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Mistaken Identity


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Where are the Women:
Examples from the LVA Collections



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On 29 June 1866 in Portsmouth, Mary Kilmartin, a recent immigrant from Ireland, asked directions of Thomas S. Husband and John Boyd, who were leaving Graham's restaurant on Crawford Street. Husband and Boyd claimed later that they had been unable to understand her question. Husband stated that Kilmartin "could scarcely speak English," implying that she had a thick accent or spoke Irish. Because Kilmartin was alone, Boyd and Husband assumed she was a prostitute and attempted to rape her. She fought back, escaped, and found the night watchman, who arrested the two men.

Husband and Boyd were convicted of "feloniously and against her will and by force carnally to know [Kilmartin] against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth of Virginia." Husband pleaded for clemency from Governor Francis H. Pierpont, claiming that once he realized that Kilmartin was not a prostitute, he had "desisted and gave her my protection against the other parties." Husband also wrote, "in my opinion it appeared very unjust for a jury of 'Ex-Rebel Soldiers' to condemn a man who has stood by his country in the time of need." Husband's record in the United States Army was less than exemplary. He enlisted in April 1864, deserted in August 1864, was retaken in March 1865, deserted again in March 1866, and was retaken in April of that year. Husband spent six months in the Portsmouth jail. The name of Mary Kilmartin disappeared from the records.

This episode highlights some of the difficulties that immigrants and women faced: unprotected young women were vulnerable, young men sometimes assumed that an unaccompanied woman was a prostitute and that their actions would be excused, language differences posed many practical problems, and the emotional residues of the Civil War were invoked even in the outcome of criminal trials.

Letter from Thomas Husband to Governor Francis Harrison Pierpont. 12 December 1866. Manuscript. Office of the Governor, Letters Received, Francis Harrison Pierpont, RG3, Acc. 37024. Library of Virginia. (050057-5/6)