No. 522
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 17, 2021

The Female Marine

December 27, 2011
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The following tale comes from that classic collection of mostly first-hand accounts of supernatural encounters, "Lord Halifax's Ghost Book."  It was related to Lord Halifax in 1920 by his nephew, Charles Dundas.  Dundas had recently heard the tale from a renowned Royal Air Force pilot named Edward Villiers.  (Later Sir Edward Villiers.)  It is one of the briefest stories in the "Ghost Book," but
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Strange Company - 5/17/2021

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LOOK OUT FOR "SOAPY" SMITHSt. Louis DispatchSeptember 23, 1897(Click image to enlarge) e reported himself in good health and money."   New information showing that Soapy Smith did go to St. Louis to check up on his ailing wife, Mary, after leaving Skagway.  Below is the transcription of the article from the St. Louis Dispatch, September 23, 1897. LOOK OUT FOR “SOAPY” SMITH ― The Smooth Man
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 5/11/2021

Born in 1870 and completed 13 years later (at a cost of $15 million and with more than 20 worker deaths), the Brooklyn Bridge is marking its 138th birthday this week. What better way to honor an icon than with a brilliant lithograph produced by a Pearl Street publisher depicting the fireworks, ship parade, and […]
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Ephemeral New York - 5/17/2021
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 engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
The crack of gunfire startled the residents of 88 Merrimack Street, a boarding house in Lowell, Massachusetts, around 10:00, the night of  August 31, 1876. The boarders rushed to Lulu Martin’s room on the third floor, where the shot was fired. The door was locked; they heard a man inside shouting, “Go for the police! She has shot me! I will hold her! Break open the door!”A group of men broke in
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Murder By Gaslight - 5/15/2021

Along with Bertie Whitehead, Abby’s half-sister, May 13th was also the birthday of Helen Craig, famous stage actress best-remembered for Johnny Belinda. Helen Craig, who played Abby in The Legend of Lizzie Borden was born May 13, 1912, a month after Titanic sank. Helen Craig was not a great beauty by Hollywood standards, but a very fine actress. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0185871/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 Her portrayal of Abby Borden as a mean, greedy glutton, more than any other thing, has affected the way most people think of Abby Borden. Sadly it was not an accurate portrayal. Helen did some television in her later career, most notably The Waltons. She died in New York City in 1986. She was married to stage and film actor John Beal who played Dr. Bowen in Legend of Lizzie Borden. They are seen together in the publicity photo below.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 5/13/2021
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
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