Printer Friendly
The Free Library
22,741,889 articles and books

Homicidal compulsion and the conditions of freedom: the social and psychological origins of familicide in America's early republic.

Something strange and horrible happened in a number of American households of the early republic. In a series of curiously clustered incidents, spaced over a period of six decades, a handful of men, loving husbands and affectionate fathers, took axes from under their beds, or off their mantelpieces, and slaughtered their wives and children. The family-killings (or familicides) occurred over a wide geographic area: in the Northeast, the South, and the Midwest. The social settings of the crimes also varied widely. A couple took place in long-settled rural communities, a few others in frontier districts just being cleared for cultivation; one occurred in a flourishing little post town, another in a booming midwestern city. The murderers pursued a variety of occupations; they included a few independent yeomen, a merchant, a tenant farmer, a skilled craftsman, and a grocer. They ranged in age from their mid-twenties to mid-fifties. In many respects they seem to have constituted a representative cross-section of American men of the early republic. What set them apart from their neighbors were a series of appalling crimes.

The stories of the family-killers were told in a number of contemporary crime publications, including trial reports, third-person accounts, and short autobiographies. The cluster of family massacres described in that ephemeral literature seems to have been unprecedented in the annals of early American crime. Thomas M. McDade's admirably thorough bibliography of books, pamphlets, and broadsides on American murders between 1680 and 1900 lists publications on only seven cases (one probably fictional) of husbands killing their wives and one or more children. Not one of those multiple homicides took place during the colonial period Colonial Period may generally refer to any period in a country's history when it was subject to administration by a colonial power.
  • Korea under Japanese rule
  • Colonial America
See also
  • Colonialism
; all seven occurred between 1780 and 1850; and none is listed by McDade thereafter through 1900. Of course, McDade's compilation only records crimes that evoked publications; he does not claim to provide a comprehensive listing of all American murders.(1) Yet the concentration of publicized familicides in the early republic is certainly suggestive, though the number of cases is much too small to venture any sort of quantitative argument. Equally curious is the clustering of individual cases within the early national period. Three took place between 1781 and 1784, one late in 1805 followed by another in 1806, and one late in 1835 followed by another early in 1836. By 1838 the early American psychiatrist Isaac Ray Isaac Ray (1807-1881) was an American psychiatrist, one of the founders of the discipline of forensic psychiatry. In 1838, he published A Treatise on the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity (Boston), which served as an authoritative text for many years.  had observed that such cases were of "painful frequency."(2)

In trying to explain the shocking events that they described, the authors and editors of the familicide pamphlets of the early republic filled their pages with circumstantial and biographical details - material that lends itself to social-historical analysis. At a time when it has become fashionable to analyze many types of documentary narrative as essentially "fictive fic·tive  
1. Of, relating to, or able to engage in imaginative invention.

2. Of, relating to, or being fiction; fictional.

3. Not genuine; sham.
" cultural constructions, such empirical use of popular crime accounts may seem somewhat heretical he·ret·i·cal  
1. Of or relating to heresy or heretics.

2. Characterized by, revealing, or approaching departure from established beliefs or standards.
.(3) Yet the familicide pamphlets are part of a long Anglo-American tradition of crime literature that has generally received high marks for factual accuracy when checked against other types of documentary evidence A type of written proof that is offered at a trial to establish the existence or nonexistence of a fact that is in dispute.

Letters, contracts, deeds, licenses, certificates, tickets, or other writings are documentary evidence.
.(4) Several studies have affirmed the accuracy of such genres in early modem England.(5) Research into eighteenth-century American crime narratives has also tended to confirm their social-historical reliability.(6) In regard to the familicide pamphlets, the issue is made somewhat more complicated by the fact that several fictional narratives were published on family-killings during the same period, including a famous Gothic novel gothic novel

European Romantic, pseudo-medieval fiction with a prevailing atmosphere of mystery and terror. Such novels were often set in castles or monasteries equipped with subterranean passages, dark battlements, and hidden panels, and they had plots involving ghosts,
 by Charles Brockden Brown Charles Brockden Brown (January 17, 1771 - February 22, 1810), an American novelist, historian, and editor of the Early National period, is generally regarded by scholars as the most ambitious and accomplished US novelist before James Fenimore Cooper. , loosely based on one or more of the real cases.(7) However, most of the fictional accounts can be distinguished rather easily from the factual narratives. And, as will be demonstrated by the notes to this article, much of the material in the nonfictional familicide narratives can be confirmed from other sources, such as newspaper reports, court documents, and local records. The familicide accounts may not be entirely "transparent" documents, but they are far from opaque as social-historical sources.

Relying on the conscientious empiricism empiricism (ĕmpĭr`ĭsĭzəm) [Gr.,=experience], philosophical doctrine that all knowledge is derived from experience. For most empiricists, experience includes inner experience—reflection upon the mind and its  of the literary sources - bolstered in many cases by independent documentary evidence - the following essay explores the psychological and social-historical origins of familicide in the early republic. It consists primarily of seven case studies of somewhat uneven depth, reflecting the varying quality of the literary sources and the varying availability of corroborating evidence corroborating evidence n. evidence which strengthens, adds to, or confirms already existing evidence.  on each case. On the level of formal psychology, I argue that the cases can be tentatively categorized in accordance with three clinical diagnoses familiar to modern criminologists: acute psychosis (or schizophrenia), depression, and delusional jealousy Delusional jealousy, Morbid jealousy, or Othello syndrome is a psychiatric disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that their spouse or sexual partner is being unfaithful. . The close fit between the modern categories and the empirical evidence in the popular literature - compiled long before the existence of modern psychology - has interesting implications for the ongoing debate over the applicability of twentieth-century psychological categories to people in earlier periods. On the level of social history, I argue that the family-killers were profoundly traumatized by the radical new "conditions of freedom" experienced by common Americans in the early republic, particularly the new geographic mobility, economic instability, and religious liberty. The claim is not that any specific set of social circumstances are invariable in·var·i·a·ble  
Not changing or subject to change; constant.

 preconditions for such crimes; to the contrary, similar familicides have been committed in different periods under very different social conditions.(8) Rather, my claim is that when such crimes do occur, they are frequently triggered by tensions endemic to their social setting. As one prominent criminologist has argued: "multiple murder in any society is a reflection of the social tensions resulting from the conflicts and frustrations peculiar to that age."(9) The familicides of the early republic may thus provide insights not only into individual pathology but also into much broader social-historical conditions. In order to make that argument, it may be helpful to briefly review some of the salient social characteristics of the early republic as sketched by modern scholars.

Evidence continues to mount that the successful break with Great Britain Great Britain, officially United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, constitutional monarchy (2005 est. pop. 60,441,000), 94,226 sq mi (244,044 sq km), on the British Isles, off W Europe. The country is often referred to simply as Britain.  marked only the beginning, not the end, of revolutionary change in late eighteenth-century America. It now seems clear that a "contagion Contagion

The likelihood of significant economic changes in one country spreading to other countries. This can refer to either economic booms or economic crises.

An infamous example is the "Asian Contagion" that occurred in 1997 and started in Thailand.
 of liberty," to use Bernard Bailyn's suggestive phrase, continued to pervade per·vade  
tr.v. per·vad·ed, per·vad·ing, per·vades
To be present throughout; permeate. See Synonyms at charge.

[Latin perv
 and transform society during the decades following independence.(10) The gradual shift from deferential deferential /def·er·en·tial/ (-en´shal) pertaining to the ductus deferens.

Of or relating to the vas deferens.


pertaining to the ductus deferens.
 to mass democratic politics is perhaps the most famous of the many innovations of the post-Revolutionary decades, but it is by no means unique.(11) Between 1780 and 1840 the early republic actually experienced an almost comprehensive social transformation. Religious life was transformed by a chaotic new denominational pluralism;(12) the economy was commercialized by a market revolution;(13) the pace of geographic expansion and mobility quickened dramatically;(14) and young people exercised a new autonomy in their choice of marriage partners and timing of marriage.(15) There was hardly a significant aspect of the society that was not profoundly reshaped, resulting in new institutional and behavioral patterns that would continue to characterize American culture into the late twentieth century.(16)

If there was one unifying element in those varied developments, it may have been that most of the changes of the period served, in one way or another, to expand the boundaries of individual freedom. The average American of the early republic - or, at least, the average white American The term white American (often used interchangeably with "Caucasian American"[2] and within the United States simply "white"[3]) is an umbrella term that refers to people of European, Middle Eastern, and North African descent residing in the United States.  male of the early republic - found himself increasingly free to make the various decisions that would shape his destiny. He elected his own leaders, selected his own church, pursued his own fortune, located (and often repeatedly relocated) his own home, and built his family with a wife of his own choosing. There seemed to be few remaining barriers to personal choice and achievement - and correspondingly few excuses for personal failure. "The remains of older eighteenth-century hierarchies fell away," Gordon Wood Gordon Wood can mean:
  • Gordon S. Wood, American historian
  • Gordon Wood (American football coach), long time and highly successful Texas high school football coach, mainly at Brownwood High School in Brownwood, Texas
 has concluded of America by 1830, "and hundreds of thousands of common people were cut loose from all sorts of traditional bonds and found themselves freer, more independent, more unconstrained than ever before in their history."(17)

It should not be surprising, given the close correspondence of that new pattern of autonomy with enduring national values, that American historians have tended to describe the emergent culture of the early republic in implicitly celebratory terms. James Willard Hurst James Willard Hurst (1910-1997) is widely credited as the founder of the modern field of American legal history. Educated at the Harvard Law School, and a former clerk to Justice Louis D. , for example, in his classic Law and the Conditions of Freedom, brilliantly evoked the legal spirit of a culture in which "the release of individual creative energy was the dominant value." John Higham John Higham may refer to:
  • John Higham,
author of Armageddon Pills (1960-), U.S. Aerospace Engineer and writer;
  • John Higham (Australian politician) (1856–1927),
Australian politician;
 elegantly characterized the early nineteenth century as an "Age of Boundlessness" when the limits of history, ascribed status Ascribed status is the social status a person is given from birth or assumes involuntarily later in life. For example, a person born into a wealthy family has a high ascribed status. , human reason, and nature itself seemed to dissolve in "an egalitarian celebration of the self-made man self-made man nhombre que ha triunfado por su propio esfuerzo

self-made man nself-made man m

self-made man n
." Most expansively of all, Robert H. Wiebe has described a veritable "Revolution in Choices" in the new nation, a massive breakdown of social hierarchies and inhibitions that "infected individuals everywhere with a heady feeling of command over their destinies, a sense of marvelous potential in their lives."(18) The rest of this essay takes a rather different tack, following on the work of a number of other scholars who have suggested that the expansion of individual autonomy in the early republic was only achieved at significant psychic cost A psychic cost is a subset of social costs that specifically represent the costs of added stress or losses to quality of life. .(19) My findings suggest that the new conditions of freedom could be terrifying ter·ri·fy  
tr.v. ter·ri·fied, ter·ri·fy·ing, ter·ri·fies
1. To fill with terror; make deeply afraid. See Synonyms at frighten.

2. To menace or threaten; intimidate.
 and debilitating de·bil·i·tat·ing
Causing a loss of strength or energy.

Weakening, or reducing the strength of.

Mentioned in: Stress Reduction
 not only for the elites that they occasionally displaced but also for the common Americans who are often portrayed as their chief beneficiaries.

James Yates, 1781

The first of the family killings was committed by James Yates in the frontier community of Tomhanick, New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
, in mid-December 1781. Tomhanick was a village in the township of Pittstown (now in Rensselaer County), about twenty miles northeast of Albany. It was in a section of upstate New York Upstate New York is the region of New York State north of the core of the New York metropolitan area. It has a population of 7,121,911 out of New York State's total 18,976,457. Were it an independent state, it would be ranked 13th by population.  that was being rapidly settled during the late 1770s and 1780s. According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 a later account of the case, James Yates was a man "universally esteemed" by his neighbors for "the natural gentleness of his disposition, his industry, sobriety, probity PROBITY. Justice, honesty. A man of probity is one who loves justice and honesty, and who dislikes the contrary. Wolff, Dr. de la Nat. Sec. 772.  and kindness." He came from "one of the most respectable families" in the state. Although not wealthy, he supported his family "very comfortably." On the afternoon before the tragedy, several of his neighbors, including his sister and brother-in-law, came to his house to read Scripture and sing psalms. There was no evidence that Sunday evening of familial discord. To the contrary, Yates used "endearing expressions" toward his wife, "caressed his little ones young children.

See also: Little
 alternately," and "spoke much of his domestic felicity."(20)

When the last of the guests left, shortly before nine o'clock, Yates took his wife upon his lap and opened the Bible to read to her. Then, according to Yates's own account, a "light shone into the room" and he saw "two Spirits," one at his right hand, the other at his left. The spirit on the left ordered him to destroy all his "idols" and to begin by throwing his Bible into the fire. When Yates obeyed the command, his wife immediately snatched the book out of the flames; but he threw it in again, holding his wife until it was consumed. Then he rushed out of the house, grabbed an axe, destroyed his sleigh sleigh: see sled. , and slaughtered one of his horses. When he returned excitedly to the house, his wife begged him to sit down, but the spirit again intervened. "You have more idols," it said, "look at your wife and children." Yates obediently grabbed his two young boys and smashed them to death against the wall and fireplace. He then proceeded to murder his wife, infant, and daughter with similarly sadistic sa·dism  
1. The deriving of sexual gratification or the tendency to derive sexual gratification from inflicting pain or emotional abuse on others.

2. The deriving of pleasure, or the tendency to derive pleasure, from cruelty.

Having slaughtered his wife and four children, Yates sat ruminating in his doorway. It hardly seemed fair to him that he should be seized, imprisoned im·pris·on  
tr.v. im·pris·oned, im·pris·on·ing, im·pris·ons
To put in or as if in prison; confine.

[Middle English emprisonen, from Old French emprisoner : en-
, and executed simply for destroying his "idols" and obeying the "mandate" of his "father." He thought he might carry his victims into the house, set it on fire, and blame the massacre on Indians, but decided it would be wrong to lie. "No, let me speak the truth," he concluded, "and declare the good motive for my actions, be the consequences what they may." So Yates went to his sister's early the next morning and confessed. He was held for two days in Tomhanick at the house of Mrs. Bleecker, where he was exhorted to pray and repent by an elderly Lutheran preacher. Yates rejected the pious man's admonitions with contempt and ridicule, "refusing to confess his error" or join in the prayers of his captors. Instead, he repeatedly addressed God himself, saying: "my father, thou knowest that it was in obedience to thy commands, and for thy glory that I have done this deed." Yates also "expressed much sorrow for the loss of his dear family, but consoled himself with the idea of having performed his duty." The killer was taken to the jail in Albany, where he was confined as a lunatic.

William Beadle BEADLE. Eng. law. A messenger or apparitor of a court, who cites persons to appear to what is alleged against them, is so called. , 1782

According to the published Narrative of his life, William Beadle was born in a village near London in about 1730. While in England, he sustained "a fair character for integrity and honesty," though he reportedly frequented a club of deists deists (dē`ĭsts), term commonly applied to those thinkers in the 17th and 18th cent. who held that the course of nature sufficiently demonstrates the existence of God. . He emigrated to America in 1762, settling initially in Stratford, Connecticut Stratford is a town in Fairfield County, Connecticut, United States, located on Long Island Sound at the mouth of the Housatonic River. It was founded by Puritans in 1639.

The population was 49,976 at the 2000 census.
, then successively moving to Darby, Fairfield (where he married and remained for some years), and finally Wethersfield in about 1772. He probably operated country stores in each of those towns. Beadle was a small man, with striking and expressive features, a contemplative mind, and tenacious opinions. "He possessed good sense, loved reading, and delighted in intelligent conversation," Timothy Dwight Timothy Dwight may refer to:
  • Timothy Dwight College, a residential college at Yale University
  • Timothy Dwight IV (1752-1817), President of Yale University from 1795-1817.
  • Timothy Dwight V (1828-1916), President of Yale University from 1886-1899.
, the President of Yale and a personal acquaintance of Beadle, later recalled. "His manners were gentlemanly, and his disposition hospitable." Known as an "affectionate husband" and an "indulgent parent," Beadle himself claimed that no father ever experienced more "tender ties" of "fondness and friendship" than those he felt toward his family. As a merchant, he enjoyed a reputation for "strict honor and integrity," never descending to "any low or mean artifice to advance his fortune."(22)

By the time of his arrival in Wethersfield, about ten years before his death, he had acquired property worth about twelve hundred pounds, including "a very handsome assortment of goods for a country store." Although he had formerly sold on credit, Beadle accepted only cash in Wethersfield, wanting to "keep his property within his own reach." During the course of the Revolutionary war, Beadle gradually sold off his stock, shifting his wealth into the form of continental currency. Rather than replacing the goods immediately, Beadle put the money aside, expecting it to increase in value. But the bills instead depreciated Depreciated may refer to:
  • Depreciation, in finance, a reference to the fact that assets with finite lives lose value over time
  • Depreciated is often confused or used as a stand-in for "deprecated"; see deprecation for the use of depreciation in computer software
. As it gradually became clear that his cash would not regain its former worth, Beadle was "thrown into a state little better than dispair." In the economically turbulent period of the Revolution and its aftermath, the tight-fisted merchant had learned painfully that "wealth could take to itself wings and fly away: Notwithstanding all his vigilance."(23)

With his estate diminished by the unfavorable fluctuations in paper currency, Beadle "adopted a plan of the most rigid family economy," while at the same time trying to maintain "the outward appearance of his former affluence." He also turned toward gloomy reflections and speculations, many of them recorded in his private writings. Beadle was a proud man, determined to avoid the "mortification MORTIFICATION, Scotch law. This term is nearly synonymous with mortmain. " of poverty and dependence. He raged against the indignity in·dig·ni·ty  
n. pl. in·dig·ni·ties
1. Humiliating, degrading, or abusive treatment.

2. A source of offense, as to a person's pride or sense of dignity; an affront.

 of his reduced circumstances. It seemed inconceivable to him that a man who had "once lived well, meant well and done well" should fall "into poverty" and submit "to be laughed at." As one who considered himself "above the common mould," Beadle had no intention of falling so low. He was convinced that every man had a right to take his own life; indeed, he thought suicide "the height of heroism." Surely, he reasoned, God would not punish a man for being impatient to meet his deity. Beadle also believed that the right of self-destruction extended to offspring, although he had doubts about the propriety of killing his wife.(24)

The merchant's grim speculations were facilitated by his religious and philosophical beliefs. He rejected the notion of "future punishment" as "inconsistent with the goodness of God"; thus he could be confident that his family would face a happy fate after death. Further, his deism Deism

Belief in God based on reason rather than revelation or the teaching of any specific religion. A form of natural religion, Deism originated in England in the early 17th century as a rejection of orthodox Christianity.
 entailed a behavioral determinism that made the very concept of sin meaningless. Man, he argued, was a "perfect machine," incapable of any action except as operated upon by some "superior power." A tyrant drenching drenching

farmer's term for the administration of medicines as solutions or suspensions in water by mouth with a drench bottle, gun or funnel.

drenching bit
to be included in a bridle as a bit.
 the world in blood, the killing of his family, the destruction of a fly - all were equally determined by "the hand of heaven" and none, consequently, was blameworthy blame·wor·thy  
adj. blame·wor·thi·er, blame·wor·thi·est
Deserving blame; reprehensible.

