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Dr. John Gilbert McCurdy stands at a podium with the Museum of the American Revolution logo and an image of his Vicious and Immoral book on the screen behind him.

Author and historian Dr. John Gilbert McCurdy joined the Museum on June 6, 2024, for a special presentation exploring surprising truths about LGBTQ+ history in early America to launch his book, Vicious and Immoral: Homosexuality, the American Revolution, and the Trials of Robert Newburgh. Building on research from his second book, Quarters: The Accommodation of the British Army and the Coming of the American Revolution, McCurdy presented the fascinating story of a British Army chaplain’s 1774 trial with a historical discussion on homosexuality and the American Revolution.

On the eve of the Revolutionary War, the British Army considered the case of a chaplain, Reverend Robert Newburgh, who had been accused of having sex with a man. Newburgh's enemies cited his flamboyant appearance, defiance of military authority, and seduction of soldiers as proof of his low character. Consumed by fears that the British Empire would soon be torn asunder, his opponents claimed that these supposed crimes against nature translated to crimes against King George III.

In his new book, Vicious and Immoral, McCurdy tells this compelling story of male intimacy and provides an unparalleled glimpse inside 1700s perceptions of queerness. By demanding to have his case heard, Newburgh invoked Enlightenment ideals of equality, arguing passionately that his style of dress and manner should not affect his place in the army or society. His accusers equated queer behavior with rebellion, and his defenders would go on to join the American cause. Newburgh's trial offers some clues to understanding a historical peculiarity of the late 1700s and early 1800s: while gay acts were prohibited by law in much of the British Empire, the newly formed United States was comparatively uninterested in legislating against same-sex intimacy. McCurdy imagines what life was like for a gay man in early America and captures the voices of those who loved and hated Newburgh, revealing how sexuality and revolution informed one another. As the first book to place homosexuality in conversation with the American Revolution, Vicious and Immoral dares readers to rethink the place of LGBTQ+ people in the founding of the United States.

About Dr. John Gilbert McCurdy

Portrait of author John McCurdy who is smiling and wearing a brown sportcoat with white dress shirt.

Dr. John Gilbert McCurdy is Professor of History at Eastern Michigan University. He is the author of Vicious and Immoral: Homosexuality, the American Revolution, and the Trials of Robert Newburgh (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2024). McCurdy is also the author of Quarters: The Accommodation of the British Army and the Coming of the American Revolution (Cornell University Press, 2019). Quarters was named 2019 Book of the Year by the Journal of the American Revolution and received a Book Award Honorable Mention from the American Revolution Round Table of Philadelphia. McCurdy is also the author of Citizen Bachelors: Manhood and the Creation of the United States (Cornell University Press, 2009). His articles have appeared in The New York TimesThe Cambridge World History of Violence, and The Journal of Urban History. McCurdy received his Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis in 2004. He also holds an M.A. from the University of Chicago and B.A. from Knox College. He has received numerous fellowships including from the British Library, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the University of Michigan. He has taught at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) since 2005. He has been nominated for several teaching awards, and he received the Faculty Scholarship Award in 2010. He regularly teaches courses in colonial and Revolutionary America, as well as LGBTQ+ history. He currently serves as the EMU History Graduate Coordinator. John McCurdy lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

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Book cover for Vicious and Immoral featuring the title in a script font at the top, a depiction of Robert Newburgh wearing a purple waistcoat, purple pants, and a tri-corner hat, then the author's name at the bottom.
 

Vicious and Immoral

Read an excerpt from John Gilbert McCurdy's book, Vicious and Immoral: Homosexuality, the American Revolution, and the Trials of Robert Newburgh.
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Read the Revolution Speaker Series with Vincent Brown
 

Read the Revolution Speaker Series

The Read the Revolution Speaker Series brings celebrated authors and historians to the Museum for lively, facilitated discussions of their work.
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200th Edition Museum Staff Picks Reading List includes A People’s History of the American Revolution by Ray Raphael; John Adams by David McCullough; Never Caught by Erica Armstrong Dunbar; American Revolutions: A Continental History 1750-1804 by Alan Taylor; The Shoemaker and the Tea Party by Alfred F. Young; and Spies in the Continental Capital by John A. Nagy. The books are stacked on top of one another on a wooden bench outside on a sunny day. The books and the bench are in clear view while the background is blurred.
 

Read the Revolution

Browse Read the Revolution featuring a curated collection of excerpts from exciting, thought-provoking books about the American Revolution.
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