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Thomas Cannon
(18th century) U.K.

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Thomas Cannon published what is thought to be the earliest defence of homosexuality in English.

He was the son of the Dean of Lincoln and was probably a literary collaborator with John Cleland (author of "Fanny Hill"). There seems to have been some sort of falling out between the two men and Cleland was sent to prison for failing to repay a debt owed to Thomas Cannon. (It was whilst he was in prison that the first part of "Fanny Hill" was published).

From prison Cleland started sending anonymous letters accusing Cannon of murder and being a homosexual. At this time Thomas Cannon's "Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplify'd" was published. John Cleland was released from prison but was re-arrested almost straight away accused of obscenity in "Fanny Hill".

Cleland wrote to the Duke of Newcastle drawing his attention to the pamphlet which as it was about homosexuality was illegal (sodomy was punishable by death). The Duke wrote to the Attorney General and he in turn ordered the arrest of Thomas Cannon and the printer of the pamphlet. They were released on bail and Cannon fled abroad. The printer was not so lucky - he was found guilty at his trial, sent to the pillory, fined and jailed for one month.

After living abroad for three years Cannon's mother petitioned the Duke of Newcastle asking for a reprieve for her and that he had repented of his ways and would publish a retraction of the pamphlet. She was successful and he returned to live with her and his sisters.

Academic Dr Hal Gladfelder as part of his researches discovered at the British National Archives a box of uncatalogued documents from 1750. Included were handwritten accounts of the trial of the printer and these included extensive quotations from the pamphlet. It was not a dry historical tract - it is reported as being "quite gossipy". There is a story about "cross-dressing" and translations from Greek and Roman texts.

Thomas Cannon wrote:
"Unnatural desire is a contradiction in terms; downright nonsense. Desire is an amatory impulse of the inmost human parts"

All copies of "Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplify'd" have been lost. What remains of Thomas Cannon's pamphlet have been published in: "Eighteenth Century Life", volume 31, number 1, 2007, by Duke University Press.

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Source: Kindly sent by Raymond Port

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