Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Who is Sally Hadley and Why Are They Saying Those Terrible Things About Her?

On the 22nd of August 1842, Sally Hadley, under oath to John Erkson Jr, a justice of the peace for Bovina, said she was “pregnant of a child and that likely to be born a bastard and to become chargeable to [Delaware County] and that Hugh Gemel of the Town of Stamford is the father of the said child.” Hugh Gemel was arrested the next day and the case was set for August 30, held at the John Seacord hotel in Bovina (where the Lil Hilson house now stands).

The reason that anyone cared was not just an issue of morals. The main issue that made this a legal case was that a child born out of wedlock became the responsibility of the taxpayers. Efforts were made to identify the father of the child - if this could be confirmed, the father became financially responsible.

Not much is known about Sally beyond this case. She was born in 1822, the daughter of Elizabeth Hadley and a resident of Bovina. Sally claimed that she became involved with Hugh Gemel while living with his family for a five-week period in the winter of 1842. The Gemel farm was on Rose's Brook in Stamford, about four miles away from where Sally lived in Bovina. Sally was there to do house work and milk the cows. She said that Hugh “had connection with her five times." In one instance, Sally said that he came up to where she was milking the cows and asked her if she would not pick out some young fellow. She told him she did not know, where upon he took hold of her arms and she went over onto the barn floor. Sally admitted that she did not resist his advances.  In her testimony, Sally claimed that “Mr. Gemel was the only man that ever had connection with her.’

Sally's testimony was not taken at face value. When she was asked about the nature of an oath to tell the truth, it was obvious that she did not understand the concept of perjury and that she could be punished, not only in this world but "in the next world." A number of people were brought in who testified that Sally Hadley’s “reputation for truth and veracity is bad generally” and that they “would not believe her as much as a great many others under oath.” Witnesses testifying against Sally included several members of the Gemel family and some of her neighbors.

These aspersions on Sally's character little influenced the town justices of the peace.  On August 31, they issued their decision, stating "that the said Hugh Gemel is the father of the said child."  They ordered that Gemel had to pay to the county superintendents of the poor or the overseers of the poor for the town "fifty two and a half cents weekly and every week for the support of the said child..."  They also determined that "the said Sally Hadley, being in indigent circumstances" be paid six dollars for her sustenance and during her confinement and recovery.  Gemel also had to pay the costs of bringing him to answer these charges - fifteen dollars and fifty nine cents.

Given the string of witnesses who came and testified against Sally, the verdict is somewhat of a surprise, but their testimony was not specific to Sally's situation at the Gemel farm.  Sally's testimony simply may have carried more weight.  It also is possible that the records are not complete and not every document related to it survived to the 21st century - there could be a missing element here.  A more cynical take on the verdict is that the overseers of the poor were trying to save the taxpayers of the town and county money.  Since the Gemel family was fairly prosperous, the overseers decided to accept Sally's story and make Gemel support the child.

Hugh Gemel continued to farm and was active in the Town of Stamford after this case, serving at different times as Highway Commissioner, Collector, Constable, and School Inspector. Hugh died in 1878 at the age of 74.  We know less about Sally's life after the decision was announced.  The 1850 census for Bovina does show Sally Hadley living with Elizabeth Hadley and a child, John Hadley, who was seven. John likely is the illegitimate child that was born to Sally.  After the 1850 census, Sally and her child disappear from the records.  We do not know what happened to her or her son, nor do we know if Gemel made the required payments.  We likely will never know, but can hope that Sally and her son got some justice and support. 

No comments:

Post a Comment