The Spinsters of Madison County

They’re back.

Not content to follow the path of their former friends and slowly fade away from historical record, the unruly “spinsters” known as Mary Baker and Ann Martin continued to cause trouble after the county raided their brothel. The documents made no mention of Rodah Barnard, Elizabeth Burton, or the Wilson sisters. This omission implies that the women either moved, were less of a raging hot mess, or possessed the ability to be covert.* Either way, Baker and Martin managed to entice another unmarried woman, named Mary King, to “riotously, routously, and tumultuously, asemble and gather together.”

Their purpose was to roam the county on May 7, 1820. Apparently the three women engaged in various acts of “pasing and repasing along the public streets and common highways,” in search of business. As they chose to ply their trade along the byways of the county on a Sunday they did two things. First, they attracted a lot of customers, Sunday proved to be a day off for most laboring men and they approached the women in large packs. The second accomplishment proved less fruitful. Baker, Martin, and King inadvertently attracted the attention of the sheriff and his men.

When the law arrived they found a small gathering. The three women stood on the road and negotiated prices and turns with “evil dispared persons to the number of ten and more.” The documents specify that the court did not know the names of the men, so they probably scattered as soon as someone shouted ‘oh shit, it’s the sheriff.’

According to neighbors who failed to appreciate the women’s hardworking ethic they’d “remained and continued together,” along the roads of Madison county “making such noise… for a long span of time, to wit, for the space of six hours.” Now, the documents remain vague about the nature of “such noise.” However, context clues indicate that it was something along the lines of ‘hey! y’all wanna fornicate?’ followed by the jingle of coins as they passed between hands and the sad grunts of a woman who’d rather be somewhere else.

The jury found all three women guilty and fined them a dollar each.**

Unfortunately, life as a prostitute proved harsh in Madison county. Although the two cases already examined paint things in a more comical light, because that’s what we do here, “spinsters” often faced unrepentant violence with little repercussion for their attackers.*** Fortunately, there exists some small sampling of justice and as happenstance would have it, it involves one of the women arrested here. Mary King entered into a dispute with a man named Jenning Seay on June 1, 1820. It most likely arose over payment for services. He beat her viciously and then committed “other great wrongs to the said Mary King,” which sounds like a euphemism for rape. This assertion is amplified by the fact that he either gave her a “riot wound” or “lust wound,” we are unable to make out the specific word because the handwriting is ambiguous. Unfortunately Jenning Seay did not receive jail time, fortunately the county acted quickly and arrested the man and issued a $500.00 fine against him. Hopefully he died bankrupt.


The State of Alabama v. Mary Baker, Mary King, & Ann Martin, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 49-50 (1820).

The State of Alabama v. Jenning Seay, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 50 (1820).

*It’s a pun!

**Fun fact, John W. Looney served on this jury.

***Another series of cases documents how a spinster named Mary Wilson was attacked at various times by several men, one with a cow shin, and other spinsters. I am uncertain whether or not it’s Barbara or Lucinda Wilson from the previous update going by a different name.

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