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Mary Hamilton
(1721 - after 1752) U.K.

Mary Hamilton

Teacher, doctor


Mary Hamilton was the subject of a notorious 18th-century case of fraud and female cross-dressing, in which Hamilton, under the name of Charles, duped several women into a supposed marriage.

She passed as a man; working as a teacher in Dublin, she married a local widow, only to flee when her true sex was discovered.

In Devon, she pretended to be a doctor and eloped with one of her female patients, again leaving when her cover was blown.

In Somerset she married 18-year old Mary Price; when the truth came out in the Somerset case, she was arrested and prosecuted under the Vagrancy Act.

At the Quarter Sessions held at Taunton, in Somersetshire, this woman was brought before the Court; but under what specific charge, or upon what penal statute she was indicted, we can neither trace by the mention of the circumstance, nor could we frame an indictment to meet the gross offence, because the law never contemplated a marriage among women.

According to Hamilton's own deposition, she was born in Somerset, the daughter of Mary and William Hamilton. Her family later moved to Scotland. When she was fourteen, she used her brother's clothes to pose as a boy, travelled to Northumberland and entered the service of a Dr. Edward Green (described in the deposition as a "mountebank") and later of a Dr. Finey Green. She studied to become a "quack doctor" as an apprentice of the two unlicensed practitioners. In 1746, she moved to Wells, and set up a medical practice of her own under the name Charles Hamilton. She met Mary Price, a relative of her landlady, whom she married in July 1746. The marriage lasted for two months before her true sex was discovered, and she was arrested.

She was, however, tried, whether or not her case might have been cognisable, and Mary Price, the fourteenth wife, appeared in evidence (in such a case as this we must be pardoned for ambiguity) against her female husband.

She swore that she was lawfully married to the prisoner, and that they bedded and lived together as man and wife for more than a quarter of a year; during all which time, so well did the impostor assume the character of man, she still actually believed she had married a fellow-creature of the right and proper sex.

The learned quorum of justices thus delivered their verdict:

"That the he or she prisoner at the bar is an uncommon, notorious cheat, and we, the Court, do sentence her, or him, whichever he or she may be, to be imprisoned six months, and during that time to be whipped in the towns of Taunton, Glastonbury, Wells and Shepton Mallet, and to find security for good behaviour as long as they, the learned justices aforesaid, shall or may, in their wisdom and judgment, require."

Mary Hamilton

And Mary, the monopoliser of her own sex, was imprisoned and whipped accordingly, in the severity of the winter of the year 1746.

By 1752, Hamilton may have ended up in Philadelphia, working as a doctor. Detained for fraud after having been discovered to be a woman, Hamilton was soon released because no one came forward with accusations.


Sources: https://www.riabrodell.com/ - https://en.wikipedia.org/ - Norton, Rictor. "Lesbian Marriages in 18th Century England", Lesbian History, 18 August 2009

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