Monday, January 31, 2005

Untrue Truth

A wonderful pseudo-memoir that illustrates 19th century Massachusetts and New England marriage law is widely available in etext for free. It is billed as Seven Wives and Seven Prisons; Or, Experiences in the Life of a Matrimonial Monomaniac: a True Story by L.A. Abbott and dated 1870. However, it is historical fiction.

In it, the protagonist goes to jail seven times for falling afoul of marriage laws. One example of his troubles in Massachusetts includes:
They took me to Northampton and brought me before a Justice, on a
charge of bigamy: The sheriff who arrested me, and the relatives who
accompanied him were willing to swear my life away, if they could,
and the justice was ready enough to bind me over to take my trial in
court, which was not to be in session for full six months to come.
Those long, weary six months I passed in the county jail. Then came
my trial. I had good counsel. There was not a particle of proof that
I was guilty of bigamy; no attempt was made on the part of the
prosecution to produce my first wife, from whom I had separated, or,
indeed, to show that there was such a woman in existence. But,
evidence or no evidence, with all Worthington against me, conviction
was inevitable. The jury found me guilty. The judge promptly
sentenced me to three years' imprisonment in the State Prison, at
Charlestown, with hard labor, the first day to be passed in solitary
confinement.

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