Saturday, November 3, 2012

" though he had shot her.”

Mary Pomeroy was the organist at the Prospect Avenue Presbyterian Church in Jersey City, New Jersey. In 1874 she was a beautiful young woman and an accomplished musician with a sterling reputation. Mary was renowned for her purity and virtue until she was seduced and abandoned by her pastor, the Reverend John Glendenning. She died soon after giving birth; her doctor said the cause of death was “a broken heart.” While Mary was technically not murdered, the people of Jersey City saw no difference. One newspaper story said of Reverend Glendenning: “He is as truly the murderer of Mary Pomeroy as though he had shot her.”

Date:  August 18, 1874

Location:   Jersey City, New Jersey

Victim:  Mary E. Pomeroy

Cause of Death:  Complications from childbirth

Accused:   Rev. John S. Glendenning

Mary Pomeroy was orphaned at the age of nine and was taken in and raised by her cousin, James Miller and his wife, of Jersey City, New Jersey. She grew into a lovely young woman, loved and respected by all who knew her. Music was Mary’s special passion and her piano playing was enjoyed by family and friends. To raise money to help her adopted family, Mary gave music lessons and at and, took a job as the organist at the Prospect Avenue Presbyterian Church.

The position of organist put twenty-five year old Mary Pomeroy in almost constant contact with the church’s young pastor, the Reverend John Glendenning. Before long their relationship progressed from professional to romantic and Reverend began giving Mary presents—a gold watch and chain, earrings and sleeve buttons. By some accounts he had also given her an engagement ring. Mary was in love with Reverend Glendenning and believed that he would marry her.

When Mary became pregnant there was little doubt among her family and friends that her seducer had been the pastor. Mary’s adopted father was so angry that he was tempted take vengeance on Glendenning, but decided instead to force him into marriage and filed a legal charge against him:

“HUDSON COUNTY. The voluntary examination of Mary E. Pomeroy, of Jersey City in said County, single woman, taken on oath, before me, Thomas Aldridge, one of the Justices of the Peace, in and for the said County, this the 15th day of July 1874 A. D., who saith that she is now with child, and that the said  child is likely to be born a bastard, and to be chartable to the city of Jersey City, and that John S. Glendenning, of said city, a minister of the Presbyterian Church, is the father of said child.
Taken and signed the day and year above written before me,
Justice of the Peace.
John Glendenning was arrested on three charges: one for child support, one for seduction, and one for breach of promise of marriage. Glendenning denied that he had seduced Mary and claimed that he was not the father of her child. His strongest piece of evidence was a mysterious document, signed by Mary Pomeroy in which she acknowledged having sinned with others. After his arrest Glendenning was brought to Mary who confirmed that he had seduced her. She said to him, “Glen, I have deceived you—it is yours.”
As the legal proceedings transpired, Mary took sick. She gave birth to a baby girl, whom she named Ella Stuart Glendenning, but she never regained her health. Mary suffered increasing physical and mental pain until it became apparent to her doctor that she was dying. Justice Aldridge was sent for, to officially hear her ante mortem statement. Mary was hesitant at first but wanted to vindicate her good name. Justice Aldridge took down her words as she spoke:
“I feel as though I have not long to live. There have been a great many things said about me. I now—in the sight of God tell the truth—that John S. Glendenning is the father of my child. He has denied it and still denies it; but he, and no one else is the father of that child. He has said things against me. I was afraid of him; but now I am not. He may have papers but that does not clear him.”
Justice Aldridge had taken down the statement in pencil. He hurried back to his office to transcribe it in ink, then brought the document back to the Miller’s house for Mary to sign. But he was too late, Mary passed away before he arrived. Though Aldridge attested that the words were Mary’s the document lacked the legal weight it would have had with the dying woman’s signature.

With no evidence against him, Glendenning was released from custody. He barely escaped a lynching at the hands of outraged citizens of Jersey City.

Mary Pomeroy’s funeral was one of the largest ever held in Jersey City as friends and well-wishers, including the most prominent members of the community gathered to mourn her death. The family had hoped to have a Presbyterian minister preside over the funeral, but all refused. A Methodist minister baptized the baby and held the funeral service for Mary.

