Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Sunday, March 25, 2018

Thomas/ine Hall, "Changed into the Fashion of a Man"

Thomas/ine Hall (appearance in court, 25 March 1629)

According to the records of a 1629 trial in the General Court of Jamestown, Virginia, Thomas Hall claimed to be both a man and a woman--but his/her neighbors were in some doubt. While some agreed that Hall was both man and woman, others claimed that Thomas was a man, still others insisting she was a woman.

The colony of Virginia, 1624
According to the testimony Thomas Hall offered on that occasion, he had been born "at or near Newcastle upon Tyne" around the year 1603. 

Under examination by a Virginia court, Hall said that he was christened as "Thomasine" and was dressed "in women's apparel" as a child. As a girl, she had been sent from Newcastle to live with an aunt in London when she was twelve years old. 

Hall spent the next ten years living in the city, continuing her life as a girl, then young woman, until an older brother was forced into military service, at which point Thomasine Hall became Thomas Hall. 

Thomas Hall testified that when he was twenty-two years old, he "Cut of[f] his heire and Changed his apparell into the fashion of man," following his brother into the British army and fighting in France in the 1627 campaign against Catholic suppression of the Huguenots.

Returning home after his stint in the military, Hall began living once more as a female, this time in Plymouth--in his words, he "'changed himself into woeman's apparell" and worked in female-dominated trades, making "bone lace" and doing "other worke with his needle." 

But then Hall moved on again, deciding to travel to the colony of Virginia; as Hall describes it, he once more changed "his apparel into the habit of a man and so came over into this country." Arriving in Jamestown, probably around 1627, when he would have been twenty-four years old, Hall seems once again to have lived and worked at least some of the time as a woman, before relocating to Warrosquyoacke, a small settlement across the river from Jamestown where tobacco planters were in need of workers--preferably male workers. In Warrosquyoacke, Thomasine Hall once again became Thomas Hall. 

This transformation triggered rumors among his neighbors (especially his female neighbors), particularly focused on Hall's sexuality, and there were reports of Hall's having "layen with a mayd of Mr. Richard Bennetts." 

To settle the case, Hall was examined first by a group of women, and after a physical "searching" of Hall's body, the three women agreed that "hee was a man." But John Tyos, Hall's "master," disagreed with these findings, insisting that the women were wrong and that Hall was, in fact, a woman.    

These conflicting views of Hall's sexual identity--and his body--produced the statement that confounded his initial examiner in Warrosquyoacke. When Hall was brought for further examination by Captain Nathaniel Bass, Bass asked Hall directly whether "he" were a man or, in fact, a woman. Hall replied "he was both man and woman."

At this point, Hall offered Bass a description of his genitals. He had "a peece of flesh growing at the . . . belly as bigg as the topp of his little finger [an] inch long," but that "hee had not the use of the man's p[ar]te." That is, he had a penis, but this penis did not work. Bass decided that, if Hall's penis didn't work, or work correctly, that physical evidence was decisive. Bass ordered Hall to wear women's clothing.

But Bass's decision didn't end the matter. While Hall's new employer, John Atkins, remained convinced that Hall was a woman, the women who had examined Hall weren't satisfied. The group examined Hall's body once more, this time without his consent. As Hall slept, the women inspected Hall's body, confirming their original findings: Hall was a man. And they went further, insisting that Atkins examine Hall's body for himself.

Yet Atkins seemed to be so convinced that Hall was a woman--and thus, certain that for him to examine "her" body was inappropriate--when the sleeping Hall (whom Atkins described as "shee") moved in her sleep, Atkins decided he couldn't remove a woman's clothing or inspect her body underneath her clothing and refused to investigate Hall any further. 

Since the case was still unclear, the group decided that there had to be a third inspection of Hall's body, to take place on the following Sunday. On this occasion, Atkins did inspect Hall's "peece of flesh," and after doing so, asked Hall "if that were all hee had." Perhaps Atkins, like Hall himself, doubted the significance of the small "peece of flesh." 

Hall then revealed to Atkins that he also had "a peece of an hole." Atkins told Hall to "shew" what he assumed was evidence that Hall was, indeed, a woman, but when the group was unable to find a vulva, Atkins concluded that Hall was, after all, a man, ordering him to "bee put into" men's clothing. 

Atkins also urged Captain Bass to punish Hall for his "abuse," and Bass decided to reverse his earlier ruling--he proclaimed Hall a man. Hall's situation was, if possible, even worse--now other members of the colony felt free to examine Hall's body for themselves.

Two men, Francis England and Roger Rodes, had heard that Hall, as a man, "had layen with a mayd," Bennet's servant named "Great Besse." (This is the rumor that had first triggered the investigation into Hall.) As Rodes said, "Hall thou hast beene reported to be a woman and now thou art p[ro]ved to bee a man, I will see what thou carriest." The two men wrestled Hall onto his back. As Rodes later testified, when he "felt the said Hall and pulled out his members," he found him to be "a perfect man."  

Unsure of what punishment Hall should suffer for his transgressions, officials in Warrosquyoacke sent Hall to the General Court in Jamestown--which decided not to inspect Hall's body. Instead, the Court decided to hear the testimony of Francis England and John Atkins and then to hear Hall's story as he told it.   

After listening to the evidence, the Court decided that Hall should be compelled to wear men's clothing--but that in addition to men's "breeches," he must also wear "a Coyfe and Croscloth with an Apron before him"--that is, that he, like a woman, must cover his head with a coif and that he wear a woman's garment, an apron, over his male clothing. 

Historian Kathleen Brown describes the final judgment of the Court:
Both the evidence gathered by the community and Hall's own historical narrative of identity figured in the General Court's sentence of Hall. Compelling Hall to don men's breeches, the court acknowledged the weight of the physical manifestations of sex that were of such importance to the diligent matrons of Warrosquyoacke. . . . But the court did not find the physical evidence or the sentence of an imposed (and permanent) male identity sufficient.
Thus his "identity" as a man was to be overlaid with signs of womanhood.  

On the one hand, this punishment seems not as harsh as it might have been. Fornication was a crime, but nothing came of Hall's purported sexual act with "Great Besse." Hall's possible sexuality was further confused when he told Francis England, who wanted to know why he sometimes dressed as a woman, "I go in woman's apparel to get a bit for my cat," by which he could mean that he "dressed as a woman in order to obtain sexual access to a man," or, as Brown suggests, that he dressed as a woman so he could earn money as a prostitute.

Hall could have been charged with an even more serious crime: cross-dressing was a capital offense, punishable by death. But Hall was not prosecuted for this crime either. 

On the other hand, the punishment ordered by the Court was not designed to accommodate Hall's identity as "both man and woman" but, rather to "publish" Hall's case so that "all the Inhabitants there may take notice thereof"--and, of course, to insure his "good behavior" until the Court decided to "discharge him." And the punishment meant Hall could no longer move back freely and freely between identities as male or female, as he might desire or circumstances, like employment opportunities, might dictate. Nor, dressed in this way, would Hall be able to maintain privacy within the community

After the 1629 General Court case, Thomas/ine Hall disappears from the record. 

For this account of Thomas/ine Hall, I have relied on Kathleen Brown's "Changed . . . into the Fashion of Man": The Politics of Sexual Difference in a Seventeenth-Century Anglo-American Settlement, Journal of the History of Sexuality 6, no. 2 (1995): 171-93. This essay, along with the original documents of the 1629 examination of Hall, is included in Kathy Peiss's Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality: Documents and Essays.

An excellent summary of the case and original documents is at Outhistory. 

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