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A Crossdresser and Con Artist in Antebellum New York City

Dates:
  • Tue 12 May 2020 11.30 - 13.00
  Add to Calendar 2020-05-12 11:30 2020-05-12 13:00 Europe/Paris A Crossdresser and Con Artist in Antebellum New York City

New York has always been a city tinged with fraud. From Boss Tweed and Bernie Madoff through to the myriad cons and scams – many small, some not so small – committed everyday on the streets, fraud is more than just part of the fabric of city life, potentially it is a key to understanding its history. The cons that worked, the spiels that convinced New Yorkers and strangers simply to hand over their money, lay bare more of New York’s past than any dry telling of the doings of city mayors. This is particularly true from the 1820s to mid-century, a time in which slavery ended and the city had to sort out what freedom actually meant. Such a fraudulent history, as well as being fascinating in its own right, can reveal much that is unknown, not only about the role of fraud and confidence tricks in this period of the life of Black Manhattan, the way African Americans have hustled and been hustled, and about New York City itself. In this talk Professor White proposes to concentrate on Pete Sewally, a cross-dressing African American notorious from the mid-1830s to the mid-1850s. He was known by the police, the press and a wide spectrum of New Yorkers as Beefsteak Pete because of the way he manipulated a piece of meat in such a fashion that many whites thought they had had sexual intercourse with a female. Beefsteak Pete was many things, but at the heart of everything he did was an astonishing confidence trick.  

Via Zoom - DD/MM/YYYY
  Via Zoom -

New York has always been a city tinged with fraud. From Boss Tweed and Bernie Madoff through to the myriad cons and scams – many small, some not so small – committed everyday on the streets, fraud is more than just part of the fabric of city life, potentially it is a key to understanding its history. The cons that worked, the spiels that convinced New Yorkers and strangers simply to hand over their money, lay bare more of New York’s past than any dry telling of the doings of city mayors. This is particularly true from the 1820s to mid-century, a time in which slavery ended and the city had to sort out what freedom actually meant. Such a fraudulent history, as well as being fascinating in its own right, can reveal much that is unknown, not only about the role of fraud and confidence tricks in this period of the life of Black Manhattan, the way African Americans have hustled and been hustled, and about New York City itself. In this talk Professor White proposes to concentrate on Pete Sewally, a cross-dressing African American notorious from the mid-1830s to the mid-1850s. He was known by the police, the press and a wide spectrum of New Yorkers as Beefsteak Pete because of the way he manipulated a piece of meat in such a fashion that many whites thought they had had sexual intercourse with a female. Beefsteak Pete was many things, but at the heart of everything he did was an astonishing confidence trick.  


Location:
Via Zoom -

Affiliation:
Department of History and Civilization
Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies

Type:
Lecture

Organiser:
Prof. Glenda Sluga

Speaker:
Professor Shane White (University of Sydney)

Contact:
Laura Borgese (EUI - Department of History and Civilization) - Send a mail

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