A recent acquisition provided a rare opportunity to find out about the first owner of an early piece of erotic literature. Mr. F----'s Adventures in Petticoats Compleat, published in London in 1749, has a cross-dressing bisexual narrator – making it as much a source for historical research into gender and sexuality as a work of fiction. The front cover of the binding has the bold lettering ‘Jackman Foote 1749’. He was evidently the gentleman who first purchased this work and had it bound, with no apparent shame about owning it.
The name Jackman Foote is so distinctive that it seemed worth undertaking some research to try and discover his identity. A very little work on the FamilySearch website turned up a Jackman Foote baptised at St Mary in Truro, Cornwall on 16 April 1724, the son of Henry Foote and his wife Jane, and buried at St Clement in Cornwall on 2 March 1758. The will of Jackman Foote ‘Esquire’ survives in the National Archives at Kew. He makes bequests for bread for the poor in the parishes where he was baptised and buried, specifies that his ‘wearing apparel (except my watchs rings Buckles and sleeve buttons)’ be divided between his menservants and Charles Wilson of Truro and leaves ‘my chest of mechanicall tools and all other my tools of that sort or kind’ to Johnson Vivian of Truro. He leaves the residue of his estate to his ‘brother-in-law John Foote’. At the time the will was signed, on 21 May 1757, John Foote was still a minor. Indeed, he may well have been the John Foote, son of Henry Foote and his wife Mary, baptised at St. Clement on 20 September 1744. In this case, the term ‘brother-in-law’ obviously does not have the more usual meaning of a sister’s husband. John was presumably Jackman’s nearest surviving relative. Perhaps the two were half-brothers.
Unfortunately, the will makes no mention of any books and Mr. F---'s Adventures in Petticoats Compleat contains no other evidence of its first owner. We cannot be certain that the Jackman Foote from Cornwall was the man who, at the age of about twenty-five, purchased an erotic novel published in London, but the possibility is there.
Curator, Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800
Mr. F----'s Adventures in Petticoats, Compleat. In Three Parts. London: printed for E. Pen, 1749. C.194.a.1229
Will of Jackman Foote, proved 8 November 1758. National Archives. P.C.C. PROB 11/841.