Here is the last of the “ladies of 1839”. Miss A. R. Mills burst on the magic scene in 1839 but left the business in less than two years. We only know details about her magic career because of the scandal that played out on the front pages of a New York newspaper. It is a cautionary tale of parental control and abuse all in the name of show business. Here is her story.
It was early July of 1839 and the French magician Mons. Adrien Sr. had just completed a very long and successful run at Peale’s Museum in New York City. He was succeeded by Miss A. R. Mills making her debut as a magician. New York City newspapers carried the following announcement for her engagement at Peale’s Museum:
“NOVELTIES EXTRAORDINARY – Miss A. R. Mills, the accomplished ENCANTADORA or FAIR ENCHANTRESS, whose astonishing powers in the occult arts and sciences, beautiful illusions and scientific illustrations of Magical Chemistry, Philosophical and Natural Magic, illustrative of the marvelous and apparently supernatural feats performed by the ancient Eastern Astrologers and Magicians, and which exceeds anything of the kind that has appeared before the public in modern days…” (Commercial Advertiser, July 11, 1839)”
Miss A. R. Mills was just over 16 years old and was described as petite with bright gray eyes and dark brown hair worn in ringlets. On stage she was surrounded with brilliant apparatus and performed such fancifully named effects as the Invisible glove or enchanted fruit; Spanish pin or passing ball; Egyptian pyramids; and the Coffer of Mahomet.
Miss Mills started to perform at Peale’s Museum in an unadvertised appearance on July 4th sharing the stage with Mons. Adrien. This might have been a trial period, as she was not official advertised until July 11th. There is no record on how Miss Mills learn magic. However, it is possible that Mons. Adrien taught her and supplied the apparatus. He did stay through her try-out before leaving on a long but tragic tour of the eastern and southern United States.
Her father, Mark Mills, was her manager and also performed Italian Fantoccini (marionettes) on the bills with her. He was a harness marker first in Wroksop, England and then in New York City. The family had immigrated to the city around 1830. Mark was married and had three children, the oldest being the subject of this story. It is not known when or where he learned to perform Italian Fantoccini but he did get good reviews with his 10 string puppets.
Miss Mills was an immediate success. She played the rest of the summer at Peale’s Museum and then left for a tour of the east coast. She played Albany, Utica, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Richmond, Charleston, Savannah, and Black Creek in Florida. Returning to New York City in the summer of 1840, she appeared at the Tivoli Garden and Grand Saloon. This engagement was presented as a “contest of magicians” between Miss Mills and Mons. Addrant, who had just finished performing for a few weeks at Tivoli Garden. All the New York newspapers carried the announcement for the event:
“Mr. Mills the father of Miss Mills, the celebrated Enchantress has given a challenge to Mons. Addrant, the great Wizard, in the sum of $1000, which is deposited in one of our city Banks, for a trial of skill between both on the same evening in feats of Legerdemain and Sleight of Hand. A committee of five gentlemen are appointed to decide on each night. Miss Mills & Mons. Addrant for three nights only.”
They then traveled to Boston and on October 26th started a very successful six week run at Harrington’s Museum. During this engagement they meet William A. Dame, a young newspaper reporter and the son of a prominent Boston lawyer. He seemed to be very taken by Miss Mills and became friendly with her and her father. William agreed to help manage their tour of local towns around Boston.
On January 7, 1841 the Salem Register had the following advertisement:
Then a few days later on the front page of the January 10, 1841 New York Herald Mr. Mills spun a tale of woo and despair. It told the sad tale of his daughter being seduced and running off with a married man. Here is the whole story that was picked up by a number of newspapers:
“An Elopement in Theatrical Life —The “Lady Magician” and a Newspaper Man.