. "I really think there never was any thing done wrong in the world," he concluded, "but believe that all is right."(25)

Beadle wrestled with the idea of killing himself and his family over a period of three years. "Any man that undertakes any great affair," he declared, "ought to be very deliberate indeed; and think and reflect again and again." At first he looked for some way out, a reason to spare himself and his children. "I was determined not to hasten the matter," he noted, "but kept hoping that yet Providence would turn up something to prevent it." Gradually, though, he became convinced that every circumstance, down to "the smallest trifle," was conspiring against him. "I have borne 'the stings and arrows of outrageous fortune' long enough," he fumed fume  
1. Vapor, gas, or smoke, especially if irritating, harmful, or strong.

2. A strong or acrid odor.

3. A state of resentment or vexation.

. He was determined to put an end to to destroy.
- Fuller.

See also: End
 his suffering - and increasingly certain that such a fate was divinely ordained or·dain  
tr.v. or·dained, or·dain·ing, or·dains
a. To invest with ministerial or priestly authority; confer holy orders on.

b. To authorize as a rabbi.

. "In fine clear days, when I am most chearful . . . I seem to be convinced in a steady, calm and reasonable way, that it is appointed for me to do it - that it is my duty and must be done," he wrote. "That it is God himself that prompts and directs me, in all my reflections and circumspection cir·cum·spec·tion  
The state or quality of being circumspect. See Synonyms at prudence.

Noun 1. circumspection - knowing how to avoid embarrassment or distress; "the servants showed great tact and discretion"
, I really believe."(26)

Beadle made at least three abortive abortive /abor·tive/ (ah-bor´tiv)
1. incompletely developed.

2. abortifacient (1).

3. cutting short the course of a disease.

 attempts to murder his family in November and early December 1782 but was still inhibited, in part, by the absence of a direct command from God.(27) Then, on December 10, Beadle was seen by a friend at a local blacksmith's shop, sharpening his carving knife and repairing his pistols. That evening household guests found him "chearful and serene as usual." When the company left at about nine o'clock, he urged them to stay longer. Early the following morning, Beadle awoke the maid and sent her off with a note to the family physician. He had probably already killed his wife, smashing her head with an axe, pulling her over the edge of the bed, draining her blood into a vessel so as not to stain the linen, and tying a handkerchief over her wound. After sending off the maid, the merchant then went to his children's chamber, struck each on the side of the head, slit their throats from ear to ear, and laid them out in a row on the floor, covering their corpses with a blanket.(28)

Beadle then walked down to the ground floor, leaving a trail of bloody footprints on the stairs. He sat down in a Windsor chair by the fireplace in the kitchen, placed the muzzle of a pistol into each ear and fired them simultaneously, splattering his brains against the walls and wainscoting. The physician and others who discovered him shortly afterwards noted that Beadle's face was distorted by a shocking expression of horror. "Thus ended the miserable Beadle;" the narrator NARRATOR. A pleader who draws narrs serviens narrator, a sergeant at law. Fleta, 1. 2, c. 37. Obsolete.  concluded, "a man respected through life, by all that knew him; a victim to pride, distrust of Providence, and a fatal indulgence of gloomy ideas - not a subject of poverty, or an endurer of hunger or want, but a victim to fearful apprehension that his circumstances would reduce him to the endurance of distress, and the horrors of poverty at some future time."(29)

Matthew Womble, 1784

Matthew Womble, a small planter of Isle of Wight County, Virginia Isle of Wight County is a county located in the South Hampton Roads region of the Commonwealth of Virginia, a state of the United States. As of 2000, the population was 29,728. , murdered his wife and four sons in July 1784. He apparently intended to kill his two daughters as well, but one managed to hide and the other escaped. The murderer came from an old local family with roots in the county running back to the 1640s.(30) Newspaper reports described Womble as "an industrious, sober, and well disposed in good condition; in good health.
- Chaucer.

See also: Disposed
 citizen" who owned "a small tract of land," but concluded that liquor had "deprived him of his senses."(31) County records confirm that Womble probably owned two horses, four head of cattle, and about 100 acres of land at the time of his crime.(32) The most complete account of the case is contained in a narrative poem by John Leland
This is about John Leland, antiquary. For other people called John Leland see John Leland (disambiguation).

John Leland (September 13 1506 – April 18 1552) was an English antiquary.
, a well known Baptist clergyman from Massachusetts who was living in Virginia at the time of the killings. Leland's verses describe the mass murder and its aftermath but provide no background information on Womble and his family.(33)

According to Leland's poem, the tragedy began one evening when Womble got into a drunken quarrel with a visiting neighbor named Deford.(34) After the enraged en·rage  
tr.v. en·raged, en·rag·ing, en·rag·es
To put into a rage; infuriate.

[Middle English *enragen, from Old French enrager : en-, causative pref.
 host grabbed an axe and threatened to kill his guest, the other man ran out the door. When Womble's wife rebuked him for abusing his friend, the drunken husband responded by attacking her with the axe, splitting her skull, and cutting off her head. Womble then butchered his four sons - two of them while they slept, the other two despite their pleas for mercy. While one daughter managed to hide under a bed, another escaped from the house and spread the alarm. Womble was soon apprehended and sent to prison in Richmond, where he claimed to hear the ghosts of his murdered children flying about and calling out to him. He was executed in October 1784. After his arrest, Womble explained that he had killed his family in obedience to the commands of a supernatural emissary EMISSARY. One who is sent from one power or government into another nation for the purpose of spreading false rumors and to cause alarm. He differs from a spy. (q.v.) , "Satan in disguise." Here is Leland's rendition of the killer's confession:

"My wife and children I have slain," He said, "and mock'd their dying pain . . . "I saw a man exceeding bright, "Like to an angel of the light; "A splendid guard attend around, "He stood in air above the ground, "Clad with a bright celestial robe, "I thought it was the son of God." "Womble, said he, "I'm come to you, "To let you know what you must do, "If you to heaven would e're attain, "Your wife and children must be slain; "To win that prize, no man but you, "The meritorious work must do." "Obedient to the orders giv'n, "I kill'd them all to get to heaven."(35)

Abel Clemmens, 1805

According to his autobiography, Abel Clemmens was born on the eve On the Eve (Накануне in Russian) is the third novel by famous Russian writer Ivan Turgenev, best known for his short stories and the novel Fathers and Sons.  of the Revolution in the township of Waterford, New Jersey, to parents of middling social status. At about the age of twelve, he went to work for a blacksmith. But he soon returned to his parents, "fearing the ferocity" of his "master's disposition." His second venture into the world proved even more traumatic when his new master, a merchant, abused Abel cruelly. At about that time, his father apparently committed suicide. Abel finally left the merchant and fled to his mother, begging for release from the "human monster." She convinced him to go back to his master but, after the merchant relapsed to his "former barbarity," Abel returned home once again.(36)

At the age of fifteen, Clemmens ignored the "reproofs, warnings, and admonitions" of his mother and embarked on a career of fornication Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who are not married to each other.

Under the Common Law, the crime of fornication consisted of unlawful sexual intercourse between an unmarried woman and a man, regardless of his marital status.
 and adultery, courtship and seduction. Within a few years, he was reportedly engaged to seven young women in the vicinity of his mother's home in Redstone, Pennsylvania.(37) At least one of them was pregnant. Abel later claimed that he would have married then had he not, as a minor, been prevented by his mother. Instead, he was forced to flee the state to avoid prosecution, settling in nearby Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia West Virginia, E central state of the United States. It is bordered by Pennsylvania and Maryland (N), Virginia (E and S), and Kentucky and, across the Ohio R., Ohio (W). Facts and Figures

Area, 24,181 sq mi (62,629 sq km). Pop.
). There he engaged in a new round of dissipation, even as his conscience reproached him. At the time Clarksburg was a small frontier town with about two hundred inhabitants
:This article is about the video game. For Inhabitants of housing, see Residency
Inhabitants is an independently developed commercial puzzle game created by S+F Software. Details
The game is based loosely on the concepts from SameGame.
, forty houses, a courthouse, and a jail. A contemporary of Clemmens later recalled that the inhabitants consisted of two distinct classes: a small, elite group of merchants and professionals and a lower order of "mechanics, journeymen and employees, a reckless, drinking swearing, gambling class, who spend all their leisure and every night at the tavern." Young Abel presumably pre·sum·a·ble  
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster.
 belonged to that latter group. The village was surrounded by rugged, densely-forested countryside, still populated by wild animals WILD ANIMALS. Animals in a state of nature; animals ferae naturae. Vide Animals; Ferae naturae.  but rapidly being settled and cleared for cultivation.(38)

In June 1794, at the age of nineteen, Clemmens married Barbara Carpenter, a woman whom he had met in the vicinity of Clarksburg.(39) Local records indicate that Barbara was the daughter of Nicholas Carpenter, a prominent pioneer settler and early officeholder of·fice·hold·er  
One who holds public office.

Noun 1. officeholder - someone who is appointed or elected to an office and who holds a position of trust; "he is an officer of the court"; "the club elected its officers for
 in the county, killed by Indians several years earlier.(40) When Barbara became pregnant, the young couple returned to live at Redstone (Abel's fourth such return). There he farmed his mother's land and, under her vigilant supervision, "led a moral life." Although Abel resumed his adulteries upon the couple's return to Clarksburg, he took the sight of a brilliant meteor that passed over the county in 1800 as "a message from God to alarm the wicked." Clemmens thereupon there·up·on  
1. Concerning that matter; upon that.

2. Directly following that; forthwith.

3. In consequence of that; therefore.
 resolved to abandon all sexual and related transgressions. Near the end of his life, he claimed to have "adhered strictly" to that resolution.(41)

In abandoning his dissolute dis·so·lute  
Lacking moral restraint; indulging in sensual pleasures or vices.

[Middle English, from Latin dissol
 lifestyle and pursuing religious goals, Clemmens later explained that he sought to "obtain the pardon and favor" of God and "obey the mandate of the heavenly monitor." Perhaps he had simply shifted a yearning for lost paternal authority to a higher plane. In any case, he "strove to progress" spiritually, attending "Methodist meeting day and night."(42) Although a true conversion experience eluded him, his "taste for religious society increased daily" and he became "earnestly intent on hearing every argument on the subject." Clemmens later concluded that doctrinal divisions among the various denominations had caused his own religious delusions. He particularly recalled the arguments of "a well dressed stranger" who came to Clarksburg espousing the tenets of "Deism," especially the belief that the souls of the dead would all return to God.(43)

It was during that period of heightened spiritual commitment that Clemmens visited the Miami region of Ohio, where he decided to move with other family members. During the summer of 1805, he agreed to sell his crop to his landlord Colonel Jackson, in anticipation of his imminent departure. Although the matter is not discussed in his narrative, it seems quite possible that Abel's desire to leave the Monongahela Valley in 1805 may have been influenced by the chronic difficulties involved in acquiring secure land-holdings in that region. Among the barriers were rampant speculation, absentee ownership absentee ownership, system under which a person (or a corporation) controls and derives income from land in a region where he does not reside. Abuses existed in absenteeism in pre-Revolutionary France, in 19th-century Ireland, in E and SE Europe before World War I, , hoarding of prime lands, and prolonged land-title disputes. In fact, one major challenge to existing holdings by a group of Philadelphia merchants known as the Indiana Company - potentially affecting the property of some twenty or thirty thousand settlers in northwestern Virginia - was brought in 1802 and continued to threaten landowners over the next few years. In response, numerous petitions were circulated in the region, including one dated as late as December 4, 1805. At least one mass meeting was held in Clarksburg early that same year. It may be worth noting that George Jackson George Jackson may refer to:

  • George Jackson (Canadian politician) (1808–1885), Ontario politician
  • George Jackson (Black Panther) (1941–1971), U.S.
, Abel's landlord, actually led the struggle to defend the property of the local settlers.(44) Although there is no direct evidence to establish the point, the Indiana Company case - and the broader problems of land ownership in northwestern Virginia that it reflected may well have helped to discourage Abel from putting down permanent roots in the vicinity of Clarksburg. In addition, the general atmosphere of potential crisis and collective insecurity provoked in the region by the drawn-out land case may also have served, in less tangible ways, to exacerbate Abel's personal anxieties over a period of many months.

As the time to move drew near, Abel grew increasingly uneasy. He had expected his mother to move with him to Ohio, but she steadfastly refused. In addition, Abel's wife was far along in a pregnancy and he had heard that the Miami country was often fatal to women in such a state. As his mother pressed him to stay in Virginia, Abel's "melancholy and perplexity perplexity - The geometric mean of the number of words which may follow any given word for a certain lexicon and grammar.  increased daily." Finally Abel went to Colonel Jackson to overturn their previous bargain. Clemmens agreed to return the money he had received for his crop and took a three-year lease on his farm. Far from relieving Abel of his anxieties, the new agreement only made things worse. "I repented my bargain immediately: I had not walked twenty steps, until I was struck with an unaccountable horror," Abel recalled in prison. "I know not the reason, but such is the fact, that from that moment . . . I never enjoyed a moments pleasure, my reasoning faculties were gone, my disordered mind was past the cure of patience." He felt as though beset by "fiends of Hell" and was tortured each day by "new terrors." His anguish was closely related to his unfulfilled desire to achieve pious obedience and hence obtain divine pardon. In abandoning his plans to move to Ohio - and acceding to the wishes of his wife and mother - Clemmens believed that he "had acted contrary to the will of God." Perhaps he was simply rationalizing his own failure of nerve in the traditional language of Protestant authority. Or he may have intuitively perceived his persistent failure to break away from his mother as a trespass upon his late father's proper conjugal Pertaining or relating to marriage; suitable or applicable to married people.

Conjugal rights are those that are considered to be part and parcel of the state of matrimony, such as love, sex, companionship, and support.
 sphere. In any case, despairing of "the mercy of God," Abel conceived the idea of killing himself and his family.(45)

Clemmens continued to wrestle with his demons Demons
See also devil; evil; ghosts; hell; spirits and spiritualism.


one who denies the existence of the devil or demons.

bogyism, bogeyism

recognition of the existence of demons and goblins.
, as those around him gradually became aware of his mental deterioration. Convinced that all his "misery" resulted from "disobedience" to his "maker" in refusing to leave for Ohio, Abel rejected the contrary pleas of his mother and again decided to go. But when he "begged" Colonel Jackson to cancel the new lease, his exasperated landlord declared that Abel had "grown childish" and "utterly refused" to annul an·nul  
tr.v. an·nulled, an·nul·ling, an·nuls
1. To make or declare void or invalid, as a marriage or a law; nullify.

 the agreement. Thereafter Abel's emotional state worsened to the point that his mother "threatened to have . . . [him] confined."(46) Past personal traumas, religious speculations, economic uncertainties, and fears for the future well-being of his family then converged to torment him. "I became frantic with the thoughts of being torn from my family, and considered my property inadequate to their support," he later explained. "I saw my children already (in prospect) torn from the fond embraces of their mother, and scattered over the country." In that context he recalled the treatment that he had received, when removed from his own parents, at the hands of his "cruel master." He also remembered the compelling arguments of the well-dressed deist de·ism  
The belief, based solely on reason, in a God who created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life, exerting no influence on natural phenomena, and giving no supernatural revelation.
: "I now believed his opinion correct: I thought it would be much better if my dear family were in the hands of their God; but, whenever I reflected on the means of dispatching them, my mind revolted, my blood froze, and I became stupified with horror."(47)

Still struggling to free himself from his dilemma, Abel managed to sell his crop and lease the farm to another man. But that relieved him only briefly. "The torment of my mind returned, and, like the impeded current, gathered strength from its cessation," he recalled. Abel grew absent-minded and began talking to Noun 1. talking to - a lengthy rebuke; "a good lecture was my father's idea of discipline"; "the teacher gave him a talking to"
lecture, speech

rebuke, reprehension, reprimand, reproof, reproval - an act or expression of criticism and censure; "he had to
 himself; his usually understanding wife reproved him for his conduct and condemned him as more sinful than ever. As he sold off his stock and completed final preparations for his journey, Abel began to fear that he had "sinned away" his "day of grace." No longer did he find any pleasure in contemplating his children, in whom he had "formerly taken much delight." Conceiving of his wife and children as "so many celestial beings," Abel developed a plan to kill them with an axe and then take his own life.(48)

Abel made more than half a dozen attempts to slaughter his family during a series of miserable, largely sleepless nights. Again and again, he stood over his slumbering family, axe in hand. But he was not yet able to go through with it. "My wife awoke, and enquired why I was up so long, and asked what I was doing," he recalled of one such incident. "I told her, I was admiring her beauties while sleeping." After another abortive effort, he threw aside his axe, intending to swear that he would never again attempt such a crime. But he was "restrained" from the vow by "an invisible and irresistible impulse A test applied in a criminal prosecution to determine whether a person accused of a crime was compelled by a mental disease to commit it and therefore cannot be held criminally responsible for her or his actions; in a Wrongful Death ."(49)

An incident which occurred around that time illustrates the extent of Abel's immobilizing im·mo·bi·lize  
tr.v. im·mo·bi·lized, im·mo·bi·liz·ing, im·mo·bi·liz·es
1. To render immobile.

2. To fix the position of (a joint or fractured limb), as with a splint or cast.

 ambivalence and hemorrhaging anxieties. One day he traded wagons with his brother but immediately became unhappy with the exchange. He rose at midnight, awoke his son, hitched his oxen oxen

adult castrated male of any breed of Bos spp.
 to the wagon, and set off for his brother's house ten miles away. What followed was a nightmarish excursion in which Abel was mysteriously and repeatedly drawn off the familiar road by "a guide unseen and unheard, though irresistible." He did not arrive at his brother's till more than twenty-four hours later. When his alarmed wife arrived the next morning, he fearfully inquired whether "the sheriff, constable, or overseers of the poor OVERSEERS OF THE POOR. Persons appointed or elected to take care of the poor with moneys furnished to them by the public authority.
     2. The duties of these officers are regulated by local statutes.
 had been at . . . [his] house."(50)

One Sunday in November 1805, Abel's wife was engaged in singing hymns. She pressed him to join her in the religious exercises, but he refused. In the afternoon, she asked him to accompany her to his mother's. He first resisted but then agreed to go. As soon as he arrived, he wanted to go home, but his wife and mother insisted that he stay. That evening his mother, sister, and brother-in-law accompanied Clemmens and his wife back to their house. When Abel's mother pressed him to join them in singing hymns, he again refused, but eventually made a languid attempt. His relatives finally left around nine o'clock, accompanied part of the way by his wife; but she soon returned and retired for the night. Abel recalled in prison what happened next:

. . . the agonizing emotions of my mind were intolerable. My heart grew hard; the many recent symptoms of insanity, which I displayed, occurred to my mind. I knew they were observed by many, and concluded, that if I let that opportunity slip, I should be prevented from perpetrating my design, by being hurried into the mad-house. The impending im·pend  
intr.v. im·pend·ed, im·pend·ing, im·pends
1. To be about to occur: Her retirement is impending.

 misery, which I fancied awaited them in case I was torn from them, was a consideration too poignant for my troubled mind to endure. The opinion I had imbibed, that the moment the spirit was dislodged from the body, it would return to God, who gave it, was unimpaired Adj. 1. unimpaired - not damaged or diminished in any respect; "his speech remained unimpaired"
undamaged - not harmed or spoiled; sound

uninjured - not injured physically or mentally
. Having sold our bedsteads, our beds were placed on the floor. I had lain down, but could not sleep: I arose, resumed the (for some time) neglected axe, lighted a candle, fixed a rope for my own purpose, and made many unsuccessful attempts as usual. . . . I strove to abandon my project, threw away the axe, and thought I would go to bed; but the same power which baffled my effort on the road to my brother's, was ready at hand. I got the axe and prayed to God to receive the spirits of my family. . . . They all died easy, except my two little girls, Betsy and Parthenia; the struggles of whom, added to the already indescribable horrors and tortures of my mind. . . . After their struggles had ceased, I took some pains in placing them strait in bed - locking their hands, and closing their eyes. . . . a tremulous tremulous /trem·u·lous/ (-u-lus) pertaining to or characterized by tremors.

