Black sheep, when viewed from the safe distance of a century or so, add spice to a family story and can be very amusing. Closer examination sometimes removes the amusing aspect. While searching through some Washington County, New York, court records, I found this case.
The People vs. Timothy Case, Aaron Olmstead, Francis Drake Ingersoll (1789)
Court held at the house of Adiel [?] Sherwood, Esp., Ft. Edward, Argyle township . . . Tuesday, the 8th of February in the 15th year of the independence of the state of New York -
Timothy Case, yeoman, and Aaron Olmstead, Laborer, both now or late of Granville, and Frances Drake Ingersoll now or late of Hebron, laborer - being persons of ill name and fame and of dishonest conversation . . . intended to deprive Henry Cummins, yeoman of Grenville [sic] of good name, credit . . . to the loss of his life and forfeiture of his goods on the 20th day of October 1789 at Hebron - . . . did conspire . . . falsely to charge and accuse the sd. Henry Cummins that he the sd. Henry Cummins then lately before had committed the crome of Sodomy . . . with a certain Mare.
A True Bill - attest George Wray, foreman - witnesses Wm. Drake of Granville, Laborer, Samuel Crosier, Esq., Hebron, Jeduthan Dickinson, Hebron
I was in Washington County researching the family of Philip Case, especially his son Aaron. This court case was added to my records as a curiosity and I haven't followed through on it. You know the research situation. There's always a seemingly unlimited amount of information to sift through in a very limited amount of time. As I gradually built up my picture of the families in this area, the amusing aspect of this case disappeared.
Aaron Olmstead appears more than once in court cases of the time. Doreen Dolleman, a Jabez Olmstead family researcher, wrote a wonderful article, "The Rest of the Story", which includes the news of his suicide while in gaol in 1798. The other two defendants in this case, Timothy Case and Francis Ingersoll, are part of the Philip Case family. Timothy was Philip's oldest son and Francis Ingersoll was his son-in-law, husband of daughter Rachel. All three defendants owned property adjoining that of Henry Cummins. When I first read this indictment, it sounded like a prank, but the ages and circumstances of the men, and the nature of the accusation, paint a different picture. Both Timothy Case and Francis Ingersoll were Revolutionary War soldiers, and both would later receive pensions. Both were men of property, about thirty years old, and married. Timothy Case was the father of four children, Francis Ingersoll was the father of three. In New York at this time, sodomy was a felony, and the penalty was death and the forfeiture of all property - although the widow would be allowed to keep her dowry. When looked at in this perspective, I no longer found this story quite so amusing. What were they thinking??