All our reads must remember a very pretty little English girl, named Mills, then a little more than sixteen years of age, who made her debut as a “Lady Magician,” at Peale’s Museum, July 4, 1839. She was rather short in stature, well made, with English form and features, bright grey eyes, and wore her dark brown hair in ringlets.This young lady was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Mills, respectable English people, who arrived in this country about 10 or 12 years since, with a family of three children, all of whom are still living. After playing with great success at Peale’s Museum for several weeks, she went to Philadelphia with her father, a worthy old gentlemen, and played there; thence south to Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, Charleston, Savannah, and finally to Florida, where she played with great success at Black Creek. After travelling nearly all over the Union, her father returned with her to New York, where she again appeared, and finally about ten weeks since, she went to Boston to play for the first time.In Boston she drew crowded audiences at Hannington’s Museum, where she played with credit and emolument to herself for about six weeks. The father and daughter, it appears, took private apartments at the Handover House; up to this period the conduct and character of the young lady had been pure, faultless and unexceptionable; or to use the words of her bereaved, fond and doating father, she was “the most virtuous and prudent girl that ever lived.”Unfortunately for the peace of several families, in an evil hour, the editor of one of the Boston daily newspapers introduced to Mr. Mills and his daughter, a young man about 27 years of age, named W. A. Dame, who is or has been a sort of attaché to several newspaper establishments in Boston. This Dame stands about 5 feet 9 inches, light complexion, now rather homely looking, with remarkably dirty teeth. He is the son of a very respectable attorney in Boston, still living, was educated at Harvard College, became one of the clique of fashionable young literati in Boston, (of whom we have one or two samples here in New York,) used to drive out, dance attendance on young ladies, and became simultaneously a swell, a small litterateur, a roué, and a rogue. Between two and three years since, he came on to New York and married a very respectable young lady here, whom he took to Boston, but whom he treated so badly that his father has had to support herself and child, and she is now on the eve of her second confinement.Miss Mills, being the first lady whoever appeared in that capacity, her admirers styled her the Queen of Magicians. Her performances consisted of magical deceptions, illusions, necromantic and physical experiments, metamorphises and illusions, etc., embracing all of the principal features of manual dexterity with rings, money, sorcerers, banquet, etc. etc. She used to appear on the stage surrounded by a brilliant and costly apparatus, and introduced her incantations, or the philosophy of magic, and among others, a variety of new experiments, such as the Invisible glove or enchanted fruit; enhanced cups and seed; flying money or specific payment; Spanish pin or passing ball; deceptive bottle and handkerchiefs; cookery for the ladies, or enchanted cylinder; magic egg and card; sacred fire; magic plume; Egyptian pyramids; magic balls; coffer of Mahomet; miraculous globe, or flying handkerchief; obedient cards or card rack; enchanted time piece or Wizzard in his gown; mysterious bottle or ribbon factory; and other experiments, too numerous to mention, with living animals, such as dogs, cats, rabbits, pigeons, and living fish.Soon after Dame was introduced to Mr. Mills and his daughter, he became very assiduous in his attentions to her; wrote puffs to be inserted in the newspapers there, undertook to do all the drudgery of a regular Peter Funk, to and the cause of magic and belle lettres, boasted of his extensive acquaintance and influence with the newspapers, and soon induced Mr. and Mr. Mills to believe that he was a valuable acquaintance, a charming companion, a disinterested friend, a delightful fellow, and altogether a remarkably “nice young man.”Dame soon became as familiar as one of the family – and after Miss Mills and her father had played for six weeks in Boston, he proposed to them to visit professionally Salem, Lynn, and other towns in Massachusetts; told them they could realize large sums there; that he was well known and had great influence all round the country; that he would go on ahead, engage rooms, and arrange everything for them, to save time; that he wished no remuneration except his expenses paid; that his health required that he should travel; that it would be an amusement to him, and that he would play the piano at their exhibitions. All this was acceded to, and he went with Mr. and Miss Mills to Salem. Here the daughter played a few nights, and according to custom, her father gave her all of the money to take care of – At last Dame volunteered to take the money at the door; he took $100 the first night, and the next morning ran away from Salem, and persuaded the unfortunate and infatuated girl to accompany him. And all this time his wife was lying sick at his father’s, being near her second confinement.He not only ran away with the $100 and the old man’s daughter, but he took all the clothes belonging to Mr. Mills, and all the money previously taken, leaving the poor heart-broken father merely what he stood upright in, and $6 in his pocket. The old gentleman pursued them to Lynn, and thence to Boston, where he lost all trace of them. He then returned to Salem, and found that all of his machinery, scenery apparatus. &c. &c. which cost him $400, had been attached by the sheriff for about $30 expenses; and not having the money to pay, he left it there. Since then, the father has been wandering up and down the country heart broken in search of his daughter, without success; and yesterday he reach our office, and told us his tale of woe.
