Conspiracy theories abound, it seems, even in the 1860s.
A new collection arrived last week, and the most fascinating documents in it were a transcript of a state Supreme Court case against Austin F. Williams who was accused of adultery, and his rebuttal. Both date from 1864. The transcript is hard to decipher, but includes testimony from Alfred Dorman, Laura Peck, Emily Dorman and Charles Peck. They all attested to seeing Williams walk up to a certain piece of land with a shawl over his arm. Some saw him spread hay in a clearing amid some trees. No one actually saw “the act” but testified to such things as hearing rustling, seeing a leg move up and down, and watching Williams button up his pantaloons implying something illicit had occurred. The jury deliberated for ten minutes and returned a verdict of not guilty.
Williams’ rebuttal, entitled “Popery in the Congl Church” indicates that this was the second attempt at ruining his reputation in Farmington. According to Williams, he had not attended his own church in Farmington for four Sunday’s in a row in order to hear another preacher (one Farmington did not call to fill the junior pastor’s position but whom Williams preferred) in a neighboring town. Evidently Williams was hauled before the Farmington Society’s discipline committee for trial. He was accused of schism with a charge of slander against the junior pastor added for good measure. He was found guilty and threatened with excommunication. Williams appealed to the Consociation, which overturned the church’s decision. That was when the adultery charges appeared.
What did Williams do to make people in Farmington despise him so much they tried to excommunicate him? All I could think of while reading the transcript and rebuttal was, how like the Salem witch trials. Was this more a social conflict than a religious one? Certainly worthy of far more research.