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Home » Local Voices » Looking Back with Aurore Eaton

July 22. 2013 4:23PM

Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: A deathbed wedding and a trial


 


The Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, who performed the deathbed wedding ceremony for Albert Richardson and Abby Sage. 

On Nov. 25, 1869, at about 5:15 p.m., Daniel McFarland, former husband of Abby Sage McFarland, shot Albert Richardson three times, causing grievous injury. This shocking attack happened in the offices of the New York Tribune, where Richardson was a writer and editor. After firing the shots, McFarland ran into the street in an agitated state. According to one account, when someone yelled, "Richardson has been shot!" McFarland exclaimed, "My God, I must have done it!"

At around 10 p.m. that night Captain Anthony J. Allaire of the Metropolitan Police arrested McFarland at the Westmoreland Hotel. He brought him to the Astor House, to the room where Albert Richardson lay in agony. He placed the prisoner at the foot of Richardson's bed and asked, "Is this the man who shot you?" Richardson answered, "Yes"

That evening, Abby was in Charlestown, Massachusetts, with her family. The Sages were well settled there. Her father, William Sage, a former mechanic in Manchester, New Hampshire, was now a dealer in newspapers and periodicals in Boston. Her mother, Abigail, was a housewife, while her brother William was a printer. Her two sisters, Elizabeth and Sarah, worked as sewing machine operators. As soon as Abby received a telegram informing her of the shooting, she and her mother rushed to New York to be by her fiancée's side.

By November 30, Richardson's wounds had become infected. When his impending death could no longer be denied, Abby and Albert decided to marry. The Reverend Henry Ward Beecher was called in to perform the ceremony. He was an outspoken social reformer, and the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of the novel 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' Horace Greeley, the founder of the New York Tribune, was a witness. It was reported that Albert Richardson said to Abby at the time of the ceremony, "Sweetheart, yours was a love worth living for. Even more, it is a love worth dying for!" He passed away on December 2, with Abby, her mother, and several friends by his side.

Daniel McFarland was indicted on December 17, and on December 21 he was brought into court to face charges. The New York Times reported, "The Court was crowded during the proceedings, and considerable interest was evinced in its result." McFarland was charged with "…murder in the first degree, in having taken the life of Albert D. Richardson." His plea was "Not guilty."

The lengthy trial started on April 4, 1870. There was a great deal of difficulty in seating the jury. There had been so much sensational reporting of the shooting, the "scandalous" affair between Abby McFarland and Albert Richardson, and the "blasphemous" deathbed wedding, that it was nearly impossible to find jurors who did not have strong opinions of the case. One prospective juror professed emphatically to have absolutely no opinions despite reading all the newspaper accounts. No one believed him. He was ridiculed by one of the attorneys as "…the most extraordinary specimen of a man who ever tried to get on a jury." It took three days to assemble an acceptable jury of 12 men.

The prosecution put forward its case, based squarely on the facts. The defense attorneys countered with the claim that, although their client clearly had shot Richardson, Abby McFarland and her friends were culpable of hastening, if not causing, his demise by forcing him to face the excitement of the wedding ceremony. The marriage, McFarland's lawyers claimed, was foisted upon Richardson so that Abby could inherit his property. They claimed that Richardson was "bereft of his mind" due to the narcotics he had been given to lessen his pain.

The defense case was based on proving that Daniel McFarland was insane at the time of the shooting. McFarland's attorneys alleged that he was tainted because of his terrible childhood, and that he had a hereditary disposition toward insanity. It was claimed that he was not in control of his actions when he shot Richardson. McFarland's attorneys stated that his home life with Abby had been entirely happy until Richardson destroyed the marriage by luring Abby into sin. It was claimed that McFarland "…became the victim of the most intense mental suffering by the unfeeling conduct of his wife."

Next week: A Valley Cemetery Story – The Richardson-McFarland trial and its aftermath..

Aurore Eaton is the Executive Director of the Manchester Historic Association. Contact her at aeaton@manchesterhistoric.org.


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