1661: Elizabeth Russell

Christian Seybold - Seamstress (First half - middle of the 18th century)

[———–] Russell, always known under the guise or habit of a woman, and answered to the name of Elizabeth, as registered in Streatham parish, Nov. 21, 1661, but at death proved to be a man. He was buried April 14th, 1772. In speaking of this extraordinary person it will be necessary, in order to avail confusion among the relative pronouns, to make constant use of the masculine gender, however oddly it may sometimes be combined. The various adventures of his life, had they been collected by a contemporary, would have formed a volume as entertaining as those of the celebrated Bamfylde Moore Carew, whom he accompanied in many of his rambles. Upon examining the parish register, it appears that John Russell had three daughters and two sons; William, born in 1668, and Thomas in 1672. There is little doubt, therefore, that the person here recorded is one of the two; and that, when he assumed the female dress, he assumed also the name of his sister Elizabeth, who probably either died in her infancy, or settled in some remote part of the country; under this name, in the year 1770, he applied for a certificate of his baptism; He attached himself at an early period of his life to the gypsies, and being of a rambling disposition, visited many parts of the continent as a stroller or vagabond. When advanced in years he sikik settled at Chipstead in Kent, where he kept a large shop. Sometimes he travelled the country with goods, in the character of a married woman, having changed his maiden name for that of his husband, who carried the pack; and to his death was reputed a widow, being known by the familiar name of “Bet Page !” In the course of his travels he attached himself to itinerant physicians, learned their nostrums, and practised their art. His long experience gained him the character of an infallible doctress; to which profession he added that of an astrologer, and practised both with great advantage, yet such was his extravagance, that when he died he possessed no more than six shillings. It was a common custom with him to spend whatever he had in his pocket at an alehouse, where he usually treated his companions. About twelve months before his death he came to reside at his native place: his extraordinary age procured him the notice of many of the most respectable families in the neighbourhood, particularly that of Mr. Thrale, in whose kitchen he was frequently entertained. Dr. Johnson, who found him shrewd and sensible, with a good memory, was very fond of conversing with him. His faculties, indeed, were so little impaired with age, that a few days before he died be planned another ramble, in which his landlord’s son was to have accompanied him. His death was very sudden. The surprise of the neighbours may well be imagined, upon finding that the person, who, as long as the memory of any one living could reach, had been always reputed a woman, was discovered to be a man; and the wonder was the greater as he had lived much among women, and had frequently been his landlady’s bedfellow, when an unexpected lodger came to the house. Among other precautions, to prevent the discovery of his sex, he constantly wore a cloth tied under his chin ; and his neighbours, not having the penetration of Sir Hugh Evans, who spied Falstaff’s beard through his muffler, the motive was unsuspected. It may be observed that, supposing him to be the younger son of John Russell, he would have been 100 years of age, if the elder, his age would have been 104. He frequently averred he was 108. He had a mixture of the habits and employments of both sexes; for, though he could drink copiously with men, whose company he chiefly affected, yet he was an excellent sempstress, and celebrated for making a good shirt. There was, however, a wildness and eccentricity in his general conduct, which seemed to border on insanity.

—B. & J. Homans: Eccentric Biography, Or, Memoirs of Remarkable Characters, Ancient and Modern: Including Potentates, Statesmen, Divines, Historians, Naval and Military Heroes, Philosophers, Lawyers, Impostors, Poets, Painters, Players, Dramatic Writers, Misers, &c. &c. &c. : the Whole Alphabetically Arranged : Forming a Pleasing Delineation of the Singularity, Whim, Folly, Caprice, &c. of the Human Mind (1804)

Image:
Christian Seybold: Seamstress (First half – middle of the 18th century)

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