Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Many Lives of Fanny Sweet (Part Three)

At this point Fanny had been through at least two husbands, Mr. Smith and Mr. Hinkley--as well as her relationship with Rube Raines in Sacramento. Now she was single once more.

After having allegedly traveled to Havana for a few months in the early part of 1857, Fanny came back to the states and traveled to Ohio for about five months.  According to her autobiography she stated that she went to Ohio "to look after a tract of land near that place, which Mr.  Hinkley had purchased for her." This was not true. The real reason she came to Ohio had to do with her real family, the Browns. Of course she wasn't about to say that in the papers because for her entire adult life she lived out this fantasy story (a lie) that her real name was Fanny Minerva Seymour (or Fanny Maria Seymour) and that she had been born in England. I will get into this in greater detail later on in my final blog post.

When Fanny arrived at Ohio for a visit, she found out that her mother Rebecca Smallwood White had died several years prior. She hadn't kept in touch with the family for so many years, so it was quite a shock to her when she found out about her mother's passing.  She quickly purchased a small piece of land (half an acre) on her mother's homestead in Proctorville, that now belonged to her younger brother Charles. She then had her mother's remains exhumed from the church cemetery in Rome (about 90 miles west of there) and moved her coffin to the plot of land (located at 96 County Road, 70, Proctorville, Lawrence County, Ohio). There she had an obelisk of marble and granite erected for her mother's grave. She also allegedly penned the poem that was put on her stone.

(credit: Carl on Findagrave)

"To the memory of Rebecca White, 
widow of John J. Brown. 
Departed this life
November 15th, 1851,
In the 57th year.

"Hush the winds, and still
The evening gloom. 
Whilst I return to view
My mother's tomb,
And scatter flowers o'er the dust I love.
Farewell, dear Mother;
A little while we pass,
to meet where peace and pardon binds up the broken heart."--

Fanny remained in the area for about five months, but her visit caused quite a rift between her family. According to court records, Fanny not only had her mother removed from the Rome churchyard cemetery and reburied, but she took it upon herself to remove her sister's child who was buried with its grandmother, and had the child reburied with Fanny's mother once more. It mentioned in the Louisiana Annual Reports, Volume 50, that the child's mother, Mary McVey was agreeable to Fanny's actions of reburying their mother. They planned the task together to have a beautifully constructed iron fence built to surround the grave of their mother. Obviously she must have known about the details, including the reburying of her own child, especially since Fanny was staying at her home at the time.  James McVey, however, had been out of town when this took place, and once he learned of the news he was not happy with it at all. 

"McVey having been absent at the time of their removal, he made a complaint about it upon his return, and trouble ensued between him and his sister-in-law about it, which eventuated in a prosecution of the former on a charge of criminal libel, which was preferred by the latter. The affidavit was made and signed by R.F. M. Hinkley, on the 12th of September, 1857......The suit is entitled, 'State of Ohio v. James McVey,' and was instituted before Peras R. Polley, justice of the peace in Lawrence county. The suit is based upon a letter, alleged to have been written by James Mcvey, although signed by 'Judge Lynch,' in which she is notified that the citizens would no longer allow their peace and quiet to be disturbed by the passions and avarice of such an outrageous female monster, and notifies her to leave the place, or expect a 'suit of tar and feathers and a free pass down the river on a slab.' On her affidavit, signed and sworn to as R.F.M. Hinkley, McVey was arrested, and gave bond. The case was continued on September 14, 1857, on account of the absence of one of the witnesses, Charles Clinton Brown, and was tried on the 17th day of September, 1857." --Louisiana Annual Reports, Volume 50

The case was thrown out and Fanny ended up paying the costs of the court fees which was six dollars. According to Fanny's own writing, she claims she then traveled to New York for two years and three months. First living at the Everett House, then a private boarding house on Clinton Place. From there she moved to the Webster House and then onto the Hotel St. Julian.

Back to the Big Easy

(Using snippets from her autobiography, which is quoted below in italics, you can finally read in great length what Fanny's side of the story is.)

“In the month of March, 1860, she came back to New Orleans once more, her steps guided, as they must have been, by some evil destiny. Here she rented a small cottage on Canal street, and soon after made the acquaintance of “Mr. M”, the agent of a leading firm. In June she herself purchased the property on Gasquet Street, for seventy-five hundred dollars, and here she resided with “Mr. M”; by his request, they having assumed the title of Mr. and Mrs. Sweet, when on Canal Street."

I still have not been able to determine just who "Mr.  M" was, or why he wanted to carry on their relationship under the names, "Mr. & Mrs. Sweet," but their relationship proved to be a most volatile one according to her own words and it appears that we have found the number one reason why the expose' in the True Delta was published about her. 

