Angel on a Freight Train

A Story of Faith and Queer Desire in Nineteenth-Century America

By Peter C. Baldwin

Subjects: History, American History, Religion, Queer Studies, Nineteenth-century Studies
Paperback : 9781438479941, 198 pages, January 2021
Hardcover : 9781438479958, 198 pages, September 2020

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: Words, Flesh, and Spirit

1. Friendship

2. Teaching

3. Evangelism

4. Fatherhood

Epilogue: The Cross, the Grave, the Skies

Abbreviations in Notes

The story of a nineteenth-century New Yorker’s struggle to reconcile his same-sex erotic desires with his commitment to a Christian life.


Angel on a Freight Train examines the experiences of Samuel Edward Warren (1831–1909), a teacher and college professor in Troy, New York, who struggled to reconcile his same-sex erotic desires with his commitment to a Christian life. Unlike twenty-first-century evangelicals who try to "pray the gay away," Warren discerned no fundamental conflict between his faith and his attraction to younger males. Growing up in the antebellum Northeast, in a culture that permitted and even celebrated emotional bonds between men, he strove to build emotionally intense relationships in many overlapping forms—friendship, pedagogy, evangelism, and romance—which allowed him to enjoy intimacy with little effort at concealment. However, as he passed into mature manhood and built a prestigious career, Warren began to feel that he should have grown out of romantic friendships, which he now feared had become emotionally and physically excessive.

Based on Warren's deeply introspective and previously unexplored diaries, Angel on a Freight Train traces his youthful freedom and sensuality, his attempt to join with younger men in a spirit of loving mentorship, and, finally, the tortured introspection of a man whose age seemed to shut him out from an idyllic lost world. In the end, Warren came to believe rather sorrowfully in a radical division between his angelic, ideal self and what he called "the freight train of animal life below."

Peter C. Baldwin is Professor of History at the University of Connecticut. He is the author of In the Watches of the Night: Life in the Nocturnal City, 1820–1930 and Domesticating the Street: The Reform of Public Space in Hartford, 1850–1930.


"Because of social disdain for the acting out of same-sex attractions, nineteenth-century actors were reluctant to record their feelings or describe in their diaries the serious flirtations or outright trysts in which they engaged. Peter C. Baldwin has managed to overcome the evidentiary consequences of that reluctance, through the discovery of that rare memoir that offered some behavioral details of queer erotics and because he has performed due diligence in recovering erased or partially erased entries that reveal important aspects of Warren's relationships with other boys/men with whom he 'frolicked' or 'slept.' This is a fascinating historical narrative." — John Corrigan, author of Business of the Heart: Religion and Emotion in the Nineteenth Century