Gough’s misadventure in the Five Points began on September 5, 1845 when he checked into the Croton Hotel, went out for the night, returned on the next day, purchased a new shirt, and disappeared again for six days. His friends, afraid of foul play, issued an alarm. On the 12th he was found in a brothel on Walker St. by Enoch Camp and George Wilkes, publishers of the Police Gazette. Gough claimed he had been drugged by a man named Williams or Williamson. Camp and Wilkes turned Gough over to a police officer named Hays who received $100 in reward money from Gough’s friends. Hays turned the cash over to Camp and Wilkes, who kept $50 for themselves and split the rest between Hays and their original informant. Camp and Wilkes did not publish the story initially. When they did, they claimed in the second of two articles that Gough had offered them $300, when they found him, to hush the matter up. They refused the money, they wrote.
Meanwhile, Gough was taken to Roxbury, MA by friends who released daily bulletins about his health. On Sept. 22, 1845 Gough wrote his own account of the matter and published it in the New York Journal of Commerce.
About half past seven or eight I left the Croton [hotel], called at a store in Broadway, and purchased a watch guard. Went to the store of Messrs. Saxton and Miles; stayed there a few minutes. On coming out, I had not gone a dozen of steps before I was accosted by a man with “How do you do, Mr. Gough?” Said I, “You have the advantage of me; I am introduced to so many, that it is difficult for me sometimes to recognize them.” Said he, “my name is Williams, Jonathan Williams. I used to work in the same shop with you in this city a good many years ago.” I replied, “I do not remember it,” or something to that effect. He then said, “you have got into a new business, the Temperance business; do you find it a good business?” “O yes,” I told him, “I find it a very good business.” Some other conversation ensued, during which time we were walking slowly together, when he said, “I suppose you are so pious now, and have got so proud, that you would not drink a glass of soda with an old shopmate.” “O yes, I would drink a glass of soda with any body. I will drink a glass with you, if you will go in here.” We were then opposite to Thompson’s. There were, I should think ten or twelve persons round the fountain, when he said, “we shall never get served here. I know a place where we can get better soda than we can here.” We then crossed the street, and went down Chamber street to Chatham street, till we came to a small shop. Having no suspicions, I did not take particular notice of what kind of shop it was. But I saw confectionary, and a paste-board sign, with “Best Soda” on it. There are two or three of these establishments in this vicinity, (owing to my weakness [Gough claimed to be ill after he was found] I did not visit the place previous to my leaving New York;) but I have no doubt I can identify the shop among the others. This man called for Soda, asked me “what syrup I used,” said “he used Raspberry.” (I am pretty sure he said Raspberry.) I said I would take some of the same.
The syrup was poured out and the soda poured into it from the fountain. (The fountain was a dark color.) This man took my glass, and handed it to me with his hand over the top of the glass. (I noticed his hand, because I thought it was not a very gentlemanly way of handing a glass.) However, I thought no more, but drank it. We then went into Chambers street again, and up to Broadway together, when he left me.
