Hannah Snell

Hannah Snell

Hannah Snell (1723-1792), who even at the age of 10 had organised "Young Amazon Snell's Company" of soldiers among her playfellows in Wapping, dressed herself as a man upon being deserted by her husband.

She served as a soldier from 1745 to 1750 in the British Army under the name of James Gray. While in Carlisle for manoeuvres, she was asked to pimp for Sergeant Davis, but she turned the tables and became intimate with the lady in question; the Sergeant accused her of neglect of duty and "a crime which Nature put it out of her power to perpetrate" and gave her 500 lashes. She fled to Portsmouth and later joined the British marines.

She experienced many adventures as the ship's boy, and wrote her own account of the famous siege of Pondicherry; seriously wounded in the groin, she extracted the ball herself so as not to disclose her sex.

At Fort St Davids she found it difficult to explain why she did not share the homosexual appetites of her mates. Although her fellow sailors did not recognise her gender, they did take note of her lack of a beard, and dubbed "him" "Miss Molly Gray" – that is, they treated her as if she were an effeminate man, a molly. Hannah much resented this, and in order to prove her masculinity, when the ship put in to Lisbon, she made a number of conquests over the women of the port.

Thus we have the paradox of a female transvestite establishing her "manhood" by a series of lesbian adventures. Similar encounters occurred at Portsmouth when she heard that her husband had been hanged. Eventually she revealed her true gender to her fellow-sailors, in an unseemly manner that left no doubt in their minds, and then capitalised on the publicity by going on the stage, telling of her exploits as a woman soldier. Afterwards she ran a pub in London called "The Widow in Masquerade" and then an inn called "The Female Warrior".

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