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Loyalist Trails UELAC Newsletter, 2009 Archive

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"Loyalist Trails" 2009-02: January 11, 2009


Executed Loyalists III: The Revolution's Most Notorious Murder -- © Stephen Davidson

Over 100 years ago, two large chalk drawings were discovered on the attic walls of the Bigelow Tavern in West Boylston, Massachusetts. One sketch showed a woman and some men in great detail; the other depicted a public hanging. What had been discovered were the only known images of the most infamous murderer in 18th century Massachusetts -- the loyalist, Bathsheba Spooner.

The death of Joshua Spooner at the hands of men hired by his wife was so sensational in its day that the crime became part of the folklore of Massachusetts. An anonymous 230-year-old poem retells the story with these words:

It's aweful and dread this tale I tell,
Joshua Spooner lies dead in the well,
In Brookfield Town in '78,
From six stout whacks across the pate.

Barbara Spooner was a member of a prominent Massachusetts family, used to privilege and opulence. Her father was Timothy Ruggles, a veteran of the Seven Years War, a lawyer, and a chief justice of the court of common pleas. During the revolution, he became a loyalist officer, serving in the British army as a brigadier general.

Anxious to see that his daughter marry a member of the colonial aristocracy, Ruggles urged Bathsheba to become the wife of Joshua Spooner, a wealthy gentleman farmer who was five years her senior. The couple married in 1766 and moved into a substantial two-story house. Although the Spooners had four children over the next nine years, their marriage gradually became a prison for Bathsheba. Spooner was not a good manager of the family finances, drank heavily, and could be physically abusive. It became common knowledge in Brookfield that Mrs. Spooner felt trapped in a loveless marriage and despised her husband.

The deteriorating domestic situation only needed a spark to set off a cataclysmic series of events. When a sixteen-year-old rebel soldier named Ezra Ross fell ill on his way home from the war, Bathsheba nursed him back to health. It wasn't long before the two became lovers. Despite the fact that Ross returned to fight in the revolution, he was able to steal back to Mrs. Spooner's bed several times over the next year. By the January of 1778, Bathsheba discovered to her horror that she was pregnant with Ross' child.

A woman found guilty of adultery in 18th century Massachusetts was publicly stripped and flogged. Divorce was not even an option, but murder was.

Bathsheba pleaded with her teenaged lover to poison her husband, but Ezra Ross could not find the courage. Instead, he reluctantly assisted two British deserters that Bathsheba had persuaded to murder her despised spouse. Rum, money, and promised favours were all the enticement that William Brooks and James Buchanan required.

On the night of March 1, 1778, an intoxicated Joshua Spooner staggered home. William Brooks attacked Spooner, beating him to death. Ross and Buchanan shoved Joshua's body down a nearby well. Bathsheba then gave the two British soldiers her husband's watch, coats, and silver shoe buckles. Instead of escaping from Brookfield as quickly as possible, the two deserters went to the nearest tavern and drank themselves into a stupor.

Within 24 hours all three men were arrested. The authorities found Ezra Ross hiding in an attic; Buchanan and Brooks were discovered wearing Spooner's clothes in the tavern.

On Friday, April 24, 1778 the three men and Bathsheba went on trial for the murder of Joshua Spooner. The proceedings began at eight that morning and ended at midnight. The courtroom was packed. Her defense attorney attempted to explain Bathsheba's actions as being those of a disordered mind, but he failed to sway the jury. All four defendants were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. Brooks was charged with killing Spooner while Ross and Buchanan "aided and abetted" in the murder. Bathsheba was convicted as "an accessory before the deed".

The execution date was set for early June, but was later postponed until July. Bathsheba had made a startling confession -- she was five months pregnant. She begged the court to allow her pregnancy to go to term and that she be executed after the birth of her baby. A panel of 12 women examined Bathsheba, but they did not think that she was pregnant. When a second examination was made, four of the women declared that she was indeed "quick with child".

