Mary Hamilton left her home in Scotland wearing her brother’s clothes at age fourteen, assumed the name Charles Hamilton, and took up an apprenticeship with a physician. In 1746, Charles Hamilton opened up his own practice and married Mary Price in Wells, England. In the months following their marriage, Mary Price declared that she had been deceived and that Charles Hamilton was actually Mary Hamilton.
The case went to trial and made headlines. Newspapers reported that Hamilton had married fourteen other women, though it is unclear if this was true as Hamilton was only prosecuted for deceiving Mary Price. There was much controversy over the nature of the crime. Specifically, what was the charge, what constituted polygamy, and was it still polygamy if the relationship was between women?
The 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. …”
This history was fictionalized in Henry Fielding’s popular story from 1746, The Female Husband.
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.
Baker, Sheridan. “Henry Fielding’s The Female Husband: Fact and Fiction.” PMLA 74, no. 3 (1959): 213–224.
Bowles, Emily. “You Have Not What You Ought: Gender and Corporeal Intelligibility in Henry Fielding’s The Female Husband.” Genders Online Journal. Issue 52. 2010.
Norton, Rictor. “Lesbian Marriages in 18th Century England”, Lesbian History, 18 August 2009, updated 11 February 2010.
Ó Danachair, Donal. ed. “Mary Hamilton a woman who was imprisoned and whipped for marrying fourteen women, 1746.” The Newgate Calendar Vol. 3 (2009): 35. Ex-classics Project. Web. 2010.
Rupp, Leila J. Sapphistries: A Global History of Love Between Women. New York University Press, 2009.