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Browsing: Legal Papers of John Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-05-01-02-0007-0002

Dougherty v. Little

DocGroupNo:

1768

Docno: ADMS-05-01-02-0007-0002-0001

Editorial Note

Today we would probably call this action tort for loss of consortium by seduction. In 18th-century England and Massachusetts, the cuckold's remedy was an action of trespass for an assault on his wife, better known as “criminal conversation,” or just “crim. con.”1 Adams represented the defendant Little in the Inferior Court, and the testimony recorded in his minute fairly states the story. Further details emerge from the file of the divorce suit which Dougherty was prosecuting simultaneously with his action at law.2
Dissatisfied with the £60 verdict in the Inferior Court, Dougherty appealed to the April 1768 Charlestown Superior Court; there, with Adams no longer representing Little, the jury awarded Dougherty £400 and £27 4s. 9d. costs.3 Meanwhile the grand jury indicted Mrs. Dougherty and Little twice, once for adultery and once for lewd, lascivious, and wanton behavior.4 Finally, the Governor and Council, sitting in exercise of their exclusive jurisdiction in divorce, on 15 June 1768 granted Dougherty an uncontested divorce a vinculo, a copy of the Superior Court judgment being a part of the evidence “by which it appears that the said James [Dougherty] hath fully proved his libel.”5
1. F. Buller, Introduction to the Law relative to Trials at Nisi Prius 26–28 (London, 1772); 3 Bacon, Abridgment 581.
2.
“The proponent doth alledge that in August A.D. 1764 he sailed for the Island of Newfoundland and that he continued there 'till the month of December last.... That when your proponent returned from the said Island of Newfoundland, to his great grief he found his said Wife Mary big with Child, and has great reason to suspect that the said Thomas Little is the Father thereof your proponent not having cohabited but been absent from his said Wife for the space of three years last past.” The libel was filed 26 Feb. 1768. SF 129750.
See also note 105 below. For Dougherty's disclaimer of his wife's debts, dated 24 Dec. 1767, see Boston Gazette, 7 March 1768, p. 4, col. 3.
3. Min. Bk. 88, SCJ Charlestown, April 1768, N–13; Rec. 1768–1769, fols. 163–164; SF 147615.
4. SF 147605. No record of the disposition of Mrs. Dougherty's case seems to have survived. Little's case was called at the Cambridge Superior Court, Oct. 1768, but he defaulted and was fined £200 and costs. Min. Bk. 88, SCJ Cambridge, Oct. 1768, N–15.
5. Divorce Recs. 45–48 (1768). See also Boston Gazette, 25 April 1768, p. 3, col. 2. As to the divorce jurisdiction see No. 22. In England in a proceeding for divorce a vinculo in the House of Lords (No. 22, text at note 7), the applicant had to establish that he or she not only had obtained a divorce a mensa in the ecclesiastical courts but had recovered for criminal conversation at law. 1 Holdsworth, History of English Law 623.
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Docno: ADMS-05-01-02-0007-0002-0002

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1768-03

Adams' Minutes of the Trial1

Middlesex Inferior Court, Charlestown, March 1768

Dougherty vs. Little
Sewall.2
Dougherty at Newfoundland, 3 Years, Little breakfasted dined suppd and lodgd there. Lodgd with her, got her with Child, and was seen in the Act of Copulation with her.
Revd. Whitney. Rode to Meeting with her.
Thos. Nicholls. Frequently there. Candle put out and two Persons went out, and Little and she came in.
Wm. Little. Was left with the Care of Mrs. Dougherty and got his Brother to bring her up from Charlestown and desired his Brother to take some Care of her and her Negro when I was sick. Talk about the Parson. Am not knowing to her being with Child. The Woman poorly at Meeting. But I know not the Cause. The last Time I saw her it did appear to me, that she was belyed. He always denyd it to me.
Mrs. Little. I thought her with Child. Have not seen her since.
Thos. Trowbridge. He told me that he could have as good a Lodging with Mrs. Dougherty, as I should have with that Woman. Hints. Infirmations.3
Chaise coming from Boston.
Mrs. Nicholls. Never saw any Indecency, any unhansum Carriage. Seen his Horse stand there. Common fame, that he used to frequent the House. Not common Report that he staid o Nights. Common Report that she with Child. I thought she was with Child 7 months gone, not sure she was.
Mrs. Nicholls lodged with her. I discoverd4 that I thought she was pregnant. It seemd like a living Child.
Negro's. Riding a trotting Horse. Into Bed. Saw em twice in Bed. Moonlight went thro the Room once.5
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Dinah. Saw the same. Man upon the Woman.
Children. Boy. Saw em on the Bed, with Arms round each others Necks.
Sewal.
Actually with Child. Mrs. Little and Mrs. Nicholls.
[ . . . ]. And carnally knew.
1. In JA's hand. Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 185.
2. Jonathan Sewall, Dougherty's counsel. See Inferior Court record, SF 147615.
3. The MS is clear. JA may have meant “Informations,” or perhaps he actually intended “Infirmations,” “the action of weakening or invalidating (evidence).” OED.
4. That is, disclosed.
5. This is probably the testimony of one Jacko, whose deposition in the divorce proceedings, dated 6 May 1768, is as follows:
“Jacko twenty-two years of age Testifys and says that In the winter Season in the year 1767 he Came to the house of Mr. James Dougherty in Sherly District and that Soon after he Came there, Thos. Little of said Sherly Came to said Doughertys house Mary the wife of said Dougherty being and liveing at said house <about a fortnight after he said Jacko Came> said Little Came and put his horse into the Chase and road with said Mary and used freequantly so to Do and also Breakfast Dine and Drink Tea with the said Mary, in the <month of> beginning of the Summer in the year 1767 the said Jacko says he saw said Little and said Mary <Standing against said fence> standing by the fence said Mary, Back to the fence said Littles Belly to her Belly, Some time after said Little Came to said Doughertys house and in the Evening said Little sent him said Jacko to said Littles house with his horse and Told him he must lodge there that night, between nine and ten o Clock that same Evening he said Jacko Came back from said Littles house said Little asked why he Came back, he answered he would not lye out of the house that night, said Little Bid the people in the house a Good night and went out of the house, said Jacko went out after him, then said Little went round to another Doar where said Mary met said Little and opened the Doar with a Candle in her hand and let him said Little in, and Shut up the house, which obliged said Jacko to go in at a Celler window, and when he Came up into the Entry way he said Jacko Saw said Littles Cloaths lye on the floar by said Marys bed, and then he said Jacko went up Chamber over her said Marys Bedroom, there being only some Boards thrown Down loose for a floar, there being Considerable Distances between the Boards saw said Little and said Mary in Bed together (the moon shining that nite), a few nights afterwards (the moon shining) the said Jacko being in said Chamber he heard Some body Come into the said Marys Bedroom before Discribed, she then being in Bed, Saw said Little In the Bed with said Mary, and upon her, and the Bed Cloaths in Constant motion. Some time after said Little Came to said Doughertys house aforesaid in the Evening the said Jacko being then in bed, and Called him up and asked him where said Mary was, and said Mary and said Little went out of the house and Tarryd about one Quarter of an hour, then said Mary Came in, (and went to bed) and Early next morning found said Little in said house, and said Little Told him said Jacko that he Came over to ask said Mary whether she wanted his plow that Day. Some time after said Jacko took a lite in the Evening to go Down Seller to Draw Drink, and saw in the Entry said Mary <leaning over> setting against a Chest, and said Little on his Knees <... her> before her.”
[signed] Jacko
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/