Throngs filled the corridors of New York’s City Hall on the morning of July 8, 1835 seeking admission to the courtroom where Aaron Burr’s nephew, Justice Ogden Edwards, was conducting a trial that had attracted tremendous attention. Word of the strange action for damages for breach of a marriage promise, brought by a so-called gentleman against a lady and her new husband had filtered through New York in the preceding weeks.
James Gordon Bennett, publisher, editor and jack of all trades at his infant New York Herald was fascinated by the goings on. The irascible Bennett forthwith devoted most of the news columns in the four pages of his two-month old penny broadsheet to the matter of George G. Barnard vs. Mary H. Gaul and John I. Gaul. As was the case in the rest of the metropolitan papers and many upstate journals, even news as earth-shaking as the death of Chief Justice John Marshall on July 6 merited less coverage than the scandalous case of Barnard vs. Gaul.
In stark contrast to the staid coverage of politics and commercial matters that dominated the six-penny papers unaffordable to most of the City’s populace , Bennett’s Herald started life on May 6, 1835, determined to appeal to the mass of literate New Yorkers who were more interested in police matters and human scandal than the price of wheat on the New York Exchange or the latest shipping news. Benjamin Day’s Sun, also priced at one penny when it first appeared on September 3, 1833, had been a runaway success with its reports of arrests and beatings. Bennett’s new paper was published from editorial offices at 20 Wall Street and was printed on the third floor of 34 Ann Street. The Sun distinguished itself by publishing reports from the lowest criminal and civil courts in the City. Although Bennett aimed for the some of the same readership, what the keenly focused Scotsman truly desired was a universal readership. His new paper was, in his own words “equally intended for the great masses of the community – the merchant, mechanic, working people – the private family as well as the public hotel – the journeyman and his employer – the clerk and his principal.” [fn 1]
When the new enterprise was well enough established to be able to afford hiring a police reporter, Bennett’s advertisement for same on June 16 made clear the feisty publisher’s notion of the difference between his competitors and himself: “WANTED FOR THE HERALD – A Police Reporter, of genius and education. None need apply unless he can report with far more taste and judgment than those of the Sun and the Transcript.” [fn2;The New York Transcript was another penny paper, founded in March, 1834] Business went well: Bennett optimistically reported to his readers on June 27 that his daily circulation was approaching 20,000. Perhaps he meant a slow approach, though, for he reported an actual daily circulation of 7000 on July 9 as well as his plans to launch a Sunday edition and a “Country Herald.” According to the none-too bashful editor, the Herald was more widely read by the commercial crowd in Wall Street than the New-York Commercial Advertiser, or any of the other so-called business papers of the day.
In the earliest as well as subsequent issues, the Herald’s fearless editor crowed about his mission and his success, foreshadowing the vigor with which he would cover and editorialize about a legal case that he considered the most scandalous of his time. Bennett took a one week break after his first issue came out, to work the kinks out of his publication and distribution process. In the second issue, appearing on May 12, 1835, he thoroughly congratulated himself as well as his nascent readership, for their taste and sophistication:
“The specimen we have already furnished the public has given universal satisfaction, and the numbers that are crowding upon us to record their names on our subscription lists are the best evidence of that opinion. It is true that one or two of our smaller contemporaries may snarl and bite and call names, but we smile at these ‘paper pellets of the brain.’
“The broad relief which the lively HERALD will afford to the dull business air of the large morning papers will naturally induce every patron of the former to take in a copy of the latter, so as to diversify and exhilarate the breakfast table. A glass of champagne makes a dinner pleasant – a pie is good after a piece of roast – a spice of cayenne gives a zest to the dullest appetite. So will the HERALD minister to its large, heavier, and more expansive contemporaries, over a cup of coffee or a dish of chocolate.”
Eager to present highly principled editorial content, Bennett devoted many columns of front-page coverage in July and August of that year to the Barnard-Gaul case. In one of his earliest attempts to articulate the issues confronting men and women in the rapidly changing sexual mores of ante-bellum American urban society, Bennett made no bones about his outrage at Barnard’s attempt to wring many thousands of dollars from the young woman, who had called off the engagement and married a man with better prospects. The Herald’s founder declared the jury’s award of $1,000 to the plaintiff a mockery of justice. Bennett’s gender politics would see much greater development the following year with his groundbreaking coverage of the Helen Jewett murder case and the acquittal of one of the courtesan’s clients. He continued to lead the evolution of public opinion on these matters throughout his career.
