- Wed, Jan 7, 2009
Gazette & Courier - Monday, August 16, 1875
Gazette & Courier’s libel suit
Mary E. Woodard vs. Samuel S. Eastman et al. - This was an action of libel brought by the plaintiff, the wife of Elbridge O. Woodard of Greenfield, against the defendants, publishers of the Gazette & Courier, claiming $5000 as compensation for the damage to her character, by a certain item published in the paper of the defendants on the 25th of Jan. last. The following is the plaintiff’s declaration, and the plaintiff says the defendants printed and published, and caused and procured to be printed, published and circulated, in a certain newspaper, edited and issued by the defendants at Greenfield, in the same county, this false, scandalous and defamatory libel of and concerning the plaintiff, a copy whereof is hereby annexed:
Copy of libel annexed: "Our village was disturbed by a lively row Sat. eve. It appears that Elbridge G. Woodard, whose wife is employed in the kitchen of the Mansion House, had learned from intercepted letters that one Bailey, a blacksmith of Shelburne Falls, had planned an elopement with Mrs. W. Woodard [meaning thereby the plaintiff; and further meaning that she, the plaintiff, had secretly devised, agreed and arranged with the said Bailey, and he with her, to run away and leave her lawful husband, the said Elbridge G. Woodard, and to live with him, the said Bailey, in adultery], his brother Galusha Woodard, and a friend were in waiting at the appointed hour, and when Bailey made his appearance at the rear of the Mansion House, pounced upon him, one Woodard using his fists and the other a whip-stock. Officer Kimball finally separated the parties, but Bailey was badly punished. Thoroughly scared, he rushed for his team at the American House, and made hasty tracks for home, while Woodard, in another sleigh, followed in his pursuit."
Whereby the plaintiff was and is greatly injured in her name, character and reputation, and was and is held up and exposed to public ignominy, shame, and disgrace, and was and is otherwise, greatly damnified. By the plaintiff’s attorney, Charles G. Delano.
Defendants’ answer - And now the defendants come, and for answer say, that they admit that they are the publishers of the Gazette & Courier, and that the article set forth in plaintiff’s declaration was published in the issue of January 25, 1875. The defendants deny each and every other allegation contained in said declaration, and leave the plaintiff to prove the same. They deny that said alleged libelous article is false, scandalous or malicious. They deny that said plaintiff has been in any way injured in her name, character or reputation by said publication...And the defendants aver that said article, as published by them, is substantially true; and they say that the village was disturbed on said Sat. eve. by a lively row; that the plaintiff was employed at the Mansion House; that letters had been intercepted, and that the plaintiff’s husband had learned from said letters that one Bailey had planned an elopement with the plaintiff; that said husband and Galusha, his brother, were in waiting at the appointed hour, and that when Bailey made his appearance in the rear of the Mansion House, they pounced upon him, one with fists, and the other with a whip-stock; and that the parties were separated by Officer Kimball; and Bailey was badly punished, and rushed for his team at the American House, and drove rapidly homeward, pursued by Woodard.
And the defendant further say that said article, set forth in plaintiff’s declaration, was so published by them in good faith, without malice toward the plaintiff, as current news of the day, and substantially as stated by the husband of the plaintiff to the defendants and to the bystanders and to others, on said Sat. eve., and at other times...That said words "that one Bailey planned an elopement with Mrs. W." do not, in their plain, common and natural import, accuse the plaintiff of any action whatever in the matter. It is Bailey who has planned...By C.C. Conant, Defendant’s Att’y.
It was decided to proceed with the case, and C.G. Delano, Esq., counsel for the plaintiff, opened by alleging that the words of the obnoxious item were false, and would be an injury to his client for a long time; would lacerate her feelings and hold her up before the community in shame and disgrace. Admitting that a portion of the facts were true, he said the objectionable words were those which alleged elopement...The counsel then read an item alluding to the libel case, from a recent issue of the Springfield Union, the responsibility for the publication of which he tried to trace to the defendants...
The first witness called by the prosecution was the junior editor of the Gazette & Courier, who was asked under oath, the extent of the circulation of the paper. [This is rather a delicate question with some publishers, but we have no reason to be ashamed of our growth, in the court room or elsewhere]. Mary E. Woodard was next put upon the stand. She had lived in Greenfield about 10 years, and had been married 17 years to Elbridge G. Woodard. She held property and did business in her own name. The publication of the article which she had alleged was libelous, had been made the subject of no little talk and comment about town, and she cited instances when it had been the occasion of sneers and derision when she walked the streets.
People who had been friendly before now cut her acquaintance. She described an interview which she had with Mr. Eastman after the publication of the item. She said that she was real sorry that it had appeared, and asked him to retract it; but he said it was all true, and he could prove it. On the cross examination she said she had worked at the Mansion House 3 days, at the time of the disturbance there. Her husband came for her that night about 7 o’clock in the eve. to take her home. He went out to get his horse; had been gone half an hour when he came back and said there was a gentleman at the door who wanted to see her. She went to the door, saw a gentleman and went right back.
