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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 email@example.com.
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