Nevertheless, the Council of Massachusetts would not waive the execution. The fact that the council's deputy secretary was Joshua Spooner's stepbrother may explain why Bathsheba was denied a stay of execution. Some historians believe that because she was the daughter of a much-despised loyalist and a member of the aristocracy, Bathsheba had little hope for mercy from the rebel courts.

On July 2, 1778, 5,000 spectators gathered to witness the executions of Joshua Spooner's murderers. Following the hanging of her 18-year-old lover, Bathsheba climbed up the gallows. Before the noose was put around her neck, she declared that she died justly. With the drop of the hatch, Bathsheba Spooner became the first woman to be executed in the new American republic.

Bathsheba's last request was to have an autopsy conducted before her body was buried. To his horror, the examiner found a well-formed, 5-month-old male fetus. This was devastating news. The hanging of Bathsheba Spooner had violated one of the oldest of English laws -- one that said a pregnant woman convicted of a capital offense must have her execution staid until the birth of her baby.

An innocent child had been killed out of a desire to have a loyalist quickly hanged. Bathsheba Spooner's execution would leave a taint on female capital punishment in Massachusetts for at least a century. Reluctant to run the risk of executing yet another innocent person, the state convicted very few women of murder in the hundred years that followed Bathsheba Spooner's hanging.

To read the full story of this murder and trial, see Deborah Navas' book, Murdered By His Wife.

To secure permission to reprint this article contact the author at {stephendavids AT gmail DOT com} how do I email him?

Images of Early Canada "Peter Winkworth Collection" by LAC

Nothing starts a new year off to a good start better than great news. On the first day back to work in 2009 (for some people), I received enthusiastic phone calls from two UELAC members to make sure that I had read about the recent acquisition of a vast private collection of early Canadian art known as the Peter Winkworth collection. Actually, the "recent" process took more than six years to complete. When Peter Winkworth left his home in Montreal to become a stockbroker in England more than fifty years ago, he took a very strong interest in Canadiana with him. Over the years, Winkworth continued to build on his collection , finding unique watercolours, prints and realia in the shops of London as well as the homes of the early soldiers/artists. Prior to his death in 2005, he sold 4000 pieces to the National Archives of Canada. When the Winkworth family offered to sell the rest of his collection to Library and Archives Canada in 2007, our Honourary Vice-President and Archivist and Librarian of Canada, Ian E. Wilson, became the key to the success of the negotiations. An article in the Globe and Mail entitled "Art deal nearly collapsed before Canada could buy back its visual history" will fill in the missing details.

The Internet article does not include the published picture of Peter Winkworth or the image of the "inscribed whale's tooth". For those you have to look elsewhere. In my subsequent conversation with Ian Wilson, he recommended that our members look to the December/January issue of The Beaver. Pages 40-42 provides a hint of what is being divided among the National Gallery of Canada, The Canadian Museum of Civilization and Library and Archives Canada. Present plans call for the Winkworth Collection to be digitized and placed on the Internet. In addition, an exhibition at the Library and Archives in Ottawa is scheduled for the summer of 2009. The article also recommends that you visit Canada's History Society website for a Beaver podcast regarding two of the paintings or check Library and Archives Canada for further information on their Winkworth Collection.

Already, some UELAC members will have had an opportunity to see additional images including another work by James Peachey, an artist whose watercolours were used in the Quebec Teacher's Resource as well as on branch websites. Subscribers to The Beaver or Kayak received a bonus calendar entitled Early Images of Canada with their latest issue.

Before concluding our discussion, Ian Wilson asked that I advise our fellow members of the frequent changes being made to the Library and Archives Canada website. To meet the increasing interest in genealogy, recent additions have included census records as well as military information regarding WWI and WWII.

January 5 was definitely a Good News Day filled with hope for a successful year ahead.

