“Personal – Widower, over 60, without family, with moderate means and education, desires to make acquaintance with widow, also without family, about 50 years old, with some means and education and thought of marrying. Any lady having such object in view send address to box P361, and will have attention of the above.”
So read a personal advertisement in the Toronto News of July 29, 1893. It was placed by Tom Ware, a man who had worked at various jobs in Fergus and Elora during the 1870s and 1880s. Though a steady worker, and possessing good manners, he never managed to save much money. Most recently he and his wife had rented a farm on the Elora-Guelph Road. Mrs. Ware died in December 1892. Within months Tom decided to seek another wife. With the newspaper advertisement he cast his net widely, and hoped to marry into better circumstances than he had known so far in his life.
Ware later claimed he had received 14 responses to his advertisement, but he focused exclusively on one. That was Annie Bailey, a widow of 55, who hinted she was a woman of some breeding and means. Though able to conduct herself with class, she was in fact a laundress who worked for families on Toronto’s then-fashionable Jarvis Street, and lived at a boarding house on nearby Parliament Street.
Annie and Tom exchanged letters before meeting briefly in August 1893. They seemed to accept one another’s stories at face value. He told her he owned 18 houses in Toronto, and several more properties in the village of Eglinton, then a small village a short distance north of Toronto. He said he was “comfortable enough, and could enjoy life’s luxuries,” but since the death of his wife he had been miserable, and wanted companionship.
She even gave him a photograph of herself. They met again in early September, when Tom visited Toronto. He claimed he was there to collect the rents on the houses he supposedly owned in the city.
The second meeting seemed to go well, and the two discussed marriage. In his next letter to Annie, Tom turned up the heat a little. He told her that he had received several letters from wealthy widows. He subsequently had prayed for divine guidance, he wrote, and the Lord directed him to her instead of the others.
However, if she declined his offer of marriage, he would make another choice at once. Tom asked her to make up her mind, because it was not fair to let the others wait. He also asked her to provide $1,000 so that he might pay off the mortgage on one of his houses. His property was worth about $17,000, he told her, but all his assets were tied up in real estate that he had rented out. Flabbergasted, she asked for credit and character references, though she was in no position to provide him with a fraction of the amount he asked for.
Attempting to smooth over the ruffles he had caused, Tom wrote several more letters, which were sent from the hamlet of Zimmerman, in Halton County, where he was living with friends. He was no longer on the Elora farm, apparently evicted for overdue rent. “I feel that an affection toward you has found a place in my heart that will not be erased without a struggle on my part,” he concluded in one letter.
Bailey replied coolly to that missive. She seems to have sensed that all was not as Tom had presented his affairs, and she was stunned by the request for $1,000. She had no money herself, but had no intention of revealing that.
Another exchange of letters followed. The first was from a lawyer Annie had engaged, telling Tom to desist from further correspondence. Tom, though, ignored the warning, and managed to talk himself back into Annie’s confidence. “The Master has appointed you for me, and I rejoice I found one I could love, but we are drifting apart,” he wrote. He said that due to the economic depression, he was forced to ask her to make a contribution to their household. She replied that her impression of him was not favourable, and that marriage was impossible.
When she received no reply. She had her son write to Tom, apologizing that her earlier letter had been too rash, and asking that they meet again to resolve their differences.
Tom and Annie met again Oct. 5, resolved their differences, and agreed to become engaged. But the course of romance was still not smooth.
Annie wanted to give an oyster supper for some of her friends, but Tom put his foot down – he could not afford to pay for such a celebration. A while later they found a house. They did not buy, but rented the place. By using her meagre savings and borrowing some money from friends, she purchased $600 of furniture and fixtures for the house.
When Tom brought his possessions to their new home, Annie’s suspicions were again aroused. He had a few pieces of parlour furniture, some moth-eaten quilts, a valise, and an umbrella. That was all. The couple then went out to look at carpeting for the house. They saw some that they liked, and Tom asked the clerk to charge it to Annie’s account. She objected. The result was an ugly spat, and they departed, Annie shouting the marriage was off.
Nevertheless, the two continued to see one another, though the marriage plans remained on the back burner. One Sunday in November 1893 they took a walk together after attending church. Tom made a series of uncomplimentary remarks about the 48th Highlanders. Unknown to him, Annie had a son in that regiment, and she flew into a fury.
They departed, but met again the next day. During the course of their conversation he admitted that he had no money or property, and consequently could not marry her. She went immediately to her lawyer, who laid charges of breach of promise.
Justice McMahon heard the case on April 26 and 27, 1894 in a Toronto courtroom. Annie Bailey appeared in a plain black dress, her grey hair pulled neatly into a bun, and looking fully the part of a jilted innocent. Breach of promise cases were fairly common in the 1890s, but they invariably involved young people, not widows and widowers in the 50s and 60s. The case attracted many spectators, eager to hear the seamy details of the relationship. Their letters formed the bulk of Annie’s case.
Tom gave quite a courtroom show in his defence. Using gestures and imitating her voice, he described how he was insulted by Annie at the time of the breakup: “If you are too stingy to furnish the house then you would be too stingy to furnish me with enough to eat,” he quoted her as yelling. “I will not marry you at all. Very likely your own first wife died of starvation.”
It was a good show, but a poor defence in the eyes of the jury. After deliberating less than an hour they returned with a verdict for Annie Bailey. Tom Ware was required to pay her $700 plus $50 in costs. Whether she ever collected from the impecunious defendant is another matter.
Though the case of Bailey vs. Ware dates back 115 years, it sounds surprisingly similar to the sordid internet dating stories familiar to everyone today, other than the breach of promise suit that terminated the story.
As the wisest book, The Holy Bible, reminds us, “There is nothing new under the sun.”