The alternately racy and moralistic narrative recounts the adventures of a young woman from rural Massachusetts who is seduced by a false-hearted lover, flees to Boston, and is entrapped in a brothel. She eventually escapes by disguising herself as a man and serves with distinction on board the U.S. frigate Constitution during the War of 1812. After subsequent onshore adventures in and out of male dress, she is happily married to a wealthy New York gentleman.
In his introduction, Daniel A. Cohen situates the story in both its literary and historical contexts. He explains how the tale draws upon a number of popular Anglo-American literary genres, including the female warrior narrative, the sentimental novel, and the urban exposé. He then explores how The Female Marine reflects early-nineteenth-century anxieties concerning changing gender norms, the expansion of urban prostitution, the growth of Boston's African American community, and feelings of guilt aroused by New England's notoriously unpatriotic activities during the War of 1812.
"The woeful yet exciting tale of Lucy Brewer, girl adventurer, puts an unexpected twist on the classic seduction narrative, and its multiple editions and sequels have confused historians for nearly two centuries: was the story truth or fiction? Daniel A. Cohen's painstaking account of the construction of the tale is a model for how historians evaluate and authenticate evidence."—Patricia Cline Cohen, University of California, Santa Barbara
"As a text for classroom adoption, The Female Marine is wonderfully readable and intellectually provocative. It should find ready audiences in scholars and students working on women's history, American culture, and cross-dressing."—Elizabeth Young, Mount Holyoke College