The July 9, 1835 issue of the Herald contained its first report of the goings on in Judge Edwards’ courtroom, a few blocks north of the paper’s offices. At first referring to the case merely as “curious,” Bennett displayed the facetiousness and employed the facile turns of phrase for which he would become famous, noting that the situation was “reversed to that of any that we ever remember to have known. On this occasion the poor gentleman is the discarded lover, the sighing swain, the wounded dove.” [fn3]
George Barnard’s legal plea was based upon a group of letters exchanged with Mary Power Gaul, who had married her co-defendant, John I. Gaul, in the spring of 1833 after a brief courtship that interrupted her betrothal to Mr. Barnard. The correspondence introduced into evidence was published in its entirety in subsequent issues of the Herald and widely copied by other New York City newspapers, as well as being reproduced in whole or part in the Albany Evening Journal, Troy Daily Whig, Poughkeepsie Eagle, and Poughkeepsie Journal . Strangely enough, though editor Richard Adams Locke editorialized with great glee over the outcome of the case, New York’s Sun did not publish the letters. “…[S]ome of them [are] perfect models of composition, and would do well to insert in the next edition of “The Complete Letter Writer,” noted Bennett. The correspondence was ‘unrolled and produced by the plaintiff, to the great annoyance of the lady’s husband, who is [also] the defendant.
The emotional fulcrum of the situation balanced the wealth of Mrs. Gaul, who was the daughter of Hudson, New York steamboat captain and real estate entrepreneur John Power, against the modest circumstances of Mr. Barnard. George Barnard, born in 1808 in Hudson, New York, was one of four children of shipmaster Timothy Barnard and his wife Mary Paddock Barnard. George’s little sister, also Mary, was Miss Power’s pet among his siblings. Though his parents did not number among Hudson’s wealthiest families, Barnards and Paddocks formed part of the original eighteen Nantucket-based Proprietors who purchased 2500 acres of waterfront land from Dutch landowners beginning in 1783 and platted the city of Hudson on the site of a village theretofore named Claverack Landing The new city grew head over heels, its shipbuilding and whaling industries flourishing until the war of 1812, and its commerce deeply intertwined with that of New York City and other Hudson River ports. Visitors today walk the same streets and pass many dozens of buildings that were extant in George Barnard’s childhood and that of his neighbor, Mary Power.
Rather than follow in his father’s maritime trade, George learned the ornamental painter’s craft, and found employment in New York City in the shop of James Stratton. Ornamental painting of furniture, rooms, signs and other physical objects was a widespread craft in early nineteenth century America as well as in Europe. Barnard probably never rose to the height of his profession. Mary playfully referred to George as a “clouder” in one letter, indicating that his role in architectural painting jobs was confined to the background details as opposed to the depiction of the protagonists and putti that filled the ceilings and walls of many mansions.
Captain John Power, though perhaps not born in Hudson, began piloting Hudson River craft as early as 1804. His father and mother, Thomas and Hannah Power, had four sons. The family lived in Hudson as early as 1795, when Thomas Power acquired a parcel on the waterfront together with “Autry House” (a try house, i.e. a structure used for boiling down whale oil) with “two large potash kettles,” as well as “The Jacking House or Cooper’s Shop” thereon.
John Power owned waterfront property in Hudson with his partners Moncrief Livingston, Peter Ostrander and others. Real estate records show Power and other business associates acquiring land on the river as early as 1806, and in 1823 he succeeded the deceased Judah Paddock as manager of theNew York and Hudson Steamboat Company, whose predecessor had been founded by Captain Paddock in 1818. The firm merged with the Hudson Tow Boat Co. in 1830 and John Power continued as manager until 1836. John Power also owned the first steamboat based in Hudson, the “Bolivar” that was put in service in 1824 or 1825.
Though he is listed in newspaper advertisements in the 1820s as captain (or agent) but not as the owner of various steamboats, John Power undoubtedly became wealthy as the years went by. At his death in 1846, Power owned numerous Hudson parcels along Union and Court Streets. In 1844 he and his third wife even sold a parcel to George Barnard’s parents, #37 Warren Street, as it was then known, for $1400.
Mary H. Power was born in 1809, and lived with her father and her second step-mother, Eunice Paddock Jenkins Power during Mary’s later teenage years. Mary’s birth mother, Mary Hussey Power died at or shortly after the birth of her daughter. Captain John married into the Proprietor Hussey family twice, wedding his sister-in-law, Phebe Hussey, the year after he first became a widower, but poor little Mary Power also lost her aunt and first step-mother when she was 10 or 11 years old, in 1820.
Four years later, Captain John married a third time, to widow Eunice Paddock Jenkins. Eunice was George Barnard’s maternal aunt: Her sister was Mary Paddock Barnard. Perhaps Mary Power’s teenage acquaintance with George Barnard was encouraged by her step-mother Eunice. Intermarriage among the Proprietors’ and other upper middle-class families informed Hudson’s society: Eunice’s first husband had been Proprietor Lemuel Jenkins.
