3. The Princess Maid
Sarah Wilson (circa 1754 – circa 1865) was a maid to one of British queen Charlotte’s ladies in waiting, but was caught stealing some of the queen’s jewels and gowns. She was tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang, but her sentence was commuted to penal transportation to Maryland. Upon arrival in 1771, Sarah was sold as an indentured servant, but escaped within a few days. She had managed to hang on to some of the queen’s belongings, and wearing her majesty’s dress, Sarah claimed to be Queen Charlotte’s sister, “Princess Susana Caroline Matilda of Mecklenberg-Sterlitz”. She explained her presence in America by inventing a royal family quarrel, and a scandal that required her to temporarily leave Britain until things calmed down.
Many locals bought it, and Sarah parlayed that into a life of luxury. For years, “Princess Susana” travelled up and down the Colonies, from New Hampshire to the Carolinas, hosted in style by government officials, wealthy Americans, social climbers, and others eager to befriend and win the favor of a royal. She grifted many out of considerable sums by promising royal appointments, or that she would put in a good word for them with her sister and brother in the law, Britain’s queen and king. She also took out numerous loans, and bought many luxury items on credit from merchants and shopkeepers eager for royal patronage and the custom of a princess. The scam finally ended when her master caught her and took her back to Baltimore.