New York Gazette: "Miss Sarah," February 24, 1749
A letter to the editor of a New York newspaper, written by three young men, describes a practical joke involving a male friend who, dressed as a female, kissed, danced, and flirted with another male.
The butt of the joke, upon discovering the deception, was reportedly so angry he sued the cross-dresser for "assault and battery" and won substantial damages. The story involves male cross-dressing, male-male kissing and dancing, and one male's erotic interest in a "woman" who is really a male.
It is unclear whether the premise for the victim's anger is simply his being the butt of a practical joke, or some more complex reaction to the illicit sexuality implicit in the incident. The printing of this story in a newspaper suggests a public consciousness of sexuality far different from that of the earlier American colonial era or the later Victorian period.
The correspondents write that "being minded to make themselves merry with dancing," one of their company "dressed himself up in Woman's Clothes."
While they were in their "Jollity" the group was approached by one "who calls himself a Great Man," the mayor's son. The newcomer "soon grew . . . inquisitive to know who the supposed Woman was; -- Some said her Name was Miss Sarah, and others Miss Sally."
The mayor's son "was so taken with her, that he must needs be hugging and kissing her; whereupon she invited him out to dance." He refusing, "she applied to another, with whom having danced, [she] fell a kissing."
This so enraged the Great Man that he "swore the D---l was in her." She indicated he should mind his own business, "skirted up her clothes, and asked him, if he smelt." (This is apparently a derogatory reference to the alleged odor of women's genitals.)
"Miss Sarah's" words "increased his Anger so much, that he D____d her for a strumpet, and swore he would beat out her Brains; for he had an honest Wife at home."
At this "Miss Sarah" left the room, and the impersonator putting on his own clothes, returned to be informed of the whole affair.
Later, "the Great Man, being acquainted with the Frolick, was so enraged that he arrested" the impersonator for "Assault and Battery." Through "the great Wisdom of the Justice" the "Great Man" was awarded thirteen pounds, four pence.
From this, the letter writers conclude, "we learn the great Danger of our innocent Jesting with such a Great Man."
- Letter dated "Elizabeth-Town," N.J., Feb. 24, 1749, in The New York Gazette, no. 322, March 20, 1749, page 2, column 2; original copy consulted in The New York Public Library, Rare Book Room. The letter is cited by Richardson Wright, American Wags and Eccentrics: from Colonial Times to the Civil War (reprint New York: F. Ungar, 1965; originally published, 1939 as Grandfather Was Queer), page 67.