chapter by Kathleen M. Brown in “The Devil’s Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South” and a chapter by Mary Norton in “Through a Glass Darkly: Reflections on Personal Identity in Early America.” Journalist Don Floyd wrote a historical novel based on Hall’s life titled “The Captain and Thomasine: Jamestown’s Intersexual Outcast Redeems A Patriot’s Dream.”
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Top image credit: “Thomas or Thomasine Hall” by the Corpse Debutante
This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.
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