A genealogy table for many of the families heretofore and hereafter mentioned is below. Zoom in on the photo to get a scorecard and tell the players…
Wildly prosperous for most of the first thirty years of its existence, Hudson’s economy suffered from the diminution of ocean-going trade that resulted from the Embargo Act and the subsequent blockades of American ports during the War of 1812. Its status as a port of entry was revoked in 1815. All Hudson-based ships registered thereafter in New York City, and the local federal customhouse and derivative patronage disappeared. The city’s economy slid downhill in the 1820s during the budding romance between Mary Power and George Barnard. This may explain, in part, George’s absence from Hudson during almost all of the courtship. Whaling, after a many year hiatus, only resumed in 1833. Meanwhile, local maritime trade and shipbuilding dominated the economy. The overnight steamboat trip to New York City’s Cortlandt Street dock in the North [Hudson] River routinely lasted fourteen hours in 1832 and much mail was delivered by hand-carried letters aboard such boats, outside of the official U.S. Postal Service channels.
Among the letters carried back and forth between Hudson and lower Manhattan, starting in the summer of 1827, was a stream of tender and light-hearted notes from 18-year old Mary Power in Hudson to George Barnard in New York City, where George had relocated by 1820. Barnard lived with his parents on Broome, Madison and Eldridge Streets when he was not away working in Cincinnati, New Orleans, or elsewhere. The couple’s correspondence can be read in full in the trial transcript available at http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/5832957
Mary Power’s letters are filled with a familiar tone in the literal sense: she refers to her family members as if they were also George’s (which in some cases they were) and vica versa. Until the last moment of their acquaintance, Miss Power continued to offer her affection to George’s siblings, “Please kiss your little sister Mary for me; sometimes I think, can I wait until next summer before I see her?” Coyness fills the pages: “…Please write me some of the wise jokes your New-York folks make” is but one example.
Self-deprecating Briticisms such as describing her plain unchanged self through the course of the courtship (“I am the same two and sixpence”) and ardent invitations to visit in Hudson fill dozens of Mary’s courtly missives. “As the miser hastens to his gloomy cave to count his hoarded treasure, so do I hasten to my pen to write you a few lines,” Mary sighed, in late September of 1827.
Local events such as the burial of Lieutenant William H. Allen, whose grave is marked by a solemn funerary shaft in what was then the northwest corner of the Hudson City Cemetery are recounted as well as the state of the local crops and the tastiness of various local fruits sent to New York for George and his family to enjoy. The rumored rebirth of Hudson’s whaling industry is repeated by Mary in her letter of September 25, 1829. Plans were afoot in New York City to outfit a ship to sail from Hudson, though it took almost four years for them to come to fruition.
Over and over through the courtship Mary complained of being an old maid: “You say you hate to hear old maids talk; then I guess I shall have to stop writing, for this is one kind of talking. Perhaps you mean verbal, for you know I am called an old maid…You have seen enough of me to know I am,” she wrote in August 1828, and again in September 1830, “I am sorry that you are such an inveterate enemy to old maids, for I calculate to be one myself…”
The tone of George’s letters to Mary is much more restrained and far less ardent; only two from the years prior to George planning his fateful trip to New Orleans in late 1832 were published when the case came to trial. It is unclear whether George wrote more frequently than the examples which were introduced into evidence. The closest he came to expressing affection was to call Mary Power his “esteemed friend.” Respect and caring are certainly present, but nothing in these two letters mirrors Miss Power’s ardor.
Wherever wealth existed in ante-bellum America, ornamental painting flourished. Philadelphia, Boston, Charleston, Savannah, Baltimore and New Orleans were centers of the trade. Prominent French furniture makers who emigrated to New York in the 1820s such as Francois Seignoret and Prudent Mallard soon made their way to New Orleans and made their headquarters in a booming city of 55,000 souls.
Francois Seignoret began using 520 Royal Street as his workshop in New Orleans in 1822.
George worked in New Orleans in 1831 and left town for the first time in the fall of that year with no intention of returning. But cholera plagued the northeastern states in the summer of 1832, moving among Boston, Albany, Baltimore, the District of Columbia and New York City. Barnard left New York City for New Orleans in late September. It turned out to be a most ill-advised decision. He wrote in advance to Mary on September 12, 1832 from New York and informed her of his intention of permanently relocating there. Then in the driest and most unromantic manner, he proposed marriage, focusing chiefly on the economies of scale for two living as one, and mentioning his desire to be her protector and husband. Mary Power wrote back four days later and after expressing her surprise at George’s proposal and her compliance with his request that she duly deliberate about all aspects of his proposal,turned him down thoroughly and finally.
The very next day, George wrote back, much more passionately than when he was on the make, expressing bitter disappointment: “I can only blame myself for presumption and conceit,” he cries. “As it was my first sallie to any one, it was my first disappointment of any kind. Although not a very agreeable one, it has taught me that the way to discover the disposition, the feelings of a person, is not always by a long acquaintance – for I confess, I was as ignorant of your ideas when I wrote, as though I had never seen, never conversed, never written to you before- but a truce to these thoughts. I am steeled now. I shall leave this place with less than I expected to. ..”