Characterized by tremor.
 and convulsive con·vul·sive
1. Characterized by or having the nature of convulsions.

2. Having or producing convulsions.


pertaining to, characterized by, or of the nature of a convulsion.
 horror struck my guilty soul."(51)

As with every other decision that he had made in recent months, Abel immediately regretted his bloody act: "I now, for the first time, felt alive to the impropriety of my conduct, and the enormity of a crime, which I had before considered at most, as a painful duty." And, once again, he was immobilized by invisible constraints and tormented by vain regrets. "I felt no fear to perpetrate per·pe·trate  
tr.v. per·pe·trat·ed, per·pe·trat·ing, per·pe·trates
To be responsible for; commit: perpetrate a crime; perpetrate a practical joke.
 the dreadful act of suicide, but was unable to accomplish it, being restrained by an invisible hand Invisible Hand

A term coined by economist Adam Smith in his 1776 book "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations". In his book he states:

"Every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can.
," Abel recalled. "I went to the fire, sat down; and at that moment, had I possessed ten thousand mountains of gold, I would have given them all to have my family restored to life."(52) Unable to act, Clemmens did manage to offer some advice to his niece, who had been staying with Abel's family, and who remained in the house throughout the carnage: "I took occasion to admonish my niece, to be obedient to her parents, and strive to obtain christianity." Ironically, his own deluded attempt to follow the same advice had just culminated in a massacre.(53)

Clemmens's slaughter of his wife and eight children was discovered the next morning by his brother Isaac, who quickly assembled other members of the family. His brother and mother urged him to flee. After a last desperate plea from his mother that he not take his own life, Abel went off listlessly list·less  
Lacking energy or disinclined to exert effort; lethargic: reacted to the latest crisis with listless resignation.
. He eventually wandered up a hill, where he attempted to pray to God "for mercy and pardon." Seized by the impulse of fear, he hid himself under a rock, longing to return to the "womb of untreated night"; only suicide seemed to promise "deliverance." Several days later, after many unsuccessful attempts at taking his own life in impotent defiance of his mother's parting admonition Any formal verbal statement made during a trial by a judge to advise and caution the jury on their duty as jurors, on the admissibility or nonadmissibility of evidence, or on the purpose for which any evidence admitted may be considered by them. , tormented by thirst and hunger, he returned yet again, in pathetic defeat, to his mother's house. Abel's relatives arranged for their kinsman's arrest, sending him out, one last time, into a hostile world.(54)

While in jail awaiting execution, Clemmens received frequent visits and spiritual guidance from ministers and laymen, one of whom probably transcribed the narrative of his life and crimes.(55) Finally, at an evening prayer session of "spiritual friends," Abel experienced "the pleasures of redeeming love," thus achieving the conversion that had long eluded him. In the end, through the very act of recounting a life of tormented alienation, Abel was able to express his obedience, and make his peace, with a figure of paternal authority. "The Lord discovered to my mind the necessity of an ample confession of my many crimes, in order to make his mercy the more conspicuous in the salvation of so unworthy an object," he concluded his account. "I have given a faithful narrative of all my evil deeds, the recapitulation recapitulation, theory, stated as the biogenetic law by E. H. Haeckel, that the embryological development of the individual repeats the stages in the evolutionary development of the species.  of which were painful to my mind; but their remembrance now haunts my imagination no more: I feel a load removed."(56)

James Purrinton, 1806

James Purrinton was born in Bowdoinham, Massachusetts (now Maine) in 1760 and married at the age of twenty. The couple had twelve children, eight of whom survived infancy. According to a pamphlet on his life, Purrinton received a "handsome patrimony PATRIMONY. Patrimony is sometimes understood to mean all kinds of property but its more limited signification, includes only such estate, as has descended in the same family and in a still more confined sense, it is only that which has descended or been devised in a direct line from the  from his father" and pursued "a long course of industry and frugality." As a result he became "a rich and independent farmer." He was "steady and correct" in his habits, uniformly "tender and affectionate" toward his wife and children, and "obliging o·blig·ing  
Ready to do favors for others; accommodating.

o·bliging·ly adv.
" toward his neighbors. Enjoying the confidence of the men of Bowdoinham, he commanded the town's militia for several years. But there was another side to Purrinton's character. "It is said by those who knew him best, that he was easily elated or depressed, as his affairs were prosperous or adverse," his biographer reported. "He was also not a little avaricious av·a·ri·cious  
Immoderately desirous of wealth or gain; greedy.

, and therefore a diminution of his property or prospects, was a disappointment he seemed to want fortitude to support." Although "obstinately ob·sti·nate  
1. Stubbornly adhering to an attitude, opinion, or course of action; obdurate.

2. Difficult to manage, control, or subdue; refractory.

 tenacious" in his opinions, Purrinton repeatedly altered his religious sentiments. He joined a Calvinist Baptist church in his mid-twenties, later shifted to the Freewill Baptists a sect of Baptists who are Arminian in doctrine, and practice open communion.
See under Baptist.

See also: Baptist free-will
, and reportedly died a fatalist fa·tal·ism  
1. The doctrine that all events are predetermined by fate and are therefore unalterable.

2. Acceptance of the belief that all events are predetermined and inevitable.
 and Universalist.(57)

In August 1805 Purrinton moved with his family to a new farm outside the prosperous and rapidly growing town of Augusta, Massachusetts (now Maine).(58) "By his unremitting attention and industry, he was rapidly improving his estate, and was apparently contented and happy," the narrative reported of his initial months in Augusta. But a change in the weather A Change in the Weather is a 1995 work of interactive fiction by Andrew Plotkin, in which the player-character is caught in a rainstorm while out in the countryside. It won the Inform category at the inaugural 1995 Interactive Fiction Competition.  the following spring - the arrival of an "uncommon drought" - quickly altered Purrinton's state of mind. He became depressed, often telling neighbors of fears that "his family would suffer for want of bread - that his crops would be cut off - that his cattle would starve."(59) Soon his wife and children became alarmed by hints that Purrinton intended to kill himself; when he tried to comfort and reassure his wife, she remained disconsolate. It was only then, the pamphleteer pam·phlet·eer  
A writer of pamphlets or other short works taking a partisan stand on an issue.

intr.v. pam·phlet·eered, pam·phlet·eer·ing, pam·phlet·eers
To write and publish pamphlets.
 speculated, that Purrinton decided not only to take his own life but those of his spouse and children as well: "Finding . . . his intentions suspected by his wife and family, and seeing their distress, and anticipating how poignant it would be on his death, he no doubt determined to take them all with himself; believing they would thus lose their sorrows, suffer but a momentary pang, and be with him eternally happy."(60)

Late in the day on July 8, 1806, Purrinton was seen sharpening his axe. When his family retired to sleep, they left him reading a Bible. Early the next morning, at about two or three o'clock, he embarked with "coolness and deliberation" on his bloody work. He hacked or slashed his wife and six of his offspring to death (apparently intending to behead be·head  
tr.v. be·head·ed, be·head·ing, be·heads
To separate the head from; decapitate.

[Middle English biheden, from Old English beh
 several of them), mortally wounded a seventh child, and then cut his own throat with a razor. His eldest son managed to flee the house with only minor wounds and ran to neighbors for help. When they arrived the "whole house seemed covered with blood." They discovered Purrinton's Bible on a table, open to the ninth chapter of Ezekiel: "Slay slay  
tr.v. slew , slain , slay·ing, slays
1. To kill violently.

2. past tense and past participle often slayed Slang
 utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women. . . . And, behold, the man . . . reported the matter, saying, I have done as thou hast commanded me."(61)

John Cowan John Cowan is a vocalist and bass player. He has a background in soul music and now performs progressive bluegrass. From 1974 until their final breakup in 1989, he was the lead vocalist and bass player of the New Grass Revival. , 1835

John Cowan was born in 1806 in Allegheny County, nine miles Nine Miles is a reggae "band" started by Yoshiaki Manabe (真鍋吉明) of The Pillows. The name Nine Miles comes from the name of the town in which Bob Marley grew up in Jamaica.
  • Yoshiaki Manabe is the only member of the "band.
 from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania “Pittsburgh” redirects here. For the region, see Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area.

Pittsburgh (pronounced IPA: /ˈpɪtsbɚg/) is the second largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
. According to his autobiographical Life and Confession, he endured an unsettled childhood, repeatedly shuttling between various schools and relatives. Although the precise circumstances are unclear, Cowan noted that his mother was "faulty" and implied that she betrayed - and deserted - her husband. For whatever reason, his parents separated while he was still a young child and John initially remained with his father. But soon he was placed, along with his sister, in a school on the Monongahela River Monongahela River

River, northern West Virginia, U.S. It flows north past Morgantown into Pennsylvania and joins the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River, after a total course of 128 mi (206 km). In its upper reaches it is used for hydroelectric power.
, some twenty miles outside of Pittsburgh. Although their mother took the children back after a year, the boy's father insisted that John be removed from her custody. Thereafter John lived successively in Maysville, Kentucky Maysville is a city in Mason County, Kentucky, along the Ohio River. As of the 2004 census, the city population was 7,323. It is the county seat of Mason CountyGR6. ; West Union, Ohio West Union is a village in Adams County, Ohio, United States. The population was 2,903 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Adams CountyGR6. ; Shawneetown, Illinois Shawneetown is a city in Gallatin County, Illinois, United States. The population was 1,410 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Gallatin County.GR6 See Old Shawneetown, Illinois for the historical village. ; and Danville, Kentucky Danville is a city in Boyle County, Kentucky, United States. As of 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau gave the city an estimated population of 15,409. It is the county seat of Boyle CountyGR6. . He suffered much from the enforced mobility. Years later he looked back on his "forlorn" and "heart-broken" childhood with bitter regret, suggesting that the "destitution des·ti·tu·tion  
1. Extreme want of resources or the means of subsistence; complete poverty.

2. A deprivation or lack; a deficiency.

Noun 1.
 and cruelty" of his early life had permanently "soured" his "temper."(62)

Cowan's adolescence and early adulthood were hardly more stable, or less traumatic, than his childhood. At the age of fifteen, he was bound as an apprentice to a cabinet maker in Harrodsburgh, Kentucky. When that first master dismissed him, John's uncle arranged for him to serve under another master in Lexington, Kentucky Lexington, Kentucky, United States, known as the "Horse Capital of the World," is located in the heart of the Bluegrass region. It is the second-largest city in Kentucky, after Louisville, Kentucky,[1] and the 68th largest in the United States. . There he was treated as a "drudge" and regularly whipped. After three years of abuse, he ran off to his uncle in Danville, where he worked for about a month at a shop. Cowan then moved yet again, this time to Somerset, in Pulaski County, Kentucky Pulaski County is a county located in the U.S. state of Kentucky. As of 2005, the population was 59,200. By 2010 it is projected to become the 14th most populous county in the state with a population of 62,183. Its county seat is Somerset6. . There he labored for about a year, probably as a cabinet maker. Next he worked his way down the Mississippi on a flatboat to New Orleans New Orleans (ôr`lēənz –lənz, ôrlēnz`), city (2006 pop. 187,525), coextensive with Orleans parish, SE La., between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, 107 mi (172 km) by water from the river mouth; founded , where he arrived in May 1825. After falling ill for several weeks, he managed to gain employment loading boats on the levee levee (lĕv`ē) [Fr.,=raised], embankment built along a river to prevent flooding by high water. Levees are the oldest and the most extensively used method of flood control. . Later, after another illness, Cowan contracted to work on a sugar plantation for a year. Finally, in March 1827, at the age of twenty, he returned north to Danville.(63)

Cowan stayed in Kentucky till the winter of 1827-28, when he returned to Pittsburgh to rejoin his mother and sister. His mother died the October following his arrival, while his father died in Paterson, New Jersey “Paterson” redirects here. For other uses, see Paterson (disambiguation).
Paterson is a city in Passaic County, New Jersey, United States. As of the United States 2000 Census, the city population was 149,222.
, during the course of the same year. Having lost both his parents and settled in Pittsburgh, Cowan gradually constructed the semblance of a normal life. He lived with his sister, found stable employment as a journeyman with a kindly cabinet maker, and joined a Methodist Church. He also began courting Mary Susannah Sinclair, a lovely young woman of about eighteen. John married her in December 1830, despite the objections of her father and her own prior engagement to another man. Cowan later recalled: "If I had not loved her as man seldom ever loved woman - more than my own life - I should not have married her."(64)

The couple's first year of marriage was prosperous and happy; they were industrious, managed to save some money, and even planned to buy a small house. Nine months to the day after their wedding, John's wife gave birth to a boy. But problems began when Cowan noticed that his wife was in the habit of conversing with another young man. Despite his remonstrances, she persisted. Rather than quarrel with his wife, whom he still loved "devotedly," John turned to billiards billiards, any one of a number of games played with a tapered, leather-tipped stick called a cue and various numbers of balls on a rectangular, cloth-covered slate table with raised and cushioned edges.  and drink. As Mary became cold and ill-tempered, Cowan in turn began to mistreat her. Soon their "domestic hearth became an earthly hell." His "giddy" wife "neglected to attend to her household duties." Because his meals were not cooked regularly, Cowan lost time at work. The affairs of the once happy family went from bad to worse. "There then appeared but one way to make myself happy; and that was to drown my griefs in liquor," Cowan recalled. "I became a sot and a brute." After a particularly "severe quarrel," his wife took their son and returned to her father. The father-in-law even had Cowan briefly jailed, presumably for beating his wife. But Mary later impressed upon her husband the "destitute situation" that would face their young son should his parents be permanently separated. Given his own sad childhood experiences, John probably had little need to be reminded. He agreed to reunite the household if Mary would leave her father and go with him to Cincinnati.(65)

Now Cowan and his wife seemed to replicate the agonizing experiences of his parents - and of his own troubled childhood - with repeated quarrels, movements, separations, and abortive reunions. The couple first moved to Cincinnati, arriving in April 1832. However, they stayed only till the end of August, when John took work as a pattern-maker in Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia), while Mary returned to Pittsburgh. When Cowan received a letter from her, informing him that she and their child were "in the utmost misery," he returned to Pittsburgh. Here the couple again began to quarrel and Cowan made one or two unsuccessful attempts at suicide before they agreed to separate. Mary moved to her father's home, then in Ashtabula County, Ohio Ashtabula County is the northeasternmost county in the state of Ohio. As of 2000, the population was 102,728; its county seat is Jefferson6. The county is named for a Native American word meaning "river of many fish". , while he set off again for Cincinnati. But when Mary wrote again, complaining that she and her boy were "in the most deplorable state of poverty," Cowan agreed to rejoin them in Ashtabula. There they remained for a year and had their second child. John recalled that their stay was characterized by "constant quarrels." In May 1835 they returned to Cincinnati. "This was the sixth time that we had commenced house keeping, and we had been but little more than five years married," Cowan recalled. "These frequent derangements in our household matters always kept me poor." By his own account, Cowan was almost constantly on the move not because he was poor, trapped in a floating and permanently impoverished underclass; rather, he was poor because he was so often on the move.(66)

Back in Cincinnati Cowan again became obsessively jealous of a man with whom he believed his wife was having an affair. He began openly to threaten the lives of his family; he later claimed to have considered the idea over the preceding three years. In September 1835 he tried to poison himself and his family by placing arsenic in their water cask but the attempt was foiled. On another occasion he was seen "whetting his axe for the purpose, as he said, of putting his threats into execution." Two or three weeks after the attempted poisoning, on October 10, Cowan confronted his wife after her return from market with a neighbor; he believed that he had narrowly missed catching her with her paramour par·a·mour  
A lover, especially one in an adulterous relationship.

[Middle English, from par amour, by way of love, passionately, from Anglo-Norman : par, by
. Cowan was reported to have been slightly drunk for the preceding two days. As husband and wife quarreled in the kitchen, he reached for an axe on the mantelpiece.(67)

Neighbors heard "the cry of murder" coming from the house. "There is Cowan whipping his wife again," one commented. "He is chopping up his family," another reportedly exclaimed. "I struck her, I believe, eight times," Cowan himself recalled. "Just as she was about to receive the last blow, she exclaimed - 'Oh, John! I am guilty!'" While blood gushed from his dying wife's throat, he next turned to his two young children, whom he killed instantly with blows from the same weapon. Cowan later claimed that "he was neither drunk nor crazy" when he acted - that he "had committed the deed coolly and in pursuance of in accordance with; in prosecution or fulfillment of.

See also: Pursuance
 calm deliberation." But surely he was unleashing a lifetime of mental anguish When connected with a physical injury, includes both the resultant mental sensation of pain and also the accompanying feelings of distress, fright, and anxiety. As an element of damages implies a relatively high degree of mental pain and distress; it is more than mere disappointment,  and frustration. Perhaps the infuriating image of his philandering wife converged in his rage with that of his similarly unfaithful mother, the person that he held most responsible for his own unsettled upbringing.(68) As for his two helpless children, Cowan explained that he took their lives to save them from "his infamy Notoriety; condition of being known as possessing a shameful or disgraceful reputation; loss of character or good reputation.

At Common Law, infamy was an individual's legal status that resulted from having been convicted of a particularly reprehensible crime, rendering him
" and from being "left to be knocked and cuffed about by the world." In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, he had saved his young son and daughter from just the sort of painful childhood and adolescence that he himself had been forced to endure.(69)

The whole episode took no more than half a minute. Cowan looked back in agony at the "horrid scene" as he escaped by the back door. "I then started leisurely down the road, with my hands behind my back," he recalled, "meditating on the deed I had committed, and occasionally taking a pinch of snuff." He was soon apprehended without a struggle. At his trial he declined the court's offer of counsel and insisted on pleading guilty to the capital crimes. To the end Cowan insisted that he was not a heartless monster but a sensitive human being, the tragic product of a sorrowful sor·row·ful  
Affected with, marked by, causing, or expressing sorrow. See Synonyms at sad.

sorrow·ful·ly adv.
 and unsettled upbringing, an unhappy marriage, fanatical jealousy, and the destructive consequences of intemperance A lack of moderation. Habitual intemperance is that degree of intemperance in the use of intoxicating liquor which disqualifies the person a great portion of the time from properly attending to business. Habitual or excessive use of liquor. Cross-references

. The publisher of his Life and Confession seemed to agree, noting that Cowan's character was "a singular compound of ferociousness and benevolence BENEVOLENCE, duty. The doing a kind action to another, from mere good will, without any legal obligation. It is a moral duty only, and it cannot be enforced by law. A good wan is benevolent to the poor, but no law can compel him to be so.

