Tilden, Mary. Disciplinary Case Records

Collection History

Please note that as of January 2022, the Mary Tilden disciplinary case records, 1732-1733, and all future digital collections are now hosted on the library's new digital archive.

Mary Tilden (née Fowler) and her husband Stephen Tilden were members of the First Church in Lebanon, Connecticut. Their marriage was evidently not a happy one, and by 1732 Mary had separated herself along with her child and was staying with relatives in the area. Her perceived neglect of her marriage vows generated a public enquiry by the church and its minister Rev. Solomon Williams.

The digitized collection below includes Mary Tilden’s letters to the church, letters to her husband, one letter of testimony in favor of Mary, and one in favor of Stephen. Mary's writings in her own defense claimed that her husband had “committed ye sin of fornacation with Sarah Ellis” and presented this as the reason for their separation. The two witness testimonies are superlative in tone and each presents a radically different view of the couple's relationship. Humphrey Davenport of Coventry, Connecticut wrote on behalf of Stephen Tilden. “By ye singular expressions of his love and tender regards towards her, which he so variously manifested & so often repeated that during ye whole of my abode at his house I did esteem him…a real patern of conjucal love.” A much different view was presented by Mary Nichols, who described an incident in which Stephen Tilden threatened to beat a boy’s brains out because a part for his cart was missing. Nichols concluded, “the little time I was there, I see him act so towards his wife and children, I thought he had ye least tenderness I ever see in any man in my life.”

Early in 1733 the Tildens appeared before the church committee. The documentation does not indicate precisely what the committee recommended, though Mary was advised to return to Stephen. A church meeting was held in November 1733 and Stephen agreed he would take Mary back as his wife, after she made a public apology. Mary appears not to have complied, instead continuing to absent herself. Rev. Williams summoned Mary to a disciplinary hearing in December of 1733, but her brother, Joseph Fowler, replied claiming that his sister had recently left town. A note below Mr. Fowler's letter, probably penned by Rev. Williams, records the church's decision "to suspend the consideration of said case for some time till something farther appears."

The original manuscripts in this collection are owned by our project partners, the Connecticut Historical Society. Further information about the collection can be found in the CHS catalog.


Digital Materials

Case documents, 1732-1733

These seven documents comprise legal testimonials, summons and correspondence, and statements relating to the disciplinary case of Mary and Stephen Tilden. The records are organized chronologically.

1732 November 25 by Mary Nicols   testimony (against Stephen Tilden)
1733 January 8 by Humphrey Davenport   testimony (for Stephen Tilden)
1733 February 5 by Mary Tilden   testimony in her own defense
1733 March 12 from Mary Tilden to Stephen Tilden statement with offer of forgiveness
1733 March 12 from Mary Tilden to Stephen Tilden statement with intent to return
1733 December 18 from Rev. Solomon Williams to Mary Tilden letter with summons to disciplinary hearing
1733 December 18 from Joseph Fowler to Rev. Solomon Williams reply to summons on Mary's behalf notifying the church of her absence


Special Thanks

This digital resource has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.