Unholy Wedlock

In October of 1871, William Simpson’s Centre Street bookstore was raided and “a large quantity of obscene books and pictures” were seized. The following March, Simpson was convicted but his sentence was deferred, and eventually it was reported as an acquittal. Then, in August of 1874, Simpson received a “decoy letter” from Anthony Comstock, masquerading as someone else, requesting an item that was later described as “an objectionable account of Nellie Grant’s marriage.”

Nellie and Algernon

Nellie Grant, as many of you will remember, was the daughter of President Ulysses S. Grant and her marriage took place in the White House in May of 1874. The groom was an Englishman named Algernon Sartoris, a wealthy rotter, drunkard and womanizer who, prior to the wedding, delighted in telling his sporting friends how stupid his fiancé was. Although the President’s son-in-law was headed for scandal and divorce, he wasn’t there yet, and so we can only imagine what was in the “objectionable account” of the blessed union.

Whatever it contained, Simpson took the bait, mailed off the item that would doom him, and was arrested again. Two months later he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Albany Penitentiary

His troubles were not over. In June of 1875, his wife Mary Simpson was approached by a swindler masquerading as “Lewis L. Pillsbury, chief clerk at the Albany Penitentiary,” who said he was working to gain her husband’s release; he succeeded in relieving Mrs. Simpson of $7.  (The swindler, one George M. Maxwell, was busted shortly thereafter.) The news account said that William Simpson’s sentence was five years, not ten, but it was still a long time to spend “up the river.”


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