“Finally” didn’t mean finally for Mary, however. Apparently distraught over having hurt George’s feelings, eleven days later, on September 28, 1832, Mary wrote to George asking if he could find it within himself to rekindle his feelings for her and accept her one hundred eighty degree change of mind. Expressing her willingness to live in New Orleans (though the idea had first seemed dreadful), Mary pled as a penitent: “Could I hear you say that at this late hour you would receive me and allow me to return to you like a prodigal daughter, I should call myself the happiest lady living.”
Barnard’s next letter, written to her on October 27th from aboard a ship docked in New Orleans, is hardly filled with the glee you might expect. Barnard had been miserably unwell since arriving the month before. Yellow fever and Asiatic cholera had moved down south at the onset of autumn; ultimately 8000 of New Orleans’ 55,000 citizens would die that year of the vicious diseases. Barnard had been too weak to work or leave his lodgings, and intended to return to New York as soon as possible. He barely mentioned Mary’s generous acceptance of his original proposal and merely promised to answer fully when he returned to New York.
Shown here are images of the Ursuline Convent in the French Quarter where victims of the yellow fever and cholera plague of 1832 were solaced, The church of St. Jude on Rampart Street, also used as a mortuary for the victims, and a typical oave-ground mausoleum at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 on Rampart Street in which many victims of the plague were interred.
Mary’s next letter to George found him in New York City. There ensued a chain of letters which in her voice are breathless with anticipation and the joy of betrothal. His answers remained queerly staid and formal, warning her in his letter of November 24th not to make a bad decision. George wrote her that day, leading with his chin, and expressed his surprise at her change of heart, adding forebodingly, “But women generally have the credit of being fickle-minded. Perhaps since writing me you have again altered. Perhaps since then you have become acquainted with some more agreeable person, to whom you could give your affections more cheerfully than to me. If so, Mary, sooner than have you harbor one painful thought I will acquit you of all obligations, and advise you as a friend to study your own interest and act as you may think proper. Recollect that a long life of trouble is very hard, and that a few words will often save a person from this.”
Mary did not waver, however, and through the winter, she followed with a string of amorous letters to George, first reveling with him in keeping their engagement secret from their families, thanking him for a Christmas present engagement ring he bestowed upon her with his Christmas eve letter, and signing some of her letters playfully as “Molly Two Shoes” and “Becky”. In one letter she instructed him “while you are about it, just kiss yourself in the glass for me.” Over and over she entreated George to come visit her in Hudson, admonishing him in late March of 1833 to make the trip as the ice had melted as far up as Hudson, and flirting with him energetically: “I am sorry you are so lonesome, but you must brush away the harder. One of these days you shall have Power, and then you will have to brush harder yet.”
George made no plans to travel north, but though Mary had another suitor, a young lawyer named Bramhall who was from Chatham, she seemed absolutely committed to the engagement. All of the sudden though, a letter reached George in New York City dated April 23, 1833 that totally shocked him: “Strange as it may seem to you,” Mary wrote, “yet not more strange than true,- I do earnestly, sincerely and affectionately appeal to you for a total and final release from you…A young man, a citizen of this place, has recently made known to me his attachment for me in the strongest manner.” Mary’s stepmother had taken ill and her new suitor was apparently a man of some potential. Mary’s family had been questioning her about George Barnard’s dubious prospects. Protesting George’s having failed to visit since his return from New Orleans and not having set a wedding date, Mary informed George that she was taking the boldly proffered hand of another man. She volunteered to return the ring he had presented to her and asked that all her letters be returned.
George wrote back on April 25, 1833, steamed to the gills, and instantly turning to a legal posture with phrases like “when I make contracts, I consider them to be inviolable…” Complaining bitterly of having had his feelings trifled with, George reminded Mary of the salvation he imagined in her acceptance while he was recuperating from a near-terminal illness in New Orleans the past autumn. Barnard had been virtually imprisoned in New Orleans. Venturing out into the streets had meant encountering corpses lying about, profuse hemorrhages and black vomit staining their remains, their skin discolored orange. He warned her against marrying another man without a release from him, and then rejected her offer to return the engagement ring and refused to return her letters. “Ladies have the credit of possessing more cunning than men,” George reminded her; his case was made simply: pay him damages for the economic and emotional damage he had suffered by her duplicity, or suffer the consequences if she should marry another.
