When She Found Herself Caught In A Pickle; Her Attorney Remembered Dan Sickles

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First Sergeant
Forum Host
Aug 6, 2016

The United States Treasury Building (1863)
Public Domain

It was a Tuesday afternoon in Washington D.C. The weather was clear and cold as a young lady approaches the entrance of the United States Treasury Building. She wraps her brown coat tightly around her as she prepares to enter. A scarf covers her lower face and neck to help ward off the 20 degree temperature as she reaches up to her hat and adjusts the veil covering her eyes. The 19 year old draws a deep breath as she faces the guard but he denies her from entering. She must get in that building. She uses her charm to convince the unsuspecting guard with a promise that she will wait with him until her friend is able to escort her. The guard will later testify how impressed he was to hear her “soft voice” and see her “ladylike demeanor”.

Today is the 31st of January 1865, and not only is Washington, D.C. in the grip of winter but all the talk is on the important vote that is happening in the House of Representatives - will the XIII Amendment pass today?

However, this young lady has only one thing on her mind, she wants to locate her errant fiancé. When the guard’s attention is diverted she goes looking for the man that broke her heart. Unfortunately she discovers there are 2 men with the same last name employed in the building. It is amazing how many employees are willing to come to her aid as once again her “soft voice” and “ladylike demeanor” will be used to her advantage. She has found his office and now she must plan her next steps carefully. Across the hall she finds a doorway that is recessed into the wall, it’s the perfect place to watch and wait. Her hiding place is enhanced by the nearby grandfather clock which also helps hide her from view. While she stands there her mind replays their relationship. He was to wed her, not that “other” woman. Soon the grandfather clock will chime 5:00 p.m., soon Mr. Burroughs will be leaving his office, soon she will face her lover. No one takes notice of the gun she holds in the folds of her coat.

The Beginning

Mary Harris was born into a poor Irish immigrant family in Burlington, Iowa in 1845/1846 (exact date unknown). As most young girls in that day born in humble circumstances she hardly received an education. When she was old enough to work, she began employment for a local hat maker (some report she may have been 9 years old at the time). Adoniram Judson Burroughs met Mary Harris at the hat store. As a young man in his early 20’s the relationship seems odd, although some friends observed that he initially had a “fatherly care” for the girl. He encouraged her to continue her education and at times gave her money to help her out whenever possible. Eventually when he is about to turn 30 and she is around 16 this relationship grew into love. Burroughs referred to her as his “dearest little Mollie” and poor Mary, in her innocence, is easily led along. Burroughs eventually moved to Chicago in pursuit of a better job. Their relationship continues in the form of many love letters. When Mary turned 18, he asked Mary to join him in Chicago with the promise of marriage of course.

Mary joined him in Chicago, but Burroughs is not the man she believed him to be. Although he courted her and called her his “dearest little Mollie” he soon left her in Chicago and moved to Washington, D.C. where he became an official in the United States Treasury Department. Mary is not aware that he has already met another lady and any relationship she thought they had is over. One day Mary is reading a Chicago newspaper and sees the announcement of a marriage. It’s her fiancé, and she is stunned. Now she understands why she has not recently received his frequent love letters; he has married a Chicago socialite Amelia Boggs. Mary wants revenge. She boards a train and heads to Washington to face the scoundrel that hurt her.

Her initial plan is to hire an attorney and take Burroughs to civil court. She is convinced that when she shows a lawyer all the “love letters’ he has sent her, along with the promise of marriage, she will have an excellent case to sue for damages. It will also expose his shameful behavior to his co-workers and especially ruin his new life with Amelia. Unfortunately, when she arrived in Washington, she is ill and spends 3 weeks in a sick bed at a boarding house, using the time re-reading all his words of love he had declared to her. When she is able to leave her sick bed a civil court case is not what she wants.

A Woman Scorned

Mary Harris waits for her fiancé, her anger grows with each breath she takes and now it’s time for him to pay. Mr. Burroughs is leaving his office with fellow worker Alfred Everett. Mary sees only one man as she leaves the confines of the recessed door, walks around the grandfather clock and calmly takes aim and fires. The bullet passes in front of Mr. Everett and enters into the back of Mr. Burroughs barely missing his spine. He glances at his attacker and begins to flee but Mary is determined that freedom is never going to happen today. She raises the veil from her eyes and takes aim, he has almost reached the stairwell when he is shot. Miss Harris has her vengeance; Mr. Burroughs is dead at 33.

Mary adjusts her veil and walks down one flight of stairs. She walks calmly out of the building, but she will not get far before she is caught, arrested and brought back to the Treasury Building. She was questioned by police and also by Hugh McCullough the Comptroller of the Currency of the United States at the time of the murder.

The Trial


Chicago Tribune - Coverage of the Trial
Public Domain

On Friday, July 7, 1865 a day Americans will remember as the day the government executed the Lincoln Conspirators, but during the same week, a court is in session in Washington that will capture headlines and the nations interest - - -

“The trial of Mary Harris : indicted for the murder of Adoniram J. Burroughs, before the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia (sitting as a criminal court), Monday, July 3, 1865”. {3}

Her defense is simple: “insanity”.

