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.
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).
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
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
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.