A footnote in the Mabbott introduction
to Marie Roget
John Anderson is listed in the New York Business Directory, 1840-1841, as “Importer of Havana & Principe Segars in all their varieties, 321 Broadway, sign of the Indian Chief.” On September 13, 1840, the New York Sunday Morning Atlas carried a woodcut of a dark-haired beauty proffering a cigar as “The Cigar Girl,” No. 22 in an illustrated series, “Portraits of the People.” The picture was accompanied by an essay on the recently adopted English practice of hiring pretty girls as clerks in cigar stores for the purpose of attracting the “men about town.” Following the essay was a “brief history” emphasizing the dangers of such employment, although in the narrative the virtue of the fictional heroine triumphs and is rewarded. The Atlas picture was used again in that paper for August 6, 1841 as a portrait of Mary Rogers (see Walsh, Poe the Detective, p. 59).
A 1995 book reproduced the woodcut mentioned above. (Not sure if the link will work for everyone.)
The Mysterious Death of Mary Rogers: Sex and Culture in Nineteenth-Century New York
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), Page 135
By Amy Gilman Srebnick
I found a copy of the article mentioned, but unfortunately some of the text is not clear because of crinkles in the newspaper.
(Indiana), November 07, 1840, Page 1
, Column 1
The Cigar Girl
From the Sunday Morning Atlas [New York]
It is but a few years since cigar stores sprung
up among us. Before they were opened in this
city, cigars were retailed almost exclusively at
hotels, groggeries, and groceries. Some calculating
Yankee who had travelled, or scheming
Englishman who thought he might make money by
adopting a custom of his country, doubtless was
the first to open a store in Gotham for the exclusive
sale of cigars. In a place that may almost
be called a city of smokers, the cigar store is a
great convenience, for there are many gentlemen
who inhale the weed who would not like to enter
a public house for a supply, which they must
previously have done, had they not supplied themselves
with a box at a time.
One custom brings on another very rapidly.
When the fox got his head into the house it was
not long before his tail came following after.--
The cigar stores, which depended exclusively upon
the excellency of their commodity to insure
custom, the more effectually to bring grist to the
In London there are a great many individuals
called "men about town." These are formed of
bucks, bloods, sporting characters and exquisites.
There all are, or effect to be, great admirers of
pretty women. Wherever a pretty woman is,
there they must be. It is thought that Madame
Vestris made her Olympic theatre so long a
profitable concern, not so much by her own exquisite
singing and dancing, nor by the inimitable
performances of Liston--natures droll--as by the
quantity of sweetly pretty women who she always had
upon the stage. Many of the cigar store keepers
in London were determined to try the experiment--
they did so, and succeeded. The "young
men about town" crowded the stores where pretty
girls presided, and expended their money
plentifully for the benefit of the proprietor. Now the
fact is, there are many "young men about town"
in this city--exquisite fellows in their own opinion,
whose lives are spent in the sublime art of
dressing and cultivating whiskers--those who
have any--and imperials and mustaches--in
discovering the most delicate scents to perfume
their bodies with--these beings are monomaniacs
--but very harmless ones. They go in extacies [sic]
at the performance of a pleasing dancer, and have
been known in their raptures to strike their
white kid gloves together with a force that would
produce a sound audible to any person who sat
next to them and who was blessed with good
ears, and furnished with a good ear trumpet.--
They have also been known to throw a delicate
wreath or a small boquet [sic] upon the stage when
[???????] dancer has been pirouetting before
them--but then they have always been in the
stage box upon such occasion, and to deposite [sic]
their favors on the stage has not required more
strength than would force them some two or
three feet. These "men about town" have two
articles of faith. First, they are the only
connoisseurs of beauty; and secondly, that they
are irresistably captivating. These animals are
well to do in the world, they are flush of money;
and it is to catch them & others not quite so weak
and insane as they are, that the Cigar Girl is
placed behind the counter. She is the magnet
of attraction, and the cigars go off as that very
erudite and philosophic Sam Veller would say,
"in consequence of the maneuver."
(To the following brief history we give neither
date nor location.)
In a back room, barely furnished with a bed,
a small deal table and two wooden chairs, sat
two females. The eldest looked exceedingly
sorrowful, the youngest wore a bonnet half pushed
from her head, as she sat with her face buried in
her hands, which were supported upon the table.