Soon after he left me, I felt a warm sensation about the lungs and chest, with unusual exhilaration, and for the first time I began to suspect that it was not all right. This feeling increased, till I felt completely bewildered, with a desire for something, I know not what. I do not know that I ever felt so strangely in my life before. I do not know how long I walked, but must have walked some distance, as I have some recollection of seeing the new white church at the upper end of Broadway. During this time, I went into a grocery store, and got some brandy. I do not know where, nor whether I paid for it; but I recollect drinking. I became after a little while bewildered and stupid, and had wandered I did not know where. When I saw a woman dressed in black, I either accosted her, or she accosted me; it is immaterial which, as I was in such a state, that I should not have waited to think who it was. I do not remember what I said; but she told some gentlemen who went to make inquiries [friends of Gough who visited New York after the episode], that I asked her if she could give me a night’s lodging, or tell me where I could procure one, as I not without friends, &c. She took me into the house. How I got in, I know not. There was a flight of stairs, but I have no recollection of going up those stairs. I remember nothing distinctly that passed during that whole time, till I was taken away, except that I drank; but what I drank, or how much, or how often, I know nothing. I have some idea that a man came there while I was there, because I felt afraid of him. I have no recollection of going out at all, after I went in on Friday evening, although it is said, that I was seen on Saturday evening. I have no recollection either of coming out or of going in; and if I did it, I don’t know how I did it. I have no recollection of eating at all, although the woman told [Gough's friends] that I did eat, and asked a blessing, and also that I prayed. I have no remembrance of this. I do not remember of purchasing a shirt, although I had a strange shirt on me when I was taken away. The time that I spent in that place seems to me like a horrible dream – a night-mare – a something that I cannot describe. I have so little recollection of what transpired, that when I came out, I could not for my life tell how long I had been there, and was astounded when I found that I had been there so long. When Mr. Camp came into the house, I remember that I felt as if relief had come, and I said to him, “O, take me away from this.” I felt glad that some one had come. He asked me how I came there. I told him that a man had put something in a glass of soda which had crazed me. He asked me his name. I gave it to him as he gave it to me, as near as I can recollect. Another man came in with Mr. Camp [presumably Wilkes]; then Mr. Hays [a police officer] came in and took me in a carriage to Mr. Hurlbut’s house, where I received the kindest care and attention, during the most severe trial of bodily suffering and mental agony I ever experienced in my life. During the whole of my sickness I did not call for liquor, nor do I remember that I felt any desire or craving for it.
This is my statement; to the truth of which I am willing to stand through life, in the hour of death, and at the Judgment seat.”
Gough's statement did not please Camp and Wilkes. They were unhappy that Gough had not chosen the National Police Gazette in which to publish his story. Because he had been gone for a week, Gough's friends had plastered New York City with placards asking for information. Camp and Wilkes had found him and returned him to his friends. They therefore assumed that Gough owed them the scoop and extra sales publishing his account would bring. There is no mystery as to why Gough did not choose the Gazette. It was the most prominent of what were called "flash" papers, after the New York Flash that Wilkes had founded, and specialized in sensation, crime, and disreputable sports, especially boxing. Gough chose the respectable Journal of Commerce, and Camp and Wilkes sent Gough a letter that carefully avoided explicit blackmail:
New York, Sept. 27th, 1845.
Dear Sir: -- As a matter of business, and in duty to our readers, we have published your “statement” or “confession,” as we found it in the Journal of Commerce. Though we have chosen thus in the first instance to give it to the public without comment, we cannot withhold from expressing our strong and just dissatisfaction at the selection of your organ of publication, bound as you was, in common gratitude, to extend that return of favor first to us. You have seen fit, however, to pursue a different course, but let that pass for the present.
Of the morality of that statement and the integrity of its particulars, we, among the rest of the public, have a right to express an opinion, and a peculiar privilege from our intimate knowledge of the whole subject to discuss it.
Passing the soda water absurdity, the wretched fetch in relation to the mysterious “Jonathan Williams,” and your feigned protracted and interesting physical debility, we shall beg only to call your attention to a few facts, which though they form the key to your whole recent debauch, you have chosen to conceal most sedulously from the public.
We allude to your previous visits to the house in Walker street, and your previous intimacy with its inmates.
We are not the keepers of your conscience sir; but circumstances have forced us to be in some measure the critics of your acts; and we leave it to your judgment, meager as it has shown itself to be by your recent conduct, whether it has not become our duty to take up the challenge you have so audaciously thrown in the face of public credulity.
We have abstained from canvassing the real merits of your case, for the purpose of affording you an opportunity of a partial redemption of your folly, by a frank confession. Not having done so, the business must be taken up by others; and we now write, to inform you that you must prepare yourself to answer certain very stringent interrogatories of our next number, or to amend your latest fault by a new “confession.” Respectfully, &c.,
Camp & Wilkes, -- Editors, Nat’l Police Gazette
The implicit blackmail lay in the phrase "we leave it to your judgment" whether they should not publish those "few facts . . . you have chosen to conceal most sedulously from the public." Their threat was that they would do so in the next issue. In the event they waited for more than two months. Why? Presumably to see if Gough would pay up. According to the account they did publish in the December 13th issue of the National Police Gazette, Gough had offered them $300 when they first found him to keep the story hushed up. Given his fame and the success of his lecturing career, they might have decided that their silence was worth a lot more. And Gough might have decided that, if he were to try to buy them off, they might bleed him dry. After waiting far longer than they originally said they would, Camp and Wilkes published their "exposure" of John B. Gough.
