Posts Tagged With: paranormal

The Purrinton Tragedy: Augusta, 1806

I came across a good story while doing some research on the Augusta area, just the type of stuff you ghost hunters out there love to hear about. According to the story, A James Purrington moved from Bowdoinham to a farm on the Belgrade road and subsequently massacred his family with an ax and the committed suicide with a razor. Just another in a long line of oddities coming out of that little burg on the Kennebec River. Have you ever noticed that Bowdoinham’s phone numbers start with 666? 😮 Spooks a lurking behind every door, and a skeleton in every closet, as they say.

Stories like this one, and the Mary Knight murder I posted on a while back are just a few of the interesting events that have occurred across Maine throughout her history. These two excerpts are from a couple of different texts that touch upon this event. You can click on the links to read the story in the original publications from the 1800’s.

I found it particularly interesting that Purrintons body was buried near the road, with a mention that gossip claims that Bowdoin College had secretly exhumed the body and taken it to the college for scientific research. Did the college indeed take the body? Maybe, maybe not, but this story would make a good research project for those interested in these sorts of events in Maine history. A century and six years have passed since that tragic day, and we ask, could the spirits of those poor children and Betsy Purrinton still roam that farmhouse on the Belgrade road?

The Purrinton Tragedy

The year 1806 was made melancholy in the annals of the town by an awful tragedy committed by a maniac. James Purrinton (aged forty-six) came to Augusta with his wife (aged forty-five) and family from Bowdoinham in 1805, and occupied the farm on the Belgrade road that was owned by the late George Cony (who built the Cony House). Purrinton had eight children: Polly, aged 19 years; James, aged 17; Martha, 15; Benjamin, 12; Anna, 10; Nathaniel, 8; Nathan, 6; Louisa, 18 months.

On the morning of July 9th, between two and three o’clock, the maniacal monster stealthily assailed with an axe every member of his family, and killed instantly all except two— James (who recovered from his wounds), and Martha, who died July 30th. The maniac then cut his own throat and fell dead in his blood. The news of the deed spread horror everywhere. Elias Craig, as coroner, summoned a jury of inquest, consisting of John Eveleth (foreman), Theophilus Hamlen, James Child, Kendall Nichols, Shubael Pitts, Caleb Heath, Jonathan Perkins, Oliver Pollard, Samuel Bond, Ezekiel Page, Ephraim Ballard, jun. This jury found that Purrinton “of his malice aforethought” did kill and murder his wife and children, “and as a felon did voluntarily kill and murder himself.”

The selectmen caused the bodies to be carried to the meeting house, but that of the suicide was denied admission beyond the porch, where it was detained with the axe and razor spectacularly displayed on the coffin. The funeral was held the day after the tragedy, attended by many hundreds of people from the surrounding country. A platform was set up in Market Square for the minister. Daniel Stone offered prayer and Joshua Taylor (Methodist) preached to the multitude. The procession was headed by the coroner and his jury, behind whom were the seven victims’ bodies, “supported by bearers and attended by pall-bearers,” and they were followed by the surviving son (James} and relatives and people. Purrinton’s body was hauled on a cart behind.

The procession marched across the bridge to Fort Western, and having passed by it returned over the river and went via Bridge and State streets to the Winthrop road, and from thence to the burying ground (Mt. Vernon Cemetery), where, in the northeast corner, and near to the powder house (built in 1805) the bodies of the mother and her six children were buried side by side in graves that are unmarked. Purrinton’s body, with axe and razor,was buried between the road-side and the cemetery, but tradition hints that it was secretly exhumed in the darkness of the following night for the benefit of science at Bowdoin College.

Purrinton Tragedy of 1806 is Recalled

The State Librarian on a recent trip to Boston secured at an auction book store a very rare and valuable pamphlet, one recalling a long forgotten tragedy in Augusta. It is printed in the style of that day, with the coarse white paper, now browned with age, the queer faced type, with the old-fash1oned small s, and has 22 pages. Beyond the mark of age it is remarkably well preserved. The first and outside page is a gruesome affair. It is surrounded with a heavy black border and covered with heavy mourning rules. Near the top are cuts of seven coffins in a row and of varying sizes, probably representing the ages and sizes of the victims of the tragedy. At the bottom of the page is a single coffin, on which is cut a razor and an ax, the weapons with which the deed was committed. The title page inscription reads as follows:

HORRID MASSACREl l
Sketches of

The Life
of Capt. JAMES PURRINTON

Who on the Night of the Eighth of July 1806

Murdered His Wife, Six Children and Himself.

