In 1872 Henry Ward Beecher, a noted and popular, although often controversial, minister in Brooklyn, New York, was accused of having an affair with one of his parishioners, Mrs. Tilton. She alternately confessed and retracted her confession while Beecher consistently stated his innocence. To clear his name, he appointed an investigative committee composed of friends and supporters in the church. Their findings were unsurprising–he was innocent. Today, his guilt or innocence remains unresolved.
In our Research Center we have the diaries of William Weston Patton. Patton was born in New York on October 19, 1821. He graduated from the University of the City of New York (now New York University) and Union Theological Seminary. After being ordained, Patton served as pastor of Phillips Congregational Church in Boston (1843-1846), of Fourth Congregational Church in Hartford (1846-1857), and in Chicago (1857-1867). His professional career also included Editor of a Congregational newspaper, The Advance, lecturer at Oberlin and Chicago seminaries, and President of Howard University. He died on December 31, 1889.
On August 28, 1874, Patton wrote in his diary that he had
Rec’d a letter to day from my brother Ludlow, from Amsterdam, Holland, in which he says that in London Mr & Mrs Hooker (the latter a sister of Henry W. Beecher dined with him & wife, at my sister’s, Mrs Perkins, and that Mrs H. told my brother’s wife, Abby, that her brother H.W.B. was guilty, that she and a brother in the family (probably Thos. K. B.) urged him to confess, and throw himself upon public mercy, that he wanted to do so, but that other members of the family and some of his church induced him not to do so.
Patton indicates in his diary that he sent to the Chicago Tribune “my statement” about Beecher. Did he mention the letter from his brother in which Isabella Beecher Hooker admitted her brother was guilty? Such information does not appear in any published works on the Beecher-Tilton scandal.
This is not the first time Rev. Patton has appeared on our blog. The earlier entry can be found here. You may ask for Ms 68129 to read the diaries yourself, either in the original, or in a transcribed annotated version. We also have a manuscript play about the scandal, Ms 41077, entitled Angel Belle in case you wish to learn how others perceived the event the year it hit the papers. Each character–Saint Harry, Angel Belle, and Theophilus–had his or her own script. Unfortunately the script for the fourth character is not extant.