“Exposure of John B. Gough,” National Police Gazette, December 13, 1845
When a man assumes the position of a public reformer, he makes a tacit pledge of his own exemption of the special evil he denounces. When he challenges the faults of others, he of consequence agrees to be arraigned upon his own rights, which according to a just system are reciprocal. By an impartial and equal rule therefore, every derelict apostle, must appear before the same tribunal to which he has had the audacity to summon others. We use the word “audacity,” for it falls naturally and forcefully in connection with John B. Gough.
Our readers, in common with the whole country, are conversant with the main features of this man’s recent conduct in this city. They are likewise aware that it was ourselves who plucked him from the mire of his base debauch, but they are not acquainted with the other little circumstances connected with his conduct, which they have a right to know. We suppressed these at first, to afford the miserable man an opportunity of a partial redemption by a bold and manly confession of his fault; and we were further induced to withhold an exposition, in deference to the common notion of his late physical debility. Finding however he has at length mustered up courage to sneak by stealth into a lecture room, and to whine forth a pitiful appeal to a simple audience, all reasons for further restraint are over, and we are prepared to keep our promise with our readers. A very simple statement will suffice for our purpose.
On the evening of September 5th, John B. Gough arrived in this city on his way to Albany, (and from thence, with his wife, to Canada,) and put up at the Croton Hotel. After ten, he went out, and for a week was missing. Alarmed at his disappearance, his friends issued a large placard mentioning his singular disappearance, describing his person, and attributing his disappearance to accident or foul play at the hands of rum-dealers. The whole city was in a fever, and the press and the public made up their minds at once for an interesting horror. To us it did not bear this color, and for this reason: Two days before the issue of the placard, and consequently two days before we heard of the vanishment of the lecturer, we received information that a man recently arrived in town, (who had, been once at the same place a year before, and once about six weeks or two months previous,) lay in a house of prostitution in Walker street, in a state of complete mental and physical prostration from the effects of excessive and beastly intoxication; that he appeared to be of respectability; and that the woman, whose chamber and whose bed he shared, had possession of all his money in her bureau drawer, and drew unsparingly from the treasury for her own special benefit and for the general frolic and debauch of the whole frail household during the entire period of his base and filthy degradation. We regarded this as a case deserving attention, but being pressed with business at the time, we neglected it until the placard before alluded to appeared. We then instantly proceeded to the place of his concealment.
After mounting two flights of stairs in a rickety rear-building, we followed the first passage that offered, to a back bed-room, and there found him, the mere shadow of a man, pacing the floor with tottering and uncertain steps. He was as pale as ashes; his eyes glowed with preternatural luster, his limbs trembled, and his fitful and wandering stare evinced his mind was as much shattered as his body. Beside him stood two terror-stricken wretches in the shape of women, and on the table of this den of infamy sat the curse of the inebriate. The pompous horror had dissolved from its huge proportions, and shrunk into a very vulgar and revolting common place. The man was drunk.
