The Affair of the Veiled Murderess

An Antebellum Scandal and Mystery

By Jeanne Winston Adler

Subjects: New York/regional, American History, Women's Studies
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438435480, 323 pages, July 2015
Hardcover : 9781438435473, 323 pages, March 2011

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Table of contents


Introduction: Troy, New York, 1853

PART ONE: Henrietta Robinson, spring 1852–spring 1853
1. River Street

2. May 25th

3. The New Prisoner

PART TWO: JOHN C. MATHER, BIRTH(1813)–spring 1853

4. Introducing John C. Mather

5. Rise

6. Trouble


7. Contagion

8. Long Hot Summer Into Fall

9. Limbo Time

PART FOUR: Trial, May 1854

10. Day One—Officers of the Court

11. Day Two—The Doctors

12. Day Three—The Veil

13. Day Four—Bombshell

14. Day Five—Some Antebellum Lore

15. Day Six—Verdict


16. Settled But Not Settled

17. Breaking of the Storm

18. More Mather

19. Trends

20. Charlotte Wood

21. Lively Season

22. “Admiral Pagnum’s Daughter”

23. Angel of Mercy

24. Departure

PART SIX: Irish Answer, 1851 and the DEEPER PAST

25. Susan Gaynor

26. Immigrants and Others


27. The Sing Sing Years

28. Auburn

29. Charlotte Doolittle Norris

30. Finale


31. What Really Happened

Appendix I: The Wood Daughters
Appendix II: The Duke of Kent Business

An account of a mysterious murder committed in nineteenth-century Troy, New York, and the sensational trial that ensued.


Troy, New York, 1853. Two Irish immigrants—a man and a woman—die shortly after drinking beer poured by a neighbor. Was it poisoned? And if so, was their slayer the beautiful mistress of an important Democratic politician? Many Trojans soon answer yes to both questions, but others question the guilt of the glamorous accused. Rumored to be the once-respectable Miss Charlotte Wood, a former student at Emma Willard's elite Troy Female Seminary and the runaway wife of a British lord, her identity remains in doubt, and the air of mystery is only heightened by her decision to remain hidden behind a veil during her trial, which earns her the nickname "The Veiled Murderess." As the affair widens to include the antebellum social and political worlds of Troy and Albany, the blossoming scandal threatens important people on both sides of the Atlantic.

Drawing on newspapers, court documents, and other records of the time, Jeanne Winston Adler attempts to come to an understanding of the truth behind the strange affair of the veiled murderess. In the process, she addresses a number of topics important to our understanding of nineteenth-century life in New York State, including the changing roles of women, the marginal position of the Irish, and the contentious political firmament of the time.

Jeanne Winston Adler is the author of Early Days in the Adirondacks: The Photographs of Seneca Ray Stoddard and the editor of In the Path of War: Children of the American Revolution and Chainbreaker's War: A Seneca Chief Remembers the American Revolution. She lives in Salem, New York.


"Adler's painstaking research demonstrates that Robinson's murder trial is more than a sensational historical tale … this remains a fascinating story, one that will be of interest to scholars of urban life, crime, politics, and gender in nineteenth-century America." — New York History

"Adler deftly navigates an abundance of primary source material to recreate the facts of Robinson's sensational murder trial in this enjoyable page-turner. The Affair of the Veiled Murderess is an … excellent entry to the subject for the general reader." — H-Net Reviews, H-Law

"…a must-read for mystery fans or anyone who enjoys the culture of mid-nineteenth century New York." — Hudson River Valley Review

"The Affair of the Veiled Murderess is the riveting account of a previously unsolved murder committed in Troy, New York, in the nineteenth century. The author has captured the city of Troy such as to make of it one of the characters. She goes step by step through the process of detection until she has solved this real-life murder mystery to the reader's complete satisfaction. I recommend it highly." — Richard Selzer, author of Down From Troy and Knife Song Korea

"To me it's an excellent book. Fascinating in its discussion and scholarship on nineteenth-century Hudson Valley and State politics, plus the sleuthery regarding the murderess." — Ed Sanders, author of America: A History in Verse, Vol. 1: 1900–1939