No. 540
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
October 24, 2021

The Beecher-Tilton Scandal

June 13, 2011
...
...

 "The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan MandijnThis week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Strange Company Yacht Club!Why the hell did so many Roman Emperors die violently?  Just do the math!Afraid of witches?  We have a cake for that.The British Army experiences some close-run things.19th century children's book kills off an apple pie.In which Michelangelo writes a poem crabbing about painting the
More...
Strange Company - 10/22/2021
`
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
More...
Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
First response from the Sourdough Associationto Jefferson R. Smith from Clara JohnsonJeff Smith collection(Click image to enlarge)     lease try to attend and thus forward the spirit of the Sourdough." Soapy Smith's son contacts the Sourdough Reunion, 1951      Seventy years ago, at some date previous to February 15, 1951, Soapy Smith's son, sixty-five year old Jefferson Randolph Smith III
More...
Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 9/17/2021
Despite the judge’s admonitions, Henrietta Robinson covered her face with a black veil as she stood trial for murder. Everything about the defendant was a mystery—her motive for murder, her behavior before and after the crime, and even her true identity. It was well known that “Henrietta Robinson” was an assumed name, but who she really was has never been determined.Read the full story here: The
More...
Murder By Gaslight - 10/23/2021
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
More...
Executed Today - 11/13/2020
The Last Dip of the Season. | The Feejee Mermaid.

The Beecher-Tilton Scandal

Beecher-Tilden2

Brooklyn, New York, 1872 - This would have just been another run-of-the-mill case of a preacher loving his neighbor a little too much if the folks involved had not all been social reformers of the highest degree. The scandal tarnished the reputation of the most prominent cleric in America, highlighted rifts within the Women’s Rights movement, and climaxed with an adultery trial that was called "The Greatest Social Drama of Modern Times:"[more]

Henry-Ward-Beecher

Henry Ward Beecher

Henry Ward Beecher (abolitionist, women’s rights advocate) was the minister of the Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn, New York which had over a thousand members. In the 1860s and 1870s he worked together with Theodore Tilton (editor, poet, abolitionist) on a religious journal called the Independent. Tilton was often away lecturing, leaving his young wife Elizabeth alone. Around 1866, Reverend Beecher began to call on Elizabeth and the visits became increasingly intimate.

Elizabeth-Tilton

Elizabeth Tilton

In 1870 Elizabeth confessed to her husband, telling him that she had “surrendered” only after “long moral resistance.” Beecher had convinced her “with overmastering arguments” that theirs was “pure affection and a high religious love.” But it must be kept secret because the vulgar world would never understand such purity. Tilton forgave his wife and agreed to keep the affair secret.

But Tilton was not good at keeping secrets and during a chess game with Elizabeth Cady Stanton (abolitionist, early women’s rights leader) he revealed that his wife had been in a “free-love” relationship with Beecher. Ms. Stanton told her colleague, Victoria Woodhull (suffragist, spiritualist, free-love advocate.) This became a problem because Ms. Woodhull, together with her sister Tennessee Celeste Caflin (suffragist, advocate for legalized prostitution, first woman stock broker), published a popular weekly newspaper.

Theodore-Tilton

Theodore Tilton

Tilton did what he could to keep Woodhull quiet, even writing a biography of Victoria Woodhull, attempting to keep her in his debt. This worked until 1872 when Reverend Beecher’s sister Harriet Beecher Stow (abolitionist, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) attacked Woodhull and her position on free-love in print. Soon after, a story ran in Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, which, without naming names, claimed that America’s most renowned preacher was practicing in private the free-love that he denounced from the pulpit.

Victoria Woodhull

Victoria Woodhull

The story was a sensation. Everyone knew who it was about and everyone wanted a copy. At the height of the frenzy Woodhull and Caflin’s Weekly was selling for as much as $40.00 a copy. But postal inspector Anthony Comstock (author of the federal anti-obscenity, Comstock Law) was not amused. He arrested both Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Caflin for sending obscene material through the U. S. Mail. This was especially inconvenient for Victoria Woodhull. In the1872 election she was the presidential candidate of the Equal Rights party and she would be spending Election Day in jail.

Tilton had no choice now but to sue Beecher for adultery. The trial which began in January 1875 divided the Plymouth Church as well as Reverend Beecher’s family. The trial lasted for seven months and received extensive newspaper coverage. It was followed closely by people throughout America. The jury took six days to deliberate but could not agree on a verdict. It was a hung jury. In the end, Beecher was acquitted. Through it all, his wife and most of the Plymouth church stood by him. Beecher resumed his career as if nothing had happened.

Theodore and Elizabeth Tilton fled to Paris and spent the rest of their lives there.


Sources: Goldsmith, Barbara. Other powers: the age of suffrage, spiritualism, and the scandalous Victoria Woodhull. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1998.

Altina Waller, Reverend Beecher and Mrs. Tilton: Sex and Class in Victorian America from Chapter One, "The Brooklyn Scandal" 1982

Pictorial History of the Beecher-Tilton Scandal. Its Origin, Progress and Trial. Illustrated with Fifty Engravings from Accurate Sketches.