Partner Walt Whitman
Congressional Cemetery Washington, District of Columbia, District Of Columbia, USA
Peter Doyle (June 3, 1843 - April 19, 1907) may be the most likely candidate for the love of Walt Whitman's life. Doyle was a bus conductor whom Whitman met around 1866, and the two were inseparable for several years. Interviewed in 1895, Doyle said: "We were familiar at once—I put my hand on his knee—we understood. He did not get out at the end of the trip—in fact went all the way back with me." In his notebooks, Whitman disguised Doyle's initials using the code "16.4" (P.D. being the 16th and 4th letters of the alphabet).
Son of Peter Doyle and Catherine Nash Doyle. Although he sometimes claimed to be born in 1847, biographers and researchers found records that he was born on June 3rd, 1843.
At age 8 Pete and his family left Ireland for America, and settled first in Alexandria, Virginia, and then in Richmond. At the beginning of the Civil War Pete joined the Confederate Army and was wounded at the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam). In 1863 he was captured by Union Forces and taken prisoner. Relatives in Washington managed to get him released from prison because he was technically a citizen of Great Britain (which Ireland was part of) and although he refused to swear allegiance to the Union, be promised not to take up arms against it.
Peter found employment as a "Horse-Car Conductor" in Washington. On one cold winter night in 1865 he met the poet Walt Whitman. In Peter's words: "We were familiar at once - I put my hand on his knee - we understood."
There was a romantic relationship between the bearded poet and the ex-Rebel soldier. Early biographers tended to understate this relationship because until recently homosexuality was considered absolutely shameful and criminal. In the volumes of letters between the two men, there are no explicit or graphic descriptions of a sexual nature; this was taboo in Victorian times. They called eachother "Darling" and "Dearest Comrade."
Years later Peter was described by his niece Mary Catherine to her daughter Mary, as "a homosexual."
In 1873 Walt suffered a stroke and soon after his mother died. It was necessary for Walt to move in with his brother George, who lived in Camden, New Jersey. Pete visited Walt sporadically in the years that followed, but Walt's primary friendship with Harry Stafford and others blossomed. Walt Whitman died in 1892, and Peter was almost accidentally turned away at the funeral.
Peter lived his last years in Philadelphia, became a member of the United Confederate Veterans and the Elks. He died of a kidney ailment on April 19, 1907. A biography of Peter Doyle appeared by Martin G. Murray in the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review #12 (Summer 1994).
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE