A Full Child

July 20, 1853, proved to be a difficult day for William Edwards. He’d been imprisoned in the Madison county jail since December 8, 1852 for an “alleged offence” against the state of Alabama and now he received news that Julia Edwards gave birth. William learned of his paternity from behind bars. It seems strange that nobody mentioned Julia’s pregnancy prior to the delivery but it appears that mid-nineteenth century sheriffs possessed other priorities.

One can imagine William Edwards in his cell contemplating all that life had thrown at him. He served a sentence that he felt unjust and now a child’s future lay before him. It must have felt heavy. Either Julia visited later that week or someone brought the babe to see him. William gazed at the swaddled infant and saw a healthy child. Its limbs looked strong and it carried the fat of a newborn. It was what every parent wished for their own offspring.

They took the child away and William returned to his contemplation. He soon found the time to do math.

Julia Edwards last saw her husband as a free man on September 2, 1852, when he left Nashville to travel back to their home in Alabama. Through injustice or just desserts he ended up in the Madison county jail on the eighth of December. He did not have “intercourse with her again until the twentieth day of December following, when she visited him in the jail,” and despite this conjugal visit he heard persistent rumors from other prisoners that Julia Edwards now slept in many different beds.

Especially the bed of a man named John W. Jones, whom William suspected Julia of seeing in the spring of 1852, which may have prompted their brief removal to Tennessee.

William Edwards sat in a cell and realized that only seven months passed between Julia’s last round of affections and their most recent family member. The child he saw possessed no stunted growth nor small stature, William Edwards “[felt] satisfied [that the baby] is a full developed nine-months child and is not his own.”

On April 17, 1854, he sued for divorce. The sheriff could not find the long gone Julia Edwards nor the babe she bore. The court quickly dismissed his suit.


William Edwards v. Julia Edwards, Book S, 100-102 (1854).

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