An Unholy Kiss / Gossip and Religion in 1881 Roxbury

By Kelli Huggins / Visitor Experience Coordinator

Scandal erupted in Roxbury in early 1881. At the center of it was an unlikely person: B.C. Miller, the 30-year-old Reverend of the Reformed Church of Roxbury.

Miller, an Indiana native, had been at the church since November 1875.[1] He boarded in the Roxbury home of David Williams. In early February 1881, an unidentified young woman entered the home without announcing herself and happened to “glance thro’ a key hole into the pastor’s room.” It’s unclear how one accidentally looks through a keyhole, but the nosy woman saw more than she bargained for: Miller kissing Martha Williams, his landlord’s wife. The gossip spread quickly throughout the small town.

When the reporter asked if he was in the habit of kissing married women in a “brotherly way,” Miller responded with the 19th century version of “no comment” —

“I do not care to answer such questions!”

Now, an affair on its own is hardly newsworthy. For as long as humans have been coupling, some people have been finding ways to cheat on their significant others. What is notable in the Miller-Williams case, however, is Rev. Miller’s defense of his actions. He claimed it was a “holy kiss.”

Miller took to the pulpit the next Sunday and gave what was likely one of the most unorthodox statements his flock had ever heard. Miller did not deny kissing Mrs. Williams, but he claimed everything was a misunderstanding and that he had done nothing wrong in that act. He said:

“…it was merely such a salutation as is recognized in holy writ as rightful and good. Still, I am willing to admit that I may have erred, that I may have been injudicious, but I insist that the kiss was holy, and that I have done no sin…”

Miller stopped his talk there but later spoke to a reporter to give more of his side of the story.

“It was not an ordinary or usual thing for me to kiss her, tho’ so long and intimately have we known one another that I have really come to regard her as a dear sister. And she, I know looks upon me as a brother.”

Miller stood by this story, but also took the opportunity to call out people who he felt were treating him unfairly:


“In Roxbury, as everywhere, there are men and women who are happy only when they can impugn another’s motives, and who are never so pleasantly employed as when seeking to ruin another’s reputation…my enemies were jubilant…”

When the reporter followed-up by asking if he was in the habit of kissing married women in a “brotherly way,” Miller responded with the 19th century version of “no comment”: “I do not care to answer such questions.”

Martha Williams was not silent in defending herself, either. The news described her as “a pretty brunette of about twenty-six years” and her account of the event shows some sass:

“…Dominie Miller kissed me, and it is nobody’s business. I guess I am old enough to know how to take care of myself.”[2]

In her telling, she was dusting in his room and, since she was a Baptist and he Reformed, they started talking about their differing views of the Bible. The pair read from the Bible together and as Williams told it:

“We came across the words of Paul, when as a pledge of Christian love, he directed the brethren to greet one another with a holy kiss. Then we exchanged kisses. That is all there is of it.”

The reporter asked what Williams’ husband thought and she replied that like “any honorable man” he believed her. For his part, at least publically, Mr. Williams echoed this, telling the reporter, “I consider it a decided compliment to have a wife whom such a good man as Dominie Miller would desire to kiss.” [3]

It’s impossible to tell what really happened in that room between two consenting adults, both of whom never admitted to any kind of affair. Was it actually a “holy kiss” or were they covering up something less platonic? The latter answer seemed far more obvious to historic observers (and probably many modern ones reading this post, too).

The Classis of Ulster, an organization of regional Reformed churches, met on March 22 and officially relieved Rev. Miller of his post in Roxbury. The whole affair made national news. Miller even had the dubious honor of earning an entry in M.E. Billings’ 1882 book The Crimes of Preachers in the United States and Canada. [4]

The scandal may have forced him out of Roxbury, but he didn’t have to go too far for work. By that August, he was hired to lead the Reformed church in Gilboa. In making that announcement, the Port Jervis Evening Gazette dubbed him the “kissing divine.”[5]. He only lasted in that post until around 1885. [6]

It’s unclear what happened to Miller after he left Gilboa. His name was never revealed in the press beyond his first initials “B.C.,” which has made him very difficult to track in census or other historical records. He may have left the area or the Reformed church all together.


[1] The History of Delaware County, W.W. Munsell, 1880. Available electronically through the Delaware County Historical Association:

[2] “Dominie” is a Scots language term for a pastor that was used primarily in the Dutch Reformed Church.

[3] All of these quotes and accounts of the kissing incident come from an article called “The Pastoral Kiss” that was printed across the country, including in the Charlotte Observer, February 6, 1881, 1.

[4] Billings’ book is digitized by the University of Alberta and viewable on the Hathi Trust Digital Library:]

[5] Port Jervis Evening Gazette, August 4, 1881, 3.

[6] Gilboa Monitor, December 16, 1886, 3.