Monday, March 5, 2012

Anna Maria Real


When I was scarcely yet in my teens, a highly respected friend of ind, a member of the Society of Friends, informed me that she had a curious story to relate to me and her niece, my favourite friend and companion; she told us that her husband had received a letter from a friend at Lynn, recommending to his kindness a young man, named William Henry Renny, who was a sailor, just come on shore from a distant part, and wanted some assistance on his way (I think) to London. My friend, who was ever ready to lend his aid when needed, and was sure his correspondent would not have required it for one unworthy, received the young man kindly, and ordered him refreshments in the servants’ hall; and, as I believe, prepared for him a bed in his own house. But before the evening came, my friend had observed something in the young man’s manner which he did not like; he was too familiar towards the servants, and certainly did not seem a proper inmate for the family of a Friend. At length, in consequence of hints given him by someone in the family, he called the stranger into his study, and expressed his vexation at learning that his conduct had not been quite correct. The young man listened respectfully to the deserved rebuke, but with great agitation and considerable excitement, occasioned perhaps, as my candid friend thought, by better means than he had been used to, and which was therefore a sort of excuse for his behavior; but little was my friend prepared for the disclosure that awaited him.

Falling on his knees, the young man, with clasped hands, conjured his hearer to forgive him the imposition he had practiced. “Oh, sir,” cried he, “I am an imposter, my name is not William Henry R. but Anna Maria Real, I am not a man, but a woman!” Such a confession would have astounded any one; judge then how it must have affected the correct man whom she addressed! Who certainly did not let the woman remain in her abject position, but desired immediately to hear the true account of who and what she was.

She said that her lover, when very young, had left her to go to sea, and that she resolved to follow him to Russia, whither he was bound; that she did follow him, disguised as a sailor, and had worked out her passage undetected. She found her lover dead, but she liked a sailors life so well, that she had continued in the service up to that time, when (for some reason which I have forgotten) she left the ship, and came ashore at Lynn, not meaning to return to it, but to resume the garb of her sex.
On this latter condition, my friend and his wife were willing to assist her, and endeavour to effect a reformation in her. The first step was to procure her a lodging that evening, and to prevent her being seen, as much as they could, before she had put on woman’s clothes. Accordingly, she was sent to lodgings, and inquiries into the truth of her story were instituted at Lynn and elsewhere.

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