BENEVOLENCE, English law.
; of impetuous im·pet·u·ous  
1. Characterized by sudden and forceful energy or emotion; impulsive and passionate.

2. Having or marked by violent force: impetuous, heaving waves.
 and baleful passions and generosity of feeling." After a life of constant, restless movement, conflict, and trauma, Cowan found religious consolation and personal peace in prison awaiting execution. "Cold and gloomy as are these walls that now surround me, I have found more happiness within them than I ever found without," he wrote. "Liberty would be more horrible to me than death."(70)

Isaac Young/Heller, 1836

Isaac Young was born in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania Dauphin County is a county located in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania and is one of the four counties comprising the greater Harrisburg metropolitan area. As of 2004, the population was estimated at 253,282. , in 1809, the son of a "respectable farmer." At about the age of seventeen, while living in the household of an older brother, Young was frightened one night by a noise. For the next several years, he was afraid to spend the night alone and was frequently alarmed in his sleep. He believed that the devil was watching, pursuing, and tormenting him. Young was also subject during that period to "gusts of passion," during which he would "swear very profanely." At the same time, his life was taking a religious turn. About two weeks after his initial fright, he was much impressed by the discourse of a preacher named Winebrenner. Thereafter he prayed frequently, participating in a family religious circle that met nightly in his brother's household. Two years later he was baptized bap·tize  
v. bap·tized, bap·tiz·ing, bap·tiz·es
1. To admit into Christianity by means of baptism.

a. To cleanse or purify.

b. To initiate.

 and joined Winebrenner's independent church. Despite his persistent fears of the devil, Young believed he enjoyed "the gift of prophecy" and felt "far superior to ordinary christians." While living in the village of Middletown with a tavernkeeper named John McCammons, Young began preaching in the neighborhood and visiting families belonging to his church, exhorting them to obtain sanctification sanc·ti·fy  
tr.v. sanc·ti·fied, sanc·ti·fy·ing, sanc·ti·fies
1. To set apart for sacred use; consecrate.

2. To make holy; purify.

. He carefully kept his fears of the devil secret from the church brethren, lest they doubt his spiritual claims.(71)

Young eventually felt obliged to "travel throughout the world," carrying his religious message from house to house. He refused any financial assistance from his brother and set out on his mission, beginning in his own neighborhood. He went from place to place for a few days, by his own account alarming many people with his "predictions" and leaving them weeping yet thankful for his warnings of impending "calamity." But on the fourth day of his travels it began raining very hard. In addition, members of one family that he exhorted warned him that he might be "laboring under a delusion." Young returned to his brother's house that very evening, discouraged and ashamed. The following day he went out to plow his brother's field, concluding that it was time to calm himself and go to work.(72)

Although Young was very tired that evening, he was afraid to go to bed. He finally went upstairs and fell asleep but awoke shortly, alarmed by the sound of a person climbing the stairs and entering his room. "The kingdom of heaven is at hand," Young shouted, convinced that he was confronted by the seven-headed beast described in Revelation. After reasoning with the vision for some time, he suddenly sprang from the bed, striking violently at the "monster." But the creature eluded him and Young felt "forcibly impelled im·pel  
tr.v. im·pelled, im·pel·ling, im·pels
1. To urge to action through moral pressure; drive: I was impelled by events to take a stand.

2. To drive forward; propel.
" to attack a little orphan girl, attached to his brother's household, who was sleeping in the same room. When Young's brother and his wife rescued the child, Young became incensed with them because he felt it was his "duty" to "destroy" the girl. He pursued them with a club throughout the house, smashing down doors along the way. After his brother and sister-in-law had fled through a window, Young found the girl hiding under a bed, began beating her with the club, and finally cut off her head with a knife.(73)

Young hurried from the house, his pants under his arm, and headed toward a neighbor's home, intending to continue his "work of destruction." But he began wandering erratically and finally fell into a sink hole The opening to a sink drain
A cesspool
Same as Sink,

n. os>, 3.

See also: Sink Sink Sink
. After clambering clam·ber·ing  
Of or relating to a plant, often one without tendrils, that sprawls or climbs.
 out of the hole, he decided to kill himself by cutting his own throat. He was interrupted in that procedure by the momentary sound of "the most beautiful music" he had ever heard. The knife fell from his grasp and he began crawling on hands and knees, singing, "Ho every one that thirst come ye to the waters, & c." He later returned to his feet and set out to warn others of "the approaching dissolution of the world." When he saw fox fire scattered along the road, he thought that "the stars . . . had fallen from the firmament," as described in Revelation. Arriving at his brother's house, Young believed it was his "duty" to murder one of his sisters. But his brother stepped in, took him to the fire, washed off the blood, dressed him, and put him to bed.(74)

Young was imprisoned the following day. While in jail, he attentively read the Bible and had a series of "strange and extravagant" delusions. "At one time I imagined myself a great king - the people of the world . . . were passing in review before me; all bowing with reverence," he recalled. "At another time, I thought I was immortal; and had all the perfections of an Angel." He later decided that he was to command a band of 144,000 men and women to "destroy . . . the lukewarm from the face of the earth." Young was tried for murder in November 1830 but was acquitted by reason of insanity. He was confined in chains in a dark cell in the poor house, where he prayed, issued commands "in a loud voice, as the comma[n]der of a large army," and was attended regularly by a physician.(75)

After about two months, Young began to calm down. He was allowed a bit more freedom of movement within the poor house and was later permitted to leave it for limited periods, working in a stable. Soon thereafter his brother gave the superintendent of the poor house $273.50 for Isaac's use, due him from his late father's estate. Two days later Young left the institution and set off for Indiana. The evening before his departure, the superintendent prayed with him and advised him to adopt his mother's maiden name maiden name
A woman's family name before she is married. Used of a surname that is replaced by a woman when she marries. Also called birth name.
 of Heller, so as to escape the infamy of his crime. Young eventually settled in the thriving little post town of Liberty, Indiana Liberty is a town in Union County, Indiana, United States. The population was 2,061 at the 2000 census. The city is the county seat of Union CountyGR6. Geography
Liberty is located at  (39.635907, -84.
, in April 1831. There he operated a grocery store in partnership with another man.(76)

Not long after arriving in Liberty, Isaac met and married Elizabeth McCollam, who proved "a loving and affectionate wife." The couple eventually had three children. "It is not known that the least difficulty had ever occurred between him and his family," witnesses affirmed. "The wife and children were fond of him, and he of them." About two years after his marriage, Isaac joined the United Brethren (Eccl.) See Moravian,

n. os>

See also: United
 and was again baptized. He once again became convinced that it was his "duty to preach the gospel" and began speaking often in public. Isaac also began "reading incessantly," principally in the book of Revelation. He read till he "did not know right from wrong." Then he decided, despite the remonstrances of his wife, that he should travel to his home state to continue his preaching. "I was, at that time, embarrassed and in debt, having, from neglect of business, necessarily expended all my money in supporting my family," he recalled. "I therefore started in the night, lest my creditors might arrest me."(77)

He had gone about five miles, when a shooting star shooting star, in astronomy
shooting star, in astronomy: see meteor.
shooting star, in botany
shooting star, in botany: see primrose.
 signalled him to return to his family. He concluded that he should settle down and "go to work." But Isaac soon felt himself "endowed with the spirit of prophecy Spirit of Prophecy may refer to:
  • Spirit of Prophecy (Latter Day Saints)
  • Spirit of Prophecy (Adventist), a term sometimes used by Seventh-day Adventists to refer to the Holy Spirit and to Ellen White and her writings
" and was subject to a new round of delusions. "At one time I thought I was to be a great king, and was to command a mighty army," he recalled. "I . . . was to oppose a mighty army in the East, . . . press forward to the tree of life, . . . and . . . live forever." He became convinced that those he had "formerly most esteemed" were now his "most inveterate inveterate /in·vet·er·ate/ (-vet´er-at) confirmed and chronic; long-established and difficult to cure.

1. Firmly and long established; deep-rooted.

 enemies" and also concluded that "the bible was false." Those delusions "wore away" after about a month, but a year later he again resumed his attempts to speak in public. This time, however, when he announced a meeting, his neighbors refused to attend, claiming that he "was not fit to preach." Isaac thereupon withdrew from the United Brethren, resumed his readings in Revelation, and experienced a new series of delusions, during the course of which he burned his Bible.(78)

Sometimes Isaac acted "like a wild man or a raving maniac ma·ni·ac
An insane person.


one affected with mania.
." At other times he would withdraw into a sort of stupor stupor /stu·por/ (stoo´per) [L.]
1. a lowered level of consciousness.

2. in psychiatry, a disorder marked by reduced responsiveness.stu´porous

. "He would chop a little wood and place it on the fire, and then sit by it for hours at a time, by night and day, with his head down, apparently in a deep study," witnesses testified. "Thus sitting he was in the habit of picking his finger nails, and sometimes the flesh of his hands, until the blood would come." For six months he "almost entirely neglected to provide for his family," forcing them to rely upon the charity of neighbors. Over the preceding months, Isaac had also begun to experience "frequent strong temptations" to murder his wife and children. During his last series of delusions, in late November 1835, he particularly wanted to behead his favorite child, John Wesley. Just as "John the Baptist John the Baptist

prophet who baptized crowds and preached Christ’s coming. [N.T.: Matthew 3:1–13]

See : Baptism

John the Baptist

head presented as gift to Salome. [N.T.: Mark 6:25–28]

See : Decapitation
 was beheaded be·head  
tr.v. be·head·ed, be·head·ing, be·heads
To separate the head from; decapitate.

[Middle English biheden, from Old English beh
, at the coming of our Saviour," Isaac reasoned, so ought his son likewise die to herald his own coming as "the second Saviour." But external forces threatened to intercede and disrupt his fantasy life Noun 1. fantasy life - an imaginary life lived in a fantasy world
phantasy life

fantasy, phantasy - imagination unrestricted by reality; "a schoolgirl fantasy"
. On two previous occasions he had been taken to the Overseers of the Poor and confined "as an insane person." Now some of his neighbors warned him that he "would be taken to the poor house" again - a prospect that horrified hor·ri·fy  
tr.v. hor·ri·fied, hor·ri·fy·ing, hor·ri·fies
1. To cause to feel horror. See Synonyms at dismay.

2. To cause unpleasant surprise to; shock.
 Young - unless he provided better for his family. "Yet my energies were unaroused," Isaac recalled, "and although it seemed to me that my family was dear to me, and that I could not bear to be separated from them, yet, strange and unaccountable as it may seem, I determined to kill them."(79)

Six times he tried unsuccessfully to carry out his plan.(80) Once he went to the bed with a butcher knife and raised his hand against his wife, but her "tenderness" subdued him. Then one morning in late February 1836 a neighbor called upon Isaac and found him unusually cheerful: "Heller seemed much more free to talk, and did talk considerably about his feeling much better than he had for some time past, and about renting some land and going to work on it." Later that same morning, after breakfast, his wife "was sitting by the fire with her sun bonnet on, suckling suckling

In mammals, the drawing of milk into the mouth from the nipple of a mammary gland. In human beings, it is referred to as nursing or breast-feeding. The word also denotes an animal that has not yet been weaned—that is, whose access to milk has not yet been
 her infant, the other two children were under the bed getting apples." At that moment Isaac took an axe and slaughtered them all, beheading "little John Wesley" and his infant sister in the process. Young was soon apprehended, confessed to the murders, "expressed no regrets," and was executed in April 1836. "To give a reason for the enormous crimes I have committed is more than I can do," he explained. "I do believe, however, that I have been led on by indulging in cruel thoughts and temptations without taking the proper measures to restrain them, . . . until my cruel propensities gained the ascendency, and until my mind was seared sear 1  
v. seared, sear·ing, sears
1. To char, scorch, or burn the surface of with or as if with a hot instrument. See Synonyms at burn1.

 and entirely incapable of good or humane feelings."(81)


The familicide pamphlets of the early republic were, in large part, a literature of empirical inquiry that sought to understand or explain the atrocities they described. One of the pamphlets went so far as to offer a general typology typology /ty·pol·o·gy/ (ti-pol´ah-je) the study of types; the science of classifying, as bacteria according to type.


the study of types; the science of classifying, as bacteria according to type.
 for such crimes. In Horrid Massacre!! Sketches of the Life of Captain James Purrinton, a pamphlet published in 1806 by Peter Edes of Augusta, Maine Augusta is the capital of the U.S. state of Maine, county seat of Kennebec County, and center of population for Maine [1]. The city's population is 18,560 (July 2006 est.). , the anonymous author (quite possibly Edes himself) appended some explanatory remarks to the main narrative. "Except total derangement de·range·ment
1. Disturbance of the regular order or arrangement of parts in a system.

2. Mental disorder; insanity.

 of mind," the author argued, "there are but three sources . . . from which, conduct, like that recorded in the preceding pages, could proceed." He then went on to describe the following categories: (1) "Religious fanaticism Within the spectrum of adherence to a particular belief system, religious fanaticism is the most extreme form of religious fundamentalism. Overview
When adherents to a religion get involved in a pattern of violently and potentially deadly opposition to anyone they do not
," characterized by "wild and incoherent" views; (2) "Violence of passion," typically involving "envy, malice, or revenge"; and (3) "Systematic calculation upon erroneous principles," generally pertaining to "future punishment." Although he acknowledged that individual cases might contain elements of more than one factor, the author concluded that the Purrinton case belonged squarely in the third category. In fact, the author's typology provides for a relatively neat sorting of all the family-killers explored in this essay: Yates, Womble, and Young fit into the first category; Cowan fits into the second; Beadle, Clemmens, and Purrinton fit into the third.(82)

Significantly, modern psychological categories allow for an identical sorting of the family killings, though the terminology and criteria are quite different. While modern scholars have not yet developed a typology for familicides per se (the first attempt follows), they have established applicable categories for somewhat similar crimes.(83) For example, in his study of murder followed by suicide in modern England, D. J. West described murder-suicides committed by (1) depressive offenders, (2) schizophrenic offenders, and (3) morbidly jealous offenders. West's first group experienced "irrational melancholia MELANCHOLIA, med. jur. A name given by the ancients to a species of partial intellectual mania, now more generally known by the name of monomania. (q.v.) It bore this name because it was supposed to be always attended by dejection of mind and gloomy ideas. Vide Mania., ," the second suffered from delusions and hallucinations Hallucinations Definition

Hallucinations are false or distorted sensory experiences that appear to be real perceptions. These sensory impressions are generated by the mind rather than by any external stimuli, and may be seen, heard, felt, and even
, and the third were driven by extreme, irrational jealousy. In an article on parental filicide Fil´i`cide

n. 1. The act of murdering a son or a daughter; also, parent who commits such a murder.
1. a parent who kills a son or daughter.
, Phillip J. Resnick somewhat similarly found that the largest group of child murders were altruistic in motivation, often conceived in conjunction with suicides - roughly corresponding to West's "depressive" category. The next most common type found by Resnick were "acutely psychotic," sometimes involving hallucinations - as in West's "schizophrenic" category. Like West, other scholars have also noted the prominence of "morbid delusions of jealousy" in spouse murders, with at least one author linking the pattern to chronic alcoholism chronic alcoholism
See alcoholism.

Acute Psychosis

There is a striking correspondence between West's and Resnick's categories and the crimes under study here; the modern types coincide with fairly clear groupings among the seven cases of early national family-killing - the same groupings suggested by the typology of 1806. One group, including those of Yates, Womble, and Young, seem to have been of the type designated as schizophrenic (West) or acutely psychotic (Resnick). Delusions with hallucinations were prominent in all three instances and provided direct motivation for the slayings. James Yates slaughtered his wife and four children in response to the commands of a visible "spirit" who insisted that he destroy his "idols." He apparently believed that he was obeying the "mandate" of his divine "father." Similarly, Matthew Womble murdered his family in obedience to a luminous, angelic figure who ordered him to slay them in order to get to heaven. Womble continued to hallucinate hal·lu·ci·nate  
v. hal·lu·ci·nat·ed, hal·lu·ci·nat·ing, hal·lu·ci·nates

To undergo hallucination.
To cause to have hallucinations.
 in prison.(85) Because background information on the lives of Yates and Womble is so sparse, it is difficult to offer even a tentative psychological diagnosis; but their hallucinations and resulting actions certainly suggest acute psychosis or schizophrenia.

The confession of Isaac Young offers a good deal more material to work with. Young's two murderous outbursts both took place in the context of an elaborate delusional structure featuring both auditory and visual hallucinations. He believed that he had prophetic powers and later became convinced that he was the second messiah. His murder of the adopted girl in his brother's household directly followed an apocalyptic hallucination hallucination, false perception characterized by a distortion of real sensory stimuli. Common types of hallucination are auditory, i.e., hearing voices or noises and visual, i.e., seeing people that are not actually present. . The beheading of his oldest child, John Wesley, was conceived as a parallel to the similar execution of John the Baptist. Both of the murderous outbursts also followed upon challenges to his prophetic pretensions and bizarre behavior by concerned neighbors. Not only did Young experience hallucinations and delusions of grandeur Noun 1. delusions of grandeur - a delusion (common in paranoia) that you are much greater and more powerful and influential than you really are
delusion, psychotic belief - (psychology) an erroneous belief that is held in the face of evidence to the contrary
, he also endured feelings of persecution (such as his belief that he was being stalked by the devil) and exhibited moods of "flat apathetic ap·a·thet·ic
Lacking interest or concern; indifferent.

 detachment from surrounding realities" (as when he sat for hours with his head down before the fire). Those traits are, of course, all classic symptoms of schizophrenia - a modern clinical designation for the condition from which Young probably suffered.(86)

In addition to the common pattern of hallucinations, a number of other factors distinguish the cases of Yates, Womble, and Young from the other family killings. First, although Young did make one passing attempt to cut his own throat, none of those men exhibited strong or sustained suicidal impulses.(87) Second, none of them offered altruistic rationalizations for their crimes.(88) Third, their killings seem to have been characterized by extreme rage, brutality, even sadism. James Yates destroyed one son by throwing him against the wall "with such violence . . . that he expired without a groan" and murdered the second by grabbing him by the feet and dashing "his scull in pieces against the fire-place." He then reportedly killed his wife by striking her with a fence stake until he "could not distinguish one feature of her face" and split his daughter's skull after forcing her to sing and dance over her mother's corpse.(89) Matthew Womble took an axe in a drunken rage, split his wife's skull, and cut off her head; he then slaughtered his four sons, two of them despite their pleas for mercy. According to Leland's poem, Womble "mock'd" his family's "dying pain." Isaac Young repeatedly struck and bludgeoned a young girl with his fists and a club and then cut off her head with a knife. Several years later he axe-murdered his wife and then decapitated de·cap·i·tate  
tr.v. de·cap·i·tat·ed, de·cap·i·tat·ing, de·cap·i·tates
To cut off the head of; behead.

