By all accounts Palmer was an honest, kindly man and a good citizen. His only drawback, in the eyes of his neighbors, was that he liked to wear a beard. Palmer grew a beard in the 1820's when hardly anyone east of the Mississippi sported facial hair and he was persecuted for it, severely.
It all started one Sunday at communion when the clergyman refused to let the overly bearded Palmer drink from the communion cup. Deeply hurt, Palmer rose and went to the communion table. He grabbed the cup and took a big swig and yelled “I love my Jesus as well and better than any of you!”
A few days later four men attacked Palmer on the street and attempted to cut off his beard. Palmer fought off the attackers and in the melee he wounded two of them with a knife.
However, Palmer was arrested and charged with “unprovoked assualt."
Palmer refused to pay the fine, court fees and a 700 dollar bond. For refusing to pay the fine Palmer was thrown in jail. He spent fifteen months behind bars all the while keeping a detailed journal and writing letters to the local papers describing his imprisonment and abuse. Palmer was beaten several times by the jailers, nearly starved, placed in solitary confinement for several months, and physically threatened by other prisoners who tried to cut off his beard.
The local authorities, wishing to get rid of him dropped the bond and only asked that he pay the ten dollar fine. Palmer refused and chose to stay in jail. Palmer’s aged mother wrote him a letter begging him to pay the fine. Palmer refused. Finally, the jailers had to physically remove Palmer from the jail.
Palmer kept a beard his entire life and died in 1875 when sporting facial hair was the height of fashion. His headstone in North Leominster, Mass., reads: Joseph Palmer- Persecuted for Wearing a Beard.
Michael E. Palmer can be reached at email@example.com