It is to be hoped that this scoundrel Dame will be caught and punished. He had on, when he ran away, a shabby brown frock coat, and a very valuable blue cloth cloak, lined with silk velvet. The girl had a handsome gold watch and chain, was dressed in a purple silk cottage bonnet, white ostrich feather, a rich silk velvet shawl trimmed with fur, coming down to a point behind, and a blue or a green silk frock. It is to be hoped that she will fly from the society of such a wretch, and return to the arms of her aged parents in this city, who still doat on her, and are anxious to receive her with kindness, and to forgive the past. Dame’s wife, on hearing the story, was prematurely confined, and is not likely to live.”
William Dame’s answer to this letter appeared on the front page of the New York Herald (February 4, 1841) and told a completely different story:
Miss Mills, the Enchantress, and Young Dame – The Other Side of the Story
We annex the following statement of W. A. Dame, explaining his connection with Miss Mille, a different version of which, on the authority of Mr. Mills, was published in the Herald.Mr. Dame certainly makes his case quite clear, and turns the tables entirely on his accuser. We have also a letter from the elder Mr. Dame, a highly respectable gentleman of Boston, assuring us that his son’s moral character in this transaction has been untarnished. We are glad of it – but it is always a delicate business for young married men to show too much sympathy for young and pretty ladies, or to be travelling around the country with them in any shape.
Boston, Feb 1, 1841
Mr. J. G. Bennett –
Sir – I take this, my first opportunity since my return to Boston, of writing you in explanation or rather in contradiction of an article which appeared in your paper of the 16th ult. implicating me in no very desirable a connection with Miss A. R. Mills, the quandam Lady Magician.
I write you therefore, at this time with no feelings of anger, but rather as one conscious of having been deeply wronged, yet innocently on your part, and feeling assured that, with the feelings of upright independence, for which your journal is esteemed, you will readily, and at once do me all the reparation you think due under the circumstances, by expressing a conviction that you were imposed upon by Mr. Mills, and that your article, consequently, did injustice to the parties implicated, through inadvertently on your part.
In the Daily Mail, of Saturday last, you may have noticed a card from Miss Mills, and my appeal to the public, in which the facts are briefly set forth. Mr. Mills, sir, is, I assure you, a miserable drunkard, and during the ten weeks he was in this vicinity, was, I venture to say, beastly intoxicated two thirds of the time, and had, in consequence, a violent attack of the delirium tremens, while at the Hanover House. – So far from my volunteering my services to travel, he offered me one third of the gross receipts, if I would accompany him and manage his business, assigning as a cause, that his habitual intemperance entirely incapacitated him for business. I consented to go, but he having previously told me that his wife and family at home had not money enough to keep a fire in the coldest days, I replied, “that I would go with him, but he needed the money that was made more than I did, and I wished no remuneration.”
You have always expressed yourself Mr. Bennett as a friend to the fairer sex, and I feel sure therefore that you would be the last man in the world to defend or assist that brute, (I will not say fellow creature) who would wantonly beat with his clenched fists, a woman – that too his own daughter, submitting to an humiliating employment totally unbecoming her sex, for the mere support of a destitute family. I can easily conjecture the probability of a man of tender feelings being excited in behalf of a man abused and even robbed, as he represented to you his case, but when the tables are turned, and an unoffending daughter is weekly, daily, and I might say hourly assaulted in word and deed, those feelings I should judge, would be aroused with ten fold ardor, and the misplaced sympathy be at once transferred from the offender to the injured party.
