ABOUT 34 years ago a young fellow courted one Mary East, and for him she conceived the greatest liking, but he going upon the highway, was tried for a robbery and cast [i.e. sentenced to death], but was afterwards transported; this so affected our heroine, that she resolved ever to remain single. In the same neighbourhood lived another young woman, who had likewise met with many crosses in love, and had determined on the like resolution; being intimate, they communicated their minds to each other, and determined to live together ever after; after consulting on the best method of proceeding, they agreed that one should put on man’s apparel, and that they would live as man and wife in some part where they were not known; the difficulty now was who was to be the man, which was soon decided by the toss up of a halfpenny, and the lot fell on Mary East, who was then about 16 years of age, and her partner 17; the sum they were then possessed of together, was about 30l. With this they set out, and Mary, after purchasing a man’s habit, assumed the name of James How, by which we will for a while distinguish her. In the progress of their journey, they happened to light on a little public house at Epping, which was to lett, they took it, and liv’d in it for some time; about this period a quarrel happened between James How and a young Gentleman, on what account I cannot say; however, it was of such a nature, that James entered an action against him, and obtained damages of 500l. which was paid him: possessed of this sum, they sought out for a place in a better situation, and took a public house in Limehouse-Hole, where they lived many years, saving money, still cohabiting as man and wife, in good credit and esteem: they afterwards left this, and removed to the White Horse at poplar, which they bought, and after that several more.
About 16 years ago one Mrs. B. who lived on Garlick-Hill, and was acquainted with James in her younger days, and knowing in what good circumstances she lived in, and of her being a woman, thought this a good scheme to build a project on, and accordingly sent to her for 10l. at the same time intimating that if she would not send it, she would discover [i.e. reveal] her sex; James, fearful of this, complied with her demand, and sent the money; it rested here for a considerable time, in short till very lately, in which time James lived with his supposed wife in good credit, and had served all the parish offices in Poplar, excepting constable and churchwarden, from the former of which she was excused by a lameness in her hand, occasioned by the quarrel I have mentioned; the other she was to have been next year, if this discovery had not happened; she had been several times foreman of juries; though her effeminacy indeed was remarked by most. Last Christmas Mrs. B. abovementioned sent again with the same demand for 10l. and with the like threatening obtained it; flushed with sucess, and not yet contented, she within a fortnight after sent again for the like sum, which James at that time happened not to have in the house: however, still fearful and cautious of a discovery, she sent her 5l. The supposed wife of James How now died, and the same consciounable Mrs. B. now thought of some scheme to enlarge her demand; for this purpose she got two fellows to execute her plan, the one a mulatto, who was to pass for one of Justice Fielding’s gang, the other to be equipped with a short pocket staff, and to act as Constable; in these characters they came to the White Horse, and enquired for Mr. How, who answered to the name; they told her that they came from Justice Fielding to take her into custody for a robery committed by her thirty-four years ago, and moreover that she was a woman: terrified to the greatest degree on account of her sex, though conscious of her innocence in regard to the robbery, an intimate acquaintance, one Mr. Williams, a Pawnbroker, happened to be passing by, she called to him, and told him the business those two men came about, and withal added this declaration to Mr. Williams, I am really a woman, but innocent of their charge: on this sincere confession he told her she should not be carried to Fielding, but go before her own bench of Justices; that he would just step home, put on a clean shirt, and be back in five minutes: at his departure, the two fellows threatened James How, but at the same time told her, that if she would give them 100l. they would trouble her no more, if not she would be hanged in sixteen days, and they should have 40l. a-piece each for hanging her; notwithstanding these threatenings she would not give them the money, waiting with impatience till the return of Mr. Williams; on her denial, they immediately forced her out, and took her near the fields, still using the same threats; adding, you bitch had you not better give us the 100l. than be hanged; after awhile they got her through the fields, and brought her to Garlick-hill, to the house of the identical Mrs. B. where with threats they got her to give a draft on Mr. Williams to Mrs. B. payable in a short time, which when they had obtained, they sent her about her business. Williams came back punctual to his promise, and was surprised to find her gone: he immediately went to the bench of Justices to see if she was there, and not finding her, went to Sir John Fielding’s, and not succeeding, came back, when James soon after returned; when she related to him all that had passed. The discovery was now public. On Monday the 14th of July, Mrs. B. came to Mr. Williams with the draft, to know if he would pay it, being due the Wednesday after; he told her if she came with it when due, he should now better what to say; in the mean time, he applied to the bench of Justices for advice, and Wednesday being come, they sent a Constable with others to be in the house. Mrs. B. punctually came for the payment of the draft, bringing with her the mulatto man, both of whom were taken into custody, and carried to the bench of Justices sitting at the Angel in Whitechapel, where Mr. Williams attended with James How, dress’d in the proper habit of her sex; now again under here real name of Mary East; the alteration of her dress from that of a man to that of a woman appeared so great, that together with her awkward behaviour in her new assumed habit, caused great diversion to all.
In the course of their examination, Mrs. B. denied sending for the 100l. The mulatto declared likewise if she had not sent him for that he should never have gone. In short, they so contradicted each other, that discovered the whole villainy of their designs. In regard to the 10l. which B. had before obtained, she in her defence urged, that Mary East had sent it her. After the strongest proof of their extortion and assault, they were denied any bail, and both committed unto Clerkenwell Bridewell until the next session, when they will be tried for the fact: the other man has made off, and has not been since heard of.
One particular I have neglected, which is, that before the supposed wife of James How died, finding herself indisposed, she went to her friends in the country awhile for her health, but finding herself much worse, she sent for her supposed husband to come down to her, which he not doing, on her death-bed she discovered the secret to her friend, who after her death came up, and insisted not only on their share of the whole effects, but more. Mary East was always from the first willing they should have half to a halfpenny, but is determined they shall have no more.
Having brought down this extraordinary affair to its present state, to conclude, during the whole course of their cohabiting together as man and wife, which is 34 years, they lived in good credit and esteem, having during this time traded for many thousand pounds, and to a day punctual to their payments; and had by honest means saved up between 4000l. and 5000l. between them. It is remarkable that it has never been observed that they ever drest a joint of meat in their whole lives, nor ever had any meetings or the like at their house. They never kept either maid or boy, but Mary East, the late James How, always used to draw beer, serve, fetch in and carry out pots always herself, so peculiar were they in each particular. [This emphasis on their privacy was obviously designed to prevent anyone discovered Mary East’s real sex.]
After her house is lett or sold, and her affairs settled, she intends retiring into another part to enjoy with quiet and pleasure that fortune she acquired by fair and honest means, and with an unblemished character. (London Chronicle, 7-9 August 1766).
CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton. Ed. "Mary East, the Female Husband", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 6 December 2003 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1766east.htm>.