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.


Welcome to Bathsheba Spooner, The Mystery

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 […]