The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 23rd


hannah snellAnd finally I’ve caught up! A week’s holiday does get in the way of a regular blog.

Right, we’re going for one of those early cross dressers today, though it is an actual genuine birth date.

Hannah Snell  23/3/1723-1792

In 1740, Hannah’s parents died and she moved to Wapping, where she married a Dutch sailor, James Summs. James went back to sea shortly after they married. Nothing was heard from him again. Hannah decided to look for her husband. She borrowed some of her brother-in-law’s clothing and set off dressed as a man.

Believing James to have been forced into the army, Hannah enlisted as ‘James Grey’ at Coventry and set off to fight against the Jacobite Rising in Scotland.

The regiment set off to Carlisle, Hannah’s disguise undiscovered.

A Sergeant Davis set his sights on a girl in Carlisle and tried to enlist Hannah’s aid in her seduction. Instead she warned the girl and Davis alleged ‘neglect of duty’ against Hannah. She was sentenced to 600 lashes of the whip.

Hannah was tied to the barrack gate, which hid her breasts so maintaining her disguise. She bore 500 lashes – the Commanding Officer cancelled the final 100 lashes. Recognising a recruit as a former neighbour from Wapping, she deserted and made for Portsmouth. Here  she enlisted into a Regiment of Marines leaving for the East Indies. She saw action at Pondicherry, killing several Frenchmen before being wounded herself.

She escaped discovery  by operating on herself and removing a musket ball from her groin. Declared unfit for marine’s duty she now served as a deck hand. Still searching for her husband, she finally met a man who told her that James Sums had been executed for murder in Genoa.

When her ship returned to London, her story became known.  To earn a living she went on the stage and then leased a tavern, naming it ‘The Widow in Masquerade, or the Female Warrior’.

Hannah was given a pension of £30 a year for life and died in 1792.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 28th February


Todays is another birth free day, so lets celebrate someone we missed in January; another cross-dresser: Charlotte Charke 13 January 1713 – 6 April 1760.

Charlotte was the youngest daughter of Colley Cibber a celebrated actor. She grew up independent and took to the stage herself, frequently playing ‘britches’ parts (18th Century theatre was obsessed with cross-dressing). Evidently she found cross-dressing suited her, and she took to doing the same off stage, but in 1733 she fell out with her father who sold the theatre, and although she went to work at another theatre a change in the licensing laws soon saw her out of a job. Her brief marriage was over and she was a single parent. She started to make a living  in a series of jobs under the name of Charles Brown, first running a puppet theatre, but illness led to debt and she had to sell the theatre. She was imprisoned for debt, but her bills were paid for her by a collection made by the ladies of Covent Garden (prostitutes). She had a young heiress fall for her, believing her to be a man, and was at some difficulty to persuade her of her mistake, much tot he disappointment of both!

No one seems to have been much bothered or suprised by her cross-dressing, nor apart from the poor heiress, to have been fooled into thinking her a man.

She worked for a time as valet to the notorious  Earl of Anglesey, then briefly as a sausage maker, before taking on her own theatre company where she wrote and produced  her own plays. around the same time she borrowed money and set up as a tavern owner, but this was not a success. She became a strolling player, and was arrested for vagrancy, before marrying again and moving to America. At last she settled to writing under her own name several novels and the all important autobiography (which you can read in full online.) She never persuaded her father to reconcile with her.

Charlotte sounds like a charming companion, and would be welcome to the party – provided she doesn’t offer to bring sausages – the eighteenth century was famous for the awfulness of food adulterated with all sorts of undesirable and in some cases poisonous additives.