The wicked life of James Poisson
By Carol Laun
The wedding of James Poisson, about 69 years old, took place in Stratford, Connecticut on August 14, 1739, when “Revd. Mr. Samuel Johnson joined James Poisson of Simsbury in marriage to Sarah Pengilley of Suffield.” Sarah was only 22 years old. She was the daughter of John and Mary Pengilley, born Feb. 22, 1717 in Suffield. Her new husband was older than her father.
There is no indication in the records as to how they met, why they got married in Stratford or what possessed Sarah to marry this elderly man. Perhaps it was all about money. Poisson may have been thought to be very wealthy because of all of his financial deals.
Poisson continued to buy and sell property in Connecticut. He bought a house with four acres near the Hop Brook gristmill in Simsbury. He also bought the gristmill. He bought a half share in a sawmill in Salmon Brook (the early name for Granby). He owned an iron works on the Scantic River in Somers. Huge profits were made when Poisson sold these properties. He sold a three quarter interest in a sawmill and gristmill in the Scotland area of Simsbury, for 807 pounds.
His name also appeared on a list of the original proprietors of the township of Winchester in Hartford Coounty, Connecticut, in 1744. He was granted land in that town.
Poisson was involved in more lawsuits in 1745 and 1747. In many of these cases, he would tell the defendants that he was dropping the suit, so they would not bother to appear in court. But he would not drop the suit and would win the judgment by default.
In the 1747 suit against Samuel Beamond (probably Beman) of Simsbury, Poisson lied to Beamond, saying he would not proceed with the case. Since Beamond was not present, Poisson obtained a judgment of 500 pounds plus costs. Fortunately for Beamond, the judgment was set aside.
During these years, little is known about Poisson’s wife Sarah, until her father gave her some land in February 1748. John Pengilley bought three acres of land from John Slater, west of the river, and gave it to his daughter. This indicated that there was something very wrong with the marriage. Parents only gave property to a married daughter to make sure she had some security and a place to live.
In early April 1748, James Poisson deserted his wife. They had been married for nine years. Sarah was now 31 years old and James was probably close to 80.
The Simsbury Vital Records provide the next chapter in this saga, “John Poisson the Son of James Poisson and Sarah his wife was born the 4th of January 1749.” John was born nine months after James deserted Sarah.
Later that year, Sarah’s sister, Mary Pengilley, was staying with her. She was caring for her, because Sarah was lame and “not able to help herself.” Poisson showed up to tell Sarah he was “selling her clothes and linens and what she had for her necessary support” to Mr. Jacob Pettibone who had provided security for money Poisson borrowed from the Colony.
Sarah objected to this and according to Mary, “Poisson immediately fell into a violent passion with her and in this great rage did bend his fists at her and come up to her as if he would strike her and cursed and damned her at a dreadful rate and said he would strip her of everything. He would not leave her so much as a rag to wind about her finger.”
When Poisson left, Mary asked Sarah if he had ever acted like that before and Sarah said many times. Mary said she would be afraid for her life and wondered how Sarah could have lived with him. Sarah replied that she “was afraid of him and had shut herself up for fear of her life.”
In 1750, in the last land record found for him, Poisson sold land in Turkey Hills (now East Granby). Then, as he had threatened, he sold the contents of his Simsbury home, where Sarah and the baby were living. He sold “bedding, pewter, brass, ironware and all other particulars that are now in said house” to settle the forfeited bond to Jacob Pettibone. In 1751, Sarah filed for divorce.
Sarah testified in her petition that James had deserted her in early April 1748 and since that time “totally neglected all and every said duty of his marriage covenant.” He told her he had no intention of caring for her or being a husband to her again. Therefore Sarah asked for a divorce “to be freed from all the obligations she is under in virtue of her marriage.”
Many witnesses gave depositions in this divorce case. Joseph Smith, a Simsbury blacksmith, said that for the past three years he worked for Poisson at the mills and sometimes lived in the Poisson home. “To the best of my observation and from what I have often heard Mr. James Poisson say, he has lived in total neglect of duty toward his wife Sarah for more than three years. I know that there always has been two beds in the house and when I lived there, James Poisson used to lodge in one of them and his wife in another. He never provided food or clothing for his wife. Once I saw him take his staff and hold it over her head when she was lame and said to her ‘you are a cursed damned eternal whore, begone out of the house.’ He was daily quarreling with her and using such language to her and speaking all manner of evil of her.”
Poisson was living in Enfield at this time, and a deputy sheriff read the divorce petition to him. Poisson responded, “I acknowledge that I am not able to perform my marriage covenant with the petitioner and therefore it is very reasonable that her petition should be granted.”
However, the court continued to take depositions, including one from Moses Estey, an Enfield friend of Dr. Poisson. He said he had been to the Poisson home many times and the Doctor and his wife always lodged in separate rooms. “I have heard the Doctor call her a bitch and cursed creature and many other bad names and that she should never have one penny of his estate.”
A few days later, James Poisson sent another message to the Court in Hartford. “I hereby inform your honors that I have not lay with my wife Sarah for the space of three years past and do not intend to use her as my wife for the future.”
To be continued.