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Leatherman
The Leather Man
Jules Bourglay
Jules Bourglay
The Old Leatherman
French, 1832 - 1889
Jules Bourglay
Biography: About 1860 a strange figure appeared near Simsbury, Connecticut. He was covered from head to toe in a costume comprised of handsewn pieces of leather, thus he came to be known as the "Leather Man." For nearly forty years he travelled a route through parts of Connecticut and western New York state, never stopping in one place for long. He slept in caves and huts along his way, and accepted food from people as he went. Starting in Connecticut, his journey took him from the northeast hills of Harwinton (just west of Hartford) and then east to the Connecticut River. Then he would head south toward Saybrook, and then west into eastern New York at Purdy Station. He travelled through various towns in the Hudson Valley until he re-entered Connecticut en route to Harwinton. To this day, no one knows for certain who the Leather Man was, where he came from, or why he chose the lonely life he led. One account of his early life is that he was born Jules Bourglay (or Bourglais) in Lyons, France, and that he fell in love with the daughter of a wealthy leather merchant in France. At first the girl's father refused his hand, but later relented and gave him a job in the family business. Jules gained the merchant's trust, and eventually he was allowed to make investments in the leather market. When the market fell suddenly, the family business was left bankrupt and Jules, feeling responsible for the demise of the firm, had a nervous breakdown and fled to America. Another account, published in 'The New York Morning Journal,' said that a reporter met the Leather Man in Milford, Connecticut and spoke to him in French. The Leatherman said that his name was Rudolph Mossey, that he was a shoemaker from Rouen, France, and that his wife of less than a year had fled to America with another man. He searched for her for three years until he traced her to Connecticut where he learned that his wife had died. He then began his life of trekking from one town to another where his wife was reported to have lived. The Leatherman was specifically exempted when various counties in Connecticut passed anti-tramp laws. The Leather Man's suit was made entirely of leather and weighed sixty pounds. The coat was made of pieces of leather, each about 8 x 10 inches, stitched together with thongs. His trousers were made of the same type of patches, as was his hat. His leather shoes weighed ten pounds and had thick wooden soles. He carried a large leather bag, about two foot square, that contained a leather tobacco pouch, pipes, a small tin pail, an awl and an iron spider, or frying pan on three small feet so it could be set over the embers of a fire. Later in life he also carried a carpet bag which held food, and he began to wear a shirt and a scarf, as well. The large pockets of his leather jacket held a hatchet. He carried an 1844 prayer book in French and was believed to be a Roman Catholic because he refused to eat meat on Friday. In August of 1888, people grew concerned as the Leather Man began to show signs of a malignant growth on his lower lip. In Middletown, two agents of the Connecticut Humane Society took the Leather Man to Hartford Hospital for medical treatment, but he did not stay long. 'The Middletown Herald' reported that he identified himself as Zacharias Boveliat. Whoever he was, the Leather Man was found dead a few months later on March 24, 1889, in a cave on the George H. Dell farm in Mount Pleasant, New York. Today, the Leather Man's body is buried in the Potter's Field in Sparta Cemetery just a few miles south of Ossining, New York.