[Late Latin d
 two of his young children and nearly decapitated the third. Those men were clearly driven by intense, outwardly-directed anger.(90)


The cases of Beadle, Clemmens, and Purrinton were very different. None of them seems to have experienced either auditory or visual hallucinations. However, all three suffered from severe and persistent depression, particularly in response to stresses or setbacks in their lives. When his continental currency depreciated in value, Beadle was "thrown into a state little better than dispair." Over the following years, he brooded over his financial and other reverses, indulging in bitter personal prognostications and gloomy philosophical speculations. Purrinton was described as a man who "was easily elated or depressed, as his affairs were prosperous or adverse." A severe drought that reportedly struck during the spring and summer of 1806 "seemed greatly to depress him." He frequently expressed "apprehensions, that his family would suffer for want of bread." Clemmens was tormented by his uncertainty over whether to move to Ohio. After first deciding to go, he "grew melancholy and restless." Following his decision to remain, he was beset by "a heavy heart and bitter reflections." After his second determination to leave, he suffered still greater mental "torment" and "melancholy." In addition to severe melancholy, Clemmens also suffered such classic symptoms of depression as (1) "difficulties in sleeping"; (2) "loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities"; (3) "negative self-concept; self-reproach and self-blame, feelings of worthlessness and guilt"; (4) "complaints or evidence of difficulty in concentrating, such as slowed thinking and indecisiveness in·de·ci·sive  
1. Prone to or characterized by indecision; irresolute: an indecisive manager.

2. Inconclusive: an indecisive contest; an indecisive battle.
"; and (5) "recurrent thoughts of death or suicide."(91)

Suicidal impulses figured prominently in all three of those cases. Beadle wrestled with the idea of killing himself (along with his family) over a period of three years, decided that suicide was "the height of heroism," and blew out his brains after slaughtering his family. Purrinton decided to kill himself after becoming depressed over a severe drought; his determination to take his family along with him was apparently an afterthought. Upon killing his wife and children, he cut his own throat with a razor. Although Clemmens did not succeed in committing suicide, he had originally planned to do so after executing his family. Immediately after slaughtering them, he tried to kill himself but "was unable to accomplish it." During the following days he made repeated if unsuccessful efforts at taking his own life, including attempts at slitting his wrists and hanging himself.(92)

The altruistic motives that the depressives offered for their crimes (or that were attributed to them) were similar to those described in the modern study by Resnick - and were closely linked to their suicidal impulses. "As he was much out of temper not in good temper; irritated; angry.

See also: Out
 with the world, he was unwilling any of his family should stay behind to encounter its troubles," Beadle's biographer concluded, "and since 'tis a father's duty to provide for his flock, he chose to consign consign v. 1) to deliver goods to a merchant to sell on behalf of the party delivering the items, as distinguished from transferring to a retailer at a wholesale price for re-sale. Example: leaving one's auto at a dealer to sell and split the profit.  them over to better hands." Beadle particularly concluded that it would be "unmerciful ... cruelty" to leave his wife behind were the rest of the family to die. Similarly, Clemmens became "frantic" at the thought of being separated from his family, feared that his "property" was "inadequate to their support," and had visions of his children being "torn from the fond embraces of their mother." He decided that it "would be much better if ... [his] dear family were in the hands of their God." Purrinton also agonized ag·o·nize  
v. ag·o·nized, ag·o·niz·ing, ag·o·niz·es

1. To suffer extreme pain or great anguish.

2. To make a great effort; struggle.
 over the prospects for his family after the arrival of a severe drought, fearing that they "would suffer for want of bread." The author of his narrative speculated that he decided to kill them only after realizing how miserable they would be following his own demise.(93)

The altruistic motives (or rationalizations) of the killers may have also been reflected in the way they carried out the executions and disposed of the bodies of their victims. Although Purrinton's massacre seems to have resembled the brutality of the psychotic group, Beadle and Clemmens each showed an almost fastidious fas·tid·i·ous
1. Possessing or displaying careful, meticulous attention to detail.

2. Difficult to please; exacting.

3. Having complex nutritional requirements. Used of microorganisms.
 care in the disposition of his family's remains. After striking his wife's head with an axe, Beadle carefully drained the blood into a vessel and covered her wound with a handkerchief. Upon slitting his children's throats from ear to ear, he neatly laid them out in a row on the floor, covering their bodies with a blanket. Similarly, after slaying his children, Clemmens "took some pains in placing them strait in bed - locking their hands, and closing their eyes." Those actions suggest a deliberate respect for the remains of their loved ones loved ones nplseres mpl queridos

loved ones nplproches mpl et amis chers

loved ones love npl
 that contrasts sharply with the sadistic, uncontrolled rages of Yates, Womble, and Young.(94)

Delusional Jealousy

The case of John Cowan may be distinguished from the two types already discussed. Although the murderer generally appeared rational and did not experience the sort of hallucinations characteristic of the psychotic group, the editor of his Life and Confession believed that Cowan's fanatical jealousy constituted a "decided and unequivocal monomania MONOMANIA. med. jur. Insanity only upon a particular subject; and with a single delusion of the mind.
     2. The most simple form of this disorder is that in which the patient has imbibed some single notion, contrary to common sense and to his own experience, and
."(95) That assessment neatly coincides with West's claim that "in some male patients, jealousy amounts to a monomania and may be present in extremely irrational forms, without signs of schizophrenic disorder Noun 1. schizophrenic disorder - any of several psychotic disorders characterized by distortions of reality and disturbances of thought and language and withdrawal from social contact
dementia praecox, schizophrenia, schizophrenic psychosis
 of thinking in other respects." Cowan's alcoholism also fits the conclusion of another modern criminologist, Manfred S. Guttmacher, that the "pathological jealousy reaction that one sees in chronic alcoholics is an important factor in uxoricide ux·o·ri·cide  
1. The killing of a wife by her husband.

2. A man who kills his wife.

[Medieval Latin ux
." However, in regard to his suicidal impulses and his motivation for killing his young children, Cowan closely resembled the depressive group. Over a period of three and a half years, he made "several attempts at suicide," once using a musket musket: see small arms.

Muzzle-loading shoulder firearm developed in 16th-century Spain. Designed as a larger version of the harquebus, muskets were fired with matchlocks until flintlocks were developed in the 17th century; flintlocks were
 and on another occasion employing laudanum laudanum (lôd`ənəm), tincture, or alcoholic solution, of opium, first compounded by Paracelsus in the 16th cent. Not then known to be addictive, the preparation was widely used up through the 19th cent. to treat a variety of disorders. . Later he tried to kill both himself and his family by mixing arsenic into their water cask. His justification for finally slaughtering his children with an axe was altruistic. He murdered them, he explained, to save them from "his infamy" and from a hard life.(96)

As suggested by those depressive features in the case of John Cowan, the psychological labels employed in this essay are not offered as immutable IMMUTABLE. What cannot be removed, what is unchangeable. The laws of God being perfect, are immutable, but no human law can be so considered.  or mutually-exclusive categories but rather as useful analytical devices for identifying suggestive clusters of characteristics in the crimes and criminals. More than one label may be applicable to a given case; thus, for example, social scientists recognize the phenomenon of depression with psychotic features.(97) It is particularly necessary to be cautious and tentative given the extremely limited evidence available in several of the familicide cases. For example, additional evidence might reveal that Matthew Womble, who acted in the context of a drunken quarrel with a neighbor, had as much in common with the alcoholic Cowan as with the psychotic Yates and Young.(98) Similarly, it may be that Purrinton, whose extremely violent assault on his family resembled the brutality of the psychotic group, was motivated by prophetic voices or visions about which we know nothing because of his suicide.

In addition, it must be kept in mind that psychological conditions or emotional states are not themselves timeless but rather take forms that are, in part, historically determined. For example, as Carol Z. and Peter N. Stearns have shown, emotions like "anger" and "jealousy" are both experienced and perceived in different ways in different historical periods, even within a single society.(99) Thus John Cowan's feelings toward his mother and wife were undoubtedly influenced by the new social conditions of the early republic in which, Peter Stearns Peter Stearns is a professor of history at George Mason University, where he is currently provost (since January 1, 2000) with almost 40 years of experience as a teacher and administrator behind him.  explains, the potential for explosively violent jealousy was enhanced by "the redefinition and heightened valuation of heterosexual love and of family affection in general" in a setting where "declining community cohesion Community cohesion refers to the aspect of togetherness exhibited by members of a community. Characterised by similar cultures, lifestyes, family lineage or relations, neighbourhood or any other bonding factors of human living, togetherness in communities is a very cherished trait  made traditional enforcement of sexual fidelity less reliable."(100) While modern psychological labels - themselves historically constructed - cannot magically "solve" the familicides of the early republic, they can provide useful tools for organizing and conceptualizing the surviving evidence.


Tentative diagnoses of acute psychosis or schizophrenia, depression, and delusional jealousy may help us understand those seven men in modern clinical terms, but they do not by themselves adequately explain their actions. After all, most people with such conditions do not slaughter their wives, or their children, or themselves. In order then to understand the crimes, it is essential to reexamine re·ex·am·ine also re-ex·am·ine  
tr.v. re·ex·am·ined, re·ex·am·in·ing, re·ex·am·ines
1. To examine again or anew; review.

2. Law To question (a witness) again after cross-examination.
 the social stage upon which the fears and fantasies of the murderers were played out. Whether finally driven to kill by hallucinations, depression, or jealousy, the men all shared in the fluid social conditions of their age. Their experience with American freedom was not simply incidental to their tragedies but created a matrix of social insecurity and psychological stress that is crucial to any adequate explanation of their crimes.(101) In particular, their lives expose some of the dark sides of the changing familial relations, geographic mobility, economic opportunity, and religious ferment ferment /fer·ment/ (fer-ment´) to undergo fermentation; used for the decomposition of carbohydrates.

 that have often been celebrated by modern scholars of the early republic. And while the gruesome outcomes of their experiences were certainly exceptional, there is every reason to believe that similar doubts, dilemmas, and anxieties were experienced by countless other Americans in similar social circumstances.

Revolution Against Patriarchal Authority

The domestic mass murders of the early republic took place in a period of profound transition in the history of the American family American Family is a photographic artwork exhibition by Renée Cox. See also
  • An American Family, a 1973 documentary broadcast on PBS
  • , a 2002-2004 PBS drama starring Edward James Olmos and Constance Marie.
. By the mid-eighteenth century cultural arbiters throughout the Anglo-American world were advocating a major change in marital and parental roles, involving the replacement of coercive or authoritarian norms of familial relations by those based on mutual love and affection. That "revolution against patriarchal authority," as it has been described by one of its leading historians, gained still greater momentum during and after the American Revolution American Revolution, 1775–83, struggle by which the Thirteen Colonies on the Atlantic seaboard of North America won independence from Great Britain and became the United States. It is also called the American War of Independence. , when the very idea of coercive authority went out of fashion, whether the tyranny of a British King over his American subjects, or the tyranny of a household patriarch over his wife and children. By the early nineteenth century, the ideal of mutual romantic love had largely triumphed over patriarchal authority as the basis of relations between husbands and wives, while gentle persuasion and tender affection had become popular norms for interactions between parents and their children.(102)

One might intuitively assume that the familicides of the early republic must have been desperate attempts by failed or failing patriarchs to reassert their lost authority. Indeed, one or two of the men did express proprietary attitudes toward their children that might be interpreted as throwbacks to a vanishing patriarchal regime.(103) However, the evidence suggests that most of the family-killers were extremely receptive toward the new domestic ideals. Several were explicitly described as loving husbands and affectionate fathers. James Yates reportedly offered "endearing expressions" toward his wife and "caressed" his little children on the very night that he killed them. William Beadle appeared to be an "affectionate husband" and a "tender, fond parent." Abel Clemmens described himself as "a loving husband and tender father." Purrinton's relationship to his family was described as "uniformly tender and affectionate." Isaac Young was reportedly "fond" of his wife and children and "was never known to treat them roughly."(104) Further, with the exceptions of Womble and Cowan, there is no evidence that overt familial conflicts played any role in instigating the crimes.(105) To the contrary, in the cases of the depressive killers at least, the very intensity of the new affective ties between the men and their wives and children may have helped to transform simple suicides into mass murders. That intensity of familial relations seems to have become particularly volatile in the lives of psychologically vulnerable men when combined with several of the broad social instabilities and insecurities characteristic of the early republic.

Geographic Mobility

Americans of the early national period were a people on the move and the men under study here were no exception.(106) William Beadle emigrated from England and, over a period of twenty years TWENTY YEARS. The lapse of twenty years raises a presumption of certain facts, and after such a time, the party against whom the presumption has been raised, will be required to prove a negative to establish his rights.
, lived successively in the Connecticut towns of Stratford, Darby, Fairfield, and Wethersfield. Abel Clemmens was born in Waterford, New Jersey, moved with his mother to Redstone, Pennsylvania, left there for Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), and was about to move to the Miami region of Ohio at the time of his crime. James Purrinton lived most of his life in Bowdoinham, Massachusetts (now Maine), but had recently moved to a new farm in Augusta, Massachusetts (now Maine) at the time of his death. John Cowan's life is a study in almost perpetual motion Perpetual motion

The expression perpetual motion, or perpetuum mobile, arose historically in connection with the quest for a mechanism which, once set in motion, would continue to do useful work without an external source of energy or which would produce more
. During his childhood, he lived successively in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania Allegheny County is a county in the southwestern part of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. As of the 2000 census, the population was 1,281,666. The county seat is Pittsburgh. ; Maysville, Kentucky; West Union, Ohio; Shawneetown, Illinois; and Danville, Kentucky. During adolescence and early adulthood, he moved between Harrodsburgh, Lexington, Danville, and Somerset, all in Kentucky, then down to New Orleans, back up to Danville, and then to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After his marriage, he lived successively in Pittsburgh; Cincinnati, Ohio “Cincinnati” redirects here. For other uses, see Cincinnati (disambiguation).
Cincinnati is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Hamilton County.
; Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia); Pittsburgh (again); Ashtabula, Ohio
For the genus of jumping spiders, see Ashtabula (spider).

Ashtabula is a city in Ashtabula County, Ohio, United States, and the center of the Ashtabula Micropolitan Statistical Area (as defined by the United States Census Bureau in 2003).
; and finally Cincinnati (again). Isaac Young was born in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, where he lived in a number of households. After his first murder, he changed his name to Heller and moved to Liberty, Indiana, where he eventually slaughtered his wife and children.(107)

Connections between murderous impulses and the stresses of mobility are most evident in the lives of Clemmens, Cowan, and Young. As described in his autobiographical narrative, Clemmens's fatal bout with anxiety and depression began with his uncertainty over whether to move to the Miami region of Ohio. He initially decided to go but grew uneasy over his mother's refusal to accompany him and his fear that the move might prove fatal to his pregnant wife. As his mental state deteriorated, Clemmens became frantic at the prospect of his children being ripped "from the fond embraces of their mother, and scattered over the country." Torn by the conflicting desires of family members as well as by his own tormented ambivalence, Abel first decided to go, then to stay, then to go, and finally escaped the issue completely by slaughtering his family on the eve of departure.(108)

The early separation of John Cowan's parents forced him to endure an unhappy and unsettled childhood in which he was repeatedly shuttled between various relatives and schools. He later suggested that the experience had permanently "soured" his "temper." Cowan's adolescence and early adulthood were apparently just as unstable and traumatic. During his first twenty years he lived in nearly a dozen communities in at least five different states. When his own marriage seemed to replicate that of his parents - with frequent quarrels, movements, separations, and suspicions of infidelity - Cowan was driven to end the agony by murdering his wife and children. He thereby saved his offspring from being "knocked and cuffed about by the world," that is, from just the sort of unsettled existence that he himself had endured.(109)

After Isaac Young's first murderous outburst in Pennsylvania, he changed his name and moved to Indiana. Given the fluidity of American society, he was easily able to adopt a new identity, marry a woman, and build a new life. However, when things began to go sour, Young was unable to fall back on the support of sympathetic family members, as he had in his home state of Pennsylvania. The troubled man thereupon responded to personal adversity and the threatened intervention of neighbors by slaying his wife and young children. Much like Clemmens and Cowan, Young was, on the one hand, repeatedly tempted to travel (as in his brief flings of itinerant proselytizing) and, on the other, tormented by images of separation. Near the end he claimed that "he would rather die than be separated from his family."(110) As illustrated by those three otherwise very different cases, the geographic mobility of the early republic could easily become a detour to anxiety, instability, and tragedy.

Economic Opportunity

The family-killers examined here reflected not only the mobility of American society but also its economic opportunity. James Yates was esteemed by neighbors for his "industry"; although not wealthy, he "maintained his family ... very comfortably." William Beadle was a successful retail merchant in a number of Connecticut towns. Known for his "strict honor and integrity" in business, he at one point had accumulated property worth about twelve hundred pounds. Abel Clemmens was a farmer who worked his mother's fields and later raised crops on rented land. At the time of his mass murder, he was on the verge On the Verge (or The Geography of Yearning) is a play written by Eric Overmyer. It makes extensive use of esoteric language and pop culture references from the late nineteenth century to 1955.  of moving to a rich agricultural region of the midwest. James Purrinton was a man whose own steady "industry and frugality," along with a "handsome patrimony from his father," enabled him to achieve the status of "a rich and independent farmer." John Cowan was an artisan and laborer who seemed able to find profitable employment wherever he went. During his first year of marriage, he and his wife were "industrious," managed to save money, and even planned to buy a small house. Although he never accumulated much property, it was not for want of opportunity but because of the frequent disruptions in his household. Isaac Young was able to parlay an inheritance from his father into a grocery store in Liberty, Ohio. It was only due to his own "neglect of business" that he was beset by creditors and threatened with the poor-house.(111)

In a society that placed high value on industry and independence, most of those men need not have viewed themselves as failures. But such an assessment ignores the high psychic costs of economic freedom, particularly for men prone to anxiety and depression. After Beadle's estate was diminished by the depreciation of his holdings in continental currency, the proud merchant was tormented by bitterness and insecurity. As his friend and biographer explained, he was finally destroyed not by actual "hunger" or "want" but by the galling fear that he and his family might have to endure "the horrors of poverty at some future time." Abel Clemmens was likewise tormented by concern that his "property" was "inadequate" for the "support" of his family. He also seemed fearful of falling into the hands of "the sheriff, constable, or overseers of the poor." In fact, trial testimony suggests that Clemmens had once been arrested for debt--and that the debt still had not been paid at the time of his family's murder. James Purrinton was an "avaricious" man whose moods shifted with fluctuations in his economic fortunes. When a drought struck at his new farm in Augusta, he became deeply depressed by the possibility that "his family would suffer for want of bread - that his crops would be cut off that his cattle would starve." Thus economic insecurities were central to the altruistic rationalizations for murder offered by all three of the depressives. Concern over the poverty of his wife and child also motivated John Cowan's repeated and eventually disastrous efforts to reunite with his spouse, while Isaac Young's "horror of the Poor House" helped precipitate his second murderous outburst. To judge by those cases, gnawing economic worries and insecurities constituted the dark underside of economic freedom in the early republic.(112)

Religious Ferment and the Flight from Freedom

The religious beliefs and experiences of the family-killers were also reflective of their age. In fact, religious themes are so prominent in the familicide publications that a skeptical scholar might discount the pamphlets as social-historical sources and consider them instead as a conservative literature of religious controversy designed to combat various antinomian an·ti·no·mi·an  
An adherent of antinomianism.

