By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.
There are many important facts in our “Great American Story” which teachers and history books “neglected” to tell us about when we were in school: the near genocide of Native Americans; internment of Japanese Americans during WW II; contributions and discoveries by women, Americans of color… American women of color. This list of essential stories we were not taught is arguably longer than what we were, not to mention much of the information we were was shall we say, skewed.
That being said, it’s not at all surprising to learn a significant piece of LGBT+ American history dating back to the Revolutionary War has been “swept into the closet.” It’s a person so vital, that without him there very well may not be a Story of America to tell.
This man would be openly gay, Prussian military expert, Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. In 1778, he joined George Washington’s Revolutionary Army without pay. Stepping in at Valley Forge, von Steuben turned the ragtag colonial patriots into the Continental Army trained with discipline to fight in battle and win.
Von Steuben is credited with instilling the military essentials of drills, tactics, and discipline which he later drafted in a drill manual. Not speaking English, it was written in French and translated by aide-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton and Nathanael Greene into Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States. Commonly referred to as the Blue Book, it served as the standard drill manual for the US military for nearly a century.
During the final years of the Revolutionary War, Von Steuben served as George Washington’s Chief of Staff. Washington rewarded von Steuben for his service with a house at Valley Forge. He shared his home with two men, including Gen. Benjamin Walker who lived with him through the end of his life. Von Steuben’s will has been said to be a love letter to Walker in which he described their “extraordinarily intense emotional relationship.”
Even though they tried to keep it from us, we’ve always known LGBT+ people are an integral part of the American Story. But we can take pride in knowing, our proper place in its history is next to George Washington, Father of our Country, who did not care that his right-hand man was homosexual.
Baron Von Steuben was laid to rest in the “Sacred Grove” in Remsen, NY, 1804. Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt established the site as a memorial state park in 1931 and is today is a National Historic Park.
For a more in-depth profile of Baron von Steuben and his role in American history please read