"During fits of temporary estrangement he may have circulated false reports concerning her that formed the basis of some of the stories that have been published of her in this connection. Stories as ludicrous as they are impossible. If he ever did state that she was “subject to horrible dreams, in which her spirit seemed to struggle with apparitions of vengeance,” to which the reporter of the True Delta, in a sudden frenzy of literary rupture, must have added, “In such moments she would grind her teeth together and mutter the most fearful oaths and imprecations that mortal ever heard, while she would seize the bowie knife that she kept under her head and brandish it in the air, finally awaking with a start and a groan. Was it unlikely that these spectres, haunting her pillow and wringing her soul with such fear as to bring the cold sweat in large drops to her forehead, were the dark figures that conscience disentombed from their graves to pursue her even in slumber?" 

If “M” ever did state this, then he manufactured the falsehood out of whole cloth, without a shadow of foundation save what he may have found among the fruitful promptings of a diseased imagination. The story of his having purchased for her the property on Gasquet Street, and having paid her a large sum to leave the city, which she received from him and then failed to go, is equally false and absurd.
As for carrying weapons, she never owned one, except a revolver that “Mr. M” gave her when she went to New York, and that she soon afterwards gave it to Officer McLaughlin, the night watchman on her beat.

Instead of her having  made blood-thirsty threats against him or annoyed him in any manner, by going to his room or his office, she was herself constantly annoyed by him and attempted in vain to get rid of him. But the letters and telegraphic dispatches he sent her after he left the city and went to New York –which have been read by a score of persons here – in which he urged her to sell her property at any sacrifice and join him in New York, and that he would come for her but that his politics were such as to render the visit unsafe, are sufficient evidence to refute all the stories in regard to her horrible treatment of him.

To advance in detail the proofs of falsity of the innumerable slanders told against her, would but weary the already over-taxed reader, but some of them appear uncalled for, so monstrous, the mere recurrence to them at this time startles and appalls her."---

At some point after she had attempted to end things with "Mr. M," she made acquaintance with a man by the name of William G. Stephens. I am unsure where she met him, but I believe it was in either New Orleans or New York. He was having some "dangerous" business dealings with people in the north at the time, but had just made some contracts with the Confederacy to go abroad and purchase munitions and medicine for their government. This is where the recent gossip and rumors of Fanny being a lesbian, and claiming she would rather where men's clothing than women's started.

You see, Stephens was an upstanding man in society. He came from a good family and he had a good reputation. He became intimately associated with Fanny, to put it mildly. (She was his mistress). Stephens' wife had died and it was not said how long after her death he became intimate with Fanny. Perhaps it was too soon, perhaps he didn't want his children to know about the affair, and maybe, it was the fact he knew his family wouldn't approve given her background, so he kept this amorous affair to himself. Still, he couldn't manage to be without her for very long, so he came up with the crazy idea to have Fanny come stay with him, but to dress in men's clothing and pose as his nephew while his children were away from the house, so no suspicion could be raised.  By day, Fanny pretended to be his young nephew, and by night she could be herself, and share a bed with her lover. There is no way to know if at some point he decided to allow his children to know Fanny personally, but I would like to think he did given later writings that she mentions them.

When Stephens decided to go on this trip to Mexico to get gun powder and quinine for the Confederates, he chose to take his best friend, Fanny (disguised as his nephew of course), and his other business partner Mr. Lincoln. Fanny claimed that she contributed $150 gold and $850 cash of her own money towards their trip, and that Stephens' contributed between $1,500.00 and $1,600.00 of his own money. She was very adamant that Stephens didn't bring as much money as the newspapers claimed, especially since later they tried to blame her for stealing this "alleged" money.

She also stated that she never manipulated or controlled Stephens' and that it was an insult to insinuate such a thought being that he was a man fully capable of thinking for himself. She described Stephens as being "a man of strong mind and resolute purpose, cool and calm in his deliberations, who took no step without having well considered it, and viewed it by a conscientious as well as worldly standard, but who, having once taken that step, was unflinching as a rock."

She stated that Stephens left about $4,000.00-$5,000.00 in his bank at the time of their departure towards Mexico. During the trip Stephens allegedly obtained letters of guaranty from Governor Lovell & Commodore Hollins to "satisfy the scruples of Texas authorities" in Houston, so they could pass through on to Mexico. But on their way Stephens started to get sick. Several days went by and he kept wanting to press onward, despite the urging by Fanny for him to stop and seek medical help. Fanny expressed that Stephens told her he was "worn down with anxiety and fatigue," but that he wanted to keep going and would not abandon his mission.

She claimed that Texas Attorney General Flourney, City Marshal Boyce and Lieutenant Sparks were witnesses of her "urging Stephens to stop and get treatment." He got so bad he could not lift a pitcher of water on his own, he complained of his back hurting and extreme chills. By the time they got to Santa Rosa, Stephens tried to get out of the wagon on his own but overestimated his footing and fell backwards onto the ground. Lincoln and Fanny helped him up and she went for help at a nearby home of Mr. Burton to get some tea for Stephens. Nothing helped though. This went on for another few days, until they reached a ranch owned by a Mexican rancher, where they sought assistance but were refused until Fanny removed the gold chain from under her clothing and handed it to the rancher's wife. She accepted it and welcomed them into her home. The lady of the house sent a boy to the nearest town to fetch a doctor. The next morning the boy came back with the news that the doctor was in Brownsville.  They tried to make Stephens as comfortable as possible in the back of the wagon, but he passed away on the way to Brownsville.

