The Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper published this detailed account of a young woman’s surprisingly treacherous visit to the American Museum in December, 1843. According to historian Karen Halttunen, such tales of the “confidence man” who seduces an unwitting young man or woman in the city into a life of vice were a staple of antebellum advice literature. In an era when thousands of young people were leaving the familial and religious supervision of small communities for burgeoning, anonymous cities like New York, such cautionary tales functioned both as a pragmatic warning about specific behavior and, in a larger sense, as an expression of fear about the decline of American republican ideals and the future of American society.
A miss of our acquaintance, and “sweet sixteen come Sunday” visited the American Museum on Saturday last, for the purpose of amusement—performances taking place there regularly two afternoons during each week. She was unattended—a not unfrequent occurrence at that place; and during the entertainments unexpectedly found herself the subject of attentions from a person of very gentlemanly exterior, encased in a dark sack, about five feet six inches in height, light complexion, sharp features, prominent nose, high forehead, dark hair, dark eyes, age 35 or more, and of a pleasing address, who very politely insisted on pointing out to her the interesting parts of the play, and at its conclusion, with the same easy familiarity, prevented her leaving to return home, (which she had intended to do ere it was dark,) representing to her the many remarkable curiosities she had omitted to see, such as Tom Thumb, & c., “the sight of which she shouldn’t think of missing.” Unsuspecting, in fact, believing him to be connected with the Museum, from his course of conduct, she was persuaded to remain until the evening performance had closed, during all which time the gallant stranger was unremitting in his attentions, and prepared to accompany her to her home at the conclusion. She, timid, alone, and apprehensive of creating a scene, gently objected to this, which he very pleasantly overruled, and whilst escorting her, was particularly careful to impress upon her mind that he was a rich planter, residing South—unmarried—that he had a large furnished house in the city, and that she would look elegant in a rich silk dress with hat, feathers, &c., &c.
At length they arrived at her residence, past 10 o’clock, into which she rushed in considerable agitation, the fellow following her to the door, when he was shown into the parlor by the servant girl, where, with all imaginable impudence, he seated himself as if perfectly at home, and little suspecting that a different sort of entertainment from that at the Museum might be served up for him. Whilst thus seated, the gentleman of the house came home and was partially informed of the circumstances which brought the visitor there, but sufficiently so, to convince him of his character and motives, and entering the parlor he discovered Mr. Hutchinson (as he chose to call himself,) gazing around him as if entirely at his ease, and quite certain of the success of his scheme. The self complacency of the fellow was greatly disturbed upon discovering, which he did at once upon being addressed, that he was understood; and when told of his motive in thus forcing his attentions upon a simple and unsuspecting girl, disclaimed, in the most humble terms, any disreputable intentions, and made an abject apology. A lecture was read to him whilst he stood trembling with fear, after which he was turned hastily into the street. A cowhide, well applied, would have been mete punishment for him; and had the girl related all that transpired, he would not have escaped with a whole skin. If the proprietor of the Museum wishes to preserve the reputation of his establishment, he had better appoint certain persons to watch the operations of such vagabonds, and protect the lady visitors from insult.
Source: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 15, 1843, page 2