...Frederick H. Hayward, President, UELAC

UELAC Conference "Loyalist Settlement Experience: 225th" by Bay of Quinte Branch

The annual UELAC Conference & AGM is being held in the Central East Region by Bay of Quinte Branch, July 11 - 14, 2009. For more information about the 2009 UELAC Conference & AGM, please refer to this page and to page 8 of the Fall 2008 issue of the Loyalist Gazette where the costs were printed.

Submissions for the Spring 2009 Issue of the Loyalist Gazette

I would like to remind everyone that the deadline for submission of materials to be included in the Spring 2009 issue of The Loyalist Gazette is January 15th. Please keep in mind that we don't have any staff to retype your submissions so please send them to me electronically in MS Word. All illustrations should be sent as JPGs with at least 300 dpi resolution.

...Bob McBride UE, Editor, Loyalist Gazette {gazette DOT editor AT nexicom DOT net} how do I email him?

Nominations for UELAC "Dorchester Award"

The UELAC Volunteer Recognition Committee is seeking nominations for the Dorchester Award. This year the award will be presented at the Dominion Conference in Napanee, Ontario. This award is presented to someone displaying volunteerism over and above the call of duty. The 2008 recipient was Margaret Carter UE of the Manitoba Branch. There is a precise set of guidelines available when nominating someone. The forms have been slightly changed from last year to make them more generic. The new forms have all been uploaded to the web site.

Deadline for applications is the end of February. If you have any questions please contact your Regional VP.

...Gerald Adair UE, Chairperson, UELAC Volunteer Recognition Committee

DNA Websites: Another Way To Reach The Public

In recent years genealogists have flocked to expand their research by taking in the possibilities of DNA research. One result has been the setting up of a number of Surname Groups based on DNA testing. I can't speak for the others, but the Johnson Surname DNA Project has added a couple of new twists to their approach. Site manager Lee Johnson has added a section wherein Johnsons with Rev War vets can have those direct ancestors listed there. As an American website, the initial thinking was for Rebel vets, but they had no problem adding Loyalists when I approached them about this. Moreover the site has recently displayed a link to the SAR, so shortly a link to the UELAC will be in place. It covers both sides nicely.

In the meantime the website has just added a section to cover Johnson War of 1812 vets, and again I approached them regarding vets on 'our' side.

...Peter W. Johnson UE, Past President, UELAC

Calendars and Fund-Raising

Despite the increase in popularity of the Blackberry or use of personal planners, every home needs to put up a new calendar in January. Whether they serve the personal interest market or are freely given by banks, businesses or charities, the calendars are usually designed to meet both decorative and organizational needs. They also serve to remind us of the sponsor twelve months of the year. With this in mind, several branches of UELAC have ventured into the calendar market as a project for fund-raising.

In 2004, in an attempt to raise funds for the restoration of the Johnson family vault, the Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch sponsored "Tools of the Loyalists", a 12" x 24" colour calendar. "Each month features a colour photograph of antique hand tools used by Loyalists and their families to clear the land, build their homes and farms and start a new life. From the collection of Doug Eldridge UE, each tool is identified and originates from Upper or Lower Canada." Pre-sales were sought to finance the publication, but unfortunately, late timing and insufficient consumer response prevented the completion of the project.

In 2007, the London and Western Ontario Branch produced the "Essex-Kent Historical Calendar" to promote at the annual UELAC conference, "End of the Trail", in Windsor as well as to serve as a unique souvenir of the event. The 11x17" eighteen-month, black and white calendar not only included 14 beautiful pen and ink drawings by branch member Jane Hughes, but also featured maps, facts and historic dates of both the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Post-conference, the project committee made the calendars available to local museums and heritage centres in Western Ontario.

In late December 2008, each person on the contact page of the Dominion website received an e-mail advertising "Privateers Revealed 2009", a 16 month calendar celebrating the 250 years of Liverpool Nova Scotia with special activities scheduled for July 1-4. It indicated that all profits would go toward hosting future Privateer Days celebrations in 2009 and beyond, and promised a "unique keepsake that includes historical trivia and factoids about the people, industries, and history of the Liverpool area, with breathtaking photography that shows off the region's natural beauty." As one subscriber to the United-Empire-Loyalist Digest wrote, it is "some thing truly offbeat for those Loyalists who wish to get to the naked truth." In addition to the remarkable photography of former liverpudlian Nance Ackerman, what was most unique about this venture was the indication throughout the calendar of over thirty-one community sponsors of the project. With such secure financial support, the project should ensure a satisfying profit for the organizers of Privateer Days.

