Picture it: Staten Island, New York, 1842. It was the scandal heard round the nation: young heiress Mary Elizabeth O’Hara Croghan, daughter of Louisville’s William Croghan, Jr. and Pittsburgh’s Mary O’Hara, eloped with British Captain Edward Schenley, a twice-widowed man thirty years her senior. Imagine the sensation! The intrigue! The rumors! What a scandal. Captain Schenley was the brother-in-law of Mary’s schoolmistress! Mary was only 15, and the only heiress to a large Pittsburgh fortune! Newspapers reported that her father, William Croghan, Jr., fainted when he heard the news, as well he might. Within the Croghan family, the episode was referred to as “the abduction of Mary.” A flurry of letters between William, his daughter, his new son-in-law, various members of Mary’s extended family, and the irresponsible schoolmistress all detail the intrigue surrounding the elopement. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are a few relevant letters, detailing the story of these two unlikely lovebirds.
Mary Elizabeth O’Hara Croghan Schenley, before 1903.
This first letter is dated January 23, 1842. It should be noted that Mary and Edward were married on January 22!
Mary Croghan to William Croghan Jr.
[Tompkinsville, N.Y.] Jan 23rd 1842
My dear father. I think you have treated me very very badly indeed in not writing to me as soon as you arrived in Washington, if Emmeline had not written to Mrs Macleod something about your being there, I can not say all the things I would have imagined had happened to you, but never mind if I do not receive a letter from you tomorrow or next day I will write another to you. Mr Schenley has not yet ceased in his kindnesses to me and all of the other girls; the Saturday after you left I went into the city with Mrs Macleod to have my teeth (or tooth) arranged, after we had finished “he” came and took up to see Stouts statue of Fanny Elssler (oh it is too perfect) and afterwards we went to see the Panorama of Thebes and Jerusalem, that was quite enough for that day, and last Friday evening he took Fanny Wash, Mrs Macleod, Pina and me to the theatre, we staid at the American (tell Emmeline we had the same rooms exactly) we saw “London assurance” over again and “What will the world say” O! it was too too nice I like the last the most, as it was very very amusing and interesting, we had the same private box that we had the first night […] I want to get a cloak and bonnet, two very necessary articles for New Brighton,, and I thought it would be better to tell you I want them before I get them, am I not an excellent good “big” girl I think so? Do you intend visiting New York before you go to Pittsburg, from what Emmeline said in her last letter you had not then decided – Good bye my dear pa – If you do not soon write to your very affectionate daughter
P.S. Do you not think I am improving in my writing?
Captain Edward Schenley. Image: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In this letter, Edward attempts to ingratiate himself with his new bride’s father.
Edward Schenley to William Croghan Jr.
[February, 1842] New York
Previous to your receiving this letter from the hands of my friend Mr. Henry Delafield, he will have disclosed,, verbally, to you the event which has called it forth; I shall therefore briefly but solemnly assure you that I have used no undue means of arguments to induce your very dear daughter to become my wife – that I have placed every circumstance of my life before her; and that her resolution to unite herself to me has been of upwards of a year standing;
Not having experienced the honor of an intimate acquaintance with you; I must beg to refer you for a further knowledge of my general character and conduct as a son and husband, l.st to Mrs. Inglis whose daughter was my first wife, and who has known me thru good and evil fortune for nearly 20 years. – 2ndly to Sir William and Lady Pole of Shute House Devonshire, under whose care my only child, their granddaughter resides, and to whose paternal care it is my intention at once to place my Wife. –
As regards Those who know me in this country. I most freely commit my character; both publick and private into the hands of my warmest friends; I may almost say Brothers; Mr. H. Delafield and the other members of their family. I have held intimate intercourse with them during 13 years a period which must have furnished them with an insight into my habits and disposition.
I am by no means vain enough to suppose that any opinion, however favorable, can at once reconcile you to the disposal of your daughter’s affections and hand without your knowledge and sanction; but it is a duty I owe to myself as well as to you to prove that I am worthy of her and to offer it as the best place in my power for the wounded feelings and temporary bereavement I have occasioned you. —
I refer you to herself for the feelings that have dictated this step on her part; and on that subject will merely remark that they can have been of no ordinary or sudden nature. Whom induced her to unite with me in deceiving a Parent to whom She is most filially attached; And the family from whose care and kindness she has esperienced so much benefit and happiness.