Afterwards she heard a noise but didn’t hear anything said. Didn’t know what the disturbance was about; didn’t anticipate any row; didn’t know what it was. Saw Bailey the week before at the house of friends at Shelburne Falls, and played cards with him. She saw her husband the next day after the fracas, but didn’t see him again that night. She never got a letter from Bailey; didn’t know whether her husband had intercepted one or not; she never wrote to him. She had lived in Coleraine a number of years with her husband. He was in the war 3 years. She had no talk with Mr. Doolittle after the trouble at the Mansion House about the matter, never told anybody that her husband had intercepted letters.
She never told Maggie Tracy anything about it nor Jim Butler. She never had any trouble at Coleraine with her husband; never heard any stories about her character; didn’t remember asking Hugh B. Miller if an accusation of unchastity by her husband was sufficient ground for divorce. She never told Euclid Owen that she was "going to get a good slice out of Eastman". never asked him if they could go back more than 5 years on her character. Didn’t sit on a sofa with Bailey at Shelburne Falls; never told him that he was the "first man that ever turned his back on her". In direct testimony she did not expect her husband to call upon her the night of the fracas. He asked her if she got a letter from Bailey, and she told him she hadn’t.
The prosecution rested their case her, and C.C. Conant Esq. opened for the defense. He told the jury that he would prove that the complainant’s character could not have been greatly injured by the publication, because it was already soiled by a reputation for unchastity in this and an adjoining town; but it would appear in testimony; that the statement published was substantially true. He would show that Bailey received a letter, and came to Greenfield to meet her in obedience to it; that this proposed meeting was the reason that Woodard committed the assault, and because Bailey was going to run away with his wife. Before the witnesses for the defense were called to testify, Lilla B. Woodard, a daughter of the plaintiff, was put upon the stand by the prosecution, and she said that she had complained to her mother about the treatment she receives from the children at school in consequence of the scandal.
The first witness for the defense was Samuel S. Eastman, the senior editor of the Gazette & Courier. He described the interview with Mrs. Woodard at his house after the publication. she asked him if he had not published something about her, and he replied by inquiring if Bailey did not come to meet her, and if letters were not intercepted. She did not deny, but she said "You can’t prove it". She did not ask him to retract or apologize, but was violent in her talk and behavior, and said she would give him all the law he wanted.
E.A. Hall, the junior proprietor of the Gazette was called to the stand, and said that he wrote the item giving an account of the disturbance, that he had no malice towards Mrs. Woodard, and knew her only by reputation. In the cross examination he told how he obtained the facts, as published, by Officer Kimball, whom Woodard had told that he (Woodard) had intercepted letters from Bailey to his wife, arranging to run away with her. Darwin F. Hamilton, a clerk in the post office, did not recollect of a letter passing through the office directed to Mrs. Woodard.
George Doolittle, proprietor of the Mansion House, said the plaintiff worked for him two days at the time of the fracas. He recollected the disturbance. Mrs. Woodard was in the pastry room at the time, adjoining the kitchen, where the sound of voices outside could be plainly heard. He saw Mrs. Woodard when she came for her pay, and she said she ran away because of the trouble. Maggie Tracy, meat cook at the Mansion House, testified that she slept with Mrs. Woodard the night after the disturbance. Mrs. W. told her then that her husband said he had received letters from Shelburne Falls directed to her.
Mrs. Woodard told her that she was "a’feared" to go home. At the time of the disturbance, she (Maggie) was in her room, second story, facing Federal Street, and heard Woodard say that the man was going to run away with his wife, and that he had letters in his pocket to show it. Joseph A. Bailey of Shelburne Falls was the next witness put upon the stand. He saw Mrs. Woodard at Shelburne Falls, at the house of one White, where he joined with her in a game of cards. He left her about 11 o’clock. He came to Greenfield the night of Jan. 23, and hitched his horse at the American House; went to the Mansion House alone; met a man at the entrance of the stable yard, of whom he inquired for the hostler; the man lead him to a short distance and then assaulted him.
He didn’t know as he saw Mrs. Woodard or any other woman. He received a letter from "M.E. Woodard" that day, asking him to meet her in the eve. at the American House. He met a man there, by the name of Hossington, who told him that she wasn’t there. When he was with her at White’s, at Shelburne Falls, she said, when he was seated beside her on a sofa, that "I was the first man that ever turned his back on her". On the cross examination, Bailey said that Hossington told him at Shelburne Falls, the day of the fracas at Greenfield, that he would get a letter from Mrs. Woodard. When he stopped at the American House he went in and took a drink of whiskey. He denied that he knew Mrs. Woodard was at the Mansion House. When asked his name during the fracas, he said it was "Hilliard".