Mary responded with a final letter to George on May 3, standing fast in her decision and offering the engagement ring back once more as a present to George’s little sister Mary, and again asking for her letters to be returned. Ten days later Mary wrote to George’s mother, addressing her as Aunt, and pleading with her to advise her son to be sensible. “I confess penitence and sorrow for sin,” she wrote, “and I ask forgiveness of all sides and for an affectionate acquittal from George. What more can I do? I do not wish references made or reflections cast… and I beg of George a final release. Oh ! beg of him to lean to the side of charity and consider the situation of a lady as differing from that of gentleman.”
The second and third decades of the nineteenth century saw sea changes in the relations among young single men and women in northeastern urban America. As agriculture became less profitable and manufacturing and service industries grew exponentially, tens of thousands of young men and women flocked from rural areas to the cities, seeking employment, in the case of the men, in counting houses, as clerks in stores, as mechanics, tradesmen and countless other professions. The young women more typically worked as domestics and in factories and workhouses where the positions did not require brute force. In New York City, prior to 1820, a proprietor’s business premises frequently occupied the same structure as his residence or one adjacent thereto. His single male employees who hailed from elsewhere boarded in his home and were subject to some degree of moral supervision. Likewise, female domestics from elsewhere boarded with their employers.
The relentless growth of New York’s economy change much of this. Proprietors moved their residences uptown, separating them from their workhouses and stores. Streets around Astor Place filled with ornate townhouses by 1824 [cite Bricks and Brownstones and other volumes] and the young single male apprentices moved to boardinghouses. Freed from their employers serving in loco parentis, thousands of young men (whether from outlying districts or born and bred New Yorkers), formed what was known as a “Sporting Gentlemen’s Society,” in which horse-racing, gambling drinking and whoring formed the chief activities.
Single female employees continued, in most cases, to reside with their employers if they were domestics, but the factory workers moved to separate lodgings also. Near-starvation wages prevailed in the type-rubbing rooms, the umbrella makers’ shops and similar facilities where the young women tried to eke out a living, but part- and full-time prostitution supported tens of thousands of women.
Simultaneously with this explosion of economic growth In the 1820s and 1830s in northeastern urban America, signiﬁcant changes occurred in the nature of how and why many Americans sought sexual relationships and marriage opportunities. Always important to the formation of marital bonds, wealth took on new meaning and complex characteristics as prospective partners dealt with a novel problem. Social mobility and rapid demographic change frequently rendered useless the traditional markers of land ownership and established connections that had long guided such decision-making. Marriageable individuals now frequently met as total strangers in urban environments, courting without the beneﬁts of long-standing mutual acquaintances. In the 1830s and beyond, men and women of very modest backgrounds could, as never before, realistically strive to join the rapidly growing upper middle class in Eastern seaboard cities, both via personal industry and fortuitous commercial events (and, in the case, primarily, of women, via well-planned sexual adventure). Marriageable individuals in unprecedented numbers came to see each other as opportunities for instant riches, much like mining claims.
The notion of female “independence” grew in many venues, albeit a false one based on sexual misconduct. Powerful religious forces continued to dominate America, and the “Cult of True Womanhood” with its syrupy images of crinoline, piety, submission and servile domesticity became the war-cry of the chivalrous middle-class male-dominated establishment as the philosophical antidote to so much of what one saw day after day in broad daylight parading down Broadway. Into this simmering stew of pre-feminist sexual politics, the case of George Barnard and Mary Power Gaul was added, stirring the pot wildly during the summer of 1833.
Using the letters as the evidence of contract, suit for $10,000 damages was instituted by Barnard in early July and decided forthwith. An attorney named Jordan from Hudson represented George Barnard, while the defendants were represented by Gaul and Bushnell of Hudson, assisted by Henry R. Storrs of New York. The Judge was Ogden Edwards, a circuit judge of the Supreme Court of NY and the case heard July 8,9 and 10 in City Hall. After two days of testimony, counsel for the plaintiff and defendants were allowed to make lengthy summations, with Mr. Jordan focusing on Mary Power’s alleged perfidy, and the defense counsel excusing her behavior on account of George Barnard’s being such a cold fish. Judge Edwards delivered an equally drawn out charge to the jurors, heavily favorable to the defendants, and then pointing out that if the jury should find the defendants liable, “that there is a wide difference between the case of a man and a woman. When a woman is discarded, it gives the world occasion to think she is not what she ought to be, and prevents her forever from after making a beneficial contract of matrimony. Such is the helplessness of her situation, that her prospects are generally blighted for life, and a jury will estimate the damage accordingly. Not so with a man, if rejected in one marriage engagement he can form another. It is not therefore of that all absorbing interest to a man that it is to a woman.” The verdict: $1000 for Mary of the $10,000 demanded. The verdict was unanimous, with one juror even declaring that he was in favor of awarding the plaintiff the entire sum demanded. The New York Transcript reported the scene in the courtroom: “The verdict was received with evident marks of satisfaction by an immense crowd of persons who had assembled in the Court; and who appeared desirous of congratulating the plaintiff and his counsel for a victory gained over the strong sensations that must have been created in the minds of the Jury against their cause, not only by the forcible addresses of the learned gentlemen opposed to them by also by the extraordinary and unequivocally adverse charge of the judge.” Justice Edwards had delivered a charge to the jury basically instructing them to exculpate Mary Power Gaul, but his directions were ignored.