The long ringlets that escaped from her bonnet
and served entirely to conceal her feature, were
of raven blackness and silkiness. As she lifted up
her head, her face, which was of great beauty,
was set with tears. It was a sad thing to see so
much misery between these two lovely
"I can get no more work, mother," said the
youngest. "Mr. Brown says that the times are
so hard he has been compelled to discharge forty
hands, and that there is no prospect of doing
any thing for a long time."
"The Lord have mercy upon us!" exclaimed the
"There is one chance left for us--one that I
dread to think of--but which is better than to see
"What is that? what is that?" enquired the mother
with some quickness, and a heightened color.
"Mr. James has opened a cigar store, and he
wants a young lady to attend it--one who is--
"I understand you my child--good looking you
would say, and few would stand a chance with
you on that score. But no dear--we must not--
I, your mother, dare not think of it. You would
be exposed to the rude gaze of every creature, who
in laying out his beggarly trifle, expecting that
the exhibition of a pretty girl was included in
his charge, and that he had paid for the privilege
of staring you out of countenance. You
might be exposed to impertinence, or even insult.
No, no, my child, we must think of it. Go out
again Ellen among other clothing stores, something
surely will be obtained. We will economise,
and if we get but little, remember that
'God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.'"
Ellen's eyes were dry on the instant, and lighted
up with hope She kissed her mother and
departed. The old lady fancying that any sacrifice
while her daughter was with her, was preferable
to parting with her soul's treasue. It
would have taxed a nice calculator however, how
two beings who scarcely could be said to have
partaken of a meal a day, would have economized
unless it was living without nutriment altogether,
and to this straight they seemed likely to
be reduced. Ellen returned. Her mission was
vain. No employment was to be had. For several
days the mother and the child rather existed
than lived. At length the subject of a cigar
store was brought up.
"Mother, we cannot starve. I must accept
Mr. James' offer-- at least till something else
turnes up. You do not fear that I have strength
to maintain myself with respect, and honor to
"No my dear Ellen. I have no fear on that
score. Your heart is pure--your principles are
sound. It is not by such creatures as could
address you in such a situation that a virtuous mind
could loose it glory and clothe itself with shame.
My only fear was the pain of exposing you to
the gaze of the many that will be attracted by
your beauty, and remarks you will be forced to
"I shall not heed them, dear mother--no more
than the many profane remarks that I hear occasionally
in passing through the streets. I will
pray for their reformation."
"I believe, Ellen, I am wrong. It is our
province to fulfil [sic] our duty in whatever situation
Providence may please. Go, Ellen, go. He who
watches even a sparrow's fall will not desert a
trusting heart that confides in him."
The extraordinary beauty of Ellen drew many
customers to Mr. James' store, and so well was he
pleased with her attraction that he raised her salary.
Ellen's situation was at first very irksome,
and she concealed from her mother--anxious to
know every thing that occurred--some of those
little annoyances which she felt might pain her
parent or render her unhappy. She felt that she
was bound to do her duty unflinchingly in the
situation in which Providence had placed her, and
she proved that there is no situation in life, in
itself honest that may not be maintained with
respect and honor.
Over the crowd that assembled daily to see her
beauty, she exercised a perfect control. Civil
and affable to all, was that in her look and bearing
which awed rudeness and even its conception.
It is said that before the firm and steadfast look
of man the lion quails, and that the maniac in its
wildest passion cowers and trembles--such spell
has virtue over vice--such spell had Ellen Somers
over the majority of those who visited the store.
Among the frequenters of the place were three
persons known in common parlance as gentlemen.
One was a thin young gentleman with a foreign
air, one who would unquestionably be taken by
any person unacquainted with him for one of
those Count Feignwells who have made so
much capital out of our fashionable citizens.
Another was a tall, stout, rosy cheeked, good
looking gentleman--the third had nothing to
distinguish him beyond a quiet propriety of dress, and
a gentlemanly figure and deportment.
The three gentlemen declared Ellen to be
devilish pretty, and the two first resolved to call her
their own. They even [?????????] to bet
on who should be the happy man to make the divine
creature his god[d]ess of pleasure. The third,
Henry Wilkinson, said nothing upon this subject,
and would by no means enter upon the bet
engaged in by the others. He watched the result
however, with much interest.
This was the crisis of the Cigar Girl's life.
