CHAPTER I. THE FIRST AND WORST WIFE
MY EARLY HISTORY—THE FIRST MARRIAGE—LEAVING HOME TO PROSPECT—SENDING FOR MY WIFE—HER MYSTERIOUS JOURNEY—WHERE I FOUND HER—TEN DOLLARS FOR NOTHING—A FASCINATING HOTEL CLERK—MY WIFE’S CONFESSION—FROM BAD TO WORSE—FINAL SEPARATION—TRIAL FOR FORGERY—A PRIVATE MARRIAGE—SUMMARY SEPARATION.
SOME one has said that if any man would faithfully write his autobiography, giving truly his own history and experiences, the ills and joys, the haps and mishaps that had fallen to his lot, he could not fail to make an interesting story; and Disraeli makes Sidonia say that there is romance in every life. How much romance, as well as sad reality, there is in the life of a man who, among other experiences, has married seven wives, and has been seven times in prison—solely on account of the seven wives, may be learned from the pages that follow.
I was born in the town of Chatham, Columbia County, New York, in September, 1813. My father was a New Englander, who married three times, and I was the eldest son of his third wife, a woman of Dutch descent, or, as she would have boosted if she had been rich, one of the old Knickerbockers of New York. My parents were simply honest, hard—working, worthy people, who earned a good livelihood, brought up their children to work, behaved themselves, and were respected by their neighbors. They had a homestead and a small farm of thirty acres, and on the place was a blacksmith shop in which my father worked daily, shoeing horses and cattle for farmers and others who came to the shop from miles around.
There were three young boys of us at home, and we had a chance to go to school in the winter, while during the summer we worked on the little farm and did the “chores” about the house and barn. But by the time I was twelve years old I began to blow and strike in the blacksmith shop, and when I was sixteen years old I could shoe horses well, and considered myself master of the trade. At the age of eighteen, I went into business with my father, and as I was now entitled to a share of the profits, I married the daughter of a well-to-do neighboring farmer, and we began our new life in part of my father’s house, setting up for ourselves, and doing our own house-keeping.
I ought to have known then that marrying thus early in life, and especially marrying the woman I did, was about the most foolish thing I could do. I found it out afterwards, and was frequently and painfully reminded of it through many long years. But all seemed bright enough at the start. My wife was a good-looking woman of just my own age; her family was most respectable; two of her brothers subsequently became ministers of the gospel; and all the children had been carefully brought up. I was thought to have made a good match; but a few years developed that had wedded a most unworthy woman.
Seventeen months after our marriage, our oldest child, Henry, was born. Meanwhile we had gone to Sidney, Delaware County, where my father opened a shop. I still continued in business with him, and during our stay at Sidney, my daughter, Elizabeth, was born. From Sidney, my father wanted to go to Bainbridge, Chenango, County, N.Y., and I went with him, leaving my wife and the children at Sidney, while we prospected. As usual my father started a blacksmith-shop; but I bought a hundred acres of timber land, went to lumbering, and made money. We had a house about four miles from the village, I living with my father, and as soon as found out that we were doing well in business, I sent to Sidney for my wife and children. They were to come by stage, and were due, after passing through Bainbridge, at our house at four o’clock in the morning. We were up early to meet the stage; but when it arrived, the driver told us that my wife had stopped at the public house in Bainbridge.
Wondering what this could mean, I at once set out with my brother and walked over to the village. It was daylight when we arrived, and knocked loudly at the public house door. After considerable delay, the clerk came to the door and let us in. He also asked as to “take something,” which we did. The clerk knew us well, and I inquired if my wife was in the house; he said she was, told us what room she was in, and we went up stairs and found her in bed with her children. Waking her, I asked her why she did not come home, in the stage? She replied that the clerk down stairs told her that the stage did not go beyond the house, and that she expected to walk over, as soon as it was daylight, or that possibly we might come for her.
I declare, I was so young and unsophisticated that I suspected nothing, and blamed only the stupidity, as I supposed, of the clerk in telling her that the stage did not go beyond Bainbridge. My wife got up and dressed herself and the children, and then as it was broad daylight, after endeavoring, ineffectually, to get a conveyance, we started for home on foot, she leading the little boy, and I carrying the youngest child. We were not far on our way when she suddenly stopped, stooped down, and exclaimed:
“O! see what I have found in the road.”
