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,

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