The editions of the Herald of July 10 and 11 continued with a reprinting of some of the love letters as well as closing arguments of counsel for both sides, with Bennett interspersing the remarks of counsel and the various defenses of both parties to the claims of injustice with his acerbic observations of the hypocrisy of all the litigants. When the verdict in favor of George Barnard for $1000 was reported in the July 13 edition, the editor let loose with a stream of vituperation about the shoddy law thereby created, and then excoriated the opportunistic and un-chivalrous Mr. Barnard:
“According honesty, integrity, and a due share of intelligence to the jury, [one which included future New York Mayor Daniel Tiemann], the decision in this case is beyond a doubt one of the strangest hallucinations on the subject that ever yet has taken place in this or any other country. If the principle involved in this decision is permitted to become the law of the land – and juries now-a-days enact two thirds of these laws – there is an end to all social intercourse between the sexes, all friendly correspondence, all those generous sentiments which should embellish, control and regulate social life.” Bennett opined that breach of promise cases, brought by members of either sex are “the most preposterous and absurd interpolations upon law brought that ever the commercial genius of England created.” The editor disavowed any binding legal effect to betrothals, stating that the contract of marriage could only be created by “runaway matches,” though they were “annoying to fathers and brothers” or by religious solemnization.
Asserting that many young men would have paid Mary Power considerable sums just to receive such sweet and well-written letters, with no strings attached, and pointing out that marriage could be annulled in several states for the payment of sums far less than that awarded, much less, demanded by Barnard from her, Bennett roasted the plaintiff:
“There are many passages in Mary Powers’ letters that in passion and sentiment will compare with those of Eloisa to Abeillard – in grace and beauty (making due allowance for the difference of language) with some of those of DeSevigne’s – and in wit and description with those of Lady Mary Wortly Montague. If Barnard had been a man of taste and accomplishment, not a mere a painter of window blinds; if he had a spark of genius for the higher qualities of the soul, he would have treasured up such an intellectual, lovely, graceful correspondent, like the very apple of his eye. Instead of that, he writes cold, formal, dull, heartless letters, until he finds that Mary has discovered his insipidity and inanity, and then malignity and revenge take possession of his heart and nerves…”
In a most serendipitous fashion, the author uncovered an example of the sort of courtship commended by Bennett to his male readers. At the New-York Historical Society, I literally stumbled across the letter dated March 11, 1826, shown below, from ornamental painter Richard H. Staats of Schodack, NY (near Hudson) and New York City, to his acquaintance, Miss Louisa Kimmel. The manner in which Staats pays close and genteel attention to the process and well as the content of being a suitor stands in sharp contrast to George Barnard’s oafish reticence. Staats’ diary from the years immediately thereafter, behind which I found this letter, provides a plethora of detail about his career in New York City as an ornamental painter during the same years as his compatriot Mr. Barnard resided and worked there !
Bennett went on to demand that a way be found to overturn the verdict and erase the legal precedent thereby established, claiming that the election of President Van Buren and the ongoing rule of the “Albany Regency” paled in comparative importance. “If such is the law, let us change it at once. How? By the only legitimate mode of change known in the republic. Let all the young men of the city, and all the married men who have marriageable daughters, immediately meet in Masonic Hall or in Tammany Hall, and discuss, debate, and denounce this decision as the beginning of a system that will tend to the most demoralizing consequence upon all future intercourse between the virtuous, lovely, young and talented amongst the sexes. Let them all meet there. If Tammany Hall be prefered [sic] as the head quarters, let us kick the dirty Infidels out of doors and take possession of the wigwam at once. Mr. Van Buren is in town, [strangely enough, one of the twelve jurors was named Martin J. Van Beuren] He is a widower, and has an interest in preserving the free intercourse between the sexes, without distinction of party or color. He will be our chairman, without a doubt. He is an eminent lady’s man….” After singing the praises of the President further, Bennett demanded remedial legislative action to prevent the maintenance of a precedent that he claimed would formalize the “evils of a mercenary, suspicious, hide-and-seek intercourse between the sexes.”
“We must have a change,” Bennett screamed. “The Tarquins must be driven from Rome. The lovely Lucretia lies bleeding before us – Collatinus is in distress – and Brutus is in the City Hotel receiving the visits of the faithful but is always ready to head a movement that promises some advantage to himself, while it enhances the improvement of society at large.”
