Sometimes, while researching family history, we come across news items or documents which not only reveal something about our ancestors, but also about the times and places in which they lived. Even though one of the subjects of this story is only distantly related to us, we thought our cousins or other historians might find it interesting. The following article really did appear on page 2 of the Bloomington Courier's 30 Aug 1877 issue!
A Widow vs. a Widower in a Breach of Promise Suit
The subject of this article is a very delicate one but, as the faithful chronicler of news and local events the Courier claims to be, we have to lay before our readers this week the particulars of an affair of social life in which two well known citizens act the leading roles. It is simply another one of the many cases wherein Cupid's dart has made a wound and then left it bleeding with no balm to heal it. It is no new story to most of our readers, although the matter has not before been mentioned in the local press. To call it by its common name, it is a "breach of promise case," the papers pertaining to which have been properly filed and, consequently, a public exposition of the whole affair is inevitable.
The parties to the suit are, first MISS JENNIE McPHETRIDGE, a well known milliner who keeps a neat and well patronized little shop on College Avenue in the rear of the First National Bank. The lady about to appear before the seat of justice and recite the plain story of her wrongs is what the people call a "grass-widow" and is, apparently, about 35 years of age. During the war she married J. G. McPhetridge who afterward went into the grocery business on the very spot where the Courier office now stands. A son was born to them, and they seemed to live a happy life until one day, 8 or 10 years ago, the husband said that he was going away to buy goods. He went and that was the last that has ever been seen or heard of him from that day to this, from an authentic source. Our readers will remember that during last winter the Courier published an article regarding information received about a man who for many years had been missing. The article referred to John McPhetridge and was based on information received by his wife from parties who claimed to know that his body was buried not far distant from this city. Whether the widow was impressed enough with the reliability of this information to follow it up we know not but suppose that not sufficient importance to cause an investigation was attached to it. Milton McPhetridge by name is about 19 years of age and is still living with his mother but it seems is not much of a comfort to her in her adversities.
HENRY H. VOSS, a gentleman who has lived here all his life and whose standing in the community is without a blemish. He is a widower, his wife having died about two years after their marriage, leaving one child which, however, survived its mother but a few weeks. He is a member in good standing of the M. E. church, is a plasterer by trade, and by honest industry has accumulated a few thousand dollars for a "rainy day." We learn by the way of rumor, that since this suit was threatened the property has been disposed of, but do not know it to be a fact.
How it all came about. Let us say at the start that we gathered the facts on which this story is based from what we deem reliable sources. We might fill column after column with the wild stories afloat, but we give that which we deem to be as near the truth as it can be obtained without coming direct from the parties themselves.
Less than three years ago Mr. Voss began his visits to the widow. It is said that he was first introduced by those who were in the habit of frequenting the house and that the oyster suppers, which seemed to be the attraction at first, soon proved to be a second consideration. For two long years, so the story goes, Henry visited the widow regularly two or three time a week. He would call late for the reason, as he said, that customers frequenting the shop were apt to disturb tete-a-tetes under circumstances like this. Suddenly, very suddenly, Henry's visits ceased. What could the matter be was a conundrum that the widow had to give up, though she had her suspicions. This calling late each evening on account of customers visiting the shop. Could there have been a motive? Was there a rival to be seen in the early part of the evening? Ah! jealous heart. But then perhaps it was such jealousy as only emanates from true love.
Time fled, but it seemed like ages to the widow, and still Henry did not come. Finally she was taken down sick and, although she did not herself attribute Henry's conduct as the cause, yet her friends softly whispered: "A broken heart." Henry wrote but few letters, but she wrote many.
We do not know that it is alleged that Henry said in so many words, "Will you be my wife?" yet no doubt there was a mutual understanding to that effect. She will testify that he often referred to the time "when we are married," and the day was only delayed on account of her son, for whom they desired to get a good place out in the world where he could do for himself. The few letters that he had written were sent back to him, at his request, after his estrangement. She met him at the post office one day and asked him for her letters. How shocked she was when he heard the reply: "Wal Hight has got them." This was after he suspicioned that a suit would be brought.
What could Wal Hight want with the letters? The answer was plain. He is a "detective" and is employed to fish for evidence for the defense. If the widow's mind had not been made up before, it was then. Attorneys were consulted, and a suit for breach of promise at once decided upon.
The law requires that before suit can be brought a formal demand of marriage must be made in writing. A demand was accordingly drawn up and placed in the post office last May in time for the suit to be brought at the term of circuit court beginning that month. But Henry heard that such a demand was coming and, after giving orders at the post office that his mail should not be delivered to any of the family but himself, he went to the country and, for a month or more, failed to call for any of his mail matter.
The consequence was the suit could not be brought at the coming term of court, besides, as the letter had not been called for in 30 days, it was sent to the dead letter office. From there it was returned to the writer and, on Thursday last, John Ward, brother of Mrs. McPhetridge, served the very same letter in person.
Mr. Voss refused to receive the letter after the contents had been made known to him by the bearer, but the fact that he had been tendered the demand was sufficient for all legal purposes, and the complaint was at once filed with the Clerk of the Court.