1. Of or relating to the doctrine of antinomianism.

 or rationalist heresies generated by the new religious freedom of the early republic.(113) While it contains an element of truth, that view ignores the conventions of the crime genres to which those pamphlets belong - which were increasingly secular and empirical during that period. There is very little evidence that the authors or editors of early national trial reports, criminal autobiographies, or third-person crime narratives intentionally fabricated information, either for polemical purposes or for any other reason.(114) To the contrary, an abortive attempt to attribute religious motives in one of the familicide cases where it evidently had no empirical basis was quickly refuted in the popular press.(115) If religious factors appear prominently in many of the familicide pamphlets, it is probably because religious motives were in fact prominent in the minds of the murderers.

The religious experiences of the family-killers can be divided into two distinct groups. One group consists of Yates, Womble, and Young, all of whom thought that they had achieved direct sensory contact with the supernatural. As already described, the religious visions or hallucinations of those men led directly to their crimes. The "two Spirits" that appeared to Yates and the angelic retinue viewed by Womble were horrible realizations of the religious sensibility of an age in which common men aspired, as Gordon Wood has put it, to "literally and physically 'see bright angels stand."'(116) Isaac Young's elaborate complex of prophetic pretensions and apocalyptic expectations - and their reportedly favorable reception Noun 1. favorable reception - acceptance as satisfactory; "he bought it on approval"
favourable reception, approval

acceptance - the state of being acceptable and accepted; "torn jeans received no acceptance at the country club"
 by at least some of his neighbors - are likewise inexplicable without an appreciation of the millennial hopes that pervaded much of American religious life during the second quarter of the nineteenth century.(117)

The spiritual beliefs of Beadle, Purrinton, and Clemmens were rather different from those of the deranged de·range  
tr.v. de·ranged, de·rang·ing, de·rang·es
1. To disturb the order or arrangement of.

2. To upset the normal condition or functioning of.

3. To disturb mentally; make insane.
 visionaries but were equally central to their homicidal hom·i·cid·al  
1. Of or relating to homicide.

2. Capable of or conducive to homicide: a homicidal rage.
 acts. In each of the three cases the killer's altruistic rationalizations were reportedly based upon his belief in universal salvation - an unorthodox tenet popularized during the last decades of the eighteenth century. Given that belief, each had no reason to doubt that his wife and children would face happy futures after death. Beadle believed that "future punishment" was "inconsistent with the goodness of God." Clemmens accepted the arguments of the well-dressed deist who came to Clarksburg espousing the doctrine that all souls returned to heaven. And Purrinton reportedly died a Universalist, convinced that, once dead, all members of his family would be "eternally happy." In those three cases, strong suicidal impulses and the novel doctrine of universal salvation seem to have combined with intense feelings of paternal responsibility to set off extreme episodes of domestic violence.(118)

Despite the striking differences between them, both the visionaries and the depressives saw themselves as agents of forces beyond their control. Indeed, they perceived their crimes as acts of duty and obedience. James Yates claimed to have slaughtered his wife and children in "obedience" to the "commands" of his heavenly "father." William Beadle concluded that he was prompted and directed by "God himself." Matthew Womble was "obedient to the orders giv'n" by his angelic vision and killed his family to "get to heaven." Abel Clemmens strived for years to achieve obedience to his heavenly father, believed it his "painful duty" to slaughter his family, and repeatedly testified to his subservience to "a guide unseen and unheard, though irresistable." James Purrinton apparently acted in obedience to the divine command appearing in the ninth chapter of Ezekiel: "Slay utterly old and young." Isaac Young believed it was his "duty" to kill the young girl in his brother's household and felt "compelled" to do so.(119)

The religious strivings of those men - and their attitudes toward spiritual authority - reflected the radical bipolarity of their thoughts and impulses. After an evening of reading Scripture and singing psalms, Yates was confronted by two spirits: one on his left, the other on his right. Yates threw his Bible into the fire, obeying the one on his left (literally, the sinister one), while disregarding the objections of the one on the right. The other cases indicate a similarly polarized A one-way direction of a signal or the molecules within a material pointing in one direction.  ambivalence. "That it is God himself that prompts and directs me ... I really believe," Beadle noted. "But if it should at last prove Mr. Devil, or any other evil spirit, all that I can say about it, is, that I was born a very unlucky fellow." Womble first thought he was directed by a heavenly angel but later concluded it was "Satan in disguise." Isaac Young was subject to outbursts of "profane swearing" but felt "far superior to ordinary christians" and assumed he enjoyed "the gift of prophecy." He declared the Bible "accursed" but believed he was "a second Saviour." Abel Clemmens experienced a similar polarization of impulse - and a paralyzing ambivalence - in regard to almost every decision he faced: to move to Ohio or not; to renew his lease or not; to obey his "maker" or not; to trade his wagon or not; to visit his mother or not; to sing hymns or not; to slaughter his family or not; to kill himself or not.(120)

The efforts of those men to submit to supernatural authority were less single-minded pursuits of spiritual perfection than desperate attempts to evade seemingly irresolvable ir·re·solv·a·ble  
1. Irresoluble.

2. Impossible to separate into component parts; irreducible.
 personal conflicts, most importantly Adv. 1. most importantly - above and beyond all other consideration; "above all, you must be independent"
above all, most especially
 between moral demands (or social obligations) and destructive urges or desires. It was ultimately less important for them to avoid sin than to resolve dilemmas or evade choice. When the breathless individual freedom of the early republic collided with the relentless responsibilities of paternal stewardship, the result was an implosion implosion /im·plo·sion/ (im-plo´zhun) see flooding.

 of self-destructive violence. Although it might be tempting to conceptualize con·cep·tu·al·ize  
v. con·cep·tu·al·ized, con·cep·tu·al·iz·ing, con·cep·tu·al·iz·es
To form a concept or concepts of, and especially to interpret in a conceptual way:
 the early national familicides as anachronistic a·nach·ro·nism  
1. The representation of someone as existing or something as happening in other than chronological, proper, or historical order.

 perversions of a disintegrating patriarchal order, it must be remembered that they represent the beginning not the end of a disturbing national tradition.(121)

Just as the familicides explored here reflected the new "conditions of freedom" of the early republic, so have subsequent clusters of family-killings probably been influenced by social conditions and tensions peculiar to their own time. Tantalizing tan·ta·lize  
tr.v. tan·ta·lized, tan·ta·liz·ing, tan·ta·liz·es
To excite (another) by exposing something desirable while keeping it out of reach.
 evidence to that effect may be found in newspaper accounts of three familicides (followed by suicides) committed over a period of several months in 1986. One was the case of a Farmers Home Administration supervisor from South Dakota South Dakota (dəkō`tə), state in the N central United States. It is bordered by North Dakota (N), Minnesota and Iowa (E), Nebraska (S), and Wyoming and Montana (W).  despondent de·spon·dent  
Feeling or expressing despondency; dejected.

de·spondent·ly adv.
 over the prospect of having to foreclose fore·close  
v. fore·closed, fore·clos·ing, fore·clos·es
a. To deprive (a mortgagor) of the right to redeem mortgaged property, as when payments have not been made.

 on the property of local farmers; the second involved a former serviceman from New Hampshire New Hampshire, one of the New England states of the NE United States. It is bordered by Massachusetts (S), Vermont, with the Connecticut R. forming the boundary (W), the Canadian province of Quebec (NW), and Maine and a short strip of the Atlantic Ocean (E).  depressed over government insensitivity toward Vietnam veterans This article is about the French band. For veterans of the Vietnam War, see Vietnam veteran.
The Vietnam Veterans were a six-person French psychedelic group that released six records in the 1980s. The band was praised by many alternative music publications.
 (he was particularly concerned about the impact that the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act would have on benefits); and the third featured an injured and unemployed pipe welder from Connecticut whose disability payments had recently been cut off or reduced.(122) Those cases all seem to have reflected tensions associated with the attrition or failure of twentieth-century government programs designed to protect vulnerable individuals from the vagaries of life in a free society.(123) If those recent cases illustrate the fraying of our modern social safety net, the familicides examined in this essay reflect the anxieties and uncertainties of an earlier era of radical freedom unmediated Adj. 1. unmediated - having no intervening persons, agents, conditions; "in direct sunlight"; "in direct contact with the voters"; "direct exposure to the disease"; "a direct link"; "the direct cause of the accident"; "direct vote"
 by the welfare state. Many social barriers had fallen in post-Revolutionary America, but several unhappy men could still not control the rain, or the currency, or their own darker impulses. Where others may have perceived boundless opportunities, they experienced gnawing fears and terrifying compulsions. Situations of free choice did not inspire them with a "heady feeling of command" or a "sense of marvelous potential," to use Robert Wiebe's expansive phrases, but drove them instead to desperation.(124) Physical unsettlement un·set·tle  
v. un·set·tled, un·set·tling, un·set·tles
1. To displace from a settled condition; disrupt.

2. To make uneasy; disturb.

, economic insecurities, and religious speculations all combined to baffle and torment them. Unable to cope with the perplexities of life in a free society, they constructed internal imperatives to evade and annul that very freedom. In their troubled hands, "release of energy" became a whirlwind of destruction. By their actions, each tacitly endorsed John Cowan's conclusion in prison: "Liberty would be more horrible to me than death."(125) Thus did a handful of troubled Americans confront freedoms profound enough to transform sober Christians into deluded visionaries, loving husbands into axe-wielding assassins, and tidy republican households into slaughterhouses.

Department of History Miami, FL 33199


The author would like to thank Morris L. Cohen cohen
 or kohen

(Hebrew: “priest”) Jewish priest descended from Zadok (a descendant of Aaron), priest at the First Temple of Jerusalem. The biblical priesthood was hereditary and male.
, John P. Demos, John M. Muffin, Thomas R. Pegram, Darden A. Pyron, Erika D. Rappaport, Shirley Samuels, Peter N. Steams, and Donald E. Worster for their helpful advice, criticism, and encouragement.

1. See entries in Thomas M. McDade, The Annals of Murder (Norman, OK, 1961), pp. 24-25, 56-57, 68, 137-38, 202-3, 232-33, and 248-50. It should be noted that McDade does not list publications on the Yates and Womble cases discussed below. Conversely, one of the factual cases listed in McDade, that of Edward Ruloff, is not discussed in this article. My own research has uncovered only one family-killing from the colonial period, as well as several others from the late eighteenth through late nineteenth centuries not listed in McDade. Neil King Fitzgerald locates a total of eleven "multiple family murders" between 1780 and 1839 (including five of the ones discussed in this essay); however, he defines that category a bit more broadly than mine and includes at least one case that is probably pure fiction; see Fitzgerald, "Towards an American Abraham: Multiple Parricide PARRICIDE, civil law. One who murders his father; it is applied, by extension, to one who murders his mother, his brother, his sister, or his children. The crime committed by such person is also called parricide. Merl. Rep. mot Parricide; Dig. 48, 9, 1, 1. 3, 1. 4.  and the Rejection of Revelation in the Early National Period" (Masters thesis, Brown University, 1971).

2. Isaac Ray, A Treatise on the Medical Jurisprudence medical jurisprudence or forensic medicine, the application of medical science to legal problems. It is typically involved in cases concerning blood relationship, mental illness, injury, or death resulting from violence.  of Insanity, ed. Winfred Overholser (Cambridge, MA, 1962), p. 147. Since the familicides were widely covered in contemporary newspapers (as well as in pamphlets and broadsides), it is certainly possible that the small clusters of cases during the 1780s, 1800s, and 1830s represent early variants of the so-called "Werther effect Werther effect Public health An ↑ suicide rate linked to media coverage of suicide(s), or which occurs in persons 'inspired' by reading about or having had a close relationship with a 'successful' suicide ," noted by modern criminologists, whereby violent deaths increase in the aftermath of highly-publicized suicides or murder-suicides. On the "Werther effect," see David P. Phillips, "Suicide, Motor Vehicle Fatalities, and the Mass Media: Evidence toward a Theory of Suggestion," American Journal of Sociology Established in 1895, the American Journal of Sociology (AJS) is the oldest scholarly journal of sociology in the United States. It is published bimonthly by The University of Chicago Press.

AJS is edited by Andrew Abbott of the University of Chicago.
 84 (March 1979): 1150-74; Phillips, "Airplane Accident Fatalities Increase Just After Newspaper Stories About Murder and Suicide," Science 201 (Aug. 25, 1978): 748-50; Phillips, "Motor Vehicle Fatalities Increase Just After Publicized Suicide Stories," Science 196 (June 24, 1977): 1464-65; Phillips, "The Influence of Suggestion on Suicide: Substantive and Theoretical Implications of the Werther Effect," American Sociological Review The American Sociological Review is the flagship journal of the American Sociological Association (ASA). The ASA founded this journal (often referred to simply as ASR) in 1936 with the mission to publish original works of interest to the sociology discipline in general, new  39 (June 1974): 340-54. Of course, it is also possible that the clustering of familicide publications within the early national period represents a literary "Werther effect" operating upon the authors and printers who produced the pamphlets and broadsides rather than on the murderers themselves.

3. Since the familicide narratives are governed by genre conventions and employ literary motifs and formulas, it would certainly be possible (and no doubt fruitful) to analyze them as cultural artifacts; my point here is simply that they can also be used as social-historical sources - precisely because of the conventions by which early national crime genres were governed. In regard to criminal autobiographies, my assumption is not that they were generally written by the criminals themselves, or that they were simple transcriptions of oral statements made by the criminals, but that they were more often drafted by printers, ministers, lawyers, hack writers, or others, using information obtained from the criminals during jailhouse interviews. The extent of each criminal's active involvement in the process of literary construction undoubtedly varied from case to case.

4. For a general survey of early American crime literature, see Daniel A. Cohen, Pillars of Salt, Monuments of Grace: New England New England, name applied to the region comprising six states of the NE United States—Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. The region is thought to have been so named by Capt.  Crime Literature and the Origins of American Popular Culture, 1674-1860 (New York, 1993).

5. See Peter Linebaugh," The Ordinary of Newgate and His Account," in J. S. Cockburn, ed., Crime in England, 1550-1800 (Princeton, 1977), pp. 246-69; Linebaugh, The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1991), pp. xix-xx and 88-91; Linebaugh, "Tyburn: A Study of Crime and the Labouring Poor in London During the First Half of the Eighteenth Century" (Ph.D. diss diss  
Variant of dis.


Slang, chiefly US to treat (a person) with contempt [from disrespect]

Verb 1.
., University of Warwick In the 1960s and 1970s, Warwick had a reputation as a politically radical institution.[3] More recently, the University has been seen as a favoured institution of the British New Labour government. , 1975), pp. 256-325; John H. Langbein John H. Langbein (b. 1941) is the Sterling Professor of Law and Legal History at Yale Law School. He is an internationally known expert in the fields of trusts and estates, comparative law, and Anglo-American legal history.

Professor Langbein earned his A.B.
, Prosecuting Crime in the Renaissance (Cambridge, MA, 1974), pp. 45-47; and A. D. J. MacFarlane MacFarlane or Macfarlane is a surname shared by:
  • Alan Macfarlane (born 1941), a professor of anthropological science at Cambridge University
  • Alexander Macfarlane (mathematician) (1851-1913), a Scottish-Canadian logician, physicist, and mathematician
, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England The Stuart Period
The Stuart period was an important stage of English history. It represented the time frame from James I of England (or James VI of Scotland) all the way to the reign of Queen Anne. James I came to the throne in 1603.
 (New York, 1970), p. 85.

6. See Daniel A. Cohen, "A Fellowship of Thieves: Property Criminals in Eighteenth-Century Massachusetts," Journal of Social History 22 (Fall 1988): 65-92; most of the same material also appears in Cohen, Pillars of Salt, Monuments of Grace, pp. 117-42.

7. For examples of fictional accounts, see Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland: or the Transformation, Bicentenial Edition (Kent, OH, 1977); Henry Mills, Narrative of the Life and Dying Confession (Boston, 1817); Narrative of the Pious Death of the Penitent Henry Mills (Boston, 1817); A Faithful Account of the Massacre of the Family of Gerald Watson (Boston, 1819). On the relationship of Brown's novel to the Yates case, see note 20 below. On its possible relationship to the Beadle case, see Fitzgerald, "Towards an American Abraham," pp. 65-66.

8. For a perceptive discussion of similar crimes recounted in the popular literature of early modern England and Germany, see Joy Wiltenburg, Disorderly Women and Female Power in the Street Literature of Early Modern England and Germany (Charlottesville, 1992), pp. 213-32, passim PASSIM - A simulation language based on Pascal.

["PASSIM: A Discrete-Event Simulation Package for Pascal", D.H Uyeno et al, Simulation 35(6):183-190 (Dec 1980)].
. Some of the popular accounts described by Wiltenburg may not be as reliable, in a social-historical sense, as those utilized in this essay. For a brief discussion of late twentieth-century familicides, see Ronald M. Holmes and Stephen T. Holmes, "Understanding Mass Murder: A Starting Point Noun 1. starting point - earliest limiting point
terminus a quo

commencement, get-go, offset, outset, showtime, starting time, beginning, start, kickoff, first - the time at which something is supposed to begin; "they got an early start"; "she knew from the
," Federal Probation The Federal Probation Service or United States Probation Service is an agency that services the United States District Court in all 94 judicial federal districts nationwide and constitutes the community corrections arm of the Federal Court System.  56 (March 1992): 57-58.

9. The quoted passage is Philip Jenkins's summary of Elliott Leyton's approach in Compulsive Killers: The Story of Modern Multiple Murder (New York, 1986); it should be noted that Jenkins is fairly critical of Leyton's particular historical formulations concerning serial killers; Jenkins, Book Review of Elliott Leyton Elliott Leyton Ph.D. (born 1939 in Leader, Saskatchewan) is a Canadian social-anthropologist, educator and author who, according to the CTV television News network, is probably the world's most widely consulted expert on serial homicide. , Compulsive Killers, Journal of Criminal Justice 16 (1988): 151-54.

10. See Bailyn, Ideological Origins, pp. 230-319.

11. See Gordon S. Wood Gordon S. Wood (born 1933) is Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History at Brown University and the recipient of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for History for The Radicalism of the American Revolution. , The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York, 1992); Ronald P. Formisano, The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s-1840s (New York, 1983); Formisano, "Deferential-Participant Politics: The Early Republic's Political Culture, 1789-1840," American Political Science Review The American Political Science Review (APSR) is the flagship publication of the American Political Science Association and the most prestigious journal in political science.  68 (1974): 473-87.

12. See Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People An American people may be:
  • any nation or ethnic group of the Americas
  • see Demographics of North America
  • see Demographics of South America
 (Cambridge, MA, 1990), pp. 225-88; Nathan Hatch, The Democratization de·moc·ra·tize  
tr.v. de·moc·ra·tized, de·moc·ra·tiz·ing, de·moc·ra·tiz·es
To make democratic.

 of American Christianity (New Haven New Haven, city (1990 pop. 130,474), New Haven co., S Conn., a port of entry where the Quinnipiac and other small rivers enter Long Island Sound; inc. 1784. Firearms and ammunition, clocks and watches, tools, rubber and paper products, and textiles are among the many , 1989); Stephen A. Marini, Radical Sects of Revolutionary New England (Cambridge, MA, 1982); Gordon S. Wood, "Evangelical America and Early Mormonism," New York History 61 (1980): 359-86; William G. McLoughlin, The Role of Religion in the Revolution, in Stephen G. Kurtz Stephen G. Kurtz is an American academic, known mostly for his writings on the American Revolution.

