Elias Hull Gault (1827–1912) and his wife, Polly Martha Townsend Gault, were figures of some prominence in Rochester’s freethinking community. (At right, a photographic portrait of Elias Gault taken between 1884 and 1904.)
The Gaults first appeared in the Rochester City Directory in 1875. Elias’s occupation was then listed as teamster; twenty years previously he had reported his occupation to the 1855 census as a cooper.
The Gaults attended the Sixth Annual Convention of the New York Freethinkers’ Association at Watkins, now Watkins Glen, on August 23–27, 1882. It was the second time the group had convened in Watkins; its previous convention there, in 1878, had seized national attention because of the arrest on obscenity charges of D. M. Bennett, publisher of the national freethought newspaper The Truth Seeker. Bennett had sold a marriage-reform tract that contained nothing obscene, but did challenge traditional conceptions of marriage. That incident set in motion a chain of events ending in Bennett’s imprisonment for thirteen months of hard labor, followed (after his release) by an extended round-the-world tour funded by his supporters. Bennett was on his way back to his home in New York City when he paused in Watkins to serve as the convention’s guest of honor. The Gaults attended the convention held at Watkins’s Freer Opera House; Mr. Gault also attended a gala banquet honoring Bennett held at the Glen Park Hotel, some eight blocks south of the opera house.
Bennett died on December 6, 1882, not long after his return to New York City. A few days later, Gault is known to have held a memorial meeting at his Rochester home in honor of Bennett; local minister-turned-freethinker Charles B. Reynolds gave a very well-received lecture on Bennett, which launched him on a new career as a freethought lecturer. Reynolds credited the Gaults as key figures in his conversion from Seventh Day Adventism to freethought, but it is not known just how this occurred or over what period of time.
In addition to their interests in freethought, the Gaults were also sympathetic to Spiritualism; this was not an uncommon thing when Spiritualism was young and there was more room for persons of a scientific mindset to hope that it might offer legitimate knowledge about the afterlife.
In 1884, the Gaults relocated from Rochester to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where in 1885 they hosted Reynolds during one of his freethought tent revivals. Polly Gault died in Kalamazoo on June 8, 1899. In 1900, Elias, aged seventy-three, married Quintonia A. Gault (1846–1919).
Sometime in the early 1900s, the Gaults moved to Burlington, Kansas. Elias Gault died on April 2, 1912, in Kansas City, Missouri, and is buried in Mount Washington Cemetery in Independence, Missouri.
August 23–27, 1882