All the arts that professed libertines use; were
to be put in force to gain their end. Each
anticipated a speedy victory--each was disappointed.
They commenced by being very liberal, much to
the good of the store, it advanced them nothing
--they endeavored to force upon her costly
presents, it was vain. One, upon an occasion, proposed
to her to take a ride in his barouche--they
never made a similar offer.--They retired from
the siege awed, abashed, and crest fallen. They
had never even an opportunity of pouring sophistry
or their slang into the maidens unpolluted ears
--and they finally hated her, while they respected
her, for they felt she was a superior being to
themselves. In this discomfiture of retiring like
used up hound their only conclusion was, they
were both in the same contemptible situation, and
that one could not triumph over the other.
It was at this period that Henry Wilkinson
became a frequent visitor. His advances were made
gradually. He entered into conversation with her,
and was surprised to find that her mind was as
in beauty, as her countenance. He saw the
position that she held and the manner in which she
held it. He admired her, and he caused by his
pleasing manner, a reciprocity of feeling.
Ellen's mother had always been in the habit of
calling at night for her daughter, and of
accompanying her home. She was, however, confined
to her bed for a time with illness. During this
period, Henry Wilkinson saw her home, and in
their walks the affection that had sprung up
between the young people grew into the warmest
feeling and each mutually confessed the passion.
It was on the evening of a dull day, in which a
drizzling rain had been most uncomfortably incessant,
that Henry appeared, according to custom,
to see Ellen home. He brought with him a
remarkable old looking umbrella, at which Ellen
laughed heartily. They had not been out long
before it was found to be totally inefficient.
Henry, professed to be deeply chagrined at this,
insisted upon ordering a barouche, which Ellen
resisted. Her lover, however, overcame her scruples
and they entered the carriage. Henry was
in the highest spirits, and so entertatning that
Ellen was totally abstracted in his remarks for some
time. At length she was recalled to passing events.
"What a time we have been," she said--"Why
you have told a story that must have occupied
half an hour at least, and--good heavens! we are
out of the city! stop the man, Henry, he does not
know where he is driving us."
"Yes he does. It is all right."
"O my poor mother!"
"She shall be well provided for."
"Cease, sir, to shock me by any illusions to
baseness. Oh, Henry, turn back, for the love of
heaven! and I will forgive you, and pray heaven
to forgive you too, Oh Henry, I would not think
you capable of this."
Here the poor girl shed tears like rain. Henry
was affected and it was some moments before he
spoke. At length he said.
"This is vain--I have gone too far to recede.--
It is useless for you to oppose my wishes. What
can you do?"
"I can die."
The whole of that night was passed by Mrs. Somers
in the greatest anxiety. Her only hope was,
that in consequence of the uncomfortable state
of the weather, Ellen had been induced to stay
with Mr. James family. Early in the morning
the mother hurried to the store and there learned
from Mr. James himself, that Ellen had gone the
night previously at the usual hour with a gentleman,
a friend of hers, who had been in the habit
of seeing her home nightly.
"It is my fault--it is my fault!" exclaimed the
distracted woman. "I should have known better
--I have sold her for filthy [lucre]. What says the
Bible? 'Lord, deliver us from temptation,' and
I, her mother, who taught her to breathe that very
prayer--I have placed her in temptation's way
myself. Oh! she is lost, so lost!"
More dead than alive [?????] mother tottered
home. On entering her apartment, there
stood before her, her daughter [and] Henry.
"O Ellen, Ellen Somers!" she exclaimed.
"Not Ellen Somers, but Ellen Wilkinson," exclaimed
"Is it so, my child? speak!"
"It is, dearest mother," and the child and parent
were buried in each other's embraces.
It was even so. Henry had been struck with
Ellen's manners at first. [????] the libertines
won his admiration. The graces of her
mind, more than her person, [????] his love and
respect. He deemed the last [??} trial to which
he put her, necessary, and [????] that she
passed unsullied through the final ordeal.
After the scene narrated in the carriage, the
vehicle stopped at his country [residence], and there
in the presence of his family Ellen and Henry
That in every station in life the most humble,
as well as most lofty and [virtuous] mind may
support itself with respect [and] honor, may be
learned from the history of [the] Cigar Girl.--
At the same time, that [expressive] portion of
the Lord's prayer should be [???] present to us.
"Lead us not into temptation."
I don't know how this story played in 1840, but it seems pretty messed up to me.