With a Particular Account of that Shocking Catastrophe to Which are Subjoined REMARKS on the fatal

tendency of erroneous principles and motives for receiving and obeying the pure and salutary precepts of the gospel

Copy Right Secured

Augusta (Kennebec)

Printed and Sold by Peter Edds

The article tells of the terrible murder by Capt. James Purrinton of his wife, seven children and himself one child escaping death, though wounded.

Captain Purrinton was born in 1750 in Bowdoinham and married Betsey Clifford of Bath. Twelve children were born to them, of which four died in infancy. The family in August, 1805 moved to Augusta and located on a farm about a mile and a half above the village. There they lived peacefully for some time, until the following year Mrs. Purrinton noticed that her husband was acting peculiarly and at one time found him sharpening a knife. When taxed with intending to make way with himself he denied it, but on the morning of July 9, 1806, Dean Wyman, a near neighbor, was aroused by James, the eldest Purrinton boy, who, wounded, had just escaped from his home and told of the terrible deed his father had just committed.

Wyman secured help and they proceeded to the Purrinton home, where Capt. Purrinton, his wife and six children were found dead and the second daughter, Martha, apparently dying.

The deed had been committed with an ax and the captain had cut his throat with a razor. The bodies of the victims were terribly mutilated, and almost all had put up a terrific struggle against their maniacal father. The list follows:

Dead—Mrs. Purrinton, aged 45; Polly, 19; Benjamin, 12; Anna, 10; Nathaniel, 8; Nathan. 6; Louisa, 18 months. Martha, aged 15, died the following July 30 from her wounds. James, aged 17, was but slightly wounded and recovered.

A letter was found written by Capt. Purrinton giving in a rambling way his religious views and expressing the hope of future happiness for all his family.

Coroner Elias Craig empaneled a jury, consisting of Theopilus Hamlin, James Child, Kendal Nichols, Shuball Pitts, Caleb Heath, Frederic Wingate, Jonathan Perkins, Oliver Pollard, Samuel Bond, Ezekiel Page and Ephraim Ballard, Jr. Wingate was foreman. The verdict was that Purrinton “Of his malice aforethought” did kill and murder his wife and children, “and as a felon did voluntarily kill and murder himself,” though the general opinion was that he was seized with an attack of hereditary insanity and was a maniac when he committed the deed.

The work then goes on to give the writer’s personal views on religion and the lessons taught by the tragedy, in a more or less interesting manner, filling greater part of the 22 pages.

Much additional information concerning the tragedy is contained in North’s History of Augusta, Among other things it states that the selectmen on the day of the tragedy placed the remains of the victims in the meeting house, leaving the remains of the father in the porch, with the ax and razor on the coffin. The next day “a vast concourse of people” gathered for the funeral, so great the throng “that the street and adjoining houses were filled and many were on the house tops.” Rev. Joshua Taylor, a Methodist minister, preached the funeral sermon. The remains of the mother and six children were taken across the bridge and returned, then going by way of Bridge and State streets to the Burnt Hill burying ground, in the northeast corner of which the remains were interred.

The remans of the father were taken without ceremony, with the ax and razor, and buried together in the highway, near the southwest corner of the burying ground, at the corner of Winthrop and High streets. The procession then returned to the meeting house and the multitude was dismissed, after prayer by Rev. Eliphaet Gillet.

North’s History also states that Purrinton frequently changed his religious belief, but had finally settled down to the belief of universal salvation. His manners were reserved and he was “obstinately tenacious of his opinion.” He was known to be elated or depressed according to circumstances and was, before the tragedy very despondent over the severe drought, fearing that his crops would be cut off and his family suffer from want.

North’s History further locates the home of the Purrintons by stating it was “a farm on the Belgrade road now owned and occupied by George Cony.”

Categories: events, history, Maine oddities, stories, Uncategorized, weird Maine news | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Maine’s Malta War

This story relates the uprising of the settlers from an area we know today as Windsor, Maine. Only one person was killed, and seven men were tried for the murder of that one man. Follow along as we explore a moment in Maine’s past….

