Mary Tilden (née Fowler) and her husband Stephen Tilden were members of the First Church in Lebanon, Connecticut. Their marriage was evidently not a happy one, and by 1732 Mary had separated herself along with her child and was staying with relatives in the area. Her perceived neglect of her marriage vows generated a public enquiry by the church and its minister Rev. Solomon Williams.
The digitized collection below includes Mary Tilden’s letters to the church, letters to her husband, one letter of testimony in favor of Mary, and one in favor of Stephen. Mary's writings in her own defense claimed that her husband had “committed ye sin of fornacation with Sarah Ellis” and presented this as the reason for their separation. The two witness testimonies are superlative in tone and each presents a radically different view of the couple's relationship. Humphrey Davenport of Coventry, Connecticut wrote on behalf of Stephen Tilden. “By ye singular expressions of his love and tender regards towards her, which he so variously manifested & so often repeated that during ye whole of my abode at his house I did esteem him…a real patern of conjucal love.” A much different view was presented by Mary Nichols, who described an incident in which Stephen Tilden threatened to beat a boy’s brains out because a part for his cart was missing. Nichols concluded, “the little time I was there, I see him act so towards his wife and children, I thought he had ye least tenderness I ever see in any man in my life.”
Early in 1733 the Tildens appeared before the church committee. The documentation does not indicate precisely what the committee recommended, though Mary was advised to return to Stephen. A church meeting was held in November 1733 and Stephen agreed he would take Mary back as his wife, after she made a public apology. Mary appears not to have complied, instead continuing to absent herself. Rev. Williams summoned Mary to a disciplinary hearing in December of 1733, but her brother, Joseph Fowler, replied claiming that his sister had recently left town. A note below Mr. Fowler's letter, probably penned by Rev. Williams, records the church's decision "to suspend the consideration of said case for some time till something farther appears."