The Letter of Demand
Letters of this kind are generally of the same form. In this case let us say that it recited the events of the two years of courtship. How he had won her heart and repeatedly spoken of their marriage. How he always treated her as a gentleman and up to... [there seems to be a line of words missing] her character unblemished and reputation spotless. That every action of his during his visits went to show that he could have no other motive than marriage and how his leaving her had caused talk. How he gave her letters into the hands of one who is an enemy to her, for the purpose of defaming her character. How dearly she loved him and what a wreck he had made of her life by his desertion. Then by way of demand: Marry me and all will be forgotten and forgiven.
We have not heard what defense will be made to the widow's allegations. Over two years ago she obtained a divorce from her husband by publication. The law says that when divorces are so obtained, the party cannot marry again for two years. The question then arises can a marriage contract be legally made before these two years expire. This is only a technicality on which we do not suppose the defense will depend but that a square denial of any contract of marriage will be made. At any rate, the whole thing will come out if the case is ever tried, and it is not likely to be this term of court. When it does begin it will certainly be favored with very large audiences, and gossip will have sweet morsels to roll under her tongue for months to come.
Our story, as it will be seen, leans toward the plaintiff's side of the case. This is so because we have no information but rumors from the other side. There are always two sides to a case though, and public opinion should not be too hasty to condemn either of the parties but rather await the verdict until the evidence is before the court. In the meantime, if we can develop any facts regarding the defense, we will lay them before our readers.
The following eminent array of legal talent has been retained by the parties to this suit: for the plaintiff, Buskirk & Duncan, C. F. McNutt and James H. Rogers of this city, and Friedley & Putnam of Bedford. For the defense, Louden & Miers of this city and Judge Wilson of Bedford.
We're grateful to fellow Monroe County researcherr, Randi Richardson, for transcribing and posting this lengthy article. We look forward to reading further chapters in this story and hope that Randi or other researchers will post them if they exist in the Courier's microfilm files.
According to my grandparents, Henry H. Voss was a son of Emery and Rachel (Pitts) Voss. Like his father, Henry was a plasterer. Henry is listed with his parents in the 1850 Census as 9 years old at that time. The Monroe County Marriage Index, book 5 page 34, lists a 31 Dec 1867 marriage between Henry H. Voss and Martha E. Hays. There is an entry in the Monroe County Historical Society's obituary file reading as follows:
VOSS, Mattie E.
Died on Monday morning, Aug. 8, 1870. The wife of Henry H. Voss.
Bloomington Progress, Aug. 10, 1870.
The Bloomington Telephone for 17 Feb 1883 reports an interesting exploit of Henry's on its front page:
Josh Howe and Henry Voss have just finished building a boat, which they intend to hunt ducks the first of March, when they intend going over to White river for that purpose. If the rains keep on and rivers rising, Bloomington may be submerged at any time by the waters from Bean, and this boat would become a kind of a Noah's ark to the terrified inhabitants.
Book 7, page 255, of the Marriage Index lists a 3 Feb 1885 marriage between Henry H. Voss and Sarah J. Clark. Page 387 of the History of Lawrence and Monroe Counties, Indiana, Indianapolis, Ind., B.F. Bowen & Co., 1914, lists H. H. Voss as one of the first group of five city councilmen elected when Bloomington was reincorporated in 1876. Henry was the executor of his father's estate in 1888. To see a portrait of the elegant "H. H. Voss", please visit my great-grandmother's photo album.
Henry's second marriage is mentioned in the following item on page 3 of the 11 Feb 1885 edition of the Bloomington Republican Progress:
Henry Voss, the well-known plasterer, was married last week to Miss Sarah Clark of this place.
Henry and his second wife Sarah had two children:
Henry, Sarah and the two girls were enumerated in Bloomington at 626 N. Morton Street in the 1900 census. The following item from page 4 of the 12 Dec 1897 Bloomington World was a letter which little Henrietta entered in a "letters to Santa Claus" contest:
Dec. 9, 1897.Dear Santa Claus:
As I am one of your little girls and I am 10 years old I thought I would write and tell you what I want for Christmas, as it is near at hand. I would like to have a doll, some games, story books, nuts and candy. But first of all take the little poor children what they want. You need not try to come down the chimney because I am afraid it would be to small and there might be a fire in the stove and that would burn you up and that would be dreadful so don't come that way. I will leave the front door unlocked and you come in their. I will hang my stockings on a chair by a stove.
Your Loving Child,N. Morton St. 626.
The following item appeared on page 4 of the Bloomington Telephone, 27 Dec 1907:
Miss Henrietta Voss, one of Bloomington's successful teachers in the Indianapolis schools, is home for the holidays. Her mother, Mrs. Henry Voss, returned with her after a brief visit.
Henry, along with Sarah and Mary, were listed at 626 N. Morton once again in the 1910 census. The Indiana Death Records available at RootsWeb.com list Henry H. Voss' death as occurring 16 Nov 1913 in Monroe county at age 72.
This page was last updated 16 Mar 2006.