Date: November 25, 1869
Location: New York, New York
Victim: Albert Deane Richardson
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Accused: Daniel McFarland
After the wedding they moved to Madison where Abby learned that Daniel did not have a law practice in Wisconsin, he had only been there for land speculation. He owned several thousand acres, deeply leveraged, and planned to go next to New York where there were opportunities to trade them. At this time he had only enough money to pay their fares to New York. When they reached New York Abby had to pawn her jewelry to pay for their lodging.
Daniel made some profit from his Wisconsin land deals but his drinking made it difficult to hold a steady job. In spite of their poverty, Daniel and Abby had two sons, Percy born in 1860 and Daniel in 1864. During this time the family would move from boarding house to boarding house, always deeply in debt.
Abby tried her hand at dramatic reading and found she had a flair for it, and at Daniel’s urging she began to augment their income by giving public readings. She soon became an actress as well, taking roles at Edwin Booth’s Winter Garden theatre. She also began publishing her writings. Her new career allowed Abby to broaden her social circle. She became close friends with Horace Greely, owner of the New York Tribune, his sister Mrs. John Cleveland, and Tribune editor Samuel Sinclair and his wife.
Daniel McFarland used Abby’s new connections to secure a political appointment, but he was jealous of her new friends. He would open her mail and read her letters before giving them to her. And his temper had gotten worse. He was now threatening to kill Abby or himself and would sometimes physically strike her. He kept the money she earned from performing and spent much of it on drink.
Abby knew Richardson socially through Horace Greely and his sister. During the day Richardson used his room as an office, with a stenographer, an artist, and a messenger boy to assist with in his literary work. On February 19, 1867, Daniel McFarland came home to find his wife standing at Richardson’s door, discussing a manuscript with him. The sight infuriated McFarland who went into a three-day drunken rage during which he made the usual threats of murder and suicide. At one point he suggested they separate and Abby assented. He later changed his mind, but she did not. She left him for good on February 21.
After Abby left Daniel McFarland, Albert Richardson offered his sympathy and helped in any way he could. Gradually they grew closer and closer. On the evening of March 13, Richardson met her at the theatre where she was performing, to walk her home. As they walked from the theatre Daniel McFarland came up behind them and fired a pistol at Richardson, wounding him in the thigh. He fired two more times but did not hit either of them. McFarland was arrested but somehow managed to avoid prison.
As the love between Abby McFarland and Albert Richardson continued to blossom, Daniel McFarland began legal proceedings to get custody of the children. He agreed to a compromise where Percy would stay with him and Daniel with Abby. But to Daniel this meant that Abby would never see Percy again. In the Spring of 1868 she attempted to see Percy but was barred by McFarland in another fit of rage. She decided then to take her friends’ advice and file for divorce.
In New York State the only legal ground for divorce was adultery, and though Abby believed she could prove that Daniel was adulterous, she decided to go to Indiana where divorce was allowed for drunkenness, extreme cruelty, and failure to support a wife. She took up residency in Indiana for sixteen months then returned to her mother’s house in October 1869, legally free from the bonds of marriage.
Abby and Albert had been guarded in their relationship and stayed apart while she was in Indiana. Now that her marriage was over they felt free to be openly together and Albert spent Thanksgiving in Massachusetts with Abby and her family. The day after thanksgiving he returned to New York. Just a week later Abby received word that Albert had been mortally wounded, shot by her ex-husband in the office of the New York Tribune. She hurried to New York to nurse him.
At first New York journalist came to the defense of their fallen comrade and began digging up dirt on Daniel McFarland including “the habit of opium eating to for the purpose of drowning his sorrows.” But very soon the mood changed. On December 2, the New York Sun published a lengthy editorial entitled “A Public Outrage on Religion and Decency” that condemned Albert Richardson for luring Abby away from her husband. When that edition sold out, the Sun dredged up everything they could find to portray Abby and Albert as sinful adulterers, including this allegation from Daniel McFarland’s brother:
“Abby went reading just to get a chance to paint her face, pass for beauty, and get in with that free-love tribe at Sam Sinclair’s.”
The rest of the New York papers followed the Sun’s lead, but opposing views were also printed, sometimes in the same editions as the condemnations. The Herald printed this quote from Mrs. S.F. Norton, speaking in front of the feminist Reform Club:
“The recent shooting of Mr. Richardson is an unfortunate occurrence that illustrates the fundamental problem of marriage, inequality of rights between husband and wife.”The newspapers were forcing people to choose sides and New Yorkers were overwhelmingly choosing McFarland’s fight for the sanctity of marriage over Abby Richardson’s immorality.
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