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31 March 2019

Thomas Hall (1603–?) soldier, seamstress, servant

Raised with the name Thomasine, Hall was born near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. At the age of twelve she was sent by her mother to live with an aunt in London.

Hall’s brother probably died in the 1625 expedition to take Cadiz, in alliance with the Dutch against Spain – the first disaster in the reign of the new king Charles Stuart. At the age of twenty-two Hall cut her hair, became Thomas, enlisted as a soldier and served in France where British forces occupied the Île de Ré to assist the Huguenots at the Siege of La Rochelle.

On return to England on 1627, Hall was in Plymouth, became a woman again, and earned a living making bone lace and doing other needlework. She became aware of a ship being made ready to sail to Chesapeake in the Virginia colony, part of the reinforcement of the colonists after the Powhatan reprisals of 1622. It was Thomas who sailed with it, as an indentured servant.

In January 1628*, in Virginia, a John and Jane Tyos of Jamestown and their servant, Thomas Hall, were convicted for receiving stolen goods. A note was made that Thomas had been able to sow a napkin into a bag – a skill rare among male servants.

Shortly after that John Tyos sold Hall to a John Atkins (as one could with an indentured servant) but as a maidservant. It also seems that Hall switched gender in what little private time was available. Atkins took Hall to the tobacco-growing area of Warrosquyoacke (now Isle of Wight County) Virginia.

There were rumours that Hall had had sex with men, and also with at least one woman. As the community became aware, Hall was subjected to a forced body inspection, first by his owner, Atkins, and a few women who declared him to be a man, and this having been declared, by men who concurred. The situation was referred to Warrosquyoacke’s de facto leader Captain Nathanial Bass. As Hall’s ‘male’ organ was non-functional, as he lacked the power to procreate, Bass deemed Hall to be female.

However the others were not happy with that decision, and in 1629 this situation came to the attention of the Council and General Court of Virginia who commanded Hall’s appearance. They accepted Hall’s self-definition that he was ‘a man and a woeman’. They ordered that it be published that Hall 'is a man and a woman', and they dictated his dress: 'hee shall goe Clothed in mans apparell, only his head to bee attired in a Cyse and Croscloth wth an Apron before him'.

*at that time New Years day was 25 March (Lady Day) and so that January was regarded as still 1627.
  • Jonathan Ned Katz. Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary, Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. 1983, Carrol & Graf Publishers, Inc. 1994: 71-2
  • Mary Beth Norton. “Searchers Againe Assembled” in Founding Fathers & Mothers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society. Vintage, 1997 :183-202.
  • Elizabeth Reis. Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009: 10-14, 168n35.
  • Holly Hartman. Gender Roles in Colonial America. Western Oregon University, 2015: 14-7. Online.
  • Shana Carroll. “Transgender History in Colonial America”. Medium.Com, Oct 15, 2018. Online.
EN.Wikipedia OutHistory

Hall is reported as being willing to show his male member but pointed out that it was non-functional. He also claimed to have a ‘hole’ which was also examined. Quite possibly he was female with a largish clitoris.  Those who examined him and proclaimed him to be male must have done so simply because he had something approximating a penis.

There is no record of what happened to Hall after the ruling by the Council and General Court of Virginia. Hopefully he completed his indenture, and then moved elsewhere where he was not subject to the ruling about his clothing.

As John Tyos had purchased a male servant, probably from the ship's captain, but then sold her on a maidservant, we wonder if this entailed a financial loss.   One hopes that female servants were just as valuable as male ones, but knowledge of history suggests otherwise.   This aspect is not discussed.

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