Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dreadful depravity

‘His daily conduct forced a conviction upon my alarmed and tortured mind, that his designs were the most vile.’ This is from an astonishing document, half diary and half memoir, written by Abigail Abbott Bailey, largely about her abusive husband (whom she eventually divorced) and his ‘dreadful depravity’. The couple were colonists in New Hampshire, one of the original 13 American colonies, and became caught up in the religious revival of the time. Today marks the 200th anniversary of Abigail’s death.

One of nine siblings, Abigail was born to Congregationalists Deacon James and Sarah Abbot in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1746. At the end of the French and Indian War, the family moved to Newbury and helped found a Church of Christ. In 1767, Abigail married Asa Bailey, and in time they would have 17 children. Initially, they settled in Haverhill, but in 1772 moved to Bath, then in 1780 to Landaff, both also in New Hampshire. The clergyman Ethan Smith said of Abigail: ‘Relative to her person, she was tall and slender. She had a black, piercing, but pleasant eye. She had very comely, but grave features. Her mind was sedate, and very unusually contemplative. Her heart was tender, affectionate and kind; and her speech grave and impressive. I have no recollection of ever hearing of her piety and goodness being called in question.’

Unfortunately, Asa proved to be an abusive and violent husband. In 1773, he was acquitted of a charge of rape against a female servant. And, in 1788, Abigail discovered his incest with their daughter Phebe. She sent him away from the family home, but endured his return several times. Only after a nefarious land deal, in 1792, did Abigail finally separate from Asa, returning to Haverhill, and securing a divorce in 1793. She lived with Deacon Andrew Crook of Piermont for ten years after, and, in 1803, was one of the founding members of the Church of Christ in Piermont. She died on 11 February 1815.

There is very little further biographical information available online about Abigail other than that contained in the extraordinary diary/memoir she left behind. Although some entries are dated, as in a diary, most are not, and the whole reads more like a memoir than a diary. It was first edited by Ethan Smith, and published by Samuel T. Armstrong in 1815: Memoirs of Mrs. Abigail Bailey who had been the wife of Major Asa Bailey, formerly of Landaff, (N. H.) written by herself. This is freely available online at Internet Archive. Some extracts can be read online at Googlebooks in A Day at a Time: The Diary Literarature of American Women from 1764 to the Present. The diary/memoir has also been reprinted more recently with some analysis by Ann Taves in Religion and Domestic Violence in Early New England: The Memoirs of Abigail Abbot Bailey. Some of this can also be read freely at Googlebooks.

The following four extracts are all taken from the original 1815 publication of Memoirs. The first, however, is not by Abigail herself but is from a section at the beginning called ‘Advertisement’. It explains not only the manuscript’s provenance, but the rationale for publishing such a record, and for showing the ‘dreadful depravity of fallen man’.

‘The manuscripts, containing the following memoirs, were found among the writings of Mrs. Abigail Bailey, who died in Bath, N. H. Feb. 11, 1815. On perusing them, some of her friends had a desire to see them in print. To obtain advice, relative to the expediency of publishing them, the writings were presented to a minister of the Gospel, and to another gentleman of public education. These gentlemen, after perusing the manuscripts, felt a strong desire that the public might be benefited by them. The writings were then, by the joint advice of these gentlemen, and some of the friends of the deceased, transmitted to me, with a request, that, if my opinion coincided with theirs, relative to the expediency of their being published, I would transcribe, and prepare them for the press. On reading the manuscripts, I was of the opinion, that they are richly worthy of being given to the public. They present such a variety of uncommon, and interesting events, in a kind of strange connexion; such singular providences; and such operations of faith and fervent piety, under a series of most pressing trials; that I truly think but few lives of christians, in modern days, have afforded such rare materials for instructive biography.

My personal acquaintance with Mrs. Bailey, during some part of her trials, and for years after, gave me the fullest confidence in her strict veracity, integrity, and singular piety.

In her memoirs, the intelligent reader will find, strikingly exhibited, the dreadful depravity of fallen man; the abomination of intrigue and deceit; the horrid cruelty, of which man is capable; the hardness of the way of transgressors; the simplicity of the christian temper; the safety of confiding in God in the darkest scenes; his protection of the innocent; the supports afforded by the christian faith when outward means fail; and the wisdom of God in turning headlong the devices of the crafty. These things are presented in a detail of events, and unexaggerated facts, which arrest the Attention; and which are singularly calculated to exhibit the detestable nature and consequences of licentiousness and vice. [. . .]

