Cane Ridge Background - Richard Gooch - Clergy Dangerous to Women

Of the vagabond preachers, Gooch wrote: I could relate anecdotes of their camp-meetings would make the ears of decency tingle and the cheek of modesty burn with shame enacted, not only under the eye of their spiritual teachers, as they call their vagabond pastors, but in which these same pastors were the principal actors.

Richard Gooch

NEW YORK CITY. 1834. Christian Reform Societies; The Danger Presented to Women in the Person of the Clergy; the trial of Reverend E.K. Avery for Adultery and Murder.

But all religious matters in America, like everything else, are conducted upon a System without a parallel in the history of any well-regulated community, as the foregoing facts and the following truths will show. The Sun American paper of May, 1834, observes,

"This is the season of the anniversaries of religious & charitable institutions. They are numerously attended, and their reports speak favorably of their increasing strength and usefulness. Having for the most part, the welfare and happiness of man as their grand object and aim, we wish them all success in their efforts.

There are, however, one or two associations among them, which, whatever may be the purity or zeal of their supporters, are calculated to produce the most serious evils. Among them, is the Society for the promotion of the Seventh Commandment-or in other words, the Society to prevent lewdness. There are certain subjects which the common consent of all civilized societies has marked as too indelicate, gross, and distasting in their character, ever to be brought- except in extraordinary cases, and where the moral sense of the community has been severely shocked-before the public eye.

Of such a character must of necessity be all details connected with the proceedings of this Society. Its supporters defy all common sense of propriety, all received notions of decency,

and do not hesitate in public assemblages, where ladies form a great part of the audience, to give the most disgusting accounts of low debauchery and sensual indulgence, such as can hardly be communicated to the delicate mind of a woman without polluting it.

This society probably owes its existence to that record of the stews, McDowall's Journal, which has already been presented by the grand jury as a dangerous and immoral publication.

In all charity, and without seeking to inquire into the motives of men to profess to be guided by a desire to promote public purity, and public morals, we must say that this association, unless opposed by the same general spirit which demanded that a public example should be made of McDowall's Journal, will exert a most pernicious influence upon the morals of this community. Every friend of decency & morality should frown upon and discountenance it.

The same authority stated in the previous month of April, that "a religious sect had sprung up in the county of Surry, one of whose tenets is to salute each other at a holy meeting with a holy kiss.

One of the female devotees, a young lady of a thousand charms, happened to encounter a young gentleman of whom she was enamoured, and gave him a more cordial & loving salute than was quite becoming.

The next day she received a message from the high priest of the sect, saying she had been excommunicated for 'kissing with an appetite.'

I could relate anecdotes of their camp-meetings would make the ears of decency tingle and the cheek of modesty burn with shame enacted, not only under the eye of their spiritual teachers, as they call their vagabond pastors, but in which these same pastors were the principal actors.

I shall not, however, dwell upon them. Those who would be better versed in the history of an American camp-meeting, I must refer to the writings of Mrs. Trollope, and to the more recent publication of Mr. Ferrall. I have never read the latter, but I am told he has fully entered into the subject.

It is a fact that the females of all classes of fanatics in America are under a complete state of subjection to their spiritual pastors, and that they alone ought to be looked upon as their hearers & their supporters.

One would suppose from appearances that the American women were all fanatics, & the men all atheists-Indeed, I believe it to be near the truth.

I have been in many of their most crowded congregations, and amongst several thousands never saw above a hundred men present at the same time; in fact the disproportion of the sexes never fails to create surprise in strangers.

It is to the women all their appeals are addressed, it is upon them all the baser purposes of fanatical preachers are made to operate.

Let us then inquire who this great class of preachers are, and we may thus draw some conclusion as to the value of their influence upon female society in America. I have elsewhere recorded the fact, that several abandoned characters who emigrated from England leaving wives & families destitute, became popular preachers after reaching America, settled as such & married American women with property, and on their wives & families arriving in the United States & claiming their protection,

these same pious preachers of the word of God declared their wives & families to be impostors, in which they have in most instances, nay in all that I am acquainted with, been countenanced & supported by their American congregations.

One man, now a popular preacher no great distance from New York, emigrated from a city in Norfolk, where he was a dyer & scourer, by trade, and little better than a confirmed sot-now he is the Rev'd Mr--, in America. I know a lady who lately emigrated from England, that went with some American acquaintances to hear a popular preacher at Brooklyn, near New York, which has been recently made a city.

