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



Why in the world did Captain Brown ever tempt me with the prospect of a profitable patient in Newark? I had no thought of going to that city, and no business there except to see if I could cure Captain Brown's daughter. With my matrimonial monomania it was like putting my hand into the fire to go to a fresh place, where I should see fresh faces, and where fresh temptations would beset me. And when I went to Newark, I went only as I supposed, to see a single patient; but Captain Brown prevailed upon me to stay to take care of his daughter, and assured me that he and his friends would secure me a good practice. They did. In two months I was doing as well in my profession as I had ever done in any place where I had located. I might have attended strictly to my business, and in a few years have acquired a handsome competence. But, as ill luck, which, strangely enough, I then considered good luck, would have it, when I had been in Newark some two months, I became acquainted with a buxom, good-looking widow, Mrs. Elizabeth Roberts. I protest to-day that she courted me—not I her. She was fair, fascinating, and had a goodly share of property. I fell into the snare. She said she was lonely; she sighed; she smiled, and I was lost.

Would that I had observed the elder Weller's injunction: "Bevare of vidders;" would that I had never seen the Widow Roberts, or rather that she had never seen me. Eight weeks after we first met we were married. We had a great wedding in her own house, and all her friends were present. I was in good practice with as many patients as I could attend to; she had a good home and we settled down to be very happy.

For six weeks, only six weeks, I think we were so. We might have been so for six weeks, six months, six years longer; but alas! I was a fool I confided to her the secret of my first marriage, and separation, and she confided the same secret to her brother, a well-to-do wagon-maker in Newark. So far as Elizabeth was concerned, she said she didn't care; so long as the separation was mutual and final, since so many years had elapsed, and especially since I hadn't seen the woman for full six years, and was not supposed to know whether she was alive or dead, why, it was as good as a divorce; so reasoned Elizabeth, and it was precisely my own reasoning, and the reasoning which had got me into numberless difficulties, to say nothing of jails and prisons. But the brother had his doubts about it, and came and talked to me on the subject several times. We quarrelled about it. He threatened to have me arrested for bigamy. I told him that if he took a step in that direction I would flog him. Then he had me brought before a justice for threatening him, with a view to having me put under bonds to keep the peace. I employed a lawyer who managed my case so well that the justice concluded there was no cause of action against me.

But this lawyer informed me that the brother was putting, even then, another rod in pickle for me, and that I had better clear out. I took his advice, I went to the widow's house, packed my trunk, gathered together what money I could readily lay hands upon, and with about $300 in my pocket, I started for New York, staying that night at a hotel in Courtland street.

The following morning I went over to Jersey City, hired a saddle-horse, and rode to Newark. The precise object of my journey I do not think I knew myself; but I must have had some vague idea of persuading Elizabeth to leave Newark and join me in New York or elsewhere. I confess, too, that I was more or less under the influence of liquor, and considerably more than less. However, no one would have noticed this in my appearance or demeanor. I rode directly to Elizabeth's door, hitched my horse, and went into the house. The moment my wife saw me she cried out:

"For God's sake get out of this house and out of town as soon as you can; they have been watching for you ever since yesterday; they've got a warrant for your arrest; don't stay here one moment."

I asked her if she was willing to follow me, and she said she would do so if she only dared but her brother had made an awful row, and had sworn he would put me in prison anyhow; I had better go back to New York and await events. I started for the door, and was unhitching my horse, when the brother and a half dozen more were upon me. I sprang to the saddle. They tried to stop me; the over-eager brother even caught me by the foot; but I dashed through the crowd and rode like mad to Jersey City, returned the horse to the livery stable, crossed the ferry to New York, went to my hotel, got my trunk, and started for Hartford, Conn., where I arrived in the evening.

This was in the month of June, 1854. I went to the old Exchange Hotel in State street, and very soon acquired a good practice. Indeed, it seems as if I was always successful enough in my medical business—my mishaps have been in the matrimonial line. When I had been in Hartford about three months, and was well settled, I thought I would go down to New York and see a married sister of Elizabeth's, who was living there, and try to find out how matters were going on over in Newark. That I found out fully, if not exactly to my satisfaction, will appear anon.

When I called at the sister's house, the servant told me she was out, but would be back in an hour; so I left my name, promising to call again. I returned again at one o'clock in the afternoon, and the sister was in, but declined to see me. As I was coming down the steps, a policeman who seemed to be lounging on the opposite side of the street, beckoned to me, and suspecting nothing, I crossed over to see what he wanted. He simply wanted to know my name, and when I gave it to him he informed me that I was his prisoner. I asked for what? and he said "as a fugitive from justice in New Jersey."

This was for taking the pains to come down from Hartford to inquire after the welfare of my wife! whose sister, the moment the servant told her I had been there, and would call again, had gone to the nearest police station and given information, or made statements, which led to the setting of this latest trap for me. The policeman took me before a justice who sent me to the Tombs. On my arrival there I managed to pick up a lawyer, or rather one of the sharks of the place picked me up, and said that for twenty-five dollars he would get me clear in three or four hours. I gave him the money, and from that day till now, I have never set eyes upon him. I lay in a cell all night, and next morning Elizabeth's brother, to whom the sister in New York had sent word that I was caged, came over from Newark to see me. He said he felt sorry for me, but that he was "bound to put me through." He then asked me if I would go over to Newark without a requisition from the Governor of New Jersey, and I told him I would not; whereupon he went away without saying another word, and I waited all day to hear from the lawyer to whom I had given twenty-five dollars, but he did not come.