In transcribing these memoirs, I have taken liberty to abridge some pages, to shorten some sentences, and to adopt a better word, where the sense designed would evidently be more perspicuous, and more forcibly expressed. But I have taken care to preserve entire the sentiment of the manuscripts. I have been careful to give no stronger expressions of the wickedness, or cruelties of Major Bailey, than those found in the manuscripts. But in various instances, expressions of his wickedness and cruelty, found in the manuscripts, are here omitted; not from the least apprehension of their incorrectness; but to spare the feelings of the reader.’

July 1773
‘Alas, I must again resume my lonely pen, and write grievous things against the husband of my youth! Another young woman was living with us. And I was grieved and astonished to learn that the conduct of Mr. B. with her was unseemly. After my return home from an absence of several days visiting my friends, I was convinced that all had not been right at home. Mr. B. perceived my trouble upon the subject. In the afternoon (the young woman being then absent) he fell into a passion with me. He was so overcome with anger, that he was unable to set up. He took his bed, and remained there till night. Just before evening he said to me, “I never saw such a woman as you. You can be so calm; while I feel so disturbed.” My mind was not in a state of insensibility. But I was blessed with a sweet composure. I felt a patient resignation to the will of God. I thought I enjoyed a serene peace, which the world can neither give nor take away. I conversed with Mr. B. as I thought was most suitable. At evening I went out to milk. I spent some time in secret prayer for my poor husband. I endeavoured to intercede with God that he would bring him to repentance, and save him from sin and ruin, through the merits of Christ. I think that God at this time gave me a spirit of prayer. And I interceded with God that my husband might not be suffered to add to his other crimes that of murder. For I really feared this was in his heart. But I trusted in the Lord to deliver me. When I came into the house, I found Mr. B. still on the bed. He groaned bitterly. I asked him if he was sick? or what was the matter? He then took hold of my hand, and said, I am not angry with you now; nor had I ever any reason to be angry with you, since you lived with me. He added, I never knew till now what a sinner I have been. I have broken all God’s holy laws, and my life has been one continued course of rebellion against God. I deserve his eternal wrath; and wonder I am out of hell. Mr. B. soon after told me, that as soon as I went out to milk, he rose from his bed, and looked out at a window after me; and thought that he would put an end to my life, before I should come into the house again. But he said that when he thought of committing such a crime, his own thoughts affrighted him, and his soul was filled with terror. Nor did he dare to stand and look out after me; but fell back again upon his bed. Then he said he had a most frightful view of himself. All his sins stared him in the face. All his wickedness, from his childhood to that hour, was presented to his mind, and appeared inexpressibly dreadful. All the terrors of the law, he said, pressed upon his soul. The threatenings and curses denounced against the wicked, in the whole Bible, seemed to thunder against him. And these things, he said, came with such power, that he thought he should immediately sink into eternal woe. In this distress, he said he cried to God for mercy. Upon which, the invitations and promises of the Gospel came wonderfully into his mind; and the way of salvation by Christ appeared plain and beautiful. He was now, he said, overcome with love. His soul was drawn out after Christ. And he hoped he never more should desire any thing, but to glorify God. After this Mr. B pretended to great peace of mind; and to be full of joy. The night following we conversed much upon religion. He confessed some of his sins; particularly his vile conduct while I was gone; that in heart and attempt he was indeed guilty of the sin I had charged upon him. But he gave me to understand that he was unable to accomplish his wicked designs.’

‘In 1774, I again experienced a scene of mortification and trial. The young woman, of whom I last spake, who had lived with us, was induced to go before a grand jury, and to declare under oath that while she lived at our house, and while I was absent, as I before noted, Mr. B. in the night went to her apartment; and after flatteries used in vain, made violent attempts upon her; but was repulsed. All but the violence used, Mr. B. acknowledged. This he denied. So that there was a contradiction between them. Thus my surprise and grief were renewed. But I could do nothing but carry my cause to God, who searches all heart, and knows the truth.’

December 1788
‘Mr. B. began to behave in a very uncommon manner: he would rise in the morning, and after being dressed, would seat himself in his great chair, by the fire, and would scarcely go out all day. He would not speak, unless spoken to; and not always then. He seemed like one in the deepest study. If a child came to him, and asked him to go to breakfast, or dinner, he seemed not to hear: then I would go to him, and must take hold of him, and speak very loudly, before he would attend; and then he would seem like one waking from sleep. Often when he was eating, he would drop his knife and fork, or whatever he had in his hand, and seemed not to know what he was doing. Nor could he be induced to give any explanation of his strange appearance and conduct. He did not appear like one senseless, or as though he could not hear, or speak. His eyes would sparkle with the keen emotions of his mind.