Surprised in his shame, and trembling at the terrible revelation that awaited him, he clasped his hands and begged us most piteously not to expose him. That was a fatal appeal. Innocence has no need to call upon the rocks and mountains for concealment, and that petition read the verdict of his guilt. “Not expose him!” Not expose what? The story which he afterwards told himself about the mysterious Jonathan Williams? Or the fact of our finding him reveling with drunken harlots in a house of death, spending the greater portion of the day and night, during the period of a week, in the chamber of a woman whom he regarded as his special companion, and whose bed he occupied? Truly he had cause to beseech us not to expose him. We had two lines of conduct to follow on this occasion, and both led from a sense of duty. Our first impulse directed us to carry him and the females to the Tombs [New York's prison], and have him committed and fined for being drunk; our second was to hush the affair up altogether, for the sake of the great cause in which he had been a false apostle. The latter consideration triumphed, and after reprimanding him for his disgraceful conduct, we directed him to dress, and then procured a carriage to convey him to his friends. Before leaving the house, however, it struck us that perhaps the women had been guilty of some overt act towards him [theft?], and it might be improper to leave them at their own disposal, whereupon one of us [apparently Wilkes] went to the Police Office and called in an officer to watch the house while we conveyed Gough to his friends. The officer did not appear to think this necessary, and yielding to the request that he should be allowed to drive the reverend lecturer to his distressed friends, we left Mr. Gough rolling off in a carriage safely under his control. This is the whole story of the finding of Mr. Gough. There was no other soul present in the house at the time of his discovery, nor until the arrival of the officer at the very moment of his departure but our two selves, and the prostitutes who had been his companions. Though they glossed over the cause of his visit and the circumstances of his stay, they did not attempt to deny the fact that he had a female assigned to him, and that he passed nearly all the time of the week in her chamber. Beyond that, there is a veil which we do not care to draw. The community, however, do not require any aid from us to decide upon the occupations of a man who is thus closeted. That he was not the victim of a continuous hallucination is plain, for after his debauch and its criminal indulgences were twenty-four hours old, he left the scene of his base enjoyments, went to his hotel, and though the house in Walker street is obscurely situated and a perfect labyrinth in its entrance and avenues, he found his way back there without any trouble. No latent principle appears to have spoken its monition to his soul during this acknowledged interval of self-command, no recollection is suffered to intrude its rebuke upon his purpose; but, disregardful of every consideration that would have restrained any but an ingrained soul, and forgetful of the innocent and beautiful wife who was worn with watching for his coming, he sneaked back to the coarse and rank enjoyments of the abandoned sybarites, with whom he had made the “night hideous” the night before.
Passing from the time of his restoration as described above, to the 22d of September, and we have a statement or “confession” from Mr. Gough, dated from Roxbury, Massachusetts, and given under his own hand, purporting to be a true account of all the circumstances of his fall. Though he calls on his Maker to witness to his perjury, he has not even made it plausible enough to baffle the fallible sagacity of man.
Let us examine one or two points. According to the confession, a few minutes after his arrival he left his hotel, and “was accosted by a man with – How do you do Mr. Gough?” This man called himself Jonathan Williams, represented himself to have worked in the same shop and at the same bench with Gough years before, and finally invited him to take a glass of soda water. They went for the purpose into Thompson & Weller’s confectionary store, but that place being too full, they could not get served, and from there crossed over to Chatham street, in the vicinity of Chamber, where, out of a number of shops, the mysterious Jonathan Williams selected one, called for soda with raspberry syrup, and prescribed the same dose for Mr. Gough as for himself, handing him his glass by taking hold of it with his hand over the top. They drank, and returned to Broadway. The mysterious Jonathan Williams, after accompanying him some distance up that street, vanished as strangely as he came. It was shortly after this, says the confession, that he felt the unusual exhiliration, and, as he expresses it, “a desire for something.” By his own acknowledgement, he got it, for after drinking profusely at the grocery stores, we find him picking up a woman in the street, as naturally as any of the amorous dabsters of the Bowery or Park Row.
In the same measure that Truth is wisdom, Falsehood is folly; and if the ill-advised concocter of the above insolent imposture has not exemplified to the extreme the dark side of the axiom, then there is no solace in feather beds, nor virtue in Chatham street soda water. In analyzing this statement, the first inquiry arises as to who is the mysterious Jonathan Williams? “Where did he come from, and who does he belong to?” On this subject, Mr. Gough is charmingly explicit. He tells us that Jonathan Williams is a man of about 40 years of age, and slightly pock-marked. This, of a man who had been in his company half an hour, who had represented himself as an old shopmate, and who, under such circumstances, would have suffered a most scrutinizing examination, in order that the person so addressed might be able to summon up some lingering lineament to the assistance of his recollection, is rich indeed. But all the confession says of Jonathan Williams is, that he is a pock-marked phantasm of about 40 years of age. Who wonders that he never has been found! The next inquiry is in relation to the shop Gough told us on the day when we arrested him, after he had half an hour’s time to set his wits to work, this same story about Jonathan Williams; but he distinctly called him Jonathan Williamson, -- he distinctly told us that he drank soda water at Thompson & Weller’s shop, -- and he most distinctly impressed upon us the fact, that he felt the unnatural exhiliration before the mysterious Jonathan Williamson left him and that as soon as his destroyer beheld the effect of the potion, “he looked into his face with a devilish expression of exaltation which he never should forget, no, never, never should forget!!” It appears, however, that Mr. Gough has forgotten that baleful glance; he has forgotten also the last syllable of the arch raspberry syrup man’s name, and he has likewise most conveniently forgotten the soda water shop where the mysterious and unpolished Jonathan Williams betrayed his ignorance of manners by handing a glass of soda water with raspberry syrup, to a gentleman, with his hand over the top. In short, he has forgotten every thing except that which we can most distinctly prove; and the mind cannot rest with the slightest satisfaction upon any one of his statements, for it certainly can never stand upon his testimony.
