No. 584
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
December 8, 2022

The Female Marine

December 27, 2011
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Not George Talkington, but there must have been a strong resemblance.Many people could be called “accident prone,” but, fortunately, few take it to the level of the subject of today’s post.  From the “Bath Chronicle,” November 21, 1833 (via Newspapers.com):George Talkington, once a celebrated horse-dealer at Uttoxeter, who died on the 8th of April, 1826, at Cheadle, Cheshire, in his eighty-third
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Strange Company - 12/7/2022
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Wishing you a happy and bountiful Thanksgiving Day! Lizzie is thankful for turkey and all the trimmings – and no mutton broth in sight!
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 11/22/2022
CAME NEAR LOSING HIS MONEYSan Francisco ChronicleMay 6, 1893(Click image to enlarge)  San Francisco Man Taken in by Denver Card Sharks "First time I ever got caught" (Soapy Smith) This post was originally supposed to be about a new "victim" (Charles Anderson) swindled by the soap gang that I recently uncovered during a search through newspaper archives, but in looking through my files I found
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 12/6/2022
On this date in 2002, Pakistani Mir Aimal Kansi, Kasi, or Qazi was executed by lethal injection in Virginia, U.S.A. “Real angry with the policy of the U.S. government in the Middle East, particularly toward the Palestinian people,”* Qazi on January 25, 1993 revenged himself on Central Intelligence Agency commuters queued for a left turn […]
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Executed Today - 11/14/2022
 When tried for the 1840 murder of Catherine Merry, Charles Cook pled innocent by reason of insanity. Despite a history of medical treatment for extreme melancholy, and strange behavior such as running through the streets of Schenectady, wearing nothing but a blanket, proclaiming himself to be the Savior of the world, the jury rejected his plea and found him guilty.Before his execution, Cook
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Murder By Gaslight - 12/3/2022
For years I’ve walked by the delightfully shabby Joe’s Tavern sign at the corner of Tenth Avenue and 25th Street. I’ve never seen the vintage vertical beauty lit up, unfortunately. Even stranger, I’ve never seen any sign of life inside 258 Tenth Avenue, which once housed what I imagine to have been an old-school neighborhood […]
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Ephemeral New York - 12/5/2022
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
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