Fanny claimed that as soon as they made their way to town, "the refined and gentlemanly inhabitants of the place came rushing up from every direction, flocking around the wagon, crying "Spies!! Runaway!! Here they are, So one of them is dead is he? Served him right. Pity they didn't all die!"

Apparently someone who knew they were coming that way had traveled ahead and told people in the surrounding areas that their party were defectors or traitorous spies trying to abandon the Confederacy and take their money with them out of the country. The people surrounding the wagon were only interested in the money they thought Stephens, Fanny and Lincoln had on them.

Fanny stated that Mr. Marshall who owned the hotel, took kindly to her and let her rest in his sitting room until a room could be fixed for her upstairs. Then Mayor Dye, D.A. Derby and a lawyer, Mr. Cummings was called to the hotel for Fanny to show the "letters of guaranty" that Stephens had on his person. She claimed the coroner declared the cause of death to be "congestive chills," and there was no further discussion about it.  She did claim a man came rushing in the room and he started taking most everything of Stephens' belongings, papers, clothes, money, etc. She was having a difficult time trying to keep it together. Also remembering she had to pretend that he was her uncle, all the while hiding grief that the man she loved had just died. She was able to keep some of Stephens papers, besides the ones the Administrator had taken, and she then went back to New Orleans.She claimed that her only concern was what would become of Stephens' children, which gives the impression she had grown very fond of them, so she went to seek out Stephens' father to give him the bad news and for him to take charge of Stephens' estate at once.

Newspaper accounts later speak of her referring to those children as her own, perhaps she felt compelled to worry for them, being that they were now orphans. The Sacramento Daily Union newspaper stated, "another issue gives the statement of a gentleman who said that he had seen the photographs of her two children, who were at the time, in a convent in Louisiana and had read a letter to their mother from the Superior." It appears that Stephens' father may have put them in a convent after Stephens' death.

It was not long after that, that rumors started swirling around which fanned the flames of more slanderous gossip claiming not only that Fanny had poisoned Stephens and took all his money, but now they were trying to blame her for her former husband, Hinkley's death as well. These accusations were printed in the newspapers, claiming that she was a murderess and even a voodoo practitioner, despite the fact they had absolutely no evidence to prove such an allegation. This is when Fanny had enough and decided to write a novel of a response to be printed in the newspapers to set her story straight once and for all. Her very lengthy "autobiography" was published in two parts over two weeks in the South Western newspaper in January of 1862.

"The poison that had previously been instilled into the public ear still rankled there and kept alive the flames of prejudice. And this, is the "remarkable conspiracy," and the "diabolical case of poisoning."---(from her autobiography in the South Western, 1862).

In her writings she fully addresses all the accusations and rumors, including giving a rundown of the details of her life. Here are just a few of the responses she had regarding the many defamatory allegations made about or against her:

“And this then is the reported poisoning of Mr. Hinkley by his wife while they were crossing the isthmus on their “bridal tour.” And a lock of his hair, taken from his scalp while the warm blood yet tricking over it, and sent as a memento mori to Mrs. Hinkley by a rough but good-hearted Nicaraguan volunteer, of Walker’s army, was discovered by her work table after Mr. Stephen’s death, and heralded to the world as a “Voudou Love Charm!” Great heavens! What part of slanders heaped upon her reputation could be called surprising after that? And a few little papers of homeopathic powders, that any druggist would have recognized at a glance, which happened to be found in the same casket, having been left there and forgotten, gave rise to a grave discussion as to whether they were subtle poisons to destroy rich old men, or equally vicious love powders with which to seduce innocent young men! And this gives the lie to the story that they were in a casket which she said was not to be opened until after her death."

“Let us investigate the facts. She has been accused of seducing men by some unexplained and unnatural powers of witchcraft, and ruining them, body and soul; of shooting one man and poisoning another. From her very infancy, it has been said, she has been a stranger to virtue, an enemy to honor, growing up in wickedness and pursuing a reckless career of villainy, without an impulse of good to prove a heart or a blush to speak for shame. Truly, if such were the case, she could scarcely be dismayed by its assertion, or have wept such tears of poignant anguish, or felt the burning flush which comes unbidden at the painful task of writing the refutation of such cruel and malignant falsehoods.”--

“Strange as it may appear to some unwilling minds, this “Female Outlaw,” this “modern Lucretia Borgia,” was once a happy, guileless, ignorant girl, knowing the world only as a beautiful landscape, peopled with warm hearted, right-minded, sincere and trustful men and women.”

