Bigamists? How About the Much Married Woman? One for the Murdoch Mystery Files



I have written many stories about those dastardly gentleman of Lanark County that loved to dally their toes into bigamy. So I was very shocked when I found out the ladies were too on occasion. But this case was one for the Murdoch Mystery files.

It began innocently with this newspaper article:

January 18 1895 Almonte Gazette

Brockville—Mrs. James Dempster was arrested at Gananoque today on a charge of bigamy, and the circumstances of the case are somewhat romantic. The woman’s name was formerly Annie Graham, and in 1890 she married a man named Sherman Dowsley, a resident of Mallorytown, a village a few miles west of Brockville. She was only 17 at the time and the bliss matrimonial was conspicuously absent in this instance. After a month’s life in double harness the pair separated.

The woman travelled under the name of Dowsley until she recently assumed the name of McDonald and took up her residence in Gananoque. Here she ran across one elderly man named James.  Dempster, a man of comfortable means and had been in search of a life partner for a long period of time. Marriage was the result, and everything went happily along until a few days ago, when the first husband, Dowsley, turned up.

The angry husband, threatened to expose the pair unless given the deed to the Dempster’s farm, and when this was not forthcoming, carried his threat into effect. The arrest of the woman was the result. She was given a preliminary hearing before a magistrate and later the woman was committed to trial.

So what made her jump into such an early marriage only to desert it months later?  In other newspaper articles I found out that on July 4th, 1890, Annie Graham, along with three friends (2 male) were in a boat in Alexandria Bay most likely to catch view of American festivities. One of the gentlemen stood up and rocked the boat in fun and the boat capsized and they were thrown into the river. John Mayer and Annie Graham were rescued, but the other two drowned in 10 feet of water and their bodies never found.

So what happened to dear Annie? One thing is for certain- thankfully she was not sent to the Kingston Insane Asylum where many convicted were sent. On February 18, 1895 Annie, Mrs. Dempster or Dowsley was sentenced by Judge McDonald to two years, 6 months in the Kingston penitentiary.  I was beginning to feel really sorry for her until 4 hours later I pieced it all together. I have posted the following newspaper reports- so I won’t be challenged of making it all up. 🙂

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But there is more to the story …

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January 14 1895 Ottawa Journal

Then this…

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February 12 1895– So who was W.A Williamson? Another one of Annie’s aliases? NO,  not so sweet Annie was in cahoots with yet another man Williamson, a local marble dealer, to try and  get Dempster’s estate.


The End or was it? Willamson received a suspended sentence for his part in the crime  to defraud “old man Dempster”while Annie got 2 years and 6 months. Rev. E. Thomas was furious and it became his sermon on February 25, 1895.



February 25, 1895



Name Sherman Dowsley
Event Type Marriage
Event Date 15 Oct 1890
Event Place Brockville, Leeds, Ontario, Canada
Gender Male
Age 21
Birth Year (Estimated) 1869
Father’s Name George Dowsley
Mother’s Name Susan Giles
Spouse’s Name Annie Graham
Spouse’s Gender Female
Spouse’s Age 17
Spouse’s Birth Year (Estimated) 1873
Spouse’s Father’s Name Wm Graham
Spouse’s Mother’s Name Dannie Ferguson

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Actual certificate –From Ontario Marriages data base:

Sherman Dowsley Marriage 15 Oct 1890 Brockville, Leeds, Ontario, Canada Male 21 1869 George Dowsley Susan Giles Annie Graham Female age 17

7026-1890 (Leeds Co) Sherman DOWSLEY, 21, Farmer, Mallorytown, same, s/o George DOWSLEY & Susan GILES, married Annie GRAHAM, 17, Caintown, same, d/o William. GRAHAM & Dannie FERGUSON, witn: Susan EMSLEY, Emma LONG, Brockville. 15 Oct 1890 Brockville

Here are some punishments I found for bigamists:

15/1: Six weeks hard labour
15/1: One day imprisonment
30/4: One day imprisonment
30/4: One month hard labour
30/4: twelve months hard labour
31/5: Five months penal servitude
25/6: Five months penal servitude

James Watson– Bigamy and Shoes

Bigamy–The Story of Ken and Anne and Debby and Cathy and…

Bigamy–The Story of Ken and Anne and Debby and Cathy and…

Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News and now in The Townships Sun

About lindaseccaspina

Linda Knight Seccaspina was born in Cowansville, Quebec about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7 at CHS by Mrs. Blinn. When Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died in 2010, Linda wrote her own obituary. Some people said she should think about a career in writing obituaries. Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa from 1976-1996. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off she finally found her calling. Is it sex drugs and rock n' roll you might ask? No, it is history. Seeing that her very first boyfriend in Grade 5 (who she won a Twist contest with in the 60s) is the head of the Brome Misissiquoi Historical Society and also specializes in local history back in Quebec, she finds that quite funny. She writes every single day and is also a columnist for Hometown News and Screamin's Mamas. She is a volunteer for the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, an admin for the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page, and a local guest speaker. She has been now labelled an historian by the locals which in her mind is wrong. You see she will never be like the iconic local Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown, nor like famed local writer Mary Cook. She proudly calls herself The National Enquirer Historical writer of Lanark County, and that she can live with. Linda has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County, and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she wrote her obituary, most people assume she's already dead. Linda has published six books, "Menopausal Woman From the Corn," "Cowansville High Misremembered," "Naked Yoga, Twinkies and Celebrities," "Cancer Calls Collect," "The Tilted Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place," and "Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac." All are available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Linda's books are for sale on Amazon or at Wisteria · 62 Bridge Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada, and at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum · 267 Edmund Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada--Appleton Museum-Mississippi Textile Mill and Mill Street Books and Heritage House Museum and The Artists Loft in Smith Falls.

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