The party were persons of influence, and after the service concluded, the new settler was taken to be introduced to the Rev'd favourite. His name was no sooner uttered, than she recollected that such a person had fled from England with a large sum of money belonging to a society for the Conversion of the Jews.

She no sooner looked him in the face than she recognized the renegade Jew, and she confessed to me that the blush of shame mantled in her face as she put out her hand to shake that of a known thief.

After she retired with her American friends, she named the fact to them. But they did not profess to be at all surprised or ignorant of the matter, and exclaimed-"Ah! but he is a fine preacher!"

This is only one out of many I could relate. But there is a more recent case before the American public, the remarkable one of a preacher being retained in his office of pastor, an acknowledged Seducer & adulterer, a convicted liar, and a darkly acquitted murderer! This man is the Rev'd E.K. Avery, the father of a family, who was & is still a Methodist preacher of note in the vicinity of Boston. He had for one of his congregation a poor factory girl of the name of Sarah Maria Cornell, represented as interesting & intelligent.

For some indiscretion, it is said, she had come under the bann of this fanatical Moloch- designedly, there is too much reason to fear, to make her a sacrifice to his baser passions, & this he accomplished during one of their infamous Camp-meetings, about the middle of 1832.

She became enceinte, in consequence. Her health obliging her to seek advice, she first learnt her situation from Doctor Wilbur, a member of the Society of Friends, in the month of October, of the above year, and to whom, after a promise of secrecy, she declared the father of her offspring to be the Rev'd E.K. Avery. It was with great astonishment the Doctor heard her, as he supposed the Rev'd delinquent a man of character, and after several interviews with this physician, at every one of which,

it is affirmed "she appeared to be deeply affected, with a sense of her conduct, and always shed tears," she persisted "in naming Avery as the author of her difficulty."

Upon the Doctor's expressing his incredulity, his surprise and horror, at the bare imputation of such an offence on a minister of the gospel, his penetrating eye, and searching inquiries it is said, lest he should be imposed upon, seemed to produce no other emotion in her than those of heartfelt anguish, and the additional information that-Avery had advised her to make use of the oil of Tansy, in doses of 30 drops, with a view to destroy her offspring, or rather to kill the poor girl herself,

and remove as he thought all the living evidence of his guilt, as 10 drops, the doctor informed her, were sufficient to lay her dead at his feet She further confirmed the truth of what she had stated of Avery by shewing the Doctor a letter she had rec'd from him. Upon this Doctor Wilbur insisted she should demand an interview with Avery and negotiate with him for a sum sufficient to enable her to retire from the labour of the factory, & support her comfortably till she should be again able to support herself-proposing a sum larger than she thought her seducer could afford, upon which she generously refused to demand it, alledging that she knew Avery was poor, and that she would do nothing to distress him & his family. She finally consented to ask for a smaller sum and to request an interview.

She shortly afterwards called on Dr. Wilbur & shewed him a letter she had received from her seducer, appointing to see her in a secluded & very solitary spot, at night, near the Fall River, in which neighbourhood the Doctor lived. This struck the Doctor as remarkable, & he begged of her not to go alone. This advice was not attended to. The scene of the meeting was so near the Doctor's residence, that when he arose in the morning he was surprised at seeing people hurrying by in evident anxiety and on inquiry was told that a young woman had hung herself. He put on his hat & hastened to the spot to which the people were crowding, when the 1st object that met his view was the poor girl in whose welfare he had taken so much interest, suspended from a tree quite dead. There was no evidence how she came there, but Avery had been seen in the neighbourhood the night of the proposed interview, which had proved so tempestuous, that Avery, as it afterwards came out had in vain endeavoured to bribe a boatman to take him across the river to the opposite side, the direction in which his dwelling laid.

Upon taking down the poor girl's body, it was found that the rope by which she was hanging was tied with a double knot, and that it had been drawn so tight on the first being tied, that it must, as the medical men stated, have caused instant death-so that it was impossible the poor girl could have been her own executioner. All the medical men, from the distorted angry look of her features in death, testified that she had died by the hands of a murderer; and it further appeared, that she had on her hands a pair of clean white gloves, which must have been soiled had she hung herself, as the rope was in a dirty state. And it was found, on examination, that the flesh was violently pressed in on both her sides, with finger marks, below the stays, as if by the grasp of a powerful man, which Avery is. In short there were so many circumstances that shewed her death to have been the work of a murderer.

