In May 1888, James Chesser, a 23-year-old white man, married his partner, Georgeanne Holly, a Black individual, in her home. That July, after the couple was arrested for disorderly conduct, it was concluded by a doctor that Holly was legally a man - George Harlow. Both individuals were sentenced to the state penitentiary for sodomy. While a handful of state sodomy cases had been previously prosecuted, this one is the only documented case where both individuals involved served time. It is also the earliest case of legal interracial, queer marriage in Arkansas that is currently known. This article presents information about the lives of Chesser and Holly in Fort Smith, AR, before arrest, during their trial, and while incarcerated. Importantly, it contextualizes the couple’s arrest in the quickly gentrifying city of Fort Smith, AR, as a town on the border with Indian Territory. The project demonstrates how the regulating of race, gender, and sexuality was at the center of building a new America in the post-Civil War era.
Women's & Gender Studies