South Western, 1/8/1862
“There are many men of position and high standing now in this community whom she could call upon for positive evidence to refute some of the baseless slanders that have been hurled against her, but that she would rather be crucified by them, without a murmur of complaint escaping her lips, than drag them into such connection to shield herself. With such a life as hers has been—the creature of circumstance and the victim of deceit and passion—no one dares to urge a word in her defense, lest their motive be misconstrued, nor to deny the inventions of calumny, lest they fall, themselves, before it. And thus, alone and deserted, what reply can she make to the assertion that she was a vicious, designing, lawless, desperate virago, a walking arsenal and a plotter of murder, except by calling upon the supreme ruler of the universe to hear her solemn denial to the world? She was wrong in straying from the pleasant path of virtue to those ways of sin where the unhappy rush madly on, goaded from bad to worse, until they become morally insane, but her faults were those of weakness of purpose, not the promptings of a corrupt heart.” --

She continues to respond to further accusations here:

"Who could have invented the story that she was a devotee of voudousim? What officer of police was it that unblushingly hazarded the lie that she was caught engaged in a voudou dance? If they have a spark of shame left slumbering in their breast, let them blush now. What is voudousim? The writer known not what the word means. She has read that it was an idolatrous superstition among the more ignorant and degraded class of negroes. Further than that she has yet to be enlightened.

Who is it that asserts she attempted to throw a woman over the balcony of a house in Dauphine Street, and then threw her down stairs and broke her colar bone? The writer’s memory is not a bad one, and surely such an exploit as this could not have escaped her, nor the police records, but her first knowledge of it was by reading the affair with full particulars as given in the newspapers.

In that portion of her autobiography published last Sunday,, she passed over those few years of her early life when she was living in public houses in this city. But let it not be thought it was passed for concealment. No, she is willing to expose the diary of it to the public eye, for there was no act of it where she ever wronged or injured any other than herself.

It seemed strange that a plea of cruel treatment, very naturally made by her slave woman, who is now awaiting trial for arson, to the effect that she set fire to the house, “in revenge for cruel treatment received at the hands of her mistress,” should be published at this day, after the very full explanation that was had before recorder Emerson of the manner in which she treated the same servant, when the proofs of her kindness and forbearance were irrefutable, and the vague allegations of cruelty made at random by a maliciously disposed party, were set aside and she was honorable discharged.

If the incident related of two police officers who were afraid to partake of refreshments, said to have been offered to them by her was true, it would only prove their silly affectation. But there is not a particle of foundation for it. Indeed, the only one of a long train of slanders against her that is founded on truth, is the shooting of Putnam in Sacramento, and if that was wrong, under the circumstances, then the usually received theories of right and self-defense are overthrown.

It was asserted in one of the papers that she blackmailed a gentleman of this city to the amount of ten thousand dollars. This is quite as false as any of the balance. She never extorted money from any one. Whatever she has received was given freely and without any solicitation on her part. On the contrary, she has often checked the generosity of a friend. If any person lives in the world who can say they ever proffered her money unwillingly, let them come forward and thereby convince her of a deliberate falsehood.

It is not for her to speak of good qualities of the heart that have overweighed, in the opinion of those who know her best, the false steps of her life. If anyone wishes testimony concerning her traits of character let them ask of all the poor and unfortunate who lived in her neighborhood on Gasquet street, many of whom braved the storm of public censure when she was so recently “a prisoner without a crime,” by striving to obtain admission to her, to offer her their honest sympathy and to assure her of their disbelief in the accusations heaped upon her head.

Let them ask those volunteers for whom she took the blankets off her bed, and deprived herself of what she learned they were in need of. Let them ask the first regiment of Wigfalls’ Texas infantry that passed through this city, temporarily stopping at Woods press near her house, who sent her so warm and grateful a letter, in response to her free-will gift of five hundred dollars, unasked and unmentioned up to this time. Yes, let them ask every person who ever came to her in need, for not one did she ever turn away."----  (South Western, 1862).

So, was Fanny to stop the rumors and slander being thrown at her from every direction? Was this finally the end to Mrs. Fanny Sweet's story? Of course not! Hers was a life much too complicated and exciting for my work to be done just yet. There's still a few more chapters of her life left to cover.

(Copyright, 2017- J'aime Rubio,

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Many Lives of Fanny Sweet (Part Two)

In my first post covering this story, I have touched on Fanny's early days, her true identity and the dangerous element of people she involved herself with.  Now it's time to cover the next chapter of her life, and this time I will allow Fanny to speak to us herself, with her own published explanation.

You see, in 1862, a publication titled True Delta published an expose' that slandered her so badly that Fanny felt she had to publicly refute each and every rumor printed about her past. From rumors of murder, being involved in witchcraft and voodoo, to mistreatment of her slaves, being a Confederate spy and so much more, Fanny felt the need to set the record straight once and for all. The really sad part of this story is the fact that since 1862, authors and writers seem to cite the True Delta's published article about her while completely leaving out Fanny's own response to those allegations. Remember though, even though we are reading her side of the story, you still have to take everything she wrote with a grain of salt, because I have already proven she has lied before. Still, the newspapers of the time often were just as bad as they are today with their "fake news" stories. So, for us historians searching to put the pieces together accurately, at times it can be hard to differentiate between fact and fabrication with the sources available.