But all these facts did not all come to light at the time her body was first discovered, and much pains were taken by the Methodist preachers and their friends, in the neighbourhood, to defame the poor girl's character, after death. They actually refused to bury her in consecrated ground, & an honest old farmer, of the name of Duffee, who lived near the scene of death, was so moved with the barbarous persecution that was going on, that he declared she should have a decent funeral, in a spot he had appropriated to be the resting place of his own family.

At length public rumour bruited so many suspicious circumstances against Avery, that he was apprehended on a suspicion of being her murderer, & her remains were exhumed for further examination, but the evidence not being deemed sufficient to commit him upon, he was suffered to go at large. Other evidence, however, was procured sufficient to make a different impression upon the minds of a coroner & jury, and a warrant was granted for his apprehension. Upon this he fled and was traced by the officer to the cottage of an old woman, who to the officer's inquiry denied that he was there. At the instant, however, the constable thought he perceived something to flit behind the dour, and darting forward, he found it was Avery, who fainted on being seized.

He was soon after brought to trial for the murder, during the progress of which many singular circumstances occurred. Amongst others was that of a woman coming into court & stating to the Judge, that she had dreamed for 3 successive nights, that the man who had murdered Maria Cornell had a wound on one of his hands. It was then recollected that Avery had, from the commencement of the trial, kept one of his hands gloved, and upon his removing the glove by the Judge's order, it was found that there was the remains of a wound, as if caused by a bite.

What makes this trial one of the most singular that ever, perhaps, took place in the known world,

is the shameful conduct pursued by the Methodist preachers of the district,

the friends of the accused, who are said not to have spent a less sum than 5000 dollars in their endeuvours to establish Avery's innocence.

Every means was resorted to by them, with a barbarous ferocity to blacken the poor girl's character with lewd practices, females were intimidated by them from coming forward to give evidence who had been eye-witnesses of familiar scenes between the poor girl & her seducer.

Amongst other instances, says a writer in the Free Enquirer, American paper,

"of the shameful manner in which witnesses were tampered with and their testimony kept back," is that "of a person who was heard to say, previous to the trial of Avery, that he saw him & Miss Cornell walking together during the camp meeting at Thompson, and that he knew them both. This information was communicated to the gentlemen who conducted the prosecution, and one of them went to Connecticut to procure the witness.

But he was one day too late. On his arrival at the residence of the man, it was found that no less than 3 Methodist Clergymen had stolen the march upon him. The result was, that the witness refused to answer any questions put to him, and as no compulsory process could be had, nothing could be elicited from him. If any person shall think proper to question the facts relative to the 3 clergymen," adds this writer, "their Names, and that of my informant, shall be promptly given to end all doubt."

It was sworn by a respectable witness, that he saw Avery & his victim "walking arm in arm" on the evening of the 20th of October, in the neighbourhood of the Fall River, and "Mrs Bidwell also, wife of the Rev'd Ira M. Bidwell, testified that, on that night, Avery, who was expected to lodge at her house, was out so much later than usual for a minister, that she went to the house of a neighbour to inquire for him. And Mr. Bidwell himself stated that on the previous evening he saw Avery & Miss Cornell within '3 feet' of each other, & left them together, because he supposed Miss Cornell wished to have some conversation with him. All this does not look like a desire on the part of Miss Cornell, to avoid an interview with Avery as was pretended by him, and also by Mrs. Mayo, at the Thompson Camp meeting."

Evidence the most conclusive was produced on the trial showing the intimacy that had subsisted between Avery & his victim, more than one witness swore to his being seen in the neighbourhood where the poor girl was murdered, yet Avery was acquitted, but acquitted only upon the Judge suggesting to the jury that any doubt in their minds ought to be given in favour of the accused.

One American paper observed upon this termination of one of the most interesting & exciting trials that modern times have produced, that they were glad he was not to be hanged, as he was a descendant of one of the old Republicans who had fought for their independence: so much for American love of justice.

The report of the trials is before the American people, and but few who are not living under the

despotic influence of the Methodist preachers have the smallest doubt in their minds but that he ought to have suffered an ignominious death

instead of being now at large and actually forced upon a congregation by the influence of the Bishop of the district (Methodists have their Bishops in America), and the party of Methodist preachers, upon whose shoulders he may be said to have been triumphantly borne from the tribunal of murder, to defile God's temple with his unholy breath.

Edited by Kenneth Sublett


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