Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mr. Bigamy's Confessions: An Old Seven Wives Tale

by Stephen J. Gertz

Some one has said that if any man would faithfully write his autobiography, giving truly his own history and experiences, the ills and joys, the haps and mishaps that had fallen to his lot, he could not fail to make an interesting story; and Disraeli makes Sidonia say that there is romance in every life. How much romance, as well as sad reality, there is in the life of a man who, among other experiences, has married seven wives, and has been seven times in prison - solely on account of the seven wives, may be learned from the pages that follow.

He's just a guy who can't say no. The guy in question is L.A. Abbott (b. 1813), who, in 1870, published an anonymous memoir of marriage craps, lucky seven not so lucky for our "matrimonial monomaniac," who, evidently, found the process of divorce distasteful so why bother? The trials and tribulations of a bigamist ensue.

It was all a series of misunderstandings, claims Abbott, a homeopathic doctor. When he took a young lass with him on his professional rounds out of town, for instance, she was the one who claimed they were married, not him, who was, after all, still married to another. When his brother-in-law found out about this incident, the gods of matrimony rained hell and Abbott wound up in the hoosegow.

Spoiler Alert: the farmer's daughter makes an appearance:

“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.”  

Mutual love often ripens in Abbott's life, alas, too often at the same time. First comes love, then comes marriage, then come cops in the jailhouse carriage. It's one misadventure after another as our hero takes it on the lam throughout New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New England, Canada, and California, one step ahead of the authorities - and in-laws with pitchforks and torches. But never for long. You can run but you can't hide: Abbott becomes acquainted with the penal system x seven, prison scrapes and daring escapes. Oh, and he forges bank notes, steals, and kidnaps his own son - who later tries to murder him. Citizens of the Bay State will be fascinated by Abbott's discussion of "Love-Making in Massachusetts," whence the farmer's daughter worsts Abbott in Worcester.

Save for "flogging the devil" out of one wife, it's one serio-comic connubial calamity after another, escapades aplenty, the entire book neatly summarized in its Table of Contents, which reads like a film treatment for a whacked-out farce, Mel Brooks & Ingmar Bergman's Scenes From A Marriage Monomaniac. Caveat: beware of milliners on the make.


CHAPTER I. THE FIRST AND WORST WIFE. My Early History. The First Marriage. Leaving Home to Prospect. Sending for My Wife. Her Mysterious Journey. Where I Found Her. Ten Dollars for Nothing. A Fascinating Hotel Clerk. My Wife's Confession. From Bad to Worse. Final Separation. Trial for Forgery. A Private Marriage. Summary Separation.

CHAPTER II. MISERIES FROM MY SECOND MARRIAGE. Love-Making in Massachusetts. Arrest for Bigamy. Trial at Northampton. A Stunning Sentence. Sent to State Prison. Learning the Brush Business. Sharpening Picks. Prison Fare. In the Hospital. Kind Treatment. Successful Horse-Shoeing. The Warden my Friend. Efforts for my Release, A Full Pardon.

CHAPTER III. THE SCHEIMER SENSATION. The Scheimer Family. In Love with Sarah. Attempt to Elope. How it was Prevented. Second Attempt. A Midnight Expedition. The Alarm. A Frightful Beating, Escape. Floggiing the Devil Out of Sarah. Return to New Jersey. " Boston Yankee." Plans to Secure Sarah.

CHAPTER IV. SUCCESS WITH SARAH. Mary Smith as a Confederate. The Plot. Waiting in the Woods. The Spy Outwitted. Sarah Secured. The Pursuers Baffled. Night on the Road. Efforts to Get Married. " The Old Offender." Married at Last. A Constable After Sarah. He Gives it Up. An Ale Orgie. Return to " Boston Yankee's." A Home in Goshen.

CHAPTER V. HOW THE SCHEIMERS MADE ME SUFFER. Return to Scheimer's. Peace, and then Pandemonium. Frightful Family Row. Running for Refuge. The Gang Again. Arrest at Midnight. Struggle with my Captors. In Jail Once More. Put in Irons. A Horrible Prison. Breaking Out. The Dungeon. Sarah's Baby. Curious Compromises. Old Scheimer my Jailer. Signing a Bond. Free Again. Last Words from Sarah,.

CHAPTER VI. FREE LIFE AND FISHING. Taking Care of Crazy Men. Carrying off a Boy. Arrested for Stealing my Own Horse and Buggy. Fishing in Lake Winnepisiogee. An Odd Landlord. A Woman as Big as a Hogshead. Reducing the Hogshead to a Barrel. Wonderful Verification of a Dream. Successful Medical Practice. A Busy Winter in New Hampshire. Blandishments of Captain Brown. I go to Newark, New Jersey.

CHAPTER VII. WEDDING A WIDOW AND THE CONSEQUENCES. I Marry a Widow. Six Weeks of Happiness. Confiding a Secret, and the Consequences. The Widow's Brother. Sudden Flight from Newark. In Hartford, Conn. My Wife's Sister Betrays Me. Trial for Bigamy. Sentenced to Ten Years' Imprisonment. I Become a " Bobbin Boy." A Good Friend. Governor Price Visits Me in Prison. He Pardons Me. Ten Years' Sentence Fulfilled in Seven Months.

Attempt To Elope With Sarah Scheimer.
An exciting bridal shower and bachelor party rolled into one.