And she showed me a ten dollar bill. I was quite surprised, and verdantly enough, advised looking around for more money, which my wife, brother and I industriously did for some minutes. It was full four weeks before I found out where that ten dollar bill came from. Meanwhile, my wife was received and was living in her new home, being treated with great kindness by all of us. It was evident, however, that she had something on her mind which troubled her, and one morning, about a month after her arrival, I found her in tears. I asked her what was the matter? She said that she had been deceiving me; that she did not pick up the ten dollar bill in the road; but that it was given to her by the clerk in the public house in Bainbridge; only, however, for this: he had grossly insulted her; she had resented it, and he had given her the money, partly as a reparation, and partly to prevent her from speaking of the insult to me or to others.
But by this time my hitherto blinded eyes were opened, and I charged her with being false to me. She protested she had not been; but finally confessed that she had been too intimate with the clerk at the hotel. I began a suit at law against the clerk; but finally, on account of my wife’s family and for the sake of my children, I stopped proceedings, the clerk paying the costs of the suit as far as it had gone, and giving me what I should probably have got from him in the way of damages. My wife too, was apparently so penitent, and I was so much infatuated with her, that I forgave her, and even consented to continue to live with her. But I removed to Greenville, Greene County, N. Y., where I went into the black-smithing business, and was very successful. We lived here long enough to add two children to our little family; but as time went on, the woman became bad again, and displayed the worst depravity. I could no longer live with her, and we finally mutually agreed upon a life-long separation—she insisting upon keeping the children, and going to Rochester where she subsequently developed the full extent of her character.
This, as nearly as I remember, was in the year 1838, and with this came a new trouble upon me. Just before the separation, I received from my brother’s wife a note for one hundred dollars, and sold it. It proved to be a forgery. I was temporarily in Troy, N. Y., when the discovery was made, and as I made no secret of my whereabouts at any time, I was followed to Troy, was there arrested, and after lying in jail at Albany one night, was taken next morning to Coxsackie, Greene County, and front thence to Catskill. After one day in jail there, I was brought before a justice and examined on the charge of uttering a forged note. There was a most exciting trial of four days duration. I had two good lawyers who did their best to show that I did not know the note to be forged when I sold it, but the justice seemed determined to bind me over for trial, and he did so, putting me under five hundred dollars’ bonds. My half-sister at Sidney was sent for, came to Catskill, and became bail for me. I was released, and my lawyers advised me to leave, which I did at once, and went to Pittsfield, and from there to Worthington, Mass., where I had another half-sister, who was married to Mr. Josiah Bartlett, and was well off.
Here I settled down, for all that I knew to the contrary, for life. For some years past, I had devoted my leisure hours from the forge to the honest endeavor to make up for the deficiencies in my youthful education, and had acquired, among other things, a good knowledge of medicine. I did not however, believe in any of the “schools” particularly those schools that make use of mineral medicines in their practice. I favored purely vegetable remedies, and had been very successful in administering them. So I began life anew, in Worthington, as a Doctor, and aided by my half-sister and her friends, I soon secured a remunerative practice.
I was beginning to be truly happy. I supposed that the final separation, mutually agreed upon between my wife and myself, was as effectual as all the courts in the country could make it, and I looked upon myself as a free man. Accordingly, after I had been in Worthington some months I began to pay attentions to the daughter of a flourishing farmer. She was a fine girl; she received my addresses favorably, and we were finally privately married. This was the beginning of my life-long troubles. In a few weeks her father found out that I had been previously married, and was not, so far as he knew, either a divorced man or a widower. And so it happened, that one day when I was at his house, and with his daughter, he suddenly came home with a posse of people and a warrant for my arrest. I was taken before a justice, and while we were waiting for proceedings to begin, or, possibly for the justice to arrive, I took the excited father aside and said:
“You know I have a fine horse and buggy at the door. Get in with me, and ride down home. I will see your daughter and make everything right with her, and if you will let me run away, I’ll give her her the horse and buggy.”
The offer was too tempting to be refused. The father had the warrant in his pocket, and he accepted my proposal. We rode to his house, and he went into the back-room by direction of his daughter while she and I talked in the hall. I explained matters as well as I could; I promised to see her again, and that very soon. My horse and buggy were at the door. Hastily bidding my new and young wife “good-bye,” I sprang into the buggy and drove rapidly away. The father rushed to the door and raised a great hue and cry, and what was more, raised the neighbors; I had not driven five miles before all Worthington was after me. But I had the start, the best horse, and I led in the race. I drove to Hancock, N.Y., where my pursuers lost the trail; thence to Bennington, Vt., next to Brattleboro, Vt., and from there to Templeton, Mass. What befel me at Templeton, shall be related in the next chapter.
Categories: English Literature