New York Gazette: "Old Bachelors," March 20, 1749
A petition alleged to be from a group of single women calling themselves "The Petticoat Club" is printed in a New York newspaper. The women's petition criticizes all "Old Bachelors," men who have remained unmarried past the age of twenty-six.
The women recommend that such bachelors be taxed, or forced to wear some physical mark, shaming them for their marital status. The petition vividly reveals some sources of colonial attitudes toward the unmarried, both men and women. By implication, this document suggests once source of contemporary negative feeling about male-male eroticism and intimacy, seen as thwarting marriage and reproduction.
The women's complaints against bachelors seem to have four sources. First, these women, who call themselves "Wife wou'd be's," see the married state as the only suitable employment open to them, their only source of support. If men refuse to marry them, the women fear that they will remain "useless, and ever burdensome" to the community. The unmarried women appear to be angry because unmarried men suffer no economic penalty, as women do. The women want unmarried men punished, as they feel themselves to be punished, through no fault of their own. The women's complaint thus refers to the economic basis of marriage, and the lack of other employment for unmarried women.
Second, the bachelors are cited for violating the Biblical injunction to "increase and multiply." The women declare that men not marrying is "contrary to the laws of Nature," noting that males and females of all species" (except the Old Bachelors) have a natural Inclination towards each other, by which their Kind is propagated . . . ." This is as close as the women come to the subject of "natural" -- and "unnatural"-- inclinations.
Third, the women consider marriage as a means of controling disorderly behavior by males. They accuse the "Old Bachelors" of producing illegitimate children and of drunkeness.
Fourth, the women consider marriage and reproduction a duty to their country, which they claim needs free-born native children (rather than convicts or slaves) to grow up and fight as soldiers against the French and Spanish.
The typographical eccentricity of the original report has been maintained. The women write:
To all married Men . . . The Humble Petition of a Society of young Women known by the Name of The Petticoat Club, in Behalf of themselves and several Hundred of others, between the Age of Sixteen and Forty, in this City and Province. . . .
That your Petitioners being all of the ancient and honourable Family of the Wife-wou'd-be's, and being arrived to the Age of Maturity, are as we flatter ourselves, of as good Abilities both of Body and Mind as any the World does afford . . . ; yet, notwithstanding all our Accomplishments and utmost Endeavours we are frustrated of this our laudable Design, by the unsufferable Stupidity and Obstinacy of a Set of Men called Old Bachelors, who know and ought to do better, and who in Contempt of the laws both of God and Nature, and to the inexpressible Damage of this Province, do oblige us, contrary to our Desires and Inclinations, to remain useless, and ever burdensome Members thereof.
For our Relief in these our deplorable Circumstances, 'tis our earnest Desire, that you would so far commiserate our Condition, as to use your utmost Endeavors, that there be such Fine laid on all Offenders of this Nature, as may bear some Proportion of the Heinousness of their Crimes; and that all Bachelors above 26 Years of Age, may be obliged to pay a moderate Tax, which should yearly increase till they arrive at 40; that the said Fine may be applied to the Education of the Boys of this Province, that so they may have the Opportunity of learning more sense and better Manners, and wherein the true interest of their Country does consist. -- And if any of the aforesaid Drones shall presume to continue in their Obstinacy till the Age of 40, then we pray, that there may be some publick Mark of Distinction, that they be known from other Men; and we think it not improper to oblige such stubborn offenders to wear one Side of their Beard at full length, to show their Age, and the other Half shaved bare, as a Mark of their Folly; unless they can make appear they have done something to equivalent Advantage to their Country . . . .
That there are such Numbers of the ancient and honourable Family of the Wife-wou'd be's, in this Province, is so manifest it needs no Proof; that the Treatment they meet with, is in Contempt to the Divine Law, is plain; for no sooner was Man created Male and Female, but God commanded them to increase and multiply, and replenish the Earth; which Command the Old Bachelors have no Regard to, unless to replenish it with such an illigetimate Race, as would be a standing Reproach to the Parents. . . . We could multiply Texts of Scripture to the Purpose; but . . . we shall pass on to show, that it is even contrary to the Laws of Nature. We see that the Male and Female of all Species of Creatures (except the Old Bachelors) have a natural Inclination towards each other, by which their Kind is propagated and maintained in the World. . . . 'til a general Rule with the whole Creation, and the Old Bachelor Seems to be the only Exception. [The women argue that] those that are best able, and have least Charge on their Hands, ought to pay the Most Tax; That the Bachelors have the least Charge, is plain, having none but himself to support, and yet has the same Liberty and Opportunity to pursue his Business as other Men; For which Reason if he is not capable, it's his own Fault, which often happens; for having no suitable Companion at home, he is often inclined to indulge himself in drunken Frolicks abroad . . . often to the great Disturbance of the whole Town in which he lives. . . .
. . . the Riches, Strength and Security of a Country, consists in the Number of its Inhabitants, well employed, disciplined and instructed: We don't mean by such Inhabitants, transported Convicts or Slaves . . . but such free born Natives as have ever been esteemed the best Defence . . . . Now, that the honourable State of Matrimony may be brought in such Credit and Reputation, as it may be counted a Shame long to keep out of it, is what we propose as the only lawful Method to attain this great and necessary End, and those who Oppose it can't be esteemed true to their Country's Interest; for, could we accomplish our Desires, we . . . would quickly fill the Country with such a numerous Race, as would bid Defiance to both French and Spaniards, and would sufficiently chasttise any Enemy that durst presume to attack us. . . .
The New York Gazette, number 322, March 20, 1749, page 1, column 1. An original copy of this newspaper was consulted at the New York Public Library, Rare Book Room.