CHAPTER VIII. ON THE KEEN SCENT. Good Resolutions. Enjoying Freedom. Going After a Crazy Man. The Old Tempter in a New Form. Mary Gordon. My New " Cousin." Engaged Again. Visit to the Old Folks at Home. Another Marriage. Starting for Ohio. Change of Plans. Domestic Quarrels. Unpleasant Stories about Mary. Bound Over to Keep the Peace. Another Arrest for Bigamy. A Sudden Flight Secreted Three Weeks in a Farm House. Recaptured at Concord. Escaped Once More. Traveling on the Underground Railroad. In Canada.

CHAPTER IX. MARRYING TWO MILLINERS. Back in Vermont. Fresh Temptations. Margaret Bradley. Wine and Women. A Mock Marriage in Troy. The False Certificate. Medicine and Millinery. Eliza at Saratoga. Marrying Another Milliner. Again Arrested for Bigamy. In Jail Eleven Months. A Tedious Trial. Found Guilty. Appeal to Supreme Court. Trying to Break Out of Jail. A Governor's Promise. Second Trial. Sentenced to Three Years' Imprisonment.

CHAPTER X. PRISON LIFE IN VERMONT. Entering Prison. The Scythe Snath Business. Blistered Hands. I Learn Nothing. Threaten to Kill the Shop Keeper. Locksmithing. Open Rebellion. Six Weeks in the Dungeon. Escape of a Prisoner. In the Dungeon Again. The Mad Man Hall. He Attempts to Murder the Deputy. I Save Morey's Life. Howling in the Black Hole. Taking Off Hall's Irons. A Ghastly Spectacle. A Prison Funeral. I am Let Alone. The Full Term of my Imprisonment.

CHAPTER XI. ON THE TRAMP. The Day of my Deliverance. Out of Clothes. Sharing with a Beggar. A Good Friend. Tramping Through the Snow. Weary Walks. Trusting to Luck. Com fort at Concord. At Meredith Bridge. The Blaisdells. Last of the "Blossom" Business. Making Money at Portsmouth. Revisiting Windsor. An Astonished War Den. Making Friends of Enemies. Inspecting the Prison. Going to Port Jervis,

CHAPTER XII. ATTEMPT TO KIDNAP SARAH SCHEIMER'S BOY. Starting to See Sarah. The Long Separation. What I Learned About Her. Her Drunken Husband. Change of Plan. A Suddenly-Formed Scheme. I Find Sarah's Son. The First Interview. Resolve to Kidnap the Boy. Remonstrance of my Son Henry. The Attempt. A Desperate Struggle. The Rescue. Arrest of Henry. My Flight into Pennsylvania. Sending Assistance to my Son. Return to Port Jervis. Bailing Henry. His Return to Belvidere. He is Bound Over to be Tried for Kidnapping. My folly.

CHAPTER XIII. ANOTHER WIDOW. Waiting for the Verdict. My Son Sent to State Prison. What Sarah Would Have Done. Interview with my First Wife. Help for Henry. The Biddeford Widow. Her Effort to Marry Me. Our Visit to Boston. A Warning A Generous Gift. Henry Pardoned. Close of the Scheimer Account. Visit to Ontario County. My Rich Cousins. What Might Have Been. My Birthplace Revisited.

CHAPTER XIV. MY SON TRIES TO MURDER ME. Settling Down in Maine. Henry's Health. Tour Through the South. Secession Times. December in New Orleans. Up the Mississippi. Leaving Henry in Massachusetts. Back in Maine Again. Return to Boston. Profitable Horse-Trading. Plenty of Money. My First Wife's Children. How They Have Been Brought Up. A Barefaced Robbery. Attempt to Blackmail Me. My Son Tries to Rob and Kill Me. My Rescue. Last of the Young Man.

CHAPTER XV. A TRUE WIFE AND HOME AT LAST. Where Were All My Wives? Sense of Security. An Imprudent Acquaintance. Moving from Maine. My Property in Rensselaer County. How I Lived. Selling a Recipe. About Buying a Carpet. Nineteen Lawsuits. Sudden Departure for the West. A Vagabond Life for Two Years. Life in California. Return to the East. Divorce from my First Wife. A Genuine Marriage. My Farm. Home at Last.

Wright, in American Fiction 1774-1900, wrongly includes the book as a novel. Kaplan, in contrast,  rightly includes it in American Autobiographies. It's too fantastic to be phoney. “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't” (Mark Twain).

Twain would have loved this book. Groucho Marx would have had a field day with it.

Capt. Spaulding: [to Mrs. Rittenhouse and Mrs. Whitehead] Let's get married.
Mrs. Whitehead: All of us?
Capt. Spaulding: All of us.
Mrs. Whitehead: Why, that's bigamy.
Capt. Spaulding: Yes, and it's big of me too.

N.B.: A word to the wise (and wives): If you write and publish a book anonymously keep your name off the copyright page.

[ABBOTT, L. A.]. Seven Wives and Seven Prisons: or, Experiences In the Life of a Matrimonial Monomaniac. A True Story, Written By Himself. New York: Published for the Author, 1870. First edition. Twelvemo. 205 pp. Original green cloth, gilt lettering. Frontispiece, three plates.

Kaplan, American Autobiographies 10. Wright II, 3. 

Images courtesy of Garrett Scott, Bookseller, currently offering this item, with our thanks.

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