No. 643
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
February 29, 2024

The Female Marine

December 27, 2011
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Via Newspapers.comPhantom stagecoaches are always fun (especially when they generate manic headlines.)  The “San Bernardino News,” December 7, 1914:Have you seen the phantom coach that dashes madly, silently, down the steep, rugged mountain trail near Pilot Rock? It is a weird story, this. It deals with the apparently supernatural. Possibly it isn't that at all, maybe it is simply some
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Strange Company - 2/28/2024
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HE DUEL IN ELLEN'S HONOR. Soapy Smith’s grandmotherOn Wednesday, August 9, 1820, an argument between 17-year-old, James Bowe Boisseau (1802-1820) and Robert C. Adams (unknown-1820) vying for the attention of 18-year-old Ellen Stimpson Peniston (1802-1860), took a terrible turn. The happy party in her honor took a tragic turn when the competition for Ellen’s affections ended in a deadly duel,
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 1/10/2024
There’s nothing wrong with the MTA’s usual subway signage: the directions are clear, the design is simple. But when a contemporary sign happens to be stuck underneath original signage made with decorative tile and an unusual typeface—as it is inside the Sixth Avenue F and M station at 14th Street—the old-school sign wins hands-down. Subway.org […]
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Ephemeral New York - 2/26/2024
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
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Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
 Alice Hoyle last saw her sister, Lillie, the night of September 1, 1887, in the room they shared in Webster, Massachusetts. Lillie left to use the outhouse, and Alice fell asleep. Lillie never returned. The next morning, Alice went out, thinking Lillie had already left for work. That is the story Alice told the police— as the investigation progressed, she would change it several times.Read
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Murder By Gaslight - 2/24/2024
Included in yesterday’s trip to Fall River was a stop at Miss Lizzie’s Coffee shop and a visit to the cellar to see the scene of the tragic demise of the second Mrs. Lawdwick Borden and two of the three little children in 1848. I have been writing about this sad tale since 2010 and had made a previous trip to the cellar some years ago but was unable to get to the spot where the incident occured to get a clear photograph.  The tale of Eliza Borden is a very sad, but not uncommon story of post partum depression with a heartrending end. You feel this as you stand in the dark space behind the chimney where Eliza ended her life with a straight razor after dropping 6 month old Holder and his 3 year old sister Eliza Ann into the cellar cistern. Over the years I have found other similar cases, often involving wells and cisterns, and drownings of children followed by suicides of the mothers. These photos show the chimney, cistern pipe, back wall, dirt and brick floor, original floorboards forming the cellar ceiling and what appears to be an original door. To be in the place where this happened is a sobering experience. My thanks to Joe Pereira for allowing us to see and record the place where this sad occurrence unfolded in 1848. R.I.P. Holder, Eliza and Eliza Ann Borden. Visit our Articles section above for more on this story. The coffee shop has won its suit to retain its name and has plans to expand into the shop next door and extend its menu in the near future.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 2/12/2024
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately … Continue reading
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
Pretty Female Billiardists | Cursing In Church

The Female Marine

 

Lucy Brewer

Boston, Massachusetts, 1812 – Lucy Brewer (alias Louisa Baker) escaped a life of prostitution by donning men’s attire and enlisting as a seaman on the USS Constitution. [more]

In August 1815, Boston printer, Nathaniel Coverly Jr., published a pamphlet entitled An Affecting Narrative of Louisa Baker, which became an immediate bestseller in New England. It is an autobiography, in which Miss Baker relates the story of her journey from idyllic rural Massachusetts to the depths of urban degradation in Boston, to military glory on the deck of a Navy frigate.

Lousia Baker

Louisa Baker was born in small town forty miles outside of Boston. In her teens, she fell in love with and was seduced by, a handsome young man who promised to marry her.  But after stealing her virtue, the young man left without fulfilling his promise. “I was conscious,” she says, “of having forfeited the only gem that could render me respectable in the eyes of the world.” She found herself pregnant and, afraid to face her parents with her shame, she traveled alone to Boston.

She tried to find work as a servant and ended up in the household of a woman she believed was a kindly mother with a number of “darling daughters.” The mother nursed Louisa through her pregnancy, but the baby died at childbirth. It was then that she learned the true nature of the household.  It was a house of prostitution and her benefactor now demanded that she work off the debt she had incurred or risk public humiliation.

Louisa Baker worked for three years as a prostitute in the most degrading circumstances. She could see no escape, until one day, inspired by the well-known story of Deborah Sampson, who fought in the American Revolution dressed as a man, Louisa put on a sailor’s suit, wearing a tight waistcoat underneath to conceal her breasts, and walked through Boston. When she saw that she could pass as a man with no problem, Louisa enlisted in the American navy under the name George.

During the war of 1812 she fought in a number of engagements with British warships and distinguished herself in battle. After three years’ service she took her wages and left.  She bought new clothes, reassumed her female character and returned to a happy reunion with her parents.

The pamphlet sold so well that a sequel was published in November 1815. In the second pamphlet, entitled The Adventures of Lucy Brewer, (alias) Louisa Baker, we learn that the protagonist’s real name is Lucy Brewer, her home is Plymouth, Massachusetts, and she sailed on “Old Ironsides”— USS Constitution. She also relates some further adventures where Lucy, in man’s attire, proves more manly than her foes.

Mr & Mrs West

The sequel was successful as well, and in May 1816, a third installment, The Awful Beacon of the Rising Generation, was published. In this pamphlet, the brother of a woman whose honor had been defended by Lucy (dressed as a man) recognized the story from the previous published work, and came to Plymouth to see her.  The man, Charles West, began courting finally married Lucy. The rest of the pamphlet is a caution to young women on the danger prostitution and a warning that young men can be ruined as well, by disease or theft, if they are unwise enough to visit prostitutes.

In 1816 the three pamphlets were combined under the title The Female Marine and between 1815 and 1818 there were at least nineteen editions of The Female Marine or its component parts. After 1818 the book went out of print until 1966.

Historians have tried to verify the story of Lucy Brewer, but unfortunately have not found any confirming records of Lucy Brewer, Louisa Baker, or Charles West and no one onboard the Constitution during the war of 1812 had a first or last name of George. The story was probably made up, whole cloth, by the publisher, Nathaniel Coverly. Though Lucy Brewer probably did not fight in men’s clothing, there are many confirmed stories of women disguised as men fighting in the American Revolution and the War of 1812, and historians believe that hundreds, or even thousands, of disguised women served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.


Sources:

  • Cohen, Daniel A., The female marine and related works narratives of cross-dressing and urban vice in America's early republic. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.
  • Lucy Brewer – Legendary First Woman Marine