This blog (and accompanying articles) will not only mention the newspaper articles, documented court records and other various sources, but it will also give Fanny the platform she has deserved for the last 155 years. I will also be comparing everything, so you, the reader, can examine whether or not Fanny's story adds up.

Fanny's Fresh Start

Just after shooting Albert Putnam in Sacramento, Fanny fled the United States. By her own admission she went to Aspinwall, Panama, seeking a chance to start over.  According to her own autobiography published in 1862 by the South Western newspaper, (which she wrote in the third person), it states:

" On the 15th of January, 1853, the writer left California to return to the States, arriving in New Orleans in March. She soon became disheartened with the attempt to convince those who do not believe in the possibility of a change in the human heart that all false steps are not final. Again she cherished the hope of beginning a new life in a new locality, and started for Aspinwall on the 22nd of April. 

In this town she established a quiet, respectable boarding house for passengers crossing the isthmus. She was only known at this place as a lady of irreproachable conduct. It was here that she made the acquaintance of Mr. Abraham M. Hinkley, who was proprietor of Hinkley’s California Express. He paid her attentions and sought her hand in honorable union, but she declined his offers. Still he visited at her house and persevered in his suit. He knew her past history and her struggles to redeem herself. He overlooked the one and gave her credit for the other.

To avoid his importunities she sold her furniture, gave up her house and on the 2nd of Sept sailed for New York, which she now saw for the second time in her life. Here she engaged board in a highly respectable family, that of Mrs. Wilson, at the corner of College Place and Murray Street. Mr. Hinkley followed her on the next steamer, and pertinaciously hunted her up, calling on her and urgently renewing her offer of marriage. In this position of affairs she sought the advice of an elderly lady in whom she reposed confidence, and to whom she explained the story of her life. The advice given was to accept Mr. Hinkley’s offer, and she did so, resolving to be worthy of a man who thus took her to his heart for what he knew she was, and not for what scandal might have painted her. They were duly and legally married on the 23rd of October, 1853, by the Reverend Dr. Rufus Babcock.

In November she came to New Orleans and remained for a short time at the Verandah Hotel, and then rented a small house on Terpsichore street where she resided in quiet and seclusion, suffering from the Chagres fever that she had contracted on the isthmus, until April, 1854, Mr. Hinkley wrote for her to join him at Aspinwall, whither she went. Her house, with its furniture and her servants –two women and four children---she left in charge of a highly respectable gentleman as her agent. From Aspinwall, she went to New York, in July, with her husband, where they remained until she returned to New Orleans, in the month of October, 1854."---

It seemed that life was working out for her at this point, but trouble was just around the corner. At some point in 1854, when Hinkley went back Aspinwall, Fanny faced some damning charges against her regarding two slave boys living in her home in New Orleans. On October 20th, the New Orleans True Delta stated:

"Fiendish Outrage- A woman named Fanny Smith, was yesterday arrested on a charge of burning with hot irons, and otherwise cruelly ill-treating two slave boys who she owns, and who live with her in a house on St. Louis Street. It is said that Fanny's establishment is a brothel of the grossest stamp, and that her behavior toward her slaves is the most fiendish that can possibly be imagined. It is to be hoped that such fiendishness will not be permitted to pass unpunished. It is a little strange that affidavits in relation to charges similar to that made against Fanny, are generally hidden from the reporters in the Recorder's Office of the Second District. Fanny had recently returned from California with goodly stores of wealth, but surely her wealth cannot purchase impunity for so foul and offense."---

So, did this incident take place just as the newspaper claims? Not exactly. According to another newspaper, the Picayune, the incident started when a half-naked "negro woman" rushed out of an alley and approached an officer on St. Louis Street. According to the newspaper, the woman's back was bleeding and she had been stripped of clothing. She claimed that she had fled the cruel treatment of her "mistress" and that there were boys there who were beaten as well, but the police could not find any marks on the boys to corroborate her story. The slave woman was then arrested. Upon further questioning she claimed that the boys who were tortured were locked in the back of the house. The police dispatched more officers to the home, whereas they found the two boys who "did not appear to be more than seven or eight years of age. On stripping them, they were found to be marked in a number of places with the scars of fresh and old burns, and punctured wounds were found in different parts of their bodies."

So what did Fanny have to say about that entire incident? See her reply from the South Western, 1862  (remember she wrote in the third person): 

"And now she comes to the slanderous accusation regarding her cruel treatment of slaves, the assertion of which, at this day, in face of the records of the first district court to the contrary, would be astounding in all its baselessness, were it not on a par with all the other accusations framed out of moonshine by the ingenuity of idle rumor.  Two little colored boys were the alleged subjects of her cruelty. Their mother, a hair dresser, named Bella, had been bought out of prison for fourteen hundred dollars by the writer, when she returned to New Orleans in March 1853, on account of having known her previously.  Bella agreed to serve her faithfully for three years, in any country, as payment for the fourteen hundred dollars, at the end of which time she should be freed. But a few weeks after she went to Aspinwall with her mistress, she broke her promise and left her.  

