Sunday, March 24, 2013

Kennedy vs. Lee - Part II - The Bed Was Badly Tumbled

In part one of this story, presented in the March 18 entry for this blog, I reported on the development of a slander case between the two Presbyterian ministers in Bovina:  Rev. Joshua Kennedy (Plaintiff) from the Reformed Presbyterian Church and Rev. James. B. Lee (Defendant) from the United Presbyterian Church. The case finally went to trial in February 1870, starting with testimony as to how the whole slander issue started.  Then the defense brought in some of the more salacious elements of this story, starting with the story of Augusta Hamilton.

Hamilton was the daughter of Parmelia Dorcas Hamilton, who owned the hotel where the Jardine residence is now located.  She was about 20 when Kennedy came to Bovina.  Witnesses reported that Hamilton worked for Kennedy and that she had a bastard child in the fall of 1866.  Rev. Lee had stated that he did not believe the rumor that the child was Kennedy’s, but then Miss Louis Helsinger testified.  She lived in Croton in 1866 at Figgar’s Hotel.  She reported seeing Kennedy there with Augusta Hamilton and that he called her his wife.  He wanted a room for his wife to wash in.  When she came back after showing her the room, Kennedy was tip-toeing up the stairs and asked in which room she had put the lady.  Helsinger saw him go in and said that he remained about an hour.  She was in the room below and "heard a sound as of the putting down of boots."  When they left, she went to the room and found that the pitcher of water and towel she had brought for the lady to wash with had not been used but that “the bed was badly tumbled.”  The wife of the hotel keeper testified along similar lines.  Also testifying about the incident was Helen Dennis.  She had lived in Bovina but was living in Croton in the summer of 1866.  She went to see Kennedy to find out about things in Bovina and saw that he was with Miss Hamilton.  Kennedy called on her later and when Dennis asked if Mrs. Kennedy was with him, he said no but that Miss Hamilton was and that he had been taking her to Unadilla.  He had expected her to stay there, but when he was ready to leave Unadilla, she was ready to come back with him.Given that the incident in Treadwell happened in the summer and she had the child that fall, it would seem that Kennedy was not the father - unless any relationship between Kennedy and Hamilton started early in the year or before.  

At least two women in Bovina also reported being on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior by Kennedy.  Kennedy rented part of the house of Mrs. Elizabeth Thomson in December 1864, occupying the lower story while Mrs. Thomson had the upper one.  While Mrs. Kennedy was away in May 1865, Mrs. Thompson was passing through Kennedy’s part of the house when he came out of a bedroom and put both arms around her waist.  When she raised her arm to strike him, he let go.  Kennedy put his arm around her again when they were riding in a buggy.  She threatened to ‘put him out of the wagon’ if he didn’t behave.  He said she couldn’t do it.  Another widow, Mrs. Mary Huggans, provided board for Kennedy in the summer of 1866, when Mrs. Kennedy was again absent.  She was making his bed when he came in from harnessing his horse, put his hand on Huggans’ shoulder, and said “Mrs. Huggans, as young a woman as you ought to think about getting married.”  She responded “I thought I knew my own business.”  He took her hand, looked into her palm and said “You have a great many crosses in your hand but no lovers.”  Mrs. Huggans also reported that Kennedy said he “had passed himself off as an ‘old bach’ at Saratoga, and that he had exchanged likenesses with young ladies and it was not unusual to do so.”

Next came the testimony of a number of people who knew Kennedy in Pennsylvania.  This testimony had been collected previous to the trial and was read in court.  A number of witnesses reported that Kennedy’s “character for chastity was bad.”  Several women from the school that Kennedy created reported incidents.  Samantha French was the daughter of a neighbor of the Kennedys when they were in Pennsylvania.  Kennedy suggested to Mrs. French that she send her to Miss LeConte’s school in Harrisburg and that he would be happy to accompany her.  They went by buggy to Shippensburg then by train to Harrisburg.  She reported that during the buggy ride his conduct was ‘ungentlemanly.’  They arrived at the school at dusk.  When it was time to retire and Miss LeConte and Miss French got up, Kennedy asked if Miss LeConte could leave him and Miss French alone for a few minutes.  French reported that Kennedy tried to kiss her and when she took offense, he said he meant it kindly.  He apologized while closing the blinds and turning down the gas in the parlor, then took hold of her again, suggesting that she should get married instead of attend school.  He pulled her onto his lap and she struggled free and left the parlor.  She was “astonished, angry and excited” as she “considered his intentions towards me dishonorable.”

When Kennedy spoke in his defense, he denied every allegation made against him.  His wife also rose to his defense, as did Augusta Hamilton and her mother.  Augusta specifically denied any wrong-doing at the hotel in Croton.  Yes, she did ask for a room in which to wash and she did so, but both she and Kennedy denied that he went into the room.  A number of witnesses also testified that Kennedy’s ‘character for chastity was good.’ 

The lawyers for Lee and Kennedy summed up their cases.  The judge charged the jury, spending nearly an hour doing so.  The jury got the case at 4 pm on February 5 and an hour later came out with their verdict for Kennedy.  They awarded Kennedy the sum of six cents.  It appears that while the jury agreed that Kennedy had been slandered, there was no real damage to his career.  Kennedy was pastor of the Bovina Reformed Presbyterian church for another 15 years, so certainly his congregation did not hold it against him.  Kennedy’s lawyers had asked for $5,000 plus costs. 

Within a couple of weeks, both ministers held ‘donation parties’ at their homes.  These were often held by ministers to help bring in the dollars they needed to serve as pastors.  Lee’s party brought in $1900.  The newspaper noted that “his parishioners must be not only wealthy but liberal, and hold their pastor in high estimation.”  Kennedy’s party did not bring in quite as much, but he did collect $1400.  Given that the Reformed Presbyterian Church congregation was substantially smaller than that of the United Presbyterian Church, the amount collected is impressive. 

Lee and Kennedy lived in Bovina for another 15 years.  How did they get along?  Unfortunately, there is nothing in subsequent records or newspapers that demonstrates how these two men managed to continue working as ministers in the same town - and in churches almost across the street from each other.

Kennedy left Bovina first, moving back to Pennsylvania in 1885 and living in Greencastle as a retired minister.  He suffered a stroke within a couple of years of returning to Pennsylvania.  He died in October of 1891 at the age of 76 and is buried in Greencastle.  His wife Mary moved to Denver, Colorado to live with her daughter Catherine and her family.  She died there in September 1905.

Lee left Bovina three years after Kennedy, accepting a call as the pastor for the Presbyterian Church in Franklinville, NY in the spring of 1888.  He stayed there until 1904 when age and ill health forced him to step down as pastor.  His wife Jane died in Franklinville in 1897.  Lee was remarried to a woman he met while traveling in Scotland in 1899.  When Lee stepped down as Franklinville’s pastor, he came back to Bovina to spend his remaining years.  He died in July of 1914 at the age of 81 and is buried in Bovina. 

This story was fun to put together, partly because of its sensational nature, but we must remember that Kennedy was found to have been slandered.  The testimony of the people against Kennedy is more sensational, but there were people ready to step up to contradict it. We also have to remember that about the only source for this story is one newspaper, the Bloomville Mirror. I will continue digging to find other perspectives on this case and its aftermath. 

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