In March 1778, Joshua Spooner, a wealthy gentleman farmer in Brookfield, Massachusetts, was beaten to death and his body stuffed down his own well. Four people were prosecuted for the crime: two British soldiers, a young Continental soldier named Ezra Ross, and Spooner’s wife, Bathsheba, who was charged with instigating the murder. She was thirty- two years old and five months pregnant with Ezra Ross’s son.

Beautiful, intelligent, high-spirited, and witty, Bathsheba Spooner was the mother of three young children and in her own words felt “an utter aversion” for her husband, who was known to be an abusive drunk. As daughter of the state’s most feared and despised Loyalist, Bathsheba Spooner bore the brunt of the political, cultural, and gender prejudices of her vehemently patriotic state. When she sought a stay of execution to deliver her baby the Massachusetts Council rejected her petition. Bathsheba’s story is a triumph of heart and spirit that endures to this day.


This website explores and celebrates the life of Bathsheba Spooner. Author Deb Navas has published both a historical account and most recently, a novel, which are featured here, as well as the blog (below), in which your participation is encouraged.

The detail (top, right) is from a painting of Bathsheba Spooner by Sante Graziani, located in the Worcester Courthouse front stairway. Courtesy of the Worcester County Library.


E.C.Stanton Illustration

In 1899 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, famous for her leading role in women’s suffrage, was the first to view Bathsheba Spooner with any sympathy and began a revisionist trend that carried into the century following. Stanton wrote an article in the New York World, “The Fatal Mistake that Stopped the Hanging of Women in Massachusetts.”

Bathsheba Spooner went to her hanging on July 2, 1778, in Worcester, Massachusetts, with great dignity and grace. She had lost everything and everyone dear to her. Only Rev. Thaddeus Maccarty remained by her, literally to the end. She steadfastly refused to confess her guilt, however. She had explained to Maccarty earlier “confession of her faults was proper only to be made to her maker, not to men.” Some 5000 people came to Worcester to see her hang in what was a carnival atmosphere. Bathsheba bowed to many of the spectators whom she knew as she was transported in Maccarty’s chaise to the gallows, and by Maccarty’s account: “…while the Sheriff was fixing her [hood], she told him, with a serene countenance, that it was the happiest day she ever saw.”

[Because of “the great wrong that was done,”]“Not a woman has stood upon a Massachusetts gallows since Bathsheba’s guilty life went out in Worcester on the second day of July, 1778, and with it the life of the innocent [she carried], and God his wrath protested in vivid lightnings and awe-inspiring thunder.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote, asserting that no woman had been hanged in Massachusetts since. But this was not in fact true. Two other women were subsequently hanged by the state. Bathsheba Spooner, however, was the last pregnant woman to be hanged in Massachusetts.

From Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s New York article, “The Fatal Mistake That Stopped the Hanging of Women in Massachusetts.” New York World, 1899.

 

Bathsheeba Spooner

Bathsheba Spooner

Murdered by his Wife

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

click images to read about each book

Welcome to Bathsheba Spooner, The Mystery

Joshua Spooner Murdered March 1, 1778 By three soldiers of the Revolution At the instigation of His wife Bathsheba. They were all executed At Worcester July 2, 1778. _____  Joshua Spooner’s tombstone is located in the Brookfield Massachusetts Cemetery.Q. How could a woman described as intelligent, generous, and kind come to collaborate in her husband’s murder?

When I first encountered Bathsheba Spooner over 30 years ago, I hadn’t a clue that we would sustain a relationship going on four decades—beginning with a hurried article for Yankee’s 1978 Old Farmers Almanac, marking the 200th Anniversary of her hanging.

A continuing fascination with “The Spooner murder case,” as it was called, prompted visits, over the years, to Massachusetts archives, museums, libraries and the towns (Brookfield, Hardwick, West Boylston, and more) in pursuit of her story.

The more I learned about Bathsheba’s life, the more I discovered there was to learn. The tragedy that befell her was largely shaped by the beginnings of the Revolutionary War as it played out in Massachusetts, starting with the imposition of the Stamp Act by the British Parliament on its American Colonies in 1765. Bathsheba’s father, Brigadier Timothy Ruggles, became increasingly hated for his Loyalist sympathies and political activism, and he was banished from Massachusetts for joining with Britain’s General Gage in 1774, leaving his daughter Bathsheba behind at the mercy of her husband, whom she loathed.

I was hooked on Bathsheba Spooner’s story, not only for its fascination: a tale of illicit love, murder, and retribution. It is also inseparable from the larger story of the American Revolution as it played out in Massachusetts—essentially a civil war, that brought intolerance, violence, and banishment to many of its citizens. The Revolution caused the fundamental political and cultural upheaval that created who we are now as a nation and people.  Bathsheba Spooner’s story opens a window on how our founding War impacted a single life and family at the head and heart level, which is fascinating in its own right.

Also I liked and sympathized with Bathsheba Spooner—her story resonates profoundly in our 21st century, where the politics are not all that different and most women in the world still lack the same personal freedom, protection of law, and the inherent cultural gender bigotry that she endured.

Getting her story right involved 30 years of research, writing a history (Murdered By His Wife, UMass Press, soon to appear here as an eBook), and finally a novel that was rewritten many, many times until I found Bathsheba’s voice, which was all but absent from the written record.  Herewith: Bathsheba Spooner, A Novel.  I hope you’ll like her too.

In future Bathsheba Spooner blogs I’ll add bits and pieces of her story that didn’t quite fit in the novel, but are interesting nonetheless. Please feel free to contribute more if you have something to add, or simply comment by writing to me at debnavas@nullbathshebaspooner.com.

As to Joshua Spooner’s gravesite, it is located in the older part of the Brookfield Cemetery (Route 9) next to Bathsheba Spooner’s sister, Martha Ruggles Tufts, and the Tufts family very likely purchased it—but if so, why? And why not the Spooner kin? The stone is of a style used in the mid-19th century, very different from the dark 18th-century slates that surround it. Who might have erected this gravestone nearly a century later, and why, remains a mystery. Maybe a reader knows more about it?