Seven Wives and Seven Prisons; Or, Experiences in the Life of a Matrimonial Monomaniac



At Templeton I speedily made known my profession, and soon had a very good medical practice which one or two "remarkable cures" materially increased. I was doing well and making money. I boarded in a respectable farmer's family, and after living there about six months there came another most unhappy occurrence. From the day, almost, when I began to board with this farmer there sprung up a strong attachment between myself and his youngest daughter which soon ripened into mutual love. She rode about with me when I went to see my patients, who were getting to be numerous, and we were much in each other's company.

On one occasion she accompanied me to Worcester where I had some patients. We went to a public house where she and her family were well known, and when she was asked by the landlord how she happened to come there with the doctor, her prompt answer was:

"Why, we are married; did'nt you know it?"

She refused even to go to the table without my attendance, and when I was out visiting some patients, she waited for her meals till I came back. We stayed there but two days and returned together to Templeton.

A month afterward her brother was in Worcester, and stopped at this house. The landlord, after some conversation about general matters, said:

"So your sister is married to the Doctor?"

"I know nothing about it," was the reply.

This led to a full and altogether too free disclosure to the astonished brother about the particulars of our visit to the same house a month before, and his sister's representations that we were married. The brother immediately started for home, and repeated the story, as it was told to him, to his father and the family. Without seeing his daughter, the father at once procured a warrant, and had me arrested and brought before a justice on charge of seduction. The trial was brief; the daughter herself swore positively, that though she had been imprudent and indiscreet in going to Worcester with me, no improper communication had ever, there or elsewhere, taken place between us.

Of course, there was nothing to do but to let me go and I was discharged. But out of this affair came the worst that had yet fallen to my lot in life. The story got into the papers, with particulars and names of the parties, and in this way the people at Worthington, who had chased me as far as Hancock and had there lost all trace of me, found out where I was. If I had been aware of it, they might have looked elsewhere for me; but while I was felicitating myself upon my escape from the latest difficulty, down came an officer from Worthington with a warrant for my arrest. This officer, the sheriff, was connected with the family into which I had married in Worthington, and with him came two or three more relatives, all bound, as they boasted, to "put me through." They were excessively irate against me and very much angered, especially that their race after me to Hancock had been fruitless. I had fallen into the worst possible hands.

They took me to Northampton and brought me before a Justice, on a charge of bigamy: The sheriff who arrested me, and the relatives who accompanied him were willing to swear my life away, if they could, and the justice was ready enough to bind me over to take my trial in court, which was not to be in session for full six months to come. Those long, weary six months I passed in the county jail. Then came my trial. I had good counsel. There was not a particle of proof that I was guilty of bigamy; no attempt was made on the part of the prosecution to produce my first wife, from whom I had separated, or, indeed, to show that there was such a woman in existence. But, evidence or no evidence, with all Worthington against me, conviction was inevitable. The jury found me guilty. The judge promptly sentenced me to three years' imprisonment in the State Prison, at Charlestown, with hard labor, the first day to be passed in solitary confinement.

This severe sentence fairly stunned me. I was taken back to jail, and the following day I was conveyed to Charlestown with heavy irons on my ankles and handcuffed. No murderer would have been more heavily ironed. We started early in the morning, and by noon I was duly delivered to the warden at Charlestown prison. I was taken into the office, measured, asked my name, age, and other particulars, and then if I had a trade. To this I at once answered, "no." I wanted my twenty-four hours' solitary confinement in which to reflect upon the kind of "hard labor," prescribed in my sentence, I was willing to follow for the next three years; and I also wanted information about the branches of labor pursued in that prison. The next words of the warden assured me that he was a kind and compassionate man.

"Go," he said to an officer, "and instantly take off those irons when you take him inside the prison."

I was taken in and the irons were taken off. I was then undressed, my clothes were removed to another room, and I was redressed in the prison uniform. This was a grotesque uniform indeed. The suit was red and blue, half and half, like a harlequin's, and to crown all came a hat or cap, like a fool's cap, a foot and a half high and running up to a peak. Miserable as I was, I could scarcely help smiling at the utterly absurd appearance I knew I then presented. I even ventured to remark upon it; but was suddenly and sternly checked with the command:

"Silence! There's no talking allowed here."

Then began my twenty-four hours' solitary confinement, and twenty-four wretched hours they were. I had only bread and water to eat and drink, and I need not say that my unhappy thoughts would not permit me to sleep. At noon next day I was taken from my cell, and brought again before the warden, Mr. Robinson, who kindly said:

"You have no trade, you say; what do you want to go to work at?"

"Anything light; I am not used to hard labor," I replied.

So the warden directed that I should be put at work in the brush shop, where all kinds of brushes were made. Mr. Eddy was the officer in charge of this shop, and Mr. Knowles, the contractor for the labor employed in the brush business, was present. Both of these gentlemen took pains to instruct me in the work I was to begin upon, and were very kind in their manner towards me. I went to work in a bungling way and with a sad and heavy heart. At 12 o'clock we were marched from the shop to our cells, each man taking from a trap in the wall, as he went by, his pan containing his dinner, which consisted, that day, of boiled beef and potatoes. It was probably the worst dinner I had ever eaten, but I had yet to learn what prison fare was. From one o'clock to six I was in the shop again; then came Supper—mush and molasses that evening which was varied, as I learned afterwards, on different days by rye bread, or Indian bread and rye coffee. These things were also served for breakfast, and the dinners were varied on different days in the week. The fare was very coarse, always, but abundant and wholesome. After supper prisoners were expected to go to bed, as they were called out at six o'clock in the morning.

