The crazy life of a Warwick preacher: Part 2

Posted 1/26/22

(Conclusion from last week)

Mary Howland testified that she believed there were improper relations taking place between her husband Hen-ry and teenaged Joseph Holden. She also made it known that, …

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The crazy life of a Warwick preacher: Part 2


(Conclusion from last week)

Mary Howland testified that she believed there were improper relations taking place between her husband Hen-ry and teenaged Joseph Holden. She also made it known that, despite Henry passing himself off as a minister for many years, he had just attempted to become ordained that month. His petition to be ordained by the Free Baptist Church of West Green-wich was denied as he was de-termined to be an unsuitable candidate for preaching the gos-pel.  

Finding that he did not prove his grounds for divorce, the court denied Henry’s petition on July 18. However, some members of his congregations had already begun to wipe the holy dust from their eyes. During a service that month, he blatantly flirted with a new young, female member. Those who watched were disgusted. At the following night’s service, he eyed the girl again and commented, “I’m going to act like the very devil tonight.”

Those who had followed him devotedly at his Wayside Mis-sion, which he had organized in Providence the previous year, were furious. For the past five months, he had claimed to be unable to pay for rent or food and they had all been donating money to him and bringing him meals. They began to feel as if they’d been duped by this so-called man of God.

With two months, Henry was feeling the disdain as his mission closed down. He made a public announcement that he did not care what anyone thought of him. “I shall walk the streets of Providence as often as I please,” he stated.

With his wife and son still liv-ing in Attleboro and fending for themselves, Henry seemingly disappeared that October. Later that autumn, at a meetinghouse in Jersey City, a man thought he recognized the new preacher “Reverend Eddy”. He asked him if he was actually Henry How-land. Extremely embarrassed, Henry admitted he was. A young female member commented that the reverend kept a fake black mustache in his travel trunk and said he sometimes wore it. By the time police began looking for him, he had already fled the state.

Just days later, 18-year-old Jo-seph Holden went missing from his home. Mary Holden contact-ed police, begging them to look for her son. A few months later, police in Baltimore learned that a new duo was preaching in the area “Reverend Howland” and his so-called brother “Brother Josie”.

Joseph was arrested but Henry escaped. The boy refused to return home until he was told that Henry had run off. He re-fused to answer questions or engage in conversation, making it clear that his devotion was to Henry. It was eventually learned that Henry had gone to the Holden home in the middle of the night and convinced Joseph to secretly leave with him and tell no one.

Henry moved on to Pasadena where he opened an office and presented himself as an astrolo-gist and fortune teller. He was finally caught in July 1895 and charged with perjury for present-ing himself for so many years as a minister. He was sentenced to serve two years of hard labor at San Quentin Prison.

Mary finally gave up on the marriage and signed for a di-vorce. She married tinsmith Ed-ward McDuff and settled with him and her son in Pawtucket. She later opened her own gro-cery store then went on to be-come a hospital nurse. Harold grew up to become a Pawtucket police sergeant.

Henry remained in California after serving his sentence. He sold himself as a medium and occult practitioner, pastoring at the First Christian Spiritualist Church in San Francisco and living at the lodging house of The Chutes amusement park.

On May 29, 1911, a fire began in the restaurant’s kitchen and quickly spread through the lodg-ing house. He and one of the female occupants ran toward the staircase to find it enveloped in flames. There was no other way out. They held hands and walked toward the window. Henry then told her, “Wait until I come back. I’m not afraid.”

Henry went to the stairs. He stopped, turned around and smiled, then turned back and walked right into the flames.

Four bodies were later discov-ered in the wreckage. Henry Howland was not one of them. It was assumed he had been entire-ly cremated.

In the months that followed, while doing some research, the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York, where Henry had a life insurance policy, suspected he might actually still be living and a new resident of St. Louis.

Did Henry Howland perish in a sea of flames? Or was he more of a master manipulator than all his former flocks discovered him to be?      


Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.


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