It was proven on the trial, to the full satisfaction of the court, by her physician, Dr. Fenner, and also by Dr. Weatherly, that what was claimed to be wounds and burns on the boys, received at her hands, were the result of an infirmity inherited from their mother. It was also proven that the whippings they had received were inflicted by a colored servant named Eliza, in what she considered necessary chastisement, and not by the writer of this article.”-----

She goes on to state that the secret reason as to why these charges were brought up against her was because the father of these young boys who originally wanted to purchase them was upset with her.  Why Fanny didn’t just give the boys to their father, I simply don’t understand. Her claim was that immediately after her arrest, “this person set to work insidiously and industriously to roll the tide of prejudice against her, and the press, taking up the hue and cry from the common street rumor... reached the avalanche of slander and vituperation.”

“The acquittal in the first district court, came on the 28th of February, 1855. From the following report of the case, as it had then been proven to be, it will be seen how deeply the writer had been injured by the first hasty reckless and untruthful accounts.  

--- First District Court – Judge Robertson—In this court yesterday the case of Mrs. F. M. Hinkley, charged with cruelty to two little slave boys, who was tried at great length. The result was a complete exposition of the falsity of the allegations and the prosecution proved an entire failure. She was honorably acquitted by the jury.-----." -- 

If those charges weren't bad enough, Fanny was facing marital problems due to the scandalous notoriety that she was getting in the papers. Because of this, the damage done to her marriage was irreversible and her husband Hinkley became depressed and distant. The couple separated on January 17, 1856, and Fanny petitioned for divorce on February 1, 1856, on grounds of adultery.  According to her autobiography she was given a decree from the court on September 15, 1856, but her husband, then living in Nicaragua for the past four months never received the update from the courts. He died on September 25, 1856. It is said that he was assassinated by natives in Nicaragua. 

What would become of Fanny now? 

(Copyright 2017 - J'aime Rubio,

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Many Lives of Fanny Sweet (Part One)

Once in a while I come across these amazing stories full of twists and turns that could out-do even some of the best fiction novels. This story, in my humble opinion, would be among those few.  First and foremost, I would have never even known the name “Fanny Sweet” had it not been for my friend and fellow researcher, Amanda Trainor. She originally came to me with information regarding a lady named Mary McCormick who is buried at the Old City Cemetery in Sacramento. 

It was Mary’s life that she wanted me to delve into and solve a few mysteries surrounding her and her family. Once I started digging, I found another story, the story of her sister, Fanny. This one I just had to get to first, and so down the rabbit hole I went, and what I found was both equally astonishing and confusing. From each account to the next, it seemed that every recollection of incident in this woman’s life has been tainted with scandalous rumors, and yes, some downright lies. But one of the biggest lies about Fanny didn’t come from those around her, but was actually a concoction derived by Fanny herself.

Bear with me, while I attempt to fill you in on the many lives of Fanny Sweet…..

While wandering through the St. Louis Cemetery # 3 in New Orleans, Louisiana, among the many rows of crypts side by side you might easily walk past the one that belongs to Fanny Sweet, although no one would have ever known it before. You see, the crypt itself is marked “Tomb of Mrs. F.M. Hinkley-Mills,” with little to nothing else, besides the tiny writing on top, just below the broken cross that reads: “Aunt Fanny.” So even those who may have wanted to find her, couldn’t have, unless they were privy to certain research.

Mrs. F. M. Hinkley-Mills

If you were to Google search the name “Fanny Sweet, New Orleans,” you will find site after site and book after book, reciting basically the same information.  A woman, said to have been born in England, who traveled to America and lived many lives, and went by many different names. Her aliases include: Fanny Smith, Fanny Seymour, Minerva Seymour, Fanny Hinkley, Fanny Sweet, and Fanny Mills.  From a madam at a brothel, a lesbian cross-dresser, a Confederate spy, a thief, a murderer, a jealously violent woman and a practitioner of voodoo, there wasn't anything that she hadn't been accused of or given credit for.

Most of the writers who have chosen to mention her story like to throw in the mix that she was exceptionally tall, very unattractive and that she had a hairy upper lip. That, somehow despite her grotesque appearance by way of her sorcery and powers she seemed to seduce old and young men alike by taking advantage of them and stealing their money.

It sounds so unbelievable right? And yet, people have continued to publish this nonsense over and over in various books, publications and even on websites and blogs.

So how did all these unreal rumors and accusations get out there in the first place? Where did it all stem from?

Well, what happened was that someone had spread some very slanderous information about her way back in the mid-19th century, who that person was we will get into later in greater detail in this blog, and that information was published as a sort of expose’ about Fanny in a publication titled the True Delta. This one publication forever branded Fanny in a horrific light and found her guilty of all these atrocities in the “court of public opinion,” without giving her a platform to defend herself.

What I am going to do with this blog is go through her life and share with you the facts I have uncovered. That way you, the reader, can decide for yourself what to believe.  From the beginning you will see that this woman was not perfect, and she definitely did not live the best life but we owe it to her to get her story straight no matter what.   First and foremost let’s tackle the biggest lie – Fanny Sweet wasn’t really Fanny Sweet. She also wasn’t born in London as she had claimed most of her life (even in legal documents such as wills and marriage certificates).