I stayed in the brush shop three or four months, but I made very little progress in learning the trade. I was willing enough to learn and did my best. From the day I entered the prison I made up my mind to behave as well as I could; to be docile and obedient, and to comply with every rule and order. Consequently I had no trouble, and the officers all treated me kindly. Warden Robinson was a model man for his position. He believed that prisoners could be reformed more easily by mild than by harsh measures—at least they would be more contented with their lot and would be subordinate. Every now and then he would ask prisoners if they were well treated by the officers; how they were getting on; if they had enough to eat, and so on. The officers seemed imbued with the warden's spirit; the chaplain of the prison, who conducted the Sunday, services and also held a Sunday school, was one of the finest men in the world, and took a personal interest in every prisoner. Altogether, it was a model institution. But in spite of good treatment I was intensely miserable; my mind was morbid; I was nearly, if not quite, insane; and one day during the dinner hour, I opened a vein in each arm in hopes that I should bleed to death. Bleed I did, till I fainted away, and as I did not come out when the other prisoners did, the officer came to my cell and discovered my condition. He at once sent for the Doctor who came and stopped the hemorrhage, and then sent me to the hospital where I remained two weeks.

After I came out of the hospitals the Warden talked to me about my situation and feelings. He advised me to go into the blacksmith shop, of course not dreaming that I knew anything of the work; but he said I would have more liberty there; that the men moved about freely and could talk to each other; that the work mainly was sharpening picks and tools, and that I could at least blow and strike. So I went into the blacksmith shop, and remained their six weeks. But, debilitated as I was, the work was too hard for me, and so the warden put me in the yard to do what I could. I also swept the halls and assisted in the cook-room. One day when the warden spoke to me, I told him that I knew something about taking care of the sick, and after some conversation, he transferred me to the hospital as a nurse.

Here, if there is such a things as contentment in prison, I was comparatively happy. I nursed the sick and administered medicines under direction of the doctor. I had too, with all easy position, more liberty than any other prisoner. I could go anywhere about the halls and yard, and in a few weeks I was frequently sent on an errand into the town. Everyone seemed to have the fullest confidence in me. The Warden talked to me whenever he saw me, and always had some kind word for me. One day I ventured to speak to him about his horse, of which he was very proud, and indeed the horse was a very fine one.

Mr. Warden, said I "that's a noble horse of yours; but he interferes badly, and that is only because he is badly shod. If you will trust me, I can shoe him so as to prevent all that."

"Can you?" exclaimed the Warden in great surprise; "Well, if you can, I'll give you a good piece of bread and butter, or, anything else you want."

"I don't want your bread and butter," said I "but I will shoe your horse as he has never been shod before."

"Well take the horse to the shop and see what you can do."

Of course, I knew that by "bread and butter" the warden meant that if I could shoe his favorite horse so as to prevent him from interfering, he would gladly favor me as far as he could; and I knew, too, that I could make as good a shoe as any horse need wear. I gladly led the horse to the shop where I had so signally failed in pick and tool sharpening, and was received with jeers by my old comrades who wanted to know what I was going to do to that horse.

"O, simply shoe him," I said.

This greatly increased the mirth of my former shopmates; but their amusement speedily changed to amazement as they saw me make my nails, turn the shoes and neatly put them on. In due time the horse was shod, and I led him to the Warden for inspection; and before him and an officer who stood by him, I led the horse up and down to show that he did not interfere. The Warden's delight was unbounded; he never saw such a set of shoes; he declared that they fitted as if they had grown to the horse's hoofs. I need not say that from that day till the day I left the prison, I had everything I wanted from the Warden's own table; I fared as well as he did, and had favors innumerable.

About once a month I shod that horse, little thinking that he was to carry me over my three years' imprisonment in just half that time. Yet so it was. For talking now almost daily, in the hospital or in the yard, with the Warden, he became interested in me, and in answer to his inquiries I told him the whole story of my persecution, as I considered it, my trial and my unjust and severe sentence. When he had heard all he said:

"You ought not to be here another day; you ought to go out."

The good chaplain also interested himself in my case, and after hearing the story, he and the Warden took a lawyer named Bemis, into their counsel, laid the whole matter before him and asked his opinion. Mr. Bemis, after hearing all the circumstances, expressed the belief that I might get a pardon. He entered into the matter with his whole heart. He sent for my son Henry and my first wife, and they came and corroborated my statement about the mutual agreement for separation, and told how long we had been parted. Mr. Bemis and they then went to Governor Briggs, and told him the story, and that I had served out half of my severe sentence, and pressed for a pardon. The Governor after due deliberation consented to their request. They came back to Charlestown with the joyful intelligence. Warden Robinson advised my son, that considering my present mental and physical condition, he had better break the intelligence gradually to me, and so Henry came to me and said, simply, that he thought he would soon have "good news" for me. The next day I was told that my pardon was certain. The day following, at 12 o'clock, I walked out, after eighteen months' imprisonment, a free man. I was in the streets of Charlestown with my own clothes on and five dollars, given to me by the Warden, in my pocket, I was poor, truly, but I was at liberty, and that for the day was enough.

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