The Man Who Broke Faith with the Mennonite Church 
and Two Divorces
 in Williams Co, OH, 1879 and 1884 

Compiled by Pamela Pattison Lash


            The Fountain City Argus, March 1878, ran an account of a man who in unusual circumstances sued six men for "enticing, coaxing, inducing, and compelling" his wife to forsake his bed and board and refuse to live with him and perform her duties as his lawful wife; he requested damages of $10,000.  The husband would win his case after the jury in the Williams County Common Pleas Court, after deliberating for five hours, returned a verdict against the defendants for $2500.  Later there was a second trial and the husband was awarded $2,000 against the elders.  The defendants, all members of the Mennonite Priesthood, were residents of Williams, Fulton, and Wayne Counties, OH, and the tone of the Argus article suggested that these men got off lightly for being heartless in their "arbitrary and foolish tenets" to break and destroy the "peace and harmony of the domestic circle." Perhaps there was more to this suit than church-inspired alienation of affections.

            Joseph John Leichty, b.c. 1831, FR, unknown French parentage, married Mary Jane Lehman, b. c. 1830-1840, foreign born, on 20 Apr 1861, Burlington, Fulton Co, OH.  The couple resided in Springfield Twp, Wms Co, OH and Joseph paid personal property tax there in 1867.  The couple became the parents of six children with the following known issue: Christian or Christopher (1861- pos 1944, Pettisville Union Cemetery, Fulton Co, OH); Joseph Jr., (7 May 1863 - 16 Dec 1881 @18Y 7M 9D, Boynton Cem, Springfield Twp); Elizabeth (1866 -?); and Rebecca (26 Mar 1873, Wms Co Births V1 p48).  In the 1870 Springfield Twp, Wms Co, OH federal census, p2, one finds Joseph Leichty, farmer 39 FR, Christian 9 OH, Joseph 7 OH, and Elizabeth 4 OH, but no wife.

            According to records of the Williams County OH Civil and Criminal Court records (Journal 8 - Nov 1875, Journal 10 p119 - 143, 21 Nov 1879, and Roll 28 case number 46), Joseph came to court requesting a divorce.  In 1875 his suit was dismissed but after the above suit against the Mennonites of Feb 1878, he returned and did obtain a divorce in April 1879.  Joseph stated that Mary, his wife, had been willfully absent from his home due to his excommunication from the Mennonite Church and she had been guilty of gross neglect of her marital duties.  Church officials, John Holdeman, Conrad Haire, Max Seiter, Christopher Eisehelman, Christopher Gearig, and Frank Seitner, on 1 June 1875, formally excommunicated Joseph for failing to make himself a "useful, ornamental, or popular member of this Church."  The specific reasons were not shared in the records but a few days after this excommunication, Holdeman and others made a formal visit to Leichty's home, called him out of the fields, informed him of the church action, and instructed Mary, also a church member, that she was to hold no necessary conversation, not to eat at the same table, and not to sleep with or touch Joseph in any way.  From that time on she treated him as a heathen and a leper, but as the church dictated, Mary was forbidden to seek a divorce.

            The couple separated and Joseph went to court for a divorce.  The suit was dropped but the church officials later told Mary she would suffer "everlasting punishment" if she did not comply with this excommunication directives, so Joseph sued his wife again for divorce.  Joseph stated in court that Mary refused him sexual intercourse and he wanted to end this sham marriage.  The court split up the children with Joseph retaining custody of Christopher and Joseph, Jr., while Mary assumed custody of the girls, Elizabeth and Rebecca.  Nothing further is known of the children or their mother at this time.

            About two months after the divorce Joseph married the widow Mrs. Mary Jane Bear Bohney on 15 June 1879, Wms Co, OH (Marriages, V4 p633).  Mary Jane, daughter of Samuel and Nancy Bear, was born on 12 Feb 1843, Crawford Co, OH, and came to Wms Co with her parents c. 1865.  She first married Captain John Bohney (b.c.1825, PA) on 10 Mar 1870, Wms Co, OH (Marriages, V4 p103) and the Bryan couple had two children, Kirtland E. (b.1871) and Martha M. (b. 1873).  At the time of this marriage Mary Jane was 27 and John was 45.   John was a member of the Co A 16th OVI and served in the Civil War from1861-1865.  He died on 13 Nov 1873 and was buried in the Bryan Fountain Grove Cemetery; his estate was probated in Wms Co (#1616).

            Mary and her two children became part of the Leichty household and were enumerated in the 1880 Bryan, Pulaski Twp, Wms Co, OH federal census, p660C, as Joseph, tanner 48 FR, Mary 36 OH, Joseph 16 OH, Curtland 9 OH, Martha 7 OH, along with tannery helpers WN Daniels 22 Wurtemburg, and William Yates 17 OH. 

            Joseph and Mary became the parents of son Earl Wayne, b. 21 Nov 1880.  In the probate proceedings of 9 Apr 1884 concerning an estate suit (Journal 12 p252) of John Bohney, deceased, Mary Leichty and husband Joseph were named in this suit brought before the Wms Co Common Pleas Court by a Louisa Gates v. Robert A. Scott, administrator of a will annexed by John Bohney.  Mary Jane exercised her dower rights on property in Sec 31 near Lick Creek.  Her minor children were mentioned as having Charles A. Bowersox as their guardian.  The following people were to be granted a 1/7th part of this land besides the two minor children: Martha Bohney, Elizabeth Searight, Wilhemina Laubaugh, Ann Copeland, and Caroline Pegg.  John Bohney's mother, Christina, was deceased and deeds of conveyance were passed from William Oxenrider to Nancy Oxenrider to John Bohney to the heirs of his estate.  It would appear that Mary Jane Leichty had some financial stability for her children and now it was time to get some help for herself.

            According to the Williams County, OH Civil and Criminal Court Records  (Journal 12 p308, June 1884 and Roll 40 case number 1274, 29 July 1884), Mary Jane Leichty requested a divorce.  Her court statements shed a different light on the character of husband Joseph Leichty.  Mary stated that her husband was a habitual drunk for the last three years.   In April 1880, when she was pregnant, Joseph neglected her and refused to provide food, clothing, or shelter for her family.  During her confinement Joseph gave no support of any kind.  Since the birth of their son Earl she has depended on the charity of friends.  Mary Jane sought a reasonable alimony of $500, which the court granted, and custody of the couple's son.  Nothing further is currently known of Joseph Leichty, but it is possible that his drinking increased about the time that his son and namesake, Joseph Jr. died in 1881.

            Mary's obituary in the Bryan Democrat, 21 Jan 1919, p1, told the story of her early years and did mention her marriage to Joseph Leichty as the father of son Earl.  Her other Bohney children, Kirtland and Mrs. Martha M. Calvin (Clyde), survived her when she died on 17 Jan 1919 @ 75Y 11M 5D.  Mary J. Leichty was buried beside her first husband, John Bohney, and next to her parents, Samuel Bear, a plasterer (1815-1891) and Nancy A. (1814 - 1917) plus brothers William H. (1837-1883) and Johial (1839 - 1917), a Civil War veteran of Co A Ft Band 64 and Company.  Incidentally, divorce was no stranger to the Bear family as Mary's brother William H. had been divorced twice before his death.  Her brother Johial had been a supporting witness for his sister during her divorce proceedings. 



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