Hugh B. Miller of Coleraine was next called. He had known plaintiff since 1860; her reputation for chastity in Coleraine was not good, and he should think that it was the same at Greenfield. Thomas D. Purrinton of Coleraine knew this woman, and her reputation for chastity was not the best. Charles Webster Smith of Coleraine had heard people say "she" was not what she should be. J.B. Clark of Coleraine said her reputation for chastity was not the best. Dwight Jewett of South Deerfield was acquainted with the plaintiff, and her general reputation for chastity was bad. When cross examined, he said her father and brother had called her character into question. C.B. Tilton of South Deerfield corroborated Mr. Jewett’s statement. Alfred Wells of Greenfield knew Mary Woodard’s reputation, and it was bad. Bela Kellogg of Greenfield said her reputation for chastity was not what it should be.
J.H. Beals testified that his place of business on the night of Jan. 23, was opposite the kitchen of the Mansion House on Federal Street. He thought the noise of the fracas could be heard 20 rods. The distance from the pastry room across the kitchen was 14 ft. He could hear the talk in his store with the door shut. He heard Woodard ask Kimball to arrest Bailey, and when the officer said he would arrest him if he didn’t stop, Woodard said "Mr. Kimball, you don’t understand, this man has had sexual intercourse with my wife" or words to that effect.
C.H. McClellan being called, said that he was a storekeeper in Greenfield. Had known plaintiff in Coleraine and Greenfield, and her reputation for chastity was not good. J.M. Monson has known her for some years, and her reputation has been bad ever since he knew her. Euclid Owen testified to having had conversation with plaintiff in reference to the case. She had asked him how much she was likely to get; a thousand dollars would do her a great deal of good; she meant to "get a good slice out of Eastman". she asked if they could go back on her character to the time she lived in Coelraine. He told her that they could not go back more than 5 years.
Henry L. Miller said that his shop was 22 paces from the entrance to the Mansion House. He heard Woodard’s voice answer to a question "This man was going to run away with my wife". He heard it distinctly. George A. Kimball, the officer who quelled the disturbance, testified that he heard the noise of the fracas as far off as Howland & Lowell’s store, some 15 rods. He found Bailey in the custody of Woodard, told the latter to let him go, and the former to clear out. Kimball declined to arrest Bailey because he had no authority. In answer to his inquiry, Bailey gave his name as "Couillard". Woodard said his name wasn’t Couillard, but Bailey, as he had a letter in his pocket.
The disturbance was within 3 ft. of the windows of the kitchen. Thomas Todd, employed in the Federal Street Market, testified that he went out when he heard the row; saw a fellow running and Woodard after him. In answer to his inquiry, Woodard said the fellow was after his wife. Heard Woodard say to Mr. Kimball, that he had got a letter in his pocket to show the man’s name. This last statement was corroborated by Samuel J. Lyons, who heard a portion of the conversation. Miss Belle W. Eastman, daughter of the senior proprietor of the paper, corroborated her father’s testimony in regard to the conversation between him and Mrs. W., at the interview at the former’s house. She remembered distinctly shutting the hall door when ushering Mrs. W. into the house. Mrs. Woodard did not ask her father to retract the statements in the publication.
The defense here rested their case, and the prosecution then called the following witnesses, who had known the plaintiff and had not heard her reputation called in question: S.L. Shattuck, George W. Potter, Joel Wilson, Hattie A. Sessions, Sarah H. Brown (of Leyden), Lewis W. White. The latter lives at Shelburne Falls, and it was at his house where Bailey was introduced to Mrs. Woodard. They played "Old Maid". Hossington, his wife’s brother, was present. He didn’t see anything out of character. The testimony of Mrs. White was substantially the same. Elbridge G. Woodard, the husband of the plaintiff, was slow called to the stand. He couldn’t describe much of the Mansion House fracas.
He said the letter he told Kimball he had in his pocket was from the Warrior Mowing Machine Co., on the back of which he had some memoranda. He said he heard Bailey was coming there from Bill Hossington. He didn’t have any letter which he had destroyed. He didn’t know that he had told S.D. Bardwell of Shelburne Falls that he had destroyed a letter from Bailey to his wife. He didn’t know that he had left instructions at the post office to have all letters addressed to his wife detained and given to him. On the night of the fracas he didn’t know Bailey. He thrashed a man he did not know, and that he couldn’t see in the dark. He followed him to Shelburne Falls.
Went to Bardwell’s to enter a complaint against Bailey for riding out with his wife. He was over there the same day in Bailey’s shop with Hossington, told him about Bailey and his wife. He didn’t tell Mr. Bardwell that Bailey said he had had all he wanted out of Mrs. Woodard. At this point the prosecution called to the stand Dr. Charles L. Fisk, L.L. Luey, George Pierce Jr., James Newton, A.A. Rankin and S.O. Lamb, who couldn’t recollect that they had heard Mrs. Woodard’s character called to question.