Before it was over on July 19th, the newspapers would be reporting such important details on the young and pretty defendant Miss Harris - - -

“The prisoner was tastefully attired in a black silk dress, and a tight-fitting coat or basque of the same material, trimmed with braid and beads; a black bonnet trimmed with straw, and wore a black veil, which almost completely concealed her features. Her hair was worn in ringlets.” {3}

Newspapers were selling when they reported Hugh McCullough was called to testify. President Lincoln had appointed him the 27th Secretary of Treasury a job he assumed on March 9th. It’s been a difficult few months for the Secretary as he was one of the President’s men that gathered at the Petersen house during the death watch of the 16th President of the United States.

During his testimony his initial impressions was of a woman - - -

“deeply excited and seemed to be in despair, - in a frenzy. I think as I came in she dropped to her knees. I know she put her hands upon my coat as she asked about Mr. Burroughs. . . . I don’t believe she shed any tears. It seems to me her agony was too deep for tears.” {3}

92 letters of love from Mr. Burroughs were entered in as evidence during the trial . Below is an excerpt from one of his letter sent after Miss Harris had fulfilled his request of sending her picture to him. The letter is dated August 22, 1859 and was addressed to “My Dear Little Rosebud” - - -

“O that beautiful picture! beautiful! beautiful! beautiful! And my beautiful, beautiful Mollie. O Mollie, Mollie! you have turned my dry, sterile, old bachelor’s heart into a gushing fountain of glad emotion and warm genial affection; and Mollie, dear, darling Mollie - is the source and end of all. Would I have a hundred Pike’s Peak fortunes to lay at her feet, and the affections of hundreds of hearts to lavish upon her. If another Mollie were to contest the claim to my love she would stand but a poor chance now”. {3}

Her lawyer Joseph H. Bradley takes the stand to testify in her defense - - -

“A pure, virtuous, chaste, delicate little girl, not more than twenty years of age at this time, whose frame is wasting and whose spirits are gone, whose heart is broken, in a paroxysm of insanity has slain the man who has brought upon her all this suffering.” {5}

In closing arguments he asked the jury to let this poor, ruined and persecuted girl go.

At this point E.C. Carrington the District Attorney gives his closing statement realizing he may be in trouble. After all the love letters, a beautiful young lady on trial, and an extradorinaiy number of ladies filling his court room every day listening to every word of testimony - how to convince the jury to convict - - -

“I see what is passing in your minds. I can read your thoughts. You pity the prisoner at the bar. So do I . . . . I charge you then to do justice . . and then remember mercy. . .. Do your duty in the fear of God and without the fear of man”. {3}

Mr. Carrington concludes and the case is handed to the jury. They retire to the jury room, deliberate for “about” 5 minutes and when court is called back in session they deliver their 2-word verdict - - -

Not Guilty

With the verdict rendered there was only 1 more act to complete; Associate Justice, Andrew Wylie brings down the gavel and announces “Court Adjourned”.


The Finale
In 1883 there is an amazing yet fitting conclusion to the story in the life of Mary Harris. The following announcement is reported: Defense Attorney Joseph Bradley, (81) marries Miss Mary Harris (now almost 40). They live happily ever after or at least for the next 4 years until Mr. Bradley dies.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”

Written in a letter on August 22, 1859 from Mr. Burroughs to his “dearest Mollie”.

1. https://homesteadmuseum.wordpress.com/2019/01/22/female-justice-preview-the-cases-of-lastenia-abarta-and-mary-harris-1865-and-1881/
2. Lethal Imagination: Violence and Brutality in American History, edited by Michael A. Bellesiles, pages 185-186
3. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiuc.2873592_001;view=1up;seq=31
This link is the Official Report of the Trial of Mary Harris: Indicted for the Murder of Adoniram Judson Burroughs, by James Ogilvie Clephane
4. https://www.nytimes.com/1865/07/09/archives/the-trial-of-miss-mary-harris-impaneling-of-the-jury.html
5. https://rumble101.wordpress.com/tag/mary-harris/
6. Crime Without Punishment: Aspects of the History of Homicide, by Lawrence M. Friedman, page 45 (footnote 146)
7. http://www.treasuryhistoricalassn.org/images/newsletter/archived/2005.pdf

Eleanor Rose

Forum Host
Nov 26, 2016
central NC
Wow @DBF! Just wow! What a story! It piqued my interest and l found a similar case that occurred 15 years later.

This is a photo of Lastenia Abarta, taken around the time of her killing of Francisco P. “Chico” Forster in 1881. Check out her story too. Her defense came from the precedent set in Mary's case.


Credited as a photograph owned by Mike Abarta and published in Paul Bryan Gray’s article “Searching for Miss Abarta,” published in The Branding Iron in 2000.
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!