Notes on 200 Years (and More) February 2022

by Douglas H. Parkhurst

A rather curious headline appeared above a story on page one of the Waterbury (CT) Evening Democrat on Thursday, February 14, 1889. It read “One Preacher Less in the Family.” The story: “Danbury, Conn., Feb.14. – The sudden disappearance of the Rev. W.J. Crosley, pastor of the Universalist church, is as much a mystery as ever. He left Danbury Sunday night, taking with him much property belonging to his wife, who is also a Universalist preacher of some note. He had tendered his resignation as pastor of the church and had collected $100 back salary due him. His wife procured an attachment of $2,000 against him, which covers what property he left….Crosley was last seen boarding the Washington express train bound west.” 

The Rev. William J. Crosley and family came to Danbury in 1887. At that time the Universalist Church was located on Liberty Street, a little east of and opposite Delay Street in the center of town. Born in 1845 in Ohio, William Crosley was the brother of two Universalist ministers and husband of a third. A farmer early in life he began preaching around 1867 after service in the 34th and 36th Regiments Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. Crosley attended Canton Theological School in Canton, New York, and was ordained in 1870. During his ministerial career, besides Danbury, Rev. Crosley served Universalists in New Hampshire, Ohio, and Indiana. He was described as “a studious and faithful man, performing his work handicapped by a retiring disposition; a devoted pastor over several parishes in Ohio. There was no stain upon his name nor character.” A year after leaving Danbury he was serving a parish in Ohio. William Crosley left the Universalist ministry around 1897 after more than twenty-five years of service. 

The Rev. Charlotta (Lotta) Davis Crosley was born in Ohio in 1848. She married Sampson Gath, a Civil War veteran, in 1867; this marriage ended with the death of her husband within a year. In 1870 she married William J. Crosley. She was the mother of two sons, one by Gath and one by Crosley. Lotta Crosley attended Western College in Oxford, Ohio, began preaching in the mid-1870s, and was ordained in Ohio in 1879. Records show Rev. Lotta Crosley supplied the pulpit part-time at the Long Ridge Universalist Society (which building is the present-day home of St. Francis Episcopal Church in the northern part of Stamford) while residing in Connecticut. Perhaps she preached in Danbury as well though we do not have documentation of this. During her long career Rev. Crosley also served parishes in Ohio, Indiana, and Colorado. It was said of Lotta Crosley, “No woman in Ohio was better known for her good works…. She had spoken to rich and poor. She had gone into palaces and hovels. She had carried the divine word into the house of law-makers and behind prison walls….There was a welcome for her everywhere.” 

What happened between this couple in February of 1889? Did personal differences, financial pressures, or occupational stress became too much? We don’t know for sure beyond what appears to have been a family split. We can infer that divorce followed the Crosleys’ departure from Danbury. William Crosley married again, in Iowa, in 1895. By 1900 he and his second wife, Frances, were living in Arkansas where William owned a farm. He died in Arkansas in 1907 and was buried there. Moving back to Ohio, Lotta Crosley continued in the Universalist ministry for the rest of her life. She died in West Virginia in 1917 while on a trip to supply a pulpit. She was laid to rest in Ohio, next to her first husband Sampson Gath.