Monday, March 18, 2013

Kennedy vs. Lee - Part I - Libel of Slander

Reverend James B. Lee, a native of Cadiz, Ohio, came to Bovina in the fall of 1856 as pastor of the Associate Presbyterian Church of Bovina.  Twenty three when he came to Bovina, Lee was the longest serving pastor in the church, staying for 32 years.  In January of 1865, the Reformed Presbyterian Church installed Joshua Kennedy as its pastor.  Born around 1815, Kennedy was a native of Ireland.  He stayed for 20 years, having the distinction of being the longest serving pastor of that church.  Kennedy had lived previously in Pennsylvania and was a pastor there for about 20 years.  During his time in Pennsylvania, he was instrumental in establishing the Fayetteville Academy in 1852 and, like Rev. Lee, spent some of the Civil War as a missionary and chaplain.

In their early history the two Bovina Presbyterian Churches were at loggerheads.  In 1837, several members of the Associate Presbyterian Church were brought before Session to answer charges of having gone to hear the Reformed Presbyterian minister preach.  By the 1850s and 60s, however, the churches became more cordial to each other and started having joint social events, including a summer picnic.

So it is likely that Reverends Lee and Kennedy started on friendly terms, but about a year and a half after Rev. Kennedy came to Bovina, this started to unravel.  In July of 1866, Lee reported to Robert Sloan of Walton that there were unfavorable reports from a Rev. Woodburn of Kennedy’s behavior while in Pennsylvania, including the fact that Kennedy’s hired girl had a child and that he took liberties with a female pupil in the school he established.  Later that same month, Kennedy went to a hotel in Croton (now Treadwell), accompanied by someone other than his wife, namely Augusta Hamilton.  Over a year later, Lee signed a statement about what he had been told about Kennedy’s behavior by Rev. Woodburn.  The statement, which appears to have been read in the pulpit, is as follows:

“I hereby certify that Rev. J.S. Woodburn did make the following statements to me about Rev. Joshua Kennedy, viz; - ‘Mr. Kennedy’s hired girl had a child while at his house, and he retained her in his service after the child was born. This gave rise to reports and suspicions among those acquainted with Mr. K. Mr. Glenn informed Kennedy of these reports, and urged him to clear up these things.’

“Miss Brown, of Philadelphia, said she rode in a buggy with Mr. Kennedy from Chambersburg, Pa., and he kissed her until she was perfectly disgusted with him.   Miss Brown said to Mr. Kennedy, ‘what would Mrs. Kennedy say if she should see you?’  Mr. Kennedy said, ‘Oh, she don’t care.’  Mr. Kennedy offered to join the U.P Church, if a certain one of our congregation would give him a call.”

“That each and all of the above statements were made by Rev. J.S. Woodburn, I do now certify and set my hand and seal, this 18th day of October, 1867.  J.B. Lee”

In December, Kennedy wrote to Lee after he had spoken with Woodburn about the allegations.  Lee drafted a letter the next day stating that Kennedy was free of scandal, with a couple of edits suggested by Kennedy.  A week later, Lee signed a further statement again stating that there was no evidence to support the allegations.  It also was read to the congregation:

“… I am free to say that I am fully satisfied there is no evidence for any of the reports made in relation to the character of the Rev. Mr. Kennedy, or of his standing in his church; and that I exceedingly regret any connection I have had therewith, and cheerfully and unreservedly say that anything I have said in regard thereto was based upon rumors that are now without evidence to sustain them.  Dec. 12th, 1867.  J.B. Lee”

Though seemingly settled, the story did not go away.  When Kennedy asked for Lee to sign a further statement, he said no and after some conversation, they decided to see Judge Murray in Delhi for his advice.  Murray drew up a document reiterating what Lee had stated and that he had not ‘signed a libel.’  He said this should be the end of it.  Meanwhile, the statement that Lee had signed in December was circulating around, with the words ‘Libel of Slander’ added at the top in Kennedy’s handwriting.  In early 1868, Lee attended a meeting at the Reformed Presbyterian Church at which Kennedy gave his version of events.  When Lee was invited to give his version, he instead asked for a letter from Judge Murray to be read.  This obviously did not settle things, for in May of 1869, the case of Kennedy vs. Lee went to trial in Delhi.  The trial drew large crowds, filling the courtroom to capacity. 

After only a few days, the case had to be adjourned when a juror became ill.  It was nine months before the case reopened, and in that period the complexion of the case changed.  Early in the proceedings, Lee was making the case that he had withdrawn the allegations and stated very clearly that they were false.  By August, it appears that Lee was working to prove the allegations.  It was reported by the Bloomville Mirror in August of 1869 that the Judge had been asked to arrange for the examination of 20 to 30 witnesses from Pennsylvania.  Kennedy served an amended complaint, which the newspaper said ‘virtually amounts to a confession of guilt.’  The paper was not impressed by either minister, suggesting that “the only wish that honest people have in the matter is that the shortcomings of these Reverend gentlemen will be thoroughly sifted.”

So when the case reopened in February 1870, the effort on the part of the defense was to substantiate the allegations, though the testimony started with more witnesses about the statement by Lee being altered by Kennedy to include ‘Libel of Slander’ at the heading.  Then came the story of Augusta Hamilton.

Part two of this story will appear on March 24 in this blog.

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