Her birth name was actually Rachel Fanny Brown, and she was born on January 9, 1826, in Rome, Lawrence County, Ohio.  Her parents were Rebecca Smallwood White and John Jacob Brown. Their union produced eight children, three of which died during infancy shortly after birth.

Rachel grew up with four siblings: James (born 1816), Mary (born 1822), Sarah Henrietta (born 1824) and Charles Clinton Brown (born 1829).

James disappeared at the age of 22, in 1838, and was never seen or heard from again. Rachel’s father also disappeared (year unknown), and later on her mother remarried this time to a Mr. White. Her sister Mary Brown married a Mr. James McVey, while her other sister Sarah Henrietta** married a Mr. Swartwood who died shortly thereafter. Sarah would again remarry, this time to a Mr. John McCormick of Cincinatti. Rachel remained at the family homestead with her mother, step-father, and her youngest brother Charles at the time of her sister's marriage and move to Cincinatti. 

(**Sarah Henrietta McCormick (who would later change her name to Mary McCormick, for reasons unknown) came California in 1849.  Her story is one that deserves her own blog post as well, so I will leave that story for another day. )

According to the testimony by her brother Charles Clinton Brown in 1897, out of the surviving Brown children, Sarah Henrietta and Rachel Fanny were the only ones who strayed from the family, and down a dangerous path that led them into trouble.  It was around 1841-1842 when “Fanny” left her hometown and moved to Cincinnati to live with her sister, Sarah Henrietta.  Charles came to visit Fanny in 1844, and at that time she was living with a lady named Mrs. Seymour.  Fanny told her brother that Mrs. Seymour wanted to adopt her. Charles knew this would upset their mother and he told Fanny that she should keep her real name. Apparently she had grown very close to Mrs. Seymour, so much so that she wanted so badly to be her daughter. This is very important to remember in regards to the possible reasons why she chose to create for herself a new identity later. 

The Start of a Sketchy Past

The timeline of Fanny’s whereabouts after this is sort of sketchy. Some records indicate her to be in one certain place during a certain time frame based on vital records such as marriage and divorce, or death records. Still, the in between areas and her excessive travel back and forth with lack of records to prove makes her timeline a bit foggy.

So far I have ascertained that Fanny was living in Cincinnati with both her sister and then Mrs. Seymour during 1841, 1842, 1843 and part of 1844. She then left and went to work as a chambermaid at the Chapman House in Guyandotte, West Virginia, which is just across the river from Procterville, Ohio, where her mother was living.

This is where it appears that she came up with the idea of concocting an elaborate story of being from London. Perhaps she was trying to forget a traumatic childhood and start a new life away from the ties of her family, perhaps she wanted some excitement, or maybe she just didn’t want word getting back to her family of the sorts of people she was associating with. No matter the case, she came back from West Virginia with a whole new back story.

From that point moving forward she would claim that her real identity was Fanny Minerva Seymour (some reports also say Fanny Maria Seymour), and that she was born in London to a rich family but was orphaned at a young age. Some accounts she claimed she was sent to America to live with a family in Virginia, while some of the newspapers state that she claimed she had grown up in London and worked as a barmaid before making the journey across the ocean to America.  She even attempted to perfect a cockney accent as it was described, to give it more believability.

She was working there at the Chapman House, in West Virginia, until sometime between 1846 and 1847, when she married a man named Mr. Smith from New York. She must have stayed in New York some time prior to moving to New Orleans. The marriage didn’t last long though, because Mr. Smith died on December 27, 1847, a short time after moving to New Orleans. Fanny was sued by the undertaker for the amount of $80.00 for funeral expenses she didn’t pay up front.

At this point, she was penniless and alone in New Orleans. From the way it looks, it seems she more than likely got involved in prostitution during her first stay in New Orleans. It didn’t last long before she found her way back to Cincinnati again. It was alleged that she and her sister Sarah started running a brothel, in Bank Alley (or Bank Street) between 3rd and 4th Streets.

A witness in a later court battle, Edward Fulton testified in court that he met Fanny while she was “working” in Cincinnati and he became acquainted with both Fanny and her sister, who he claimed sometimes went by the name "The Stevens Sisters." This was in 1849, just before they left to California. The sisters first stopped in Ohio to tell their family of their intended move to California, this is when they brought a little girl named Cordelia** to their mother's home. Fulton's testimony that Fanny and her sister went by "the Steven's sisters" was later determined in court to be inaccurate and that part of her history has been discredited. She did however live in Cincinnati along with her sister, and Mrs. Seymour, but that was all the information that could be proven with the facts available. 

**(Little is known about who actually gave birth to Cordelia. She could have been Sarah's or Fanny's, no one has ever been able to determine for certain who her mother was. One newspaper reported after Fanny's death that Cordelia was Sarah's daughter but that Cordelia was left in Fanny's care and later brought to Ohio to be raised by Rebecca Smallwood White, the child's grandmother until later on when she moved to Sacramento to return to live with Sarah Henrietta McCormick.)

