05 March 2008

The Life, Love and Lunacy of Joshua Gates

THE SINGULAR CASE OF JOSHUA B. GATES, WHO DIED ON SATURDAY - HIS FORTUNE AND HIS FRIENDS - WEDDED TO A WOMAN YOUNG ENOUGH TO BE HIS GRANDDAUGHTER - THEIR QUARREL AND SEPARATION - GATES' INSANITY

How would you like that at the top of your obituary? You almost don't need to read the rest of the story - it's all there in the headline of this May 29, 1877 newspaper account of the life and death of Flagtown resident Joshua B. Gates.

Still curious? Well, I've dog-eared all the good bits, so read on.

In the middle of the 19th century, Joshua Gates was one of the most successful life insurance agents in the nation. When he retired from the United States Life Insurance Company to a farm near Flagtown, he had amassed a fortune of $250,000 - in 1870 dollars!

Mrs. Gates passed away soon after - and that's when Joshua's troubles began. Living on the farm with his grown daughter, he began to show signs of his impending insanity. Always known as a man who loved, and could afford, the finer things in life, he now began to spend his fortune recklessly. One day he bought twelve stylish and valuable horses, and sold them the next week for almost nothing. He also did the same with expensive jewelry.

At a public celebration in Somerville in July 1875, he met Anna Thomas - a teenage visitor from Illinois, young enough to be his granddaughter. In the words of The New York Times he "prosecuted an ardent courtship" - and this was way before Viagra! - and the pair were married exactly two weeks after meeting.

Domestic life on the farm began smoothly for the newlyweds. It was almost a month before Joshua Gates accused his young wife of having an affair with one of his farmhands. Quarrel - separation - and the new young Mrs. Gates was out of the picture, for a while.

About a year later, Joshua's daughter, along with his brother, began formal legal proceedings to have Mr. Gates declared insane. He was examined by the best medical minds in the country - no doubt diminishing his fortune even further - and was found to be legally insane on December 16, 1876.

In February of the next year, Joshua Gates' legal guardians initiated divorce proceedings against his estranged wife, who fought the action, denying the allegations of adultery.

At the time of Mr. Gates death 5 months later, delays in the case meant that nothing had been resolved. At that time it was determined that Gates had indeed squandered nearly all of his fortune - with nothing left for his wife, except the memory of her four week honeymoon with the 75 year old insurance tycoon!

2 comments:

  1. Interesting! Where do you find these lovely tidbits?

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  2. Angela - Most of thesew are from the NYTimes online archive.

    Now, here's a question for you - did my stumbling upon your blog (while searching for Hillsborough content)and subsequent posting of your link on MY blog lead to your decision to take your blog private?

    If so, I am very sorry for any unwanted attention you may have received.

    ReplyDelete