July 14th’s issue of the Herald went even further, suggesting that Barnard sold Mary Power’s letters to various newspapers for publication before trial. Bennett questioned why Barnard’s counsel did not bring the action in the plaintiff’s and defendants’ hometown, asserting that the cause would have failed there by virtue of local familiarity with Barnard’s transparently mercenary motives. Apparently a new industry had recently sprung up: Bennett adverted to several other breach of promise cases brought in Poughkeepsie, Troy, and a third unnamed locality, chiefly for the benefit of the lawyers involved. An overall demoralization of society was claimed to be underway as a result thereof.
After reviewing even more of the correspondence, Bennett suddenly announced in the fourth column on page 2 of the July 14th edition that society had been saved: In unusual double-spaced type, in the middle of his other coverage of the case, readers were informed that justice and common sense had, for once, prevailed in tandem. Apparently the news came in after most of the day’s issue was already been composed. One hears Bennett frothing at the mouth:
“GLORIOUS ! IMPORTANT !! ADMIRABLE !!! We are informed that Judge Edwards of the Circuit Court has issued a rule staying all further proceedings in the Breach of Promise Case, and setting aside the verdict as contrary to law – and we add contrary to common sense, too.
“ For this noble and independent act, Judge Edwards deserves immortal honor. We hail it as the beginning of a new light about to enlighten the world – The sun of chivalry is not set. Now that the whole subject is thrown open we shall immediately throw off our outer garments – roll up our sleeves – go to work, even as hot as the weather is, and demolish every atom that yet remains of the case of G.G. Barnard – and if his ambulatory counsel, Mr. Jordan, of Hudson, should continue to be his bottle holder, we shall demolish him also. They may expect no mercy at our hands. We are encouraged by the smiles of all the lovely fair ones of New York. We’ll show these fellows what they are. So look out Mr. Jordan and your protégé.”
In the July 15 edition, Bennett printed even more of the correspondence with pointed lessons offered to young ladies of how to interpret the modest efforts of suitors such as Mr. Barnard. Pointing out the differences between the affairs of Petrarch and Laura, of Sapho and Phaon, Hero and Leander, as well as “Abeillard and Elvira.” Bennett cautioned his charges to take their counsel, promising to resume comment on the case in a few days. That he did by commencing republication of the correspondence in toto on page one of the July 20 edition, and threatening to continue it “until the public shall have possessed themselves of he whole merits of the case.” Bennett noted that Judge Edwards’ stay had left the case open to a retrial, a result he would detest. Apparently the case remained dormant, though, and Bennett saw no need to carry through with his promise. The Herald is devoid of further notice about the case through at least August 12, 1835.
Mary Power Gaul and her husband prospered for decades after their victory in court. At the time of the lawsuit, John Gaul was a member of the firm Plum[b], Crandall & Co., wholesale dry goods merchants in downtown New York City with retail stores in Hudson, Hartford and New Haven. The firm’s headquarters was at 3 Platt Street in lower Manhattan, and a John J Gaul is even listed in NYC directories at that address in 1837 and 1838. The firm ran into financial problems by 1842, but John stayed in the business, maintaining a retail store in Hudson until at least 1847. John J. Gaul is listed as chief clerk of the Hudson and Berkshire Railroad in the 1862-3 Hudson Directory, with his brother in law George Power identified as Superintendent and President of the line.
John and Mary Gaul had three children: William D., Catherine and Mary P. Gaul are listed in various census records and commemorated on the family tombstone in the old Hudson City Cemetery. John and Mary Gaul bought and sold dozens of Hudson properties between 1836 and 1868. They probably moved to Brooklyn in about 1865, buying property on Myrtle Avenue and Ryerson Street near the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1865 from Charles and Charlotte Bame, members of an old Hudson family. John and Mary lost title in a sheriff’s sale in 1869 to satisfy a judgment creditor against John Gaul and Hudsonian Silas W. Tobey. John’s relative David Gaul is listed in Brooklyn directories as early as 1863 living at 6 Morton Street while engaging in a drygoods business in lower Manhattan. Despite owning the Ryerson Street property, John and Mary H. Gaul probably lived with David Gaul on Morton Street from 1866 through 1869, and then moved a few doors down. John Gaul left Mary Power a widow in 1877, and she moved back to Hudson within three years: She is listed in the 1880 and 1900 Federal censuses as living with her brother George H. Power and various of her children and other relatives.
The Hudson Republican of Thursday January 9, 1902 reported her death the previous day at her brother George’s home from which she was buried the following Sunday afternoon.
Given Judge Edwards stay of the case, George Barnard probably never collected his $1000 judgment, and within twenty months after the trial, the Panic of 1837 broke out. Though the crisis was nationwide, it hit New York City first and hard as a result of the financial sector being so important to the local economy. The market for luxury goods and services such as ornamental painting undoubtedly suffered. George Barnard headed south again, making another poor and this time fatal choice: Natchez, Mississippi.