In conclusion, my dear Sir, permit me to assure you that my life shall be devoted to cherish, and render her happy. – Should circumstances admit of it, nothing could give us so much pleasure as your immediately joining us in England where I can safely promise you a hearty welcome from the Pole family and every connection I possess.
I beg to subscribe myself; with respect and esteem. Dear Sir. –Yours very.
Edward W.H. Schenley
In the following letter, Mrs. Richmond McLeod, Mary’s schoolmistress, attempts to explain herself to William Croghan.
Richmond Macleod to William Croghan Jr.
Thursday [February, 5 1842]
Since last evening when Mr Delafield came down to announce and break to us the dreadful event I have been contemplating how to address you my dear Mr Croghan. Dreadful as Mr Schenleys conduct is towards you it is so much worse towards Mamma and myself that I am yet inclined to doubt the truth of the whole story. Had he stabbed me to the heart it would have been a kinder act. At this moment writhing and suffering I only direct my thoughts to you, my prayers to Heaven to support you and bring you to look on this in the best way you can. A nights reflection shows me the ruin brought on me by my nearest and dearest relatives; but my only consolation is a clear conscience and a conviction that if I was deceived no one else could ever have discovered it. I have sent poor Emmeline such a letter as I am able to write – and remain your most unfortunate though always with respect.
Richmond M. Macleod
Here, Edward Schenley writes his account of events to a friend.
Edward Schenley to Mr. Lynch 
My dear sir,
The very night I supped with you my final arrangements were completed to [illegible] off to England [.] Miss Croghan, to whim I was duly and properly married on the 22nd Jan. all of course by that of [illegible] and after a long [illegible words] difficult but effectual deceptions [illegible] against my family here. The subject of my intruding these matters upon you is to beg the favour of your friendly offices for them under the severe affliction and indignation that they are likely at the first practised to consider it. I have written a good number of letters which it is possible, and I wish you and captain Bolton may see: for I think that their [illegible] will convince you that disparity of age is the only thing that can seriously be advanced as an objection; permit me to assure you most solemnly that this and every other circumstance connected with me has been laid before my wife; and that her resolution to marry me at all events has dated from a year back. That I am credibly informed to she more than once stated this resolution to her father, and that our greatest fear was that he would caution my family—in which case the thing could not have been affected: however not to trouble you more than necessary I shall merely again solicit your friendly influence amongst any persons who may get hold of a wrong version of the story, or who may prefer abusing them to the really only blamable person.
Your obliged friend
Edwd W. Schenley
Mary’s uncle, General Thomas Jesup, was dispatched to New York to sort out the situation. His two letters follow.
Genl. T.S. Jesup to William Croghan Jr.
New York 12th Feby 1842
My dear Sir,
I arrived here late last night, and have today been constantly occupied in inquiries in relation to the event so distressing to us all. Thus far I have found but little that is satisfactory – If Mrs MacLeod is innocent circumstances are most strongly against her – She brought Mary to the City on the 21st of January, and took her to the theatre – Staid that night at Couzens’ Hotel, & as she says, Mary slept in the room with her, & Miss Wash and her daughter in another room – they remained until one o’clock the next day (the 22nd), in the City […] The Marriage certificate which I have seen is dated the 22nd of January the identity of both Mary & Schenley was testified to before the police magistrate by a worthless fellow by the name of Lafarge – though Inglis was present, he did not testify to their identity. If they have sailed at all, they have gone under assumed names – no persons under the name of Schenley sailed in the mediator. I have seen a letter of W. Schenley to W. Lynch in which he declares that he was engaged to Mary before he went last to Demarara, and that she has informed you of the engagement—the latter declaration I pronounced to be false the moment I heard it—was I not right? […]
I will write again tomorrow evening.