S.D. Bardwell, a magistrate at shelburne Falls, was called by the defense in rebuttal. Woodard came to him on the night of the 23rd of Jan. saying that he had taken a letter from the post office in Greenfield, directed to his wife, purporting to come from Bailey, arranging a meeting. He (Woodard) was exasperated and proceeded to catch Bailey when he came according to his appointment. A complaint of rape was made on Woodard’s representation. On cross examination Mr. Bardwell said that Bailey was tried before him on the complaint, but was discharged because neither Mr. nor Mrs. Woodard appeared against him. Euclid Owen was also called to the stand to contradict Woodard’s statements. Woodard told him that he was about starting for Conway that Sat.; he went into the post office and took out a letter for his wife and noticed it was from Shelburne Falls. He opened it and found it was from Bailey. He didn’t say what he did with the letter.
The evidence in the case was now in, and W.S.B. Hopkins Esq. of Worcester presented the cause of the defense to the jury. It was one of those cases that it was always unpleasant to try, but nevertheless should be tried fully and fairly. There were several points in the statements of the alleged libelous article upon which both sides agree. The counsel for the prosecution objected to the portion which says: "One Bailey, a blacksmith at Shelburne Falls, had planned an elopement with Mrs. W." Were these words libelous? The words were capable of two constructions, and it was left for the jury to determine which was intended...
[Follows a long rehashing of the evidence]. Judge Aldrich charged the jury at considerable length, and with unusual clearness. He explained the difference between slander and libel. A libel is a false imputation which is written or published, holding up the slandered party to more public ridicule and contempt than would words spoken in slander. the plaintiff claims that she has sustained damage in consequence of the article published. The defendants admit the publication. they say that it is not libelous, does not hold up Mrs. Woodard to shame and ridicule. It was not claimed that there was any actual malice on the part of the defendants.
The question of inference or interpretation of the words should be decided by the jury; they should determine the obnoxious meaning; should see practical common sense to reach a verdict; they should decide whether the words were applicable to the plaintiff or not; whether Bailey planned an elopement with Mrs. Woodard or without her aid. If the import of the language was that it was a plan of Bailey alone, then it was no imputation upon Mrs. Woodard. the defendants say that if it was a charge upon Mrs. Woodard, they can prove that it is true. It was for the jury to say whether the truth was established or not.
The judge reviewed the evidence. If what Woodard said in the fracas was competent evidence, it must be proven that it was within the hearing of his wife. This the jury should determine. If the matter is libelous and also true, you must find for the defendants, if libelous and untrue, the verdict should be for the plaintiff. In fixing damage to character, the jury should take the standing of the woman before the public for chastity. A bad character may be hurt, and it was for them to determine the extent. It was competent for the defense to show a bad reputation 10 years before. If a woman years ago was lascivious, the presumption is that her character continues the same. The jury were to judge whether before the publication she was a pure woman.
The case was given to the jury at 4:30 on Thurs. Their first duty was to choose a foreman, as E.D. Merriam, the foreman previously chosen, was challenged off. The judge kept the court open till 9 o’clock in the eve. and then adjourned, and the jury were out all night. At 9 the next morning, they announced that they had still failed to agree, and were called into the court room. The judge took the occasion to say that he thought the case a clear one, and it should not have detained them but a short time. In a case of this type, the burden of proof rested with the plaintiff. It was necessary for the defendants to show only the truth by a preponderance of evidence.
They should show the truth by a fair amount of testimony, absolute truth was not insisted upon. It was the duty of the jury to render a verdict if possible. They should pay proper respect to each others’ opinions. He then sent them out to make another attempt. About half past 11 in the forenoon, the jury sent in for instruction, asking if the word "appears" used in the article alleged to be libelous, did not indicate that there was no direct charge. His Honor instructed them that that was the very point which they themselves must determine. He added that he wanted them to understand that he was not detaining them. If they were satisfied that they could not agree, they might say so and be dismissed. But the jury retired to their room, and in 5 minutes returned a verdict for the defendants. They had had a siege of 19 hours and were dismissed until Mon. morning.
The counsel for the plaintiff had filed a bill of exceptions, which has not yet been approved by the judge.
Subjects: Amusements, Animals / Reptiles, Bars (Drinking establishments), Business Enterprises, Businesspeople, Children, Coleraine [now Colrain] (MA), Conway (MA), Courts, Courtship, Crime, Criminals, Deerfield (MA), Divorce, Dreams / Sleep, Economics, Education, Food, Furniture, Greenfield (MA), Hampshire / Hampden Counties, Horses, Hotels, Households, Law and Lawyers