1826: John Roberts to Mrs. Sarah Patterson

This intriguing letter conveys the sad news to a suspecting mother that her daughter has married a bigamist. It appears that Mrs. Patterson’s daughter has realized her mistake before losing any of her dowry or inheritance — if she had any — and returned to her family.

The letter confirms that the “monster” who married her daughter was named John Cleveland who had abandoned his wife and four children (according to the 1820 census) in Shelby County, Kentucky. A search reveals that not long after this letter was written, a man by that same name married Sarah Kingsley — a recent widow — on June 10, 1826, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Could this have been the same John Cleveland? ¹ Sarah and John Cleveland moved to a farm four miles east of Quincy, Illinois — the center of Mormonism at that time — where Sarah became a member of the Mormon church. In fact, Joseph Smith’s wife and children stayed with the Cleveland’s at Quincy while he was imprisoned in the Liberty jail. At the invitation of Joseph Smith, the Cleveland’s later (1841) moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, and, to make a long story short, Sarah became one of Smith’s numerous wives.

Though this letter is datelined “Bairdstown,” it was obviously written from Bardstown, Kentucky — a few miles south of Louisville. I could not find any John Roberts who resided there at that time and given that the name of the town was miss-spelled, I doubt that it was written by a resident. This leads me to believe it was written by Judge John Roberts of Louisville, Kentucky, who may have been a logical choice for Mrs. Patterson to address her enquiry regarding the background of John Cleveland. Roberts may have simply written and mailed the letter from Bardstown while performing circuit duties.

1826 Letter
1826 Letter

Addressed to Mrs. Sarah Patterson, Warrenton, Mississippi

Post Office
Bardstown [Kentucky]
June 1, 1826

Dear Madam,

Your communication of the 14th inst. I have received and upon making the necessary inquiries in relation to its contents, I am now prepared to give you all the information required. It is, madam, with feelings of the most profound regret that it has become my duty instead of alternative, the distress and misfortune of distant strangers to add, as it were, the gale of bitterness to the injuries which they have already received. The impostor of whom you write (John Cleveland) was some years since a resident of what is now Spencer County about twenty miles from this town. It is certainly true that he left a wife with three or four children under circumstances the most unfavorable to himself since his departure from this country. His wife has been divorced and has married again in Shelby County and I am told is doing very well.

This man has not been heard of more than once since leaving this country and then he was endeavoring to marry some girl in the State of Georgia. The unfortunate marriage of your daughter to this monster is one of the melancholy instances of a girl surrendering her self to the deceptions of a stranger and should be a warning to all young ladies for the future — especially to those who may have a knowledge of your much injured daughter’s fate. The ministered habit has heretofore been looked upon by all good with a kind of sacred reverence but it seems as though the time has actually arrived that behooves all men to be on the look as well among preachers as other men. For we not only see individuals resorting to all the imperfections incident to ____der depravity to accomplish their wicked designs but we find many willing to profane even the sanctuary of God and religion to arrive at their most abominable of of purposes.

The happiest consolation which your daughter and her relations can now have is to know that she has escaped from one of the worst of our species and altho’ she may justly consider hers a hard fate, she must know that she is not the first of her sex who has thus been imposed upon but in many instances innocent females have not only been deceived by such impostors but have even been robbed of handsome estates and then turned out upon the world without a friend to sympathize their misfortune. Your daughter must therefore forget that she has been the wife of so vile a wretch and for her sake, look upon preachers — or pretended preachers — as other men; subject to all the imperfections of our nature. It is, madam, with great pleasure that I have thus attempted to give you a true statement of this matter and if upon a due consideration of its merits it may serve to afford you any relief, I shall be happy in having been able to bestow it with all the emotions of a sympathizing heart.

I am, madam, with due respect, your most obedient servant, — John Roberts

N. B. This John Cleveland was a Baptist in Spencer County but even pretended to preach there. He has therefore taken it up since leaving there. — J. R.

¹ On-line genealogical records indicate the John Alexander Cleveland (1790-1860) who married Sarah Maryetta Kingsley (1788-1856) was born in Schenectady, New York, a son of Gardner Cleveland (1764-1826) and Annis Durkee (1772-1871). No record of Cleveland’s whereabouts prior to his marriage with Sarah in 1826 exists that I have been able to find.

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