That your sympathy, and that of every man of honor, is needed in this case, I admit, but Miss Mills, not her father is the proper object. “Damned *** – bloody*** – five point**” (excuse such expressions,) were his constant epithets, and his kindest language to her; and I pledge you my word, sir, that as often as every fourth-eight hours, he outrageously assaulted her. At Albany, Syracuse, and Utica, New York State, his abuse was beyond endurance. At Savannah he was committed to jail for attempting to shoot her and in fact at ever place South, East or West, where she performed, his conduct to her was outrageous. This our southern and western contemporaries will corroborate.
Mr. Mills’ real name is Mark Rainy, originally a saddle and harness marker at Worksop, England; but on removing to this country some nine years since he assumed the name of Mills, which was his wife’s maiden name. His vile habits of intemperance and abuse of his family, are well known to Mr. McPake, grocer, corner of Wooster and Grand streets, (his landlord,) to Mr. George Baldwin, cab proprietor, Mercer street, rear of Brower’s, and to Mrs. Wilson, a milliner in Canal street, of whom Miss M. learnt her trade. The two last persons have repeatedly advised her to leave him, and he treats his wife I am told, even worse than his daughter. As one instance, I will state that but a day or two before he left New York for Boston the last time, he broke every chair, table, and article of crockery Mrs. Mills owned, and came to Boston, leaving her in that situation.
In this vicinity he was turned away from several hotels for his abuse to his daughter. At Cambridge he threw a pot of hot tea at her. At Charleston loaded a pistol and tried to shoot her; and at Watertown was in the act of throwing a hammer at her, when it was wrested from his grasp.
Most of these attacks I myself witnessed, but to all there were witnesses, and I have undoubted evidence of them.
About Salem you were entirely misinformed, and I beg to set you right. We went there on Wednesday morning, Jan. 6th, and she performed there that evening to $12. After returning to the hotel he wanted supper, which was cooked, but he would not taste it. In her room, in presence of the confederate, a bill poster, and another individual, he struck her twice in the face with his fist, and threw a brass lamp at her, which hit me. The next morning he knocked her down and kicked her, when I complained of him at the police office. The event of the trial I gave in the Mail. This was Thursday, and the same evening she performed to $18; and after the performance he assaulted her in the street. This $18 was paid to the bar-keeper for board, and the $12 together with $5 cash in hand on arrival, Mr. Mills had in his possession.
By advice of Mrs. Leavitt, the wife of the landlord, and a most worthy lady, Miss M—left Salem on Friday morning, at 11 o’clock. I accompanied her to a hotel, in the vicinity of Boston, gave the landlord my address, and explained to him her name and situation. I visited Boston daily – my family knew where we were – and Mr. Mills’ threats alone, publicly made, that he would shoot her, (for which purpose he bought, in Salem, a pair of pistols, for $7, and loaded each with two balls) kept us in seclusion. As soon as we learnt he had left Boston we returned to the city, and Miss M—has again left to take a situation which promises to be alike profitable and honorable. I am at my father’s, and my wife has never been ill, or the least alarmed concerning me, as she knew where I was.
I trust this explanation will convince you of the character of Mr. Mills, and that he grossly deceived you in his statement. I have been at some trouble to procure evidence to satisfy the editors of the Mail that Mr. M—misrepresented the facts to you, which they announced editorially on Saturday last.
I feel sure you will be disposed to do Miss M—and myself ample justice, and subscribe myself.
Very obediently yours,
W. A. Dame.”
This sad tale ends with a small advertisement in a Boston newspaper about nine months later (Daily Atlas, October 21, 1841):
Fantoccini or Magical Dancing Figures
Taken on Execution and will be sold, by consent of parties, on Saturday next, at 12 o’clock, at Cunningham’s Auction Room,
All the Fantoccini or Magical Dancing Figures and Apparatus, as formerly exhibited by Mr. and Miss. Mills.
By the order of the Sheriff.”