Yrs truly. Th: S. Jesup
New York, Feby 14th 1842
My dear Sir,
[…] I this morning traced Mr Schenley & Mary to the hotel, (Holts,) where they staid from 11 o’clock on the 31st of January ‘till the same hour on the 1st of this month, when they went on board the Mediator. I have also become acquainted with facts which put it beyond doubt that Mrs Macleod has been the principal actor in the drama. She says, as you no doubt remember, that Mary wrote to her to send her some clothes, as you required her to remain with you in the City. She sent the clothes, but in place of directing them to the Astor house to your care, she directed them to William Inglis – by accident the label became loose and a gentlemen who was requested to see the bundle delivered to Inglis discovered that on the inner ride it was directed to “Miss Mary Croghan, care of W. Inglis.” If it were a case of murder any jury would convict Mrs. Macleod on the circumstantial evidence that has been elicited. I obtained to day a copy of the letter of Mr. Schenley to Mr. Lynch which I enclose.
I have seen either copies or the originals of all the letters written by Mr. Schenley, except one to Captain Bolton which I am told contains a challenge to any or all who may comment on his conduct. The substance of the letter to Mr. Lynch is circulating in a portion of the Society here—if the replies have I understand circulated a report that you conducted Ms. Macleod from my house to the [illegible], and the influence drawn from the circumstances is that you were reconciled to the event which has taken place—I did not think it necessary to contradict the statement, but simply replied to the gentleman who made the communication that her mother had placed her under our protection, and I did not consider it very complimentary to either of us to make it a mother also much wonder that we should have behaved toward her as gentlemen.
With my best wishes for your health & happiness I am, dear sir, most truly yrs.
Th. S. Jesup
Finally, Mary’s uncle George Croghan writes to his cousin, John O’Fallon, of the affair.
George Croghan to Col. O’Fallon
Mammoth Cave 16th Feb y. 1842
My Dear Sir
I entreat of you as a friend and relation to take your Daughter away from the Brighton school as you would save her from the contaminating influence of its Directress Mrs McLeod than whom a more artful intriguing and base woman does not exist. You will have heard that my Brother William has been robbed of his Daughter a child of 14 years old. [illegible] by the [illegible] artifices of that vile woman she has eloped (perhaps forced away) & sailed for England with a Mr Schenley (a man of 56 and brother in law to Mrs McLoed) who has for a length of been aiding & abetting with fiend like appetite his worthy accomplice in a crime in the nefarious scheme of robbing a Father of his child, that they may secure to themselves a portion at last of her immense estate.
Mrs McLeod will attempt to exonerate herself from all blame & may succeed with some for she has the talents, [illegible] & cunning of the devil himself, but listen not to her – facts are so strong against her that nothing ought to restrain my Brother from arraigning her before the courts as the kidnapper of his child.
Two years ago if not more the Dr implored Wm not to intrust his Daughter to the care of Mrs McLeod as she was unworthy – had the Dr prevailed what agony would have been avoided. I have received two letters from Mr Croghan upon this distressing subject, filled with details of the cool calculating schemes and artifices resorted to by the vile woman to effect her nefarious end. Wm is half distracted. Let him rouse himself and pursue to the rescue of his child, even though to effect it he have to blow the vile robbers brains out. I write in haste & in great distress. …
Well! Although the circumstances of their marriage may not have been satisfactory, by all accounts Mary and Edward had a contented, happy married life. They lived for a time in Suriname, where Edward was posted by the British Foreign Office, before making their residence in London. They had seven children together, and remained married until Edward’s death in 1878. Before her own death in 1903, Mary became a major Pittsburgh philanthropist, donating land which became part of Carnegie Mellon University and Schenley Park. Upon her death, her estate was estimated at £870,000, or roughly $93 million. Despite the scandalous start, these sweethearts became something special.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!
Letter transcriptions taken from the Historic Locust Grove Manuscript Collection.
S. Kussart, “One Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of Mrs. Mary E. Schenley.” The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, Vol. 9, No. 4, October 1926, pp. 209-220.
Popular Pittsburgh, “Pittsburgh Profiles: May E. Schenley – The Pittsburgh Enchantress Who Shocked the World.” February 11, 2015. Accessed February 13, 2017. http://popularpittsburgh.com/mary-schenley/
Gwynne Tuell Potts, The Very Rich and Scandalous Miss Croghan, presented at Locust Grove in March 2015.
Gwynne Tuell Potts and Samuel W. Thomas, George Rogers Clark: Military Leader in the Pioneer West & Locust Grove: The Croghan Homestead Honoring Him. Louisville: Historic Locust Grove, 2006.