Natchez’s plantation-based river-trading economy had boomed in recent times. Its local newspapers contain several advertisements for ornamental painting services. [cite MFT] Though it is unclear exactly when Barnard came to Natchez, another visitor’s arrival is well-documented. Yellow Fever haunted Barnard’s footsteps, having already arrived upriver in Vicksburg and south in New Orleans. Barnard had been sick in New Orleans in the fall of 1832, but not from yellow fever (which if survived creates immunity to further contraction). His departure date from Natchez is certain: October 12, 1837 marked the end of the road for George Barnard when he died in Natchez of yellow fever. His was probably one of the several unidentified corpses in the Sexton’s Report published in the Mississippi Free Trader in the week after; His body was probably placed in an unmarked grave, as there is no record of him in the available extant contemporary Natchez cemetery records, nor is he buried next to his parents in the Hudson cemetery. Timothy and Mary Barnard outlived their son George by many years, and the Barnard family plot also contains one grave sadder than the rest: little Mary Barnard died at age eleven. Her stone lies tilted to the ground.
Here are photos of the gravestones and plots of may actors in this sad tale, all from the old Hudson City Cemetery in Hudson, NY:
Lemuel Jenkins was an original Hudson Proprietor, who married and then left as a widow Eunice Paddock Jenkins [Power}, sister of Mary Paddock Barnard and step-mother of Mary H. Power Gaul
Judah Paddock was a Hudson Proprietor and steamboat captain.
Thomas and Hannah Power were Captain John Power’s parents, and Mary Power Gaul’s paternal grandparents
The family plot of Captain John Power. The vacant space may well be the grave of his first wife, Mary Hussey Power.
John Power’s second wife, Phebe Hussey Power
Timothy Barnard, father of George G. Barnard
Mary Paddock Barnard, mother of George G. Barnard
Silas W. Tobey was John Gaul’s business partner and suffered a civil judgement with him that resulted in Gaul’s losing his Ryerson Street property in Brooklyn, NY in 1869-70 by foreclosure.
fn1: New York Herald, May 6, 1835, p.2 col. 1
fn2: ibid. June 16, 1835 p. 2 col. 1; see also Matthew Goodman, The Sun and The Moon (New York, Basic Books: 2008), p. 42
fn3: New York Herald, July 9, 1835, p.2 col. 2
Brooklyn City Directory (Brooklyn, [various editions: Lain and Healy; Spooner, Uppington]: 1865-1902
Patricia Cline Cohen, The Murder of Helen Jewett (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.: 1998
James L. Crouthamel, Bennett’s New York Herald and the Rise of the Popular Press (Syracuse, NY, Syracuse University Press: 1989)
Captain Franklin Ellis, History of Columbia County (Philadelphia, Evarts and Ensign: 1878)
Benjamin P. Feldman, Butchery on Bond Street – Sexual Politics & The Burdell-Cunningham Case in Ante-bellum New York (New York, New York Wanderer Press and The Green-Wood Historic Fund, 2007)
Timothy J. Gilfoyle, City of Eros – New York City, Prostitution and the Commercialization of Sex 1790-1920 (New York, W.W. Norton: 1992)
Matthew Goodman, The Sun and The Moon (New York, Basic Books: 2008)
Karen Halttunen, Conﬁdence Men and Painted Women – A Study of Middle Class Culture in America 1830-1870 (New Haven, Yale University Press: 1982)
Longworth’s American Almanac, New-York Register and City Directory (New York: 1820 through 1835 and 1837-8 editions)
J.H. Plant, The Hudson Directory for 1862-3 (Hudson, NY: 1863)
Margaret B. Schram, Hudson’s Merchants and Whalers – The Rise and Fall of a River Port 1783-1850 (Hensonville, NY, Black Dome Press: 2004)
Joseph Alfred Scoville, Old Merchants of New York City (New York, Carleton: 1865)
Christine Stansell, City of Women – Sex and Class in New York 1789-1860 (Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press: 1987)
Albany Evening Journal, 12-15 July 1835
Hudson Republican, January 9-10, 1902
New-York Commercial Advertiser, 1 July 1835 – 31 July 1835
New York Herald, 6 May 1835 – 12 August 1835
New-York Transcript, 1 July-31 July 1835
Mississippi Free Trader (Natchez) 30 March 1837 and October 1837 (all issues)
Poughkeepsie Eagle, 8-22 July 1835
Poughkeepsie Journal 15-22 July 1835
The Sun (New York, NY), 1 July-30 July 1835
Troy Daily Whig, 11-13 July 1835
A Full Report of the Highly Interesting Breach of Promise Case. – George G. Barnard vs. John J. Gaul and Mary H., His Wife, New York, New-York Transcipt: 1835
Diary of Richard H. Staats, 25 August 1832, New-York Historical Society Manuscript Collections, Staats-Misc