We have but one more allusion to make to this confession, and we have done.
“With regard to the house in which I was found,” says Gough, “it is said to be a house of ill-fame. I have understood that it was not; but be that as it may, had it been the most notorious house in the city, and I seen one of its inmates, being in the state I was in when I met this woman, I should have gone with her. I had no intention of going to such a house. All I wanted was rest; and I have every reason to believe that I should have asked no questions, or made no objections to any place.”
This is the very climax of daring insolence. He affects to doubt the character of a house where he could share the sleeping chamber of a woman for a week, and he could riot in drunkenness with dishevelled harlots from meridian to midnight. This, however, is not worse than the assertion which immediately follows – that he had no intention of going to such a house, and that all he wanted was rest. The falsity of this attempted glose [gloss] is at once exposed by the fact of his having, on the second evening of his stay at the house in Walker street, left it to purchase a shirt, and pay a visit to his hotel. Could he not find rest there? And why did he not change his linen in his own apartment, instead of carrying it under his arm back to Walker street, to put it on amongst a party of loose women in a brothel? Can it be that there were circumstances that rendered this imperative?* [*The shirt which Gough cast off at this house was found saturated with blood.]
But we are out of patience with this subject. The imposture is almost too gross to need refutation, and were it not for the important bearing which the case of Mr. Gough has upon the cause of Temperance, we should not have treated it with any degree of consideration above contempt.
The individual acts of a corrupt apostle cannot affect the integrity of a great cause; but, unless it casts the backslider from its bosom, it voluntarily assumes the responsibility of his disgrace. With an undiscriminating world, the exponent of a cause is its type and representative, and the acts of the one are confounded with the principles of the other. Though this is not just, it is true, and the conservators of the interests of a comprehensive and beneficent doctrine are not justified in balancing the welfare of innumerable human souls against the false tenderness arising out of a previous association with an unworthy member of the cause. The Mount Vernon Congregational Church, who have endorsed the statement of Gough as “a free and artless confession of the truth,” though they never properly investigated the subject, and the Temperance Societies who have invited him to their lecture-rooms, have assumed a momentous responsibility. They are now made aware of the character of the man whom they intend to force again upon the cause of Temperance; and if they do not perform their duty in the premises, it is no fault of ours
How much of the "exposure" was true? Or, to turn the question around, how much of Gough's statement was true? Among those who attempted to answer was a fellow temperance advocate and fellow reformed drunkard and member of the Washingtonians who published an anonymous pamphlet, GOFFIANA; A REVIEW of the LIFE AND WRITINGS OF JOHN B. GOUGH, by ONE QUALIFIED: with THE TESTIMONY, PRO AND CON, COMPARED AND WEIGHED. (Boston, 1846). The author claimed to “know Mr. Wilkes” and to be “acquainted with Mr. Camp.”
P. 35: Mr. Wilkes is a man of some talents, great industry and energy, strong passions and a vindictive and pertinacious temper. He is just the hunter who is not likely to leave the track of his quarry till he runs it down, and not at all the person we should choose for an enemy. His is as much addicted to sex as ever Mr. Gough was, and, is, in that particular, as unscrupulous; though it is but justice to him to say that he always shews more delicacy and refinement in his pleasures. In times past, he has been addicted to gaming, and has been charged with some other peccadilloes, on which, as we have them only on hearsay, we shall not dwell. It is also due to him to allow that there is nothing hypocritical or sanctimonious in his vices; what he does, he does boldly.
