Sunday 9 April 2017

Campaigning Out Of His Tree : Harry Hay

One of the pioneers of the gay rights movement in the USA was Harry Hay (1912-2002). In 1950 he co-founded the Mattachine Society, one of America’s first gay rights groups. He actually suggested the unusual name of the group himself after studying music history and came across a form of medieval French entertainment called “sermon joyeux”, a satirical and often bawdy version of the Christian mystery plays. Harry equated the performers of these plays, whose identities were usually disguised and hidden, to the secret lives of gay Americans. One of the groups who performed sermon joyeux was called the Mattachine.

The medieval sermon joyeux performers were campaigners. They were criticising the Catholic Church by parodying and making fun of the aspects of faith they believed were either irrelevant or oppressive. As such the Catholic Church authorities tried to ban them. It is obvious why Harry Hay adopted the name for his own campaigning organisation.

Campaigning wasn’t in Harry Hay’s immediate ancestry. He had started as a budding actor, hence his interest in historic performers like the Mattachine. But he could easily have become a mining engineer like his father and maternal grandfather. Henry Hay (1870-1938), Harry’s father, was an engineer for Cecil Rhodes’ diamond mining company in South Africa where he married the daughter of an American gold mining engineer. Both of Harry’s parents were of Scottish ancestry.

The father of Harry’s maternal grandmother was Maj.-Gen. James Allen Hardie (1823-1876). In the same class as Hardie at the military academy was someone who became a trusted friend, the future US President Ulysses S. Grant. Hardie served in the American Civil War as acting adjutant general of the Army of the Potomac in the Union Army. Central to that war was the question of black slaves. Hardie wrote that while he condemned slavery on moral grounds he admitted its legality. However, he fought for the Union cause and got to know another president, Abraham Lincoln, on first-name terms. Like all Americans he fought for the rights of immigrant slaves - but not for the Native American tribes.

Maj.-Gen. Hardie’s grandfather was an immigrant from Aberdeen, Scotland. He settled in New York and in 1789 married Ellen Bogardus. Ellen’s ancestors are among the most important and influential Dutch colonial families. She traces her family back to Everardus Bogardus (1607-1647), a Dutch pastor in south Manhattan who was the second husband of Anneke Jans (1605-1663).

Norwegian-born Anneke arrived in the New Netherlands colony, as it was then, went from a poor and illiterate teenage immigrant to become twice widowed and owner of 62 acres of land in Manhattan. That land, fought over by generations of her descendants for 200 years, is now worth billions of dollars.

Anneke Jans and Everardus Bogardus were the parents of Cornelis Bogardus (1640-c.1666), Harry Hay’s direct ancestor. Cornelis married another influential colonial ancestor, one of four sisters whose significance in the family trees of so many millions of Americans was only proved in 2013.

These four sisters were the daughters of Rev. James Duncanson, the Presbyterian minister of Alloa, Scotland, and Helen Livingston. A renowned American genealogist proved in 2013 that Helen was a direct descendant of King Robert III Stewart of the Scots (d.1406). So, though the Bogardus family Harry Hay has royal blood.

If we jump back to Maj.-Gen. James Hardie and look at his wife’s ancestry we find more Dutch colonial ancestry. Hardie’s wife Margaret was a grand-daughter of Johannes Cornelius Cuyler (1766-1828). He, in turn, was a great-grandson of Hendrick van Rennselaer (1667-1740).

We meet Anneke Jans again here, because Hendrick married on of Anneke’s grand-daughters by her Norwegian first husband. The Rennselaer family were among the leading figures of the Dutch West India Company which they co-founded. Most of the family became civic leaders and married into other influential Dutch colonial families. This brought them into direct contact with the above-mentioned Duncanson sisters who married into the very same families. The name Rennselaer still appears around New York state, such is the importance of this family in its history.

There are other non-Dutch colonists in Harry Hay’s ancestry. Most significant of these are the Cocks, Townsend and Coles families of Oyster Bay, Long Island, all emigrating from England in the mid 1600s.

Harry Hay’s ancestry illustrates once again the wide variety of nationalities many thousands of white Americans possess in their ancestries. Many colonists escaped their home countries because of political or religious persecution and hoped the New World would be a paradise where all persecution would vanish and they could live in the “land of the free”, a myth that Americans still believe. Unfortunately, centuries later, as Harry Hay was to campaign against, discrimination and persecution is still with us.

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