So next day when the brother came over and asked me the same question, I said I would go; wherein I was a fool; for I ought to have reflected that he had had twenty-four hours in which to get a requisition, and that he might in fact have made application for one already, without getting it, and every delay favored my chances of getting out. But I had no one to advise me, and so I went quietly with him and an officer to the ferry, where we crossed and went by cars to Newark. I was at once taken before a justice, who, after a hearing of the case, bound me over, under bonds of only one thousand dollars, to take my trial for bigamy.

If I could have gone into the street I could have procured this comparatively trifling bail in half an hour; as it was, after I was in jail I sent for a man whom I knew, and gave him my gold watch and one hundred dollars, all the money I had, to procure me bail, which he promised to do; but he never did a thing for me, except to rob me.

A lawyer came to me and offered to take my case in hand for one hundred dollars, but I had not the money to give him. I then sent to New York for a lawyer whom I knew, and when he came to see me he took the same view of the case that Elizabeth and I did; that is, that the long separation between my first wife and myself, and my presumed ignorance as to whether she was alive or dead, gave me full liberty to marry again. At least, he thought any court would consider it an extenuating circumstance, and he promised to be present at my trial and aid me all he could.

I lay in Newark jail nine months, awaiting my trial. During that time I had almost daily quarrels with the jailor, who abused me shamefully, and told me I ought to go to State prison and stay there for life. Once he took hold of me and I struck him, for which I was put in the dark cell forty-eight hours. At last came my trial. The court appointed counsel for me, for I had no money to fee a lawyer, and my New York friend was on hand to advise and assist. I lad witnesses to show the length of time that had elapsed since my separation from my first wife, and we also raised the point as to whether the justice who married me, was really a legal justice of the peace or not. The trial occupied two days. I suppose all prisoners think so, but the Judge charged against me in every point; the jury was out two hours, and then came in for advice on a doubtful question; the judge gave them another blast against me, and an hour after they came in with a verdict of "guilty." I went back to jail and two days afterwards was brought up for sentence which was—"ten years at hard labor in the State prison at Trenton."

Good heavens! All this for being courted and won by a widow!

The day following, I was taken in irons to Trenton. The Warden of the prison, who wanted to console me, said that, for the offence, my sentence was an awful one, and that he didn't believe I would be obliged to serve out half of it. As I felt then, I did not believe I should live out one-third of it. After I had gone through the routine of questions, and had been put in the prison uniform, a cap was drawn down over my face, as if I was about to be hung, and I was led, thus blind-folded, around and around, evidently to confuse me, with regard to the interior of the prison—in case I might ever have any idea of breaking out. At last I was brought to a cell door and the cap was taken off. There were, properly no "cells" in this prison—at least I never saw any; but good sized rooms for two prisoners, not only to live in but to work in. I found myself in a room with a man who was weaving carpets, and I was at once instructed in the art of winding yarn on bobbins for him—in fact, I was to be his "bobbin-boy."

I pursued this monotonous occupation for two months, when I told the keeper I did not like that business, and wanted to try something that had a little more variety in it. Whereupon he put me at the cane chair bottoming business, which gave me another room and another chum, and I remained at this work while I was in the prison. In three weeks I could bottom one chair, while my mate was bottoming nine or ten as his day's work; but I told the keeper I did not mean to work hard, or work at all, if I could help it. He was a very nice fellow and he only laughed and let me do as I pleased. Indeed, I could not complain of my treatment in any respect; I had a good clean room, good bed, and the fare was wholesome and abundant. But then, there was that terrible, terrible sentence of ten long years of this kind of life, if I should live through it.

After I had been in prison nearly seven months, one day a merchant tailor whom I well knew in Newark, and who made my clothes, including my wedding suit when I married the Widow Roberts, came to see me. The legislature was in session and he was a member of the Senate. He knew all the circumstances of my case, and was present at my trial. After the first salutation, he laughingly said:

"Well, Doctor, those are not quite as nice clothes as I used to furnish you with."

"No," I replied, "but perhaps they are more durable."

After some other chaff and chat, he made me tell him all about my first marriage and subsequent separation, and after talking awhile he went away, promising to see me soon. I looked upon this only as a friendly visit, for which I was grateful; and attached no great importance to it. But he came again in a few days, and after some general conversation, he told me that there was a movement on foot in my favor, which might bring the best of news to me; that he had not only talked with his friends in the legislature, and enlisted their sympathy and assistance, but he had laid the whole circumstances, from beginning to end, before Governor Price; that the Governor would visit the prison shortly, and then I must do my best in pleading my own cause.

In a day or two the Governor came, and I had an opportunity to relate my story. I told him all about my first unfortunate marriage, and the separation. He said that he knew the facts, and also that he had lately received a letter from my oldest son on the subject, and had read it with great interest. I then appealed to the Governor for his clemency; my sentence was an outrageously severe one, and seemed almost prompted by private malice; I implored him to pardon me; I went down on my knees before him, and asked his mercy. He told me to be encouraged; that he would be in the prison again in a few days, and he would see me. He then went away.

I at once drew up a petition which my friend in the Senate circulated in the legislature for signatures, and afterwards sent it to Newark, securing some of the best names in that city. It was then returned to me, and two weeks afterwards when the Governor came again to the prison I presented it to him, and he put it in his pocket.

In two days' time, Governor Price sent my pardon into the prison. The Warden came and told me of it, and said he would let me out in an hour. Then came a keeper who once more put the cap over my face and led me around the interior—I was willingly led now—till he brought me to a room where he gave me my own clothes which I put on, and with a kind parting word, and five dollars from the Warden, I was soon in the street, once more a free man. My sentence of ten years had been fulfilled by an imprisonment of exactly seven months.

I went and called on Governor Price to thank him for his great goodness towards me. He received me kindly, talked to me for some time, and gave me some good advice and a little money. With this and the five dollars I received from the Warden of the prison I started for New York.

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