Wilkes, he noted, “has been a party to extorting black mail before, once and again, when he was one of the editors of the “Flash,” of which excellent family newspaper, he was the original projector, and, for a while, the sole editor and proprietor, we know.”
P. 35: Mr. Camp is a man of good education and of a warm and generous heart. We never before heard the slightest imputation on his character, nor do we believe that has ever deserved any. Even a long connection with the New York Herald left no stain on his spotless reputation. . . .
. . . there is one thing we must say for both. Though Wilkes would suppress truth, for a consideration, we are resolute that he would not publish falsehood in any circumstances; he is too prudent and too proud a man for that; and, if he would, Mr. Camp would never be a consenting party to such infamy.
Why was the pamphlet published anonymously? The Washingtonians were, in the 1840s, the most important Temperance organization and Gough their most celebrated advocate. What to do once Gough was found in a Five Points brothel was a point of great controversy. Many, like the author of Goffiana, wanted to brand him as a hypocrite and drum him out of the organization. Others rallied round their most important member. The anonymous author may have wished to avoid directly antagonizing fellow Washingtonians. In any event, he did reprint both Gough's statement and the "exposure" in full. And he claimed to have found the "mysterious" Jonathan Williams or Williamson.
P. 18: . . . it at first appeared that this mysterious stranger, Willams, was but another name for the scape-goat of all mankind, the devil; on whom sinners are always so fond of laying the burthen of their sins. In other words, we did not believe a syllable of the unlikely story, or that Mr. Gough was beguiled by aught but his own appetite for drink. Unlikely as the story seems, however, our sagacity was at fault; a part at least of the tale is true; Jonathan Williams is found.
There is a man in Boston, or lately was, named Rothe, an Englishman, of about forty, pock-marked, and answering Mr. Gough's description in every particular. During Christmas week, this man, in a conversation about Mr. Gough, inadvertently let out that he was in New York on the 5th of September, that he there met Gough, and that, though he did not drug him, he drank brandy with him three several times. Now, as Gough admits having drank brandy once, at least, after parting with Williams, or Rothe, and before he picked up or was picked up by the courtezan in the street . . . it needs no drug to explain why he was ashamed to proceed to Brooklyn [to friends] or to return to the Croton Hotel that night.
It is very possible that the said Rothe, may refuse to confirm this statement. We understand that he declines answering any further questions on the subject. There are a great many persons who would rather that the truth should remain unknown, nay, who would rather lie, than be entangled in a dirty business or brought conspicuously before the public. But that there is such a man as Rothe, and that he has made the statement be mentioned, Mr. Gough and his friends shall have proof, abundant and irrefragable, if they should think fit to demand it.
Ultimately we must make up our minds based upon the several accounts. Did the anonymous author of Goffiana really locate the "mysterious" Jonathan Williams? Was there such a person, whatever his name? Was Gough drugged by an agent of the rum sellers? If so, how could he possibly have found his way back to his hotel? And, once there, why did he not simply stay put? Or contact his friends? And how did he manage to purchase a new shirt in a drugged state? Why bring it back to the brothel instead of changing his shirt in the hotel? Was there a man, more mysterious even than Jonathan Williams, whom Gough vaguely remembers, who for some reason frightened him? How far should we trust the National Police Gazette account? The editors might have been attempting to blackmail Gough. On the other hand, there is nothing in their account that is inconsistent with Gough's. They took the many parts of his story in which he claimed to have no memory and filled in the blanks.
If Gough was telling the truth, what was the drug? Given his account, one possible candidate is opium. Used in combination with brandy — a term with no fixed meaning but with the clear implication that the alcohol content was high — opium would have left Gough in a comatose state or something close to it, provided the amount was sufficient to produce the symptoms Gough reported. Additional drinking, even in the indeterminate amounts Gough recorded, would have rendered it very unlikedly for him to respond as he claimed he did when the Police Gazette editors found him.