The Malta War

An uprising in Maine

The town of Malta was incorporated on March 3rd of 1809. Between then and now, it has been referred to as New Waterford and Gerry. Today we know it as Windsor. This community is situated at the headwaters of the Sheepscot River. On the 8th of September of that year, 1809, one Mr. Paul Chadwick was Murdered. The lands of that town were claimed to be owned by the holders of the Plymouth Patent. Mr. Chadwick was hired by the proprietors of the patent to survey the lands.

The settlers of the area were understandably upset, as the truthful ownership of the area was being called into question. They had presumed to be the lawful owners, when in fact, that may not have been the case. Joined as one, the people living on the lands being surveyed made a resolution to defend their property at all costs. Ten or more men gathered themselves together, and went to speak to Mr. Chadwick.

Some were disguised as Indians, and were fully armed, as they were resentful upon the encroachment of their homes. They advised Chadwick to cease his survey operations and quit the territory, or suffer the consequences. To his error, Chadwick did not believe the men, and was subsequently shot. His wounds, though mortal, allowed him to live until the following day, when he died.

Almost immediately, seven men were arrested for the crime. These were; David Lynn, Nathaniel Lynn, Ansel Meigs, Jabez Meigs, Adam Pitts, Elijah Barton and Prince Cain. They were brought to Augusta and confined in the jail there, and charged with the crime of murder.

While awaiting trial rumors began circulating around Augusta that a large party of armed men intended to storm the jail to rescue the seven men. Prone to believing the wild stories, the residents felt they were in imminent peril. The fear of the possibility of the town being burned down by these people turned into “supposed fact”. To calm the public, the judges of the court, known then as “Justices of the Common Pleas” and the Sherriff requested that Maj-General Sewall of the 8th division send troops to quell the uprising.

However, General Sewall did not believe that this situation required as drastic a response that was requested. He replied by sending a couple of patrols to stand watch and patrol the streets. October 1st was a night that would change this view. After midnight approximately seventy men approached the town. All were armed and some were in disguise to hide their identity.

They came to within one hundred fifty rods on the East side of the bridge into Augusta. The leaders of the mob sent a spy closer to the bridge to reconnoiter the situation and report back, so a plan could be made. Unfortunately, the spy got too close to the guards and was taken prisoner. He was dragged off some distance, and nearly three dozen men took chase and attacked the soldiers.

They managed to subdue the soldiers because of their numbers, and rescued their fellow miscreant. A few soldiers fired their muskets as a warning and the reports were heard in the city. Immediately, the bell in the courthouse tower was rung. The streets of Augusta were filled with citizens, some in terror of the rumored attack on the city.

General Sewall immediately called up three hundred soldiers to curtail the commotion and return peace to Augusta. The following day, when it was shown that there would be no more violence, he recalled two hundred, leaving the other hundred soldiers in town for guard and patrol duty. The seven prisoners were indicted on charges of murder, and held until their trial in November of that year.

The trial commenced on the 16th of November and lasted eight days. In addition to remarks and testimony of the defendants and their legal representation, testimony from a total of forty four witnesses was heard. The jury deliberated the case over a course of two days, and acquitted the seven men by unanimous verdict.

The prosecutor in this case was Daniel Davis, representing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Attorneys for the defendants were Prentiss Mellen, Samuel S. Wilde, Thomas Rice and Phillip Leach. Comments made by Judge Parker on the case indicated that the State was not in agreement with the verdict. However, as the law was held by the court the verdict was allowed to stand.

It is interesting to compare the situation of two hundred years ago to today. While a mob of people protected the land they felt was lawfully theirs the same would not be allowed today. In this day the written law has become so convoluted with caveats and loopholes that only a team of lawyers could have tackled the problem.

I would wonder why the Plymouth Company still had valid title to the area. One would think that all patents by the English Crown would have become null and void at the end of the Revolutionary War. They were not, however, as a court had given title back to the original patent owners after the war.

Another interesting note on this incident is that an act was made to institute a statute prohibiting any person from disguising themselves as an Indian, with the intent of prohibiting a law enforcement officer or surveyor from completing their duties.

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Categories: articles, history, Maine, Maine oddities, stories, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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