Obviously, each group sought to separate their project from all the other available options with something unique in presentation. In the first two examples, reflections on our Loyalist heritage were definitely given highest priority. However, clearly securing the UELAC in the heart of our communities across Canada through merchandising remains a challenge yet to be mastered.


Sons of the American Revolution Invitation to Tallmadge Day at Fraunces Tavern

Charles C. Lucas Jr, President of the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York has extended an invitation to attend their Tallmadge Day Stated Meeting to be held on Monday, January 26, 2009, at Fraunces Tavern, 54 Pearl Street, New York, New York.

This dinner meeting commemorates the birthday of Frederick Samuel Tallmadge, the former President of the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York whose generosity enabled the Society to acquire Fraunces Tavern in 1904.

The guest speaker for the evening will be the award- winning author, Arthur S. Lefkowitz. His award-winning titles include Bushnells's Submarine: The Best Kept Secret of the American Revolution, George Washington's Indispensable Men, and The Long Retreat: The Clamitous American Defense of New Jersey, 1776. Mr. Lefkowitz currently serves on the Board of Governors of the American Revolution Round Table and he lectures extensively for The New Jersey Council for the Humanities on the subject of The American Revolution. Mr. Lefkowitz will also present a slide presentation of some of the artwork created during the Revolutionary War.

The evening will begin with a reception in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Educational Center for American History in Fraunces Tavern® Museum at 6:30 P.M. and dinner will follow at 7:30 P.M. The cost of the dinner is $65 per person and reservations must be received by January 21st. For reservations, contact {Administrator AT sonsoftherevolution DOT org} how do I email them?


Historical Conferences in New York

1. Company of Military Historians: 23 - 26 April 2009 Holiday Inn, Wolf Road, Albany, NY.

Celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Company of Military Historians and the Quadricentennial of Henry Hudson's discovery of the river that bears his name and the site where Albany was founded.

Available Tours Include: Philip Schuyler Mansion, NYS Military Museum and a bonus visit to West Point & Fort Montgomery is planned for Sunday.

A Full Schedule of Seminars: Newly Discovered Revolutionary War Maps, "The Jersey Grays" of 1776 in New York, How Britain Lost The American Revolution, History & Archeology at Ft. Montgomery, New York State Armories & Their Histories, NY State's Battle Flag Preservation Project.

Additional information will soon be available.

2. Association of Public Historians New York State Conference, 27-30 April 2009, Crowne Plaza Hotel, State Street, Albany, NY. The year 2009 promises to be an exciting one for historians throughout the state as the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's journey along the river that bears his name and Samuel de Champlain's discovery for the French of the lake named for him takes place. Displays and seminars on the events that will take place during this Quadricentennial are scheduled.

3. War College of the Seven Year War at Fort Ticonderoga, 1-3 May 2009, Fort Ticonderoga, New York. The year 1759 will be a major focus for the War College in 2009 as commemoration of the 250th anniversary of that crucial year in the Seven Years War takes place. The brochure is now available and can be obtained by contacting {rstrum AT fort-ticonderoga DOT org} or call (518) 585-6370. how do I email them?

...Bill Glidden, Major ( R ) NYARNG; Historian, Valcour Battle Chapter, SAR; Historian, NYS Miliary Heritage Institute

Be careful What You Google. You might get it! Or...What's In An Initial

I was mildly amused recently at what turned up when I googled "UEL." It sent me to the UEL alright, but not our UELAC. Rather it was the Urban Environment League (of Greater Miami)!

...Peter W. Johnson UE, Past President, UELAC