Then they set off on their journey across the country. Fulton claimed he had ran into Fanny by sheer luck in Sacramento in 1850, while playing at the Faro tables in her beau’s, Rube Raines establishment. According to the several sources, Fanny was running brothel known as The Palace, while Raines was running a gambling house known as The El Dorado.

Per Fulton’s statement, he had opened a faro bank in Rube Raines’ gambling house and one of the first people he faced was Fanny. She lived upstairs with Raines and her sister was at that time married to a man named Charles Green.  It seemed to be the perfect place for Fanny, the Wild West was still alive and well in Sacramento during the Gold Rush, and with it came an element of people she probably felt comfortable around. It was an incident here in Sacramento that proved to be the first of many highly publicized accounts that has given her an even more unsavory reputation. In some documented news sources they claim Fanny killed a man in Sacramento but again, that is not accurate. 

According to the local Sacramento newspapers of the time, on December 20, 1852, Fanny Seymour aka Fanny Smith shot a man by the name of Albert Putnam.

“ About 9 o’clock in the evening of the 20th, Albert Putnam, who was a stage driver on the Auburn road, in company with some friends, went to the Palace, a house of prostitution on 2nd street, between I and J, as he had often done, being in the habit of taking parcels there. The house is kept by Fannie Smith – as she is known. She was somewhat intoxicated and is known to be, when in that condition, a desperate woman. She demanded that Putnam buy a bottle of wine and he refused. They had a quarrel and during it he told her to ‘dry up,’ and threatened her if she did not do so.

She ordered him to leave the house and he refused to do so, unless his friends approved of it. She went to the back park of the house and one of his friends, who was acquainted with her violent disposition, advised him to leave. As he had just stepped outside of the door, she returned with a Colt’s five-shooter and fired at his back, the ball striking him just under the shoulder blade and passing through his body, lodging just under the skin in front.  He was taken to the City Exchange, on Second street by his friends.

La Grange, (Sac Union 1/14/12)
She ran out on the street in the meantime and inquired for a police man and the Marshal met her and took her to the station house. Crowds began to gather almost immediately on the streets and the opinion was freely expressed that she ought to be hung. The sentiment gained ground and the continually augmented crowd moved down toward the station house. As it was evident that their intention was to lynch her, several citizens hastened to the station house in advance of the mob and warned Captain Mace, who was in charge. He had a boat ready for the emergency and took Fanny out and deposited her on the prison brig, in the river.” --- Union, December 21, 1852

(By the way, the prison brig mentioned was called La Grange, and it was literally a floating jail. It sunk in 1859, and its remaining pieces are at the bottom of the river just below the I Street bridge.)
The article goes on to state that Fanny was admitted bail for $3,000.00, which Rube Raines helped her post. As fast as she was released she fled the country. And what became of her victim? Albert Putnam survived.

According to Fanny’s recollection, the event was entirely different.

(Her autobiography published in the South Western, January 8, 1862,  was written by her in the third person.)

First, Fanny claimed that the incident happened in the El Dorado, her boyfriend’s establishment, which, "The first floor was a coffee-house, and on the upper stories were rooms which she had the renting of, and for which she obtained large parties. They were used as the recorder’s court, mayor’s office, State treasurer’s office, masonic hall and law offices.”

“A politician, named Judge Ross, who had come to Sacramento, obtained the temporary use of one of her rooms from the lawyer to whom she rented it as an office……..They caroused in the building until 2 o’clock in the morning, which, naturally enough, caused the other lodgers to complain, and judge Ross was informed in the morning that such debauch must not be repeated in that building. Still, under the influence of his last night’s potations, he replied, in an insulting manner, that he would do as he pleased.  Next night, as if in defiance of propriety and the rights of others, he repeated his drunken carousal, apparently trying to make as much noise as possible…..”

As it were, the next day he was kicked out of his room. She assumed that it was out of anger and revenge that he paid his stage driver, Putnam to come inside and start destroying her property, and accosting her by slapping her in the face. She claimed she feared further violence, being without protection, and she drew a revolver and shot Putnam in self-defense.

Given the fact she had a history of lying about things, it is hard to sift through her statement without having some doubts about her honesty. Still, I wanted to show both accounts to prove there are always two sides to every story. I would like to think somewhere between both of those accounts, the true story might be hiding.

One thing I will mention though is that the newspaper account regarding this incident stated that Fanny was a beautiful woman, which contradicts most of the mean statements that I have found in recent books mentioning her story. In reality, she was actually a very beautiful lady. Probably not the best in moral character, but attractive nonetheless. 

And Fanny's story doesn't end there. Not by a long shot..... trust me, there's a lot more and I am just barely getting started. 

(J'aime Rubio, Copyright 2017--

Special thanks to  Alicia Borges for the photo of Fanny's crypt, 
and Amanda Trainor and John Marshall for their awesome help with research!! 
Sources for entire story will be at the end of the final blog post for Fanny Sweet.