Unable to get satisfaction from the law, Mary’s family and friends put pressure on the Presbyterian Church to take action against Glendenning. The church was bitterly divided between those believed Glendenning to be innocent and those who believed he was unfit to be a minister. Finally a committee appointed by the Presbytery of Jersey City agreed to hold an open meeting on October 7, 1874 to investigate the charges against John S. Glendenning. The committee agreed to hold a try Glendenning on four charges:
  • Seduction of and illicit intercourse with an unmarried woman
  • Breach of promise of marriage
  • Falsehood
  • Unministerial and unchristianlike conduct

Trial before the Presbytery: October 14, 1874

The church hearing was followed by newspapers throughout the country and took on the excitement of a sensational murder trial. In the minds of many, especially in Jersey City, there was little difference.

Mr. Miller testified that Glendenning had visited Mary as often as three times a week at their home. He exhibited the presents Glendenning had given her, including a ring that Mary, and all others who saw it, believed to be an engagement ring.

The most damaging evidence came from Mrs. Miller, Mary’s adopted mother.  Following Mary’s death she had gone to New York City, trying to make arrangements to have the baby placed in an institution as had been Mary’s wish. She visited several intuitions, then at the Infant Asylum on Clinton Place a doctor Hubbard happened to mention that a man fitting John Glendenning ‘s description had been there six weeks earlier to make arrangements to admit a pregnant woman. Mrs. Miller went a second time with a photograph of Glendenning, and the matron of the institution, Mrs. Nelly Gracestock, positively identified him as the man.  Mrs. Gracestock testified at the trial.

On striking difference between the church trial and a legal trial was the amount of hearsay evidence that was allowed. Several of Mary’s supporters painted very dramatic scenes allegedly related to them by Mary. Mr. Miller said that Mary told him that after Glendenning learned of the pregnancy, to avoid ruin, he had asked Mary to write a document to say that he was not the father. When she refused he drew a pistol and held it at her head until she signed it. Mrs. Miller also relating the pistol scene, adding that Glendenning said he would shoot Mary and himself if she did not sign. Mrs. Caroline D. Wilson testified that Mary told her Glendenning had put a ring on her finger and told her they would be married. She had yielded to Glendenning because he had said “Why Mary, it’s alright; you are my little wife.” Mrs. Wilson also confirmed Mr.Miller’s story, claiming Mary told her that Glendenning had forced her at gunpoint to sign a document exonerating him.

Glendenning’s defense was that he had never proposed to Mary Pomeroy and had only given her gifts after she had given him gifts. Several witnesses testified that Glendenning had not pursued Mary, but that she had forced herself on him. Dr. Hubbard of the Infant Asylum testified that Glendenning was not the man who had come to them to admit a pregnant woman. The only document admitted into evidence was a letter written from Mary to her cousin stating that Glendenning had never done her harm.

On the witness stand Glendenning claimed he knew the name of the baby’s real father but would not reveal it. This incited the crowd watching the trial, who began chanting “Name! Name!” The room had to be cleared of spectators. Glendenning never revealed the name.

The proceedings continued for more than six weeks. On December 8, the twenty-one member committee of the Presbytery met to present their decision. On each of the four charges, the majority of the committee had voted not to sustain—Glendenning was innocent on all counts. However, since there was a sizable minority of the committee who voted to sustain each count, and the church was bitterly divided, it was decided to remove Glendenning as pastor of the Prospect Avenue Church.

It is not known what became of Ella Stuart Glendenning.

Mappen, Marc. Jerseyana: Underside NJ History . New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1992.

Poor Mary Pomeroy! The Jersey City Music Teacher. Also, A full and Authentic Account of the Trial of Rev. John S. Glendenning before the Authorities ... Curious Statements. What a Lady Saw One Night Philadelphia: Old Franklin Pub. House, 1874.

"Clerical Scandals." Indiana Messenger 21 Sept. 1874.

"The Glendenning Case." The Ohio Democrat [New Philadelphia] 13 Nov. 1874.

"The Glendenning Trial." Indiana Messenger 23 Dec. 1874.


A says:
November 4, 2012 at 1:01 AM

Fascinating he said-she said tale. It is quite remarkable about the difference in society between then and today.

Unknown says:
November 15, 2012 at 3:25 PM

Yeah, if this had happened today, Ms. Pomeroy would probably be blamed for "oopsing" Mr. Glendenning and referred to as a whore.

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