01 October 2010

Divorce Action in Williams County, Ohio - Evarts

Mercy J. Thompson Evarts v Benjamin Franklin Evarts
I Shot Peter Himes, Divorce in Williams County, Ohio, 1885
By Pamela Pattison Lash (updated 2010)

The Stories of Fountain City, Van Gundy, 1975, p50, gave an account of the mysterious shooting of Peter Himes, 55, by Benjamin F. Evarts, 61, on 3 Dec 1873 at the Evarts home, located one mile out of Bryan on the old Pulaski Road.  Benjamin was sitting in the parlor with his wife, Catherine, and a domestic, Mrs. Minerva Webster, when they heard a dog barking.  Evarts fired four shots from his navy revolver from his back porch and hit Himes, who was found by the door of the Evarts' outhouse without a coat or vest, although it had been raining for sometime.  He did not die right away but uttered no words as to why he was there. A trial was held in May 1874 whereby Evarts was found not guilty, although he had a "checkered career".  Evarts at some point claimed to be a first cousin of Abraham Lincoln.  Evarts later died in the Williams County Infirmary.

The Bryan Democrat, 11 Dec 1873, gave a lengthy account of the shooting and a physical description of Evarts.  He was "tall, large boned, a heavy man, and was at one time doubtless very muscular.  He lived in this vicinity for a number of years and owned a fine farm of about seventy acres near town." There was much speculation as to why Himes was there with some innuendo of meeting either Mrs. Evarts or 27-year-old servant Mrs. Mercy Webster for a late night rendezvous.  Evarts was arrested immediately but later released on his own recognizance to appear in court later; he had to post a $3,000 bond for this.

The servant, Mrs. Mercy Webster, gave testimony in court that she was married but currently lived in the Evart home.  She was married a year ago on 23 Oct 1873 in Bryan, but no other particulars were mentioned.. She told the court that she had known Peter Himes for five years. It is tempting to surmise that this Mercy Webster may have become the second Mrs. Evart of this story but there is currently no evidence to support this notion. 

So what is known of Benjamin before moving to Williams County, Ohio?  An internet site posting states that Benjamin was born on 22 Feb 1812 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, the son of Timothy and Hannah Bigelow Evarts, Vermont natives.  On 9 Mar 1836 he married Elizabeth Ann Stealts, daughter of William and Catherine Shewey Stealts; on 29 Aug 1849 he married Catherine Joliff, daughter of John and Catherine Shaffer Joliff; Catherine was a native of Wooster, Wayne Co, OH.  The Evarts were enumerated in the 1850 Plain Twp, Wayne Co, OH federal census p19 as Benjamin 38 OH and Catherine 31 OH.  Note that Benjamin’s birthplace is listed as Ohio.

According to the 1860 Pulaski Twp federal census, p42, Benjamin Evarts was listed as 48 Canada West with his wife Catherine 42 OH.  They again appeared in the 1870 Pulaski Twp federal census, p17, as Benjamin 58 CAN and Catherine 51 OH.  Catherine died c15 Apr 1880.   According to the 1880 Pulaski Twp federal census p620, Benjamin F. Everts 68 Canada with parents born in VT lived with a niece, Mary A. Cramer 29 OH with parents born in PA.

On 12 June 1882, Wms Co, Benjamin Evarts married Mrs. Mercy J. Thompson (Marriage V5 #160).  Benjamin appeared in the Williams County, Ohio Civil and Criminal Court (Journal 13 p245 - 23 Nov 1885; Roll 42 case number 1517 - 15 Sept 1885) requesting a divorce.  He told the court that wife Mercy had been willfully absent for three years or more, and she had not performed her marital duties. Benjamin provided witnesses, Clem, Alonzo M., and Rebecca Beatty to substantiate his claim. He was granted his claim.  Note that Clem Beattie/Beatty, a neighbor, was a witness during the murder trial of Peter Himes and he gave testimony in support of Benjamin Evarts.

On 20 Nov 1890 a Mary A. Pratt sued Benjamin over land rights in Pulaski Twp. Apparently at this time his health began to fail and he died c 6 July 1893 in the county infirmary with no known relation to pay for a proper burial.  Such was the demise of the man who shot Peter Himes.

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