He holds degrees from Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania.
 and James H. Hutson, editors, Essays on the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, 1973), pp. 197-255; Bailyn, Intellectual Origins, pp. 246-72.

13. See Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 (New York, 1992); Sean Wilentz Sean Wilentz (IPA: /ˈʃɔːn wɨˈlents/) (born 1951 in New York City) is the Dayton-Stockton Professor of History at Princeton University, where he has taught since 1979.

Wilentz took his B.A.
, Society, Politics, and the Market Revolution, 1815-1848 (Washington, 1990); Steven Watts, The Republic Reborn: War and the Making of Liberal America, 1790-1820 (Baltimore, 1987), pp. 6-9 and passim; Karen Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women (New Haven, 1982), p. 12; Sidney Ratner, James H. Soltow, and Richard Sylla, The Evolution of the American Economy (New York, 1979), pp. 103-249; Stuart Bruchey, The Roots of American Economic Growth 1607-1861 (1965; rpt. New York, 1968), pp. 74-91; Douglass C. North, The Economic Growth of the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area.  1790-1860 (1961; rpt. New York, 1966), pp. 1-203; George Rogers George Rogers may refer to:
  • George Rogers (American football) (born 1958), an American football player who won the 1980 Heisman Trophy.
  • George Rogers (politician) MP, CBE, (1906-1983), a British member of Parliament.
 Taylor, The Transportation Revolution, 1815-1860 (New York, 1951); Percy W. Bidwell, "The Agricultural Revolution Agricultural Revolution

Gradual transformation of the traditional agricultural system that began in Britain in the 18th century. Aspects of this complex transformation, which was not completed until the 19th century, included the reallocation of land ownership to make farms
 in New England," American Historical Review The American Historical Review (AHR) is the official publication of the American Historical Association (AHA), a body of academics, professors, teachers, students, historians, curators and others, founded in 1884 "for the promotion of historical studies, the  26 (1921): 683-702. On the relationship between literacy and commercialization, see William J. Gilmore, Reading Becomes a Necessity of Life: Material and Cultural Life in Rural New England, 1780-1835 (Knoxville, 1989).

14. See Marini, Radical Sects, pp. 25-28; Wood, "Evangelical America," pp. 365-66; Marvin Meyers, The Jacksonian Persuasion (1957; rpt. Stanford, CA, 1966), pp. 44-50; Lois Kimbell Mathews, The Expansion of New England (1909; rpt. New York, 1962).

15. See Ellen K. Rothman, Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America (New York, 1984), pp. 25-30; Carl N. Degler Carl N. Degler (born 1921), is an American historian. Degler is a past president of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association and the Southern Historical Association. , At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present (New York, 1980), pp. 9-12; Daniel Scott Daniel Scott is probably best known for his role as Adam/Felicia in the musical adaptation of ''.

He was born and raised in the Western suburbs of Sydney and by age fourteen, he was an accomplished pianist and had appeared in productions of
 Smith, "Parental Power and Marriage Patterns," in Michael Gordon Michael Gordon may refer to:
  • Michael Gordon (film director) (1909-1993), American
  • Michael J. C. Gordon (born 1948), British computer scientist
  • Michael Gordon (composer) (born 1956), American classical composer
  • Michael R.
, ed., The American Family in Social. Historical Perspective, 2nd ed. (New York, 1978), pp. 93-97; Robert V. Wells, "Family History and Demographic Transition Demographic transition occurs in societies that transition from high birth rates and high death rates to low birth rates and low death rates as part of the economic development of a country from a pre-industrial to an industrialized economy. ," in Gordon, ed., American Family, p. 527; Daniel Scott Smith and Michael S. Hindus, "Premarital Pregnancy in America 1640-1971: An Overview and Interpretation," Journal of Interdisciplinary History 4 (1975): 537 and 555-57.

16. For a provocative overview of the transformations of this period, see Gordon S. Wood, "The Significance of the Early Republic," Journal of the Early Republic 8 (Spring 1988): 1-20.

17. Wood, "Evangelical America," p. 361.

18. James Willard Hurst, Law and the Conditions of Freedom in the Nineteenth-Century United States (1956; rpt. Madison, 1979), p. 7 and passim; John Higham, From Boundlessness to Consolidation: The Transformation of American Culture 1848-1860 (Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, city (1990 pop. 109,592), seat of Washtenaw co., S Mich., on the Huron River; inc. 1851. It is a research and educational center, with a large number of government and industrial research and development firms, many in high-technology fields such as , 1969), pp. 5-15; Robert H. Wiebe, The Opening of American Society (New York, 1984), pp. 143 and passim.

19. See, for example, Watts, Republic Reborn; Wood, "Evangelical America," p. 366; W. J. Rorabaugh, The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition (New York, 1979), p. 212 and passim; G. J. Barker-Benfield, The Horrors of the Half-Known Life: Male Attitudes Toward Women and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century America (New York, 1976), p. 50; Meyers, Jacksonian Persuasion; Page Smith, "Anxiety and Despair in American History," 'William and Mary Quarterly 26 (1969): 420-23; Fred Somkin, Unquiet Eagle: Memory Desire in the Idea of American Freedom, 1815-1860 (Ithaca, NY, 1967); David Hackett Fischer David Hackett Fischer (b. December 2, 1935) is University Professor and Earl Warren Professor of History at Brandeis University. His major works have tackled everything from large macroeconomic and cultural trends (Albion's Seed, The Great Wave , The Revolution of American Conservatism: The Federalist Party Federalist party, in U.S. history, the political faction that favored a strong federal government. Origins and Members

In the later years of the Articles of Confederation there was much agitation for a stronger federal union, which was crowned with
 in the Era of Jeffersonian Democracy Jeffersonian democracy is the set of political goals that were named after American statesman Thomas Jefferson. It dominated American politics in the years 1800-1820s. It is contrasted with Jacksonian democracy, which dominated the next political era.  (New York, 1965), pp. 1-28.

20. This and the following two paragraphs are drown from "An Account of a Murder Committed by Mr. J - Y -, upon His Family, in December, A.D. 1781, Philadelphia Minerva, 2, nos. 81 and 82 (Aug. 20 and 27, 1796), unpaginated un·pag·i·nat·ed  
. "An Account" features a first-person narrative
See also: First person

First-person narrative is a literary technique in which the story is narrated by one character, who explicitly refers to him or herself in the first person, that is, using words and phrases involving "I" and "we".
 of the crime taken from Yates "upon his examination" but, unfortunately, contains little information on his life prior to December 1781. It may have been written by Ann Eliza Bleecker Ann Eliza Bleecker (1752 – November 23 1783) was an American poet and correspondent who experienced the American Revolution first-hand and recorded it. Her pastoral poetry is studied by historians to gain a first-hand perspective of life on the front lines of the revolution, , an author from upstate New York. For brief newspaper reports on the case, see Connecticut Courant Cou`rant´   

a. 1. (Her.) Represented as running; - said of a beast borne in a coat of arms.
n. 1. A piece of music in triple time; also, a lively dance; a coranto.
, Dec. 25, 1781, p. [3]; Connecticut Journal, Dec. 27, 1781, p. [1]. Fitzgerald also discusses a follow-up story in the December 31, 1781 issue of the Pennsylvania Packet; see Fitzgerald, Towards an American Abraham," p. 2. For discussion of "An Account," see James C. Hendrickson, "A Note on Wieland," American Literature American literature, literature in English produced in what is now the United States of America. Colonial Literature

American writing began with the work of English adventurers and colonists in the New World chiefly for the benefit of readers in
 8 (1936-37): 306-07; as described in Hendrickson's "Note," the Yates case was apparently an inspiration for Charles Brockden Brown's novel Wieland (1798); on the relationship of the Yates case to Wieland, see also Alan Axelrod, Charles Brockden Brown: An American Tale (Austin, 1983), pp. 53-59; Fitzgerald, "Towards an American Abraham, pp. 62-68 and 84. On the location and history of Tomhanick (also spelled Tomhannock) and Pittstown, see George Baker George Baker may refer to:
  • George Pierce Baker (1866–1925), U.S. drama professor
  • George Fisher Baker (1840–1931), U.S. philanthropist
  • George Baker (politician) (born 1942), Canadian Senator
 Anderson, Landmarks of Rensselaer County, New York Rensselaer County is a county in the U.S. state of New York. As of the 2000 census, the population was 152,538. Its name is in honor of the family of Killiaen Van Rensselaer, the original Dutch owner of the land in the area. Its county seat is Troy.  (Syracuse, NY, 1897), pp. 468-80. Of all the narratives discussed in this essay, the Yates account of 1796 is the one of whose details I am most skeptical and for which I have the least independent corroboration. However, I have no firm reason to doubt the general outlines of the story. For a contrary view of that narrative as "fictitious" and "fictionalized," see Fitzgerald, "Towards an American Abraham," pp. 2-8.

21. It is quite possible that some of the more horrific details of the account, omitted here, reflect literary embellishment on the part of the anonymous narrator; for such an interpretation, see Fitzgerald, "Towards an American Abraham," pp. 2-8.

22. [Stephen Mix Mitchell Stephen Mix Mitchell (December 9, 1743– September 30, 1835) was an American lawyer, jurist, and statesman from Weathersfield, Connecticut. He represented Connecticut in the Continental Congress and the U.S. Senate and was chief justice of the state's Supreme Court. ], A Narrative of the Life of William Beadle (Hartford, 1783), pp. 6, 12-14, and 18. At the time, Mitchell was a local lawyer, judge, and friend of the killer; he drew heavily upon letters and papers left behind by Beadle, some of them discussing his long-planned crime. Mitchell later became a U.S. Senator and Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court The Connecticut Supreme Court, formerly known as the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors, is the highest court in the U.S. state of Connecticut. It consists of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. . On Mitchell and his account, see Henry R. Stiles Stiles can refer to: People
  • Bert Stiles, short story writer
  • Charles Wardell Stiles, American zoologist
  • Edgar Stiles, character on the popular drama 24
  • Ezra Stiles, president of Yale College
  • Innis Stiles, singer, musician
, The History of Ancient Wethersfield, Connecticut
Another Wethersfield is in Wyoming County, New York.
Wethersfield is a town in Hartford County, Connecticut, United States. Many records from colonial times spell the name Weathersfield, while Native Americans called it Pyquag[2].
, 2 volumes (New York, 1904), I, 695-700; II, 506-7. Other contemporary publications on the Beadle case include A Poem Occasioned by the Horrid Crimes of William Beadle (n.p: [1782?]), broadside; A Poem Occasioned by the most Shocking Most Shocking is a reality television show produced by Nash Entertainment and Court TV Original Productions. It generally features a video of criminal behavior, police pursuits, robberies, and shootouts.  and Cruel Murder ([Hartford]: [1782]), broadside; Providence, January 1, 1783. The Following is the Most Particular Account of the Late Cruel Murders (Providence, [1783]), broadside; James Dana, Men's Sins Not Chargeable on God, but on Themselves (New Haven, [1783]); John Marsh John Marsh may refer to:
  • John Marsh (died 1688/1689), governor of the Hudson's Bay Company
  • John Marsh (composer) (1752-1828), British composer
  • John Marsh (pioneer) (1799-1856), American pioneer and physician
, The Great Sin and Danger of Striving With God (Hartford, [1783]). For complete bibliographic information, see Ritz, American Judicial Proceedings judicial proceedings n. any action by a judge re: trials, hearings, petitions, or other matters formally before the court. (See: judicial) , pp. 229-31. Timothy Dwight, who claimed to have known the Beadle family "intimately," provided a lengthy sketch of the tragedy in his Travels, drawn mostly from Mitchell's account; Dwight, Travels in New England and New York, ed. Barbara M. Solomon, 4 volumes (Cambridge, MA, 1969), I, 164-68. For a very useful undergraduate thesis on the life of Beadle that seeks to reconstruct the texts of the letters and papers that he left behind, see James R. Smart, "A Life of William Beadle" (Senior thesis, Princeton University Princeton University, at Princeton, N.J.; coeducational; chartered 1746, opened 1747, rechartered 1748, called the College of New Jersey until 1896. Schools and Research Facilities
, 1989).

23. [Mitchell], Narrative, pp. 6-7. For a painstaking assessment of Beadle's shifting economic status in Wethersfield, see Smart, "Life of William Beadle," pp. 95-124. Smart concludes that Beadle fell from wealthy to "middling" status.

24. [Mitchell], Narrative, pp. 7, 13-14, 16-16 [sic; actually 17], and 20.

25. Ibid., p. 20.

26. Ibid., pp. 19 and 21-22.

27. Ibid., pp. 7-9, 13-14, and 19. Beadle also had doubts about the propriety of killing his wife that stemmed from the fact that, unlike the case of his children, "he had no hand in bringing her into existence and consequently had no power over her life." (13)

28. Ibid., pp. 8-9; [Mitchell], Narrative (Windsor, [VT.], 1795), pp. 17-20 (this later edition of Mitchell's Narrative contains some material not included in the original).

29. (Mitchell), Narrative (1783), p. 9; [Mitchell], Narrative (1795), pp. 20-21. According to Dwight, Beadle died with an estate valued at "three hundred pounds sterling"; Dwight, Travels, I, 168. For a careful assessment of Beadle's economic status at the time of his death (which places his "net personal wealth" at 253 pounds), see Smart, "Life of William Beadle," pp. 99-103 and 118-24.

30. See "Isle of Wight Noun 1. Isle of Wight - an isle and county of southern England in the English Channel

county - (United Kingdom) a region created by territorial division for the purpose of local government; "the county has a population of 12,345 people"
 County Records," William and Mary Noun 1. William and Mary - joint monarchs of England; William III and Mary II  College Quarterly 7 (April, 1899): 292 and 299; "Patents Issued During the Regal Government," William and Mary College Quarterly, 9 (January, 1901): 143.

31. Virginia Gazette, June 26, 1784, p. [2], quoted; Virginia Journal and Alexandria Advertiser, July 1, 1784, p. [2]; Connecticut Journal, July 28, 1784, p. [4].

32. See Isle of Wight County, Virginia, Deed Book No. 11, 1761-1765, pp. 343-45; Deed Book No. 13, 1772-1778, pp. 303-5; Deed Book No. 15, 1782-1786, pp. 668-70; Personal Property Tax Book, 1784, p. 19; all located at the Virginia State Archives, Richmond.

33. John Leland, A True Account, How Matthew Womble Murdered His Wife (Stockbridge, MA, 1793). For complete bibliographic information on this edition and a second of 1797, see Ritz, American Judicial Proceedings, p. 218.

34. The neighbor may have been John Deford, listed in Isle of Wight County, Virginia, Personal Property Tax Book, 1784, p. 5. Deford seems to have been a small planter much like Womble; the tax book indicates that he owned one horse and seven head of cattle. John Deford's will, written a few years after the murders, suggests an ongoing relationship between the Deford and Womble families; see Isle of Wight County, Wills & Accounts, Book No. 10, 1785-1796, pp. 87-88.

35. Leland, True Account, pp. 2-8, quoted at 7-8. In October 1785 the state legislature A state legislature may refer to a legislative branch or body of a political subdivision in a federal system.

The following legislatures exist in the following political subdivisions:
 of Virginia provided that Womble's estate should be sold for the benefit of his creditors and surviving children; see William Waller
For the former governor of Mississippi, see Bill Waller.

Sir William Waller (c. 1597 - September 19 1668), was an English soldier during the English Civil War.
 Hening, The Statutes at Large An official compilation of the acts and resolutions of each session of Congress published by the Office of the Federal Register in the National Archives and Record Service.  (Richmond, 1823), XII, 201.

36. Cruel Murder!! A True Account of the Life and Character of Abel Clemmens (orig. publ. Morgantown, WV; rpt,. Philadelphia, [18067]), p. [3]. Cruel Murder!! is a first-person narrative of the criminal s life; it almost certainly is a reprint of A Succinct Narrative of the Life and Character of Abel Clemmens (Morgantown, WV, 1806), listed in McDade, Annals, #181; however, I have not been able to locate any copies of the Morgantown edition. Neither A Succinct Narrative nor Cruel Murder!! is available on the microcard edition of Early American Imprints Early American Imprints is a microfiche collection produced by Readex Microprint. It is based on Evan's American Bibliography and on Shaw-Shoemaker's American Bibliography ; the only known copy of Cruel Murder!! is at the American Antiquarian Society This article or section is written like an .
Please help [ rewrite this article] from a neutral point of view.
Mark blatant advertising for , using .
 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Other publications on this case include Murder - Horrible Murder!! Clarksburg, Virginia, November, 1805 ([Morgantown, WV, 1805]), broadside; Horrid Murder! Abel Clemmons Murdered His Wife and Eight Children ([Augusta, ME.: 1806]), broadsheet (on verso ver·so  
n. pl. ver·sos
1. A left-hand page of a book or the reverse side of a leaf, as opposed to the recto.

2. The back of a coin or medal.
 of Horrid Murder!, account of Purrinton case). For a frequently reprinted newspaper report of the murder, see Petersburg Intelligencer in·tel·li·genc·er  
1. One who conveys news or information.

2. A secret agent, an informer, or a spy.
, Nov. 26, 1805, p. [3]; New-York Evening Post, Nov. 26, 1805, p. [3]; Connecticut Journal, Nov. 27, 1805, p. [3]. A fairly detailed trial report that originally appeared in the [Washington, Pa.] Western Telegraphe also survives; see Trial of Abel Clements, Petersburg Intelligencer, July 15, 1806. That report corroborates many of the details contained in Cruel Murder!! I am very grateful to Michael L. Nicholls for bringing it to my attention. For other brief historical sketches of the case, see Henry Haymond, History of Harrison County, West Virginia Harrison County is a county located in the U.S. state of West Virginia. The county seat is Clarksburg. Geography
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,079 km² (417 mi²). 1,078 km² (416 mi²) of it is land and 1 km² (1 mi²) of it (0.
 (1910; rpt. Parsons, WV, 1973), p. 226; Otis K. Rice, The Allegheny Frontier: West Virginia Beginnings, 1730-1830 (Lexington, 1970), pp. 184-85; Dorothy Davis, History of Harrison County, West Virginia, edited Elizabeth Sloan (1970; rpt. Parsons, WV, 1972), pp. 92-93; Earl L. Core, The Monongalia Story: A Bicentennial bi·cen·ten·ni·al  
1. Happening once every 200 years.

2. Lasting for 200 years.

3. Relating to a 200th anniversary.

A 200th anniversary or its celebration. Also called bicentenary.
 History, 2 volumes (Parsons, WV, 1974-76), II, 345-46. Both Davis and Core quote from the Harrison County Harrison County is the name of eight counties in the United States:
  • Harrison County, Indiana
  • the Harrison County meteorite of 1859, which landed in Indiana, United States (see meteorite falls)
  • Harrison County, Iowa
 Court Minute Book on Clemmens's initial arraignment A criminal proceeding at which the defendant is officially called before a court of competent jurisdiction, informed of the offense charged in the complaint, information, indictment, or other charging document, and asked to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or as otherwise permitted .

37. The claim of seven engagements sounds like a storyteller's exaggeration.

38. For accounts of Clarksburg and vicinity during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, see Haymond, History of Harrison County, pp. 254-73, 280-82, 352-68, 438-39, and passim, quoted at 260; Claude G. Bowers, ed., The Diary of Elbridge Gerry
For New York senator Elbridge Gerry Lapham.
For New York representative Elbridge Gerry Spaulding.