I had a great desire to learn the cause of this strange appearance and conduct. I at first hoped It might be concern for his soul; but I was led to believe this was not the case. He continued thus several days and nights, and seemed to sleep but little.

One night, soon after we had retired to bed; he began to talk very familiarly, and seemed pleasant. He said, now I will tell you what I have been studying upon all this while: I have been planning to sell our farm, and to take our family and interest, and move to the westward, over toward the Ohio country, five or six hundred miles; I think that is a much better country than this; and I have planned out the whole matter. Now I want to learn your mind concerning it; for I am unwilling to do anything contrary to your wishes in things so important as this. He said he wished to gain my consent, and then he would consult the children, and get their consent also. I was troubled at his proposal; I saw many difficulties in the way. But he seemed much engaged, and said he could easily remove all my objections. I told him it would be uncertain what kind of people we should find there; and how we should be situated relative to gospel privileges. He said he had considered all those things; that he well knew what kind of minister, and what people would suit me; and he would make it his care to settle where those things would be agreeable to me, and that in all things he would seek as much to please me, as himself. His manner was now tender and obliging: and though his subject was most disagreeable to me, yet I deemed it not prudent to be hasty in discovering too much opposition to his plans. I believe I remarked, that I must submit the matter to him. If he was confident it would be for the interest of the family, I could not say it would not be thus; but really I could not at present confide in it.

He proceeded to say, that he would take one of our sons, and one daughter, to go first with him on this tour, to wait on him; and that he probably should not return to take the rest of the family under a year from the time he should set out. He said he would put his affairs in order, so that it should be as easy and comfortable for me as possible, during his absence.

Soon after, Mr. B. laid this his pretended plan before the children; and after a while he obtained their consent to move to the westward. They were not pleased with the idea, but wished to be obedient, and to honor their father. Thus we all consented, at last, to follow our head and guide, wherever he should think best; for our family had ever been in the habit of obedience: and perhaps never were more pains taken to please the head of a family, than had ever been taken in our domestic circle.

But alas! words fail to set forth the things which followed! All this pretended plan was but a specious cover to infernal designs. Here I might pause, and wonder, and be silent, humble, and astonished, as long as I live! A family, which God had committed to my head and husband, as well as to me, to protect and train up for God, must now have their peace and honor sacrificed by an inhuman parent, under the most subtle and vile intrigues, to gratify a most contemptible passion! I had before endured sorrowful days and years, on account of the follies, cruelties, and the base incontinency of him who vowed to be my faithful husband. But all past afflictions vanish before those which follow. But how can I relate them? Oh tell it not in Gath! Must I record such grievousness against the husband of my youth? [. . .]

I have already related that Mr. B. said he would lake one of our sons, and one daughter, to wait on him in his distant tour, before he would take all the family. After he had talked of this for a few days, he said he had altered his plan; he would leave his son, and take only his daughter: he could hire what men’s help he needed: his daughter must go and cook for him. He now commenced a new series of conduct in relation to this daughter, whom he selected to go with him, in order (as he pretended) to render himself pleasing and familiar to her; so that she might be willing to go with him, and feel happy: for though, as a father, he had a right to command her to go, yet (he said) he would so conduct toward her, as to make her cheerful and well pleased to go with him. A great part of the time he now spent in the room where she was spinning; and seemed shy of me, and of the rest of the family. He seemed to have forgotten his age, his honor, and all decency, as well as all virtue. He would spend his time with this daughter, in telling idle stories, and foolish riddles, and singing songs to her, and sometimes before the small children, when they were in that room. He thus pursued a course of conduct, which had the most direct tendency to corrupt young and tender minds, and lead them the greatest distance from every serious subject. [. . .]

His daily conduct forced a conviction upon my alarmed and tortured mind, that his designs were the most vile. All his tender affections were withdrawn from the wife of his youth, the mother of his children. My room was deserted, and left lonely. His care for the rest of his family seemed abandoned, as well as all his attention to his large circle of worldly business. Every thing must lie neglected, while this one daughter engrossed all his attention. [. . .]’

The Diary Junction

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