Joel Munsell was an active genealogist, publisher, printer and journalist. He’s always been one of my “heroes” for his legendary contributions to genealogy and local history. (Photo – Munselle’s Picassa Gallery)
I was looking on GenealogyBank and found his marriage to Jane Caroline Bigelow (1812-1854)
Munsell published a small pamphlet in 1845 – Pulpit Sketches, or Dreams of a Pew Holder. The author was not identified. The pamphlet by innuendo subjected prominent citizens to “libelous ridicule”.
Real controversy erupted and following a Grand Jury Munsell was found in contempt and had a “choice to pay two hundred and fifty dollars or stand the imprisonment” …. all for not revealing the author’s name. He went to jail.
This case is held up as one of the early cases where journalists went to jail rather than reveal their sources.
But dig a little deeper.
Who was the Rev. Dr. J.N.C.? Why attack him?
As in our day when the President’s team had moral problems they called on the minister’s of the day to resolve the issue. In Andrew Jackson’s day his cabinet was deeply involved with a scandal involving Peggy Eaton – that drove cabinet members to resign.
Those actions in 1831 resulted in Munsell’s pamphlet in 1845.
But, who was the author?
Librarians and historians have concluded that the author was Henry Steel Olcott (1832-1937). So it was a 13 year old boy who wrote this pamphlet attacking the most learned and respected clergy of his day.
My question is: Did Joel Munsell refuse to say who the author was from journalistic zeal to protect his sources or because his source was a 13 year old boy? Or – was someone else the author of that pamphlet?
Write me and tell me what you think.