Lt. Frederick Enslin: First Army gay discharged

During the Revolutionary War, leaders insisted that soldiers uphold a strong moral code while they were serving in the Continental Army. The moral code ranged from their public activities to the language they used. (A resolution was even passed by General Washington banning all cussing and swearing by all of the soldiers of the Continental Army.) With such emphasis placed on upholding this strict moral code, it should come as no surprise that homosexual relationships, including those of escort and patron, between soldiers came under great scrutiny and were subject to punishment and court martial.

This extreme scrutiny continued until only recently in the U.S. military, when the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was repealed. For over a century, soldiers could be denied the opportunity to serve or be dishonorably discharged based on their sexual orientation or same-sex relationships.

The first soldier to be discharged and disciplined for homosexual activities in the U.S. military was Lt. Frederick Gotthold Enslin. Very little is known about Lt. Enslin. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1774 from a ship that sailed from Rotterdam, Netherlands. He enlisted in the Continental Army in 1777 and was quickly promoted to officer status in Col. William Malcom’s regiment. His penmanship and command of the English language (seen in his journal and other papers) indicate he was a well-educated young man and had financial means.

The lieutenant was charged with sodomizing Private John Monhort in 1778. Records indicate that young Private Monhort engaged in a relationship with Enslin that, by modern standards, indicate he was performing the role of a male escort. The case against Enslin stemmed from an encounter between Enslin and Monhort being witnessed by Ensign Anthony Maxwell. The encounter occurred in Enslin’s tent and was reported by Maxwell to Aaron Burr, who was the commanding officer of the camp. Despite the fact that many soldiers were escorted by their slaves or other assistants, such actions were kept quiet and often overlooked.

Enslin accused Maxwell of slandering his name with this story of homosexual relations. Maxwell was tried for “slander against another soldier” in February 1778 in Valley Forge. It was said he “propagated a scandalous report prejudicial to the character of Lt. Enslin.” However, Maxwell was acquitted of all charges, and court martial charges were brought against Enslin after further details of the relationship came forth.

He was officially found guilty of charges of sodomy against John Monhort and perjury for swearing to false accounts and court martialed on March 10, 1778. Commander in Chief Washington ordered that, “His Excellency the Commander in Chief approves the sentence and with Abhorrence and Detestation of such Infamous Crimes orders Lt. Enslin to be drummed out of camp tomorrow morning…” He left the Continental Army on March 15, 1778, accompanied by the drums and fifes announcing his departure.

Ironically, around the same time Baron von Steuben arrived in Valley Forge to train the Continental Army soldiers during this same time period, and his homosexual tendencies were overlooked by top brass and other officials, even though he brought a male escort as an aide.