Elbridge Thomas Gerry (pronounced IPA: /ˈgɛri/ 
, Jr. (New York, 1927), pp. 121-26; Harvey W. Harmer, One Hundred and Fifty Years of Methodism in Clarksburg, 1788-1938 (n.p.: n.d. [ca. 1938]), unpaginated; Davis, History of Harrison County, pp. 65-68, 278-84, 545-46, 607-18, and passim. The figures on houses and population are both from 1797, a few years after Clemmenss initial arrival.

39. According to Cruel Murder!!, Abel married Carpenter on June 24, 1794; local records suggest that the date was either June 19 or 24, 1794; see Cruel Murder!!, p. 4; Earle H. Morris, ed., Marriage Records: Harrison County Virginia - (West Virginia), 1784-1850 (Fort Wayne, Indiana “Fort Wayne” redirects here. For other uses, see Fort Wayne (disambiguation).

Fort Wayne is a city in northeastern Indiana, USA and the county seat of Allen County. Fort Wayne is Indiana's second largest city after Indianapolis.
: Fort Wayne Fort Wayne, city (1990 pop. 173,072), seat of Allen co., NE Ind., where the St. Joseph and St. Marys rivers join to form the Maumee River; inc. 1840. It is the second largest city in the state, a major railroad and shipping point, a wholesale and distribution hub,  Public Library, 1966), p. 20; Haymond, History of Harrison County, p. 451. The earlier date probably marks the issuance of the marriage bond (a key source in Morris's compilation), while the latter is probably the date of the actual ceremony. This is one of the many verifiable details that tend to confirm the reliability of Cruel Murder!! as a social-historical source.

40. See Haymond, History of Harrison County, pp. 19, 24, 116-17, 188, 195, 198, 205, 209-10, 231, 365-67; Lucullus Virgil McWhorter, The Border Settlers of Northwestern Virginia from 1768 to 1795 (Hamilton, OH, 1915), pp. 190-96; Core, The Monongalia Story, I, 198 and 219.

41. Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, pp. 4-5; on the meteor, see Haymond, History of Harrison County, p. 185. Harrison County Personal Property Tax Books Tax books

Records kept by a firm's management that follow IRS rules. The books follow Financial Accounting Standards Board rules.
 for the years 1799 through 1805, located on microfilm at the Virginia State Archives in Richmond, confirm Abel Clemmens's continuous residence in the county during those years. The Tax Book for 1798 also identifies a resident named "Abraham Clemmons," which is probably a mistaken reference to Abel.

42. The Methodists had begun to organize in the vicinity of Clarksburg by the mid-1780s. A Clarksburg Circuit was established in 1787 and Bishop Asbury himself preached there as early as 1788. See Harvey W. Harmer, Methodism in Clarksburg, unpaginated. In Cruel Murder!!, Clemmens claimed to have been affected in a most extraordinary degree under the preaching of a sermon by Mr. Davis, a Methodist circuit rider circuit rider, itinerant preacher of the Methodist denomination who served a "circuit" consisting usually of 20 to 40 "appointments." The circuit system, devised by John Wesley for his English societies in their formative period and developed in America by Francis ." The chronology of his narrative suggests that this took place sometime between 1800 and 1803. Sure enough, a Methodist minister named P. B. Davis rode the Clarksburg Circuit in the year 1802; see Harmer, Methodism in Clarksburg, unpaginated. Once again, an incidental detail in Cruel Murder!! is corroborated cor·rob·o·rate  
tr.v. cor·rob·o·rat·ed, cor·rob·o·rat·ing, cor·rob·o·rates
To strengthen or support with other evidence; make more certain. See Synonyms at confirm.
 by independent documentation.

43. Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, pp. 5-6 and 9. Otis Rice has stressed the prominence of denominational divisions in the early culture of western Virginia and has noted that the first book published in the region, in 1797, was the Christian Panoply pan·o·ply  
n. pl. pan·o·plies
1. A splendid or striking array: a panoply of colorful flags. See Synonyms at display.

, a vigorous attack on Deism by a prominent British theologian. See Rice, Allegheny Frontier, pp. 264-65, 303-4, and passim; Rice, West Virginia: A History (Lexington, KY, 1985), p. 77.

44. See Rice, Allegheny Frontier, pp. 69, 133-34, and passim; Rice, West Virginia, pp. 28-29 and 54-55. For more on the eminent George Jackson, who served in the state legislatures of both Virginia and Ohio and in the U.S. Congress, see Davis, History of Harrison County, pp. 156-57.

45. Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, pp. 6-8. The rich Oedipal oed·i·pal or Oed·i·pal
Of or characteristic of the Oedipus complex.
 implications of Clemmens's life have been explored in another paper; see Daniel A. Cohen, "The Agony of Abel Clemmens: Family Killing and Freedom in the Early Republic" (unpublished paper delivered at the Ninth Annual Meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July, 1987).

46. Trial testimony confirms that his mother thought Abel was "out of his head" or "crazy"; see "Trial of Abel Clements," pp. [1-2].

47. Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, pp. 8-9.

48. Ibid., pp. 9-10.

49. Ibid., p. 10.

50. Ibid., p. 11. For testimony indicating that Clemmens had been seen riding a cart in a listless (programming) listless - In functional programming, a property of a function which allows it to be combined with other functions in a way that eliminates intermediate data structures, especially lists.  or disoriented dis·o·ri·ent  
tr.v. dis·o·ri·ent·ed, dis·o·ri·ent·ing, dis·o·ri·ents
To cause (a person, for example) to experience disorientation.

Adj. 1.
 manner, see "Trial of Abel Clements," p. [1].

51. Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, pp. 12-13. Apparently on the basis of his examination of the scene of the crime, Col. George Jackson expressed his belief that all of the members of Clemmens's family "had received instantaneous death, except two of the children who had struggled a little"; see "Trial of Abel Clements," p. [1].

52. Along very similar lines, a fellow prisoner testified at Clemmens's trial that the murderer told him in jail: "If I had my family as they were this time last year, ten thousand mountains of gold should not part us." From "Trial of Abel Clements," p. [2]. This is yet more corroborative cor·rob·o·rate  
tr.v. cor·rob·o·rat·ed, cor·rob·o·rat·ing, cor·rob·o·rates
To strengthen or support with other evidence; make more certain. See Synonyms at confirm.
 evidence that Cruel Murder!! was indeed extracted from Clemmens while in jail awaiting execution. The only alternative possibility, that some creative author mined the trial transcript for motifs to integrate into his essentially fictive narrative, seems more far-fetched.

53. Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, p. 13.

54. Ibid., pp. 13-18. Clemmens was eventually tried and convicted of the murders and executed on June 30, 1806; for a report of the trial, see "Trial of Abel Clements."

55. According to McDade, Annals, p. 57, A Succinct Narrative is signed "George Deibler" on the last page; "Mr. Deibler" is identified in Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, p. 19, as one of the "christians" who visited him frequently in prison; perhaps Clemmens narrated his story to Deibler in prison.

56. Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, pp. 19-20.

57. Horrid Massacre!! Sketches of the Life of Captain James Purrinton (Augusta, [ME.], 1806), pp. 3-4 and 18. Other publications addressing this case include Horrid Murder! ([Augusta, ME., 1806]), broadside; Horrid Murder! Committed by Captain James Purinton [sic] (Baltimore, [18067]), broadside; Timothy Merritt, Discourse on the Horrid Murder of ... Purrinton's Family (Augusta, [ME.], 1806). For a modern scholarly account of the case, see Laurel Thatcher Ulrich Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (born July 11, 1938), is a pre-eminent historian of early America and the history of women and a University Professor at Harvard University. Ulrich's innovative and widely influential approach to history has been described as a tribute to "the silent work of , A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Martha Moore Ballard (1734/1735 - 1812) was an American midwife, healer and diarist.

Ballard was born in Oxford, Massachusetts to Elijah Moore and Dorothy Learned Moore, and married Ephraim Ballard in 1754.
 (New York, 1990), pp. 286-308. Ulrich is more skeptical than I concerning the factual reliability of the pamphlet narrative. On the rise of the Freewill Baptists and Universalists in northern New England, see Marini, Radical Sects.

58. On the prosperity of Augusta and vicinity during that period, see Nathan Weston, Oration at the Centennial Celebration of the Erection of Fort Western (Augusta, ME, 1854), p. 15; James W. North, History of Augusta (Augusta, ME, 1870), pp. 301-2.

59. Horrid Massacre!!, p. 4. A few bits of fragmentary circumstantial evidence circumstantial evidence

In law, evidence that is drawn not from direct observation of a fact at issue but from events or circumstances that surround it. If a witness arrives at a crime scene seconds after hearing a gunshot to find someone standing over a corpse and holding a
 tend to confirm that there was indeed a drought in the vicinity of Augusta during the spring and summer of 1806. Two entries in the diary of Martha Ballard, a neighbor of the Purrintons, suggest an unusual concern over rainfall during that period. In her entry for June 24, Ballard wrote: "We had a shower near night, for which we ought to thank the author of our mercies." And on July 8, she noted: "We had fine showers, for which we ought to be thankfull." Judging from the extensive excerpts of Ballard's diary in Nash's History of Augusta, such statements of gratitude were not typical of Ballard's references to rainfall during earlier years, suggesting that there might have been a drought during that particular season. For the entries just quoted, see Charles Elventon Nash, History of Augusta (Augusta, ME, 1904), p. 430; for more neutral references to rainfall during earlier years (between the months of April and October), see Nash, pp. 345, 356, 366, 384, 419, 421; for another exception, see 425. Additional confirmation of agricultural scarcity during that period is provided by John Merrick John Merrick may refer to:
  • John Merrick (insurance) (1859–1919), African American founder of North Carolina Mutual and Provident Insurance Company in Durham, North Carolina
  • John Merrick (actor) (born c.
, member of a local committee on agriculture, in an address to farmers in June 1807. Merrick declared that "hay is now dearer in Kennebec than in London" and recommended measures to preserve grain for future seasons of hardship. He concluded: "New measures are required from the repeated scarcity lately occurring in our food for horses and cattle." Quoted in North, History of Augusta, p. 343.

60. Horrid Massacre!!, pp. 7-8. That is the author's speculative explanation.

61. Ibid., pp. 5-6 and 9. The biblical passage is Ezekiel 9:6, 11.

62. John Cowan, The Life and Confession, ed. James Allen James Allen is the name of:
  • James Allen (artist), a Northern Irish artist
  • James Allen (author) (1864–1912)
  • James Allen (footballer), former professional footballer
  • James Allen (Formula One commentator) (born 1966)
 (Cincinnati, 1835), pp. [9]-10 and 12. That work consists primarily of a first-person narrative of the criminal's own life but also includes a brief address to the reader by Allen, along with a short synopsis of the proceedings at Cowan's trial. Without going into any detail, Cowan also refers to his mother's "errors" and "transgressions"; see Cowan, Life, p. 12. I am very grateful to the Cincinnati Historical Society for providing me with a photocopy of that rare pamphlet.

63. Cowan, Life, p. 11.

64. Ibid., pp. 11-14. Cowan seems to have remained a Methodist at the time of his death; see Catholic Telegraph, Nov. 20, 1835, pp. 452-53.

65. Cowan, Life, pp. 14-15.

66. Ibid., pp. 15-17.

67. Ibid., pp. [v]-vi and 17-19.

68. In this sentence, I am trying to convey Cowan's own probable subjective perceptions and emotions; in fact, it is not at all clear that either his wife or his mother was unfaithful to her spouse.

69. Cowan, Life, pp. vi-vii and 18.

70. Ibid., pp. [iii], [v], [9], 12, 14, 18-21. It should be noted that similar assertions of happiness in prison were a standard feature of early modern criminal conversion narratives.

71. Isaac Young, The Life and Confession of Isaac Heller alias Isaac Young (Liberty, IN, 1836), pp. [3]-6. That work, probably compiled by S. W. Parker, a local newspaper editor who also served as one of Young's lawyers, consists of a first-person narrative by Young, a synopsis of testimony from his second trial, and a transcript of the judge's sentencing speech. For a later sketch of the case, see O. H. Smith, Early Indiana Trials and Sketches (Cincinnati, 1858), pp. 261-64. That volume also includes sketches of S. W. Parker and of the presiding judge presiding judge n. 1) in both state and federal appeals court, the judge who chairs the panel of three or more judges during hearings and supervises the business of the court. , Samuel Bigger Samuel Bigger (March 20 1802 – September 9 1845) was a Whig governor of the U.S. state of Indiana from December 9 1840 to December 6 1843.

He was born in Franklin, Ohio, the son of John Bigger, the Ohio House of Representatives Speaker of the House.
. As is so often the case with 19th-century crime pamphlets, a number of the circumstantial details of Young's account tend to be confirmed by independent documentary evidence. For example, a preacher named John Winebrenner did, in fact, gather an independent sect or church in the vicinity of Middletown during the late 1820s and early 1830s. And a man named John McCammon did keep a hotel and stage office in Middletown before his death in 1838. Incidentally, Winebrenner and McCammon, Young's two older associates, were said to have been "warm friends." See William Henry Egle, History of the Counties of Dauphin Dauphin, town, Canada
Dauphin (dô`fĭn), town (1991 pop. 8,453), SW Man., Canada, on the Vermilion River. It is the retail and distribution center for an agricultural, lumbering, and fishing area.
 and Lebanon (Philadelphia, 1883), pp. 517-18; Luther Reily Kelker, History of Dauphin County (New York, 1907), pp. 246-47, quoted.

72. Young, Life, p. 6.

73. Ibid., pp. 6-8 and 17-18.

74. Ibid., pp. 8-9.

75. Ibid., pp. 9-10. Many of the details in the previous five paragraphs are confirmed by newspaper reports in Pennsylvania at the time of Young's trial for the murder of the girl; see Harrisburg Chronicle, Nov. 22, 1830, p. [3], quoted below; Pennsylvania Intelligencer, Nov. 23, 1830, p. [2]; Pennsylvania Reporter, Nov. 26, 1830, p. [3]. Testimony at that trial suggested that Young's father "had been deranged for several months immediately before his death."

76. Young, Life, pp. 10-11. On the town of Liberty and Union County during this period, see The Indiana Gazetteer gazetteer (găz'ĭtēr`), dictionary or encyclopedia listing alphabetically the names of places, political divisions, and physical features of the earth and giving some information about each. , 2nd edition (Indianapolis, 1833), pp. 106 and 175-76.

77. Young, Life, pp. 11 and 18.

78. Ibid., pp. 11-12.

79. Ibid., pp. 13 and 18-19.

80. The precise number of six sounds like a storyteller's device.

81. Young, Life, pp. [1], 13-14, and 20. The jurors at Young's trial rejected his lawyer's plea of insanity Noun 1. plea of insanity - (criminal law) a plea in which the defendant claims innocence due to mental incompetence at the time
insanity plea

criminal law - the body of law dealing with crimes and their punishment
, perhaps because "the bloody clothes of the wife and children lay on the table before the jury." From Smith, Early Indiana Trials, pp. 261.

82. See Horrid Massaere!!, pp. 14-18. It is noteworthy that the three categories offered in the Edes pamphlet provide a more effective typology than that formulated by the pioneer American psychiatrist Isaac Ray, who lumps all such cases into the relatively undifferentiated category of "homicidal monomania"; see Ray, Treatise, pp. 147-72.

83. Although Holmes and Holmes have recently proposed a typology for mass murders that includes family killings as one category, no one has established a typology for the varieties of familicide; see Holmes and Holmes, "Understanding Mass Murder." Also see Park Elliott Dietz, "Mass, Serial and Sensational Homicides," Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine The New York Academy of Medicine was founded in 1847 by a group of leading New York City metropolitan area physicians as a voice for the medical profession in medical practice and public health reform. , 62 (June 1986): 480-82.

84. Jack Levin and James Alan Fox, Mass Murder: America's Growing Menace (New York, 1985), p. 230, quoted; D. J. West, Murder Followed by Suicide (Cambridge, MA, 1966), pp. 67-94 and passim; Phillip J. Resnick, "Child Murder by Parents: A Psychiatric Review of Filicide," American Journal of Psychiatry The American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP) is the most widely read psychiatric journal in the world. It covers topics on biological psychiatry, treatment innovations, forensic, ethical, economic, and social issues.  126 (1969): 328-30; Donald T. Lunde, Murder and Madness (Stanford, CA, 1975), p. 101; Manfred S. Guttmacher, The Mind of the Murderer (New York, 1960), p. 33. For discussion of a psychopathological psy·cho·pa·thol·o·gy  
1. The study of the origin, development, and manifestations of mental or behavioral disorders.

2. The manifestation of a mental or behavioral disorder.
 concept potentially useful in explaining familicides but not used in this essay, see Frederic Wertham, "The Catathymic Crisis: A Clinical Entity," Journal of Neurology and Psychiatry 37 (1937): 974-78; also see Suzanne Reichard and Carl Tillman, "Murder and Suicide as Defenses Against Schizophrenic Psychosis," Clinical Psychopathology psychopathology /psy·cho·pa·thol·o·gy/ (-pah-thol´ah-je)
1. the branch of medicine dealing with the causes and processes of mental disorders.

2. abnormal, maladaptive behavior or mental activity.
 11 (Oct. 1950): 149-63. It should also be noted that I have not fully pursued a number of other promising "leads" in one or more of the cases, such as the possible impacts of heredity heredity, transmission from generation to generation through the process of reproduction in plants and animals of factors which cause the offspring to resemble their parents. That like begets like has been a maxim since ancient times.  and childhood/adolescent abuse or trauma.

85. "An Account"; Leland, True Account, p. 7.

86. Young, Life. On the symptoms of schizophrenia see West, Murder Followed by Suicide, pp. 75-76; Gerald C. Davison and John M. Neale, Abnormal Psychology abnormal psychology
 or psychopathology

Branch of psychology. It is concerned with mental and emotional disorders (e.g., neurosis, psychosis, mental deficiency) and with certain incompletely understood normal phenomena (such as dreams and hypnosis).
, 3rd edition (New York, 1982), pp. 398-406; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders /Di·ag·nos·tic and Sta·tis·ti·cal Man·u·al of Men·tal Dis·or·ders/ (DSM) a categorical system of classification of mental disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, that delineates objective , 3rd edition - Revised (Washington, D.C., 1987), pp. 187-98.

87. That absence would be consistent with a diagnosis of schizophrenia; see West, Murder Followed by Suicide, pp. 76-81.

88. Young did say "that he would rather die than be separated from his family" (Young, Life, p. 19) - a sentiment similar to those sometimes expressed by altruistic filicides (see Resnick, "Child Murder," p. 329) - but did not offer that as a rationalization for his murders.

89. "An Account." It is possible that some of those gruesome details are the product of literary embellishment.

90. Leland, True Account, pp. 3-7; Young, Life, pp. 7-8, 14, and 17-20. For discussion of similarly brutal characteristics in murders committed by schizophrenics, see Reichard and Tillman, "Murder and Suicide," p. 161 and passim.

91. [Mitchell], Narrative (1783), p. 7; Horrid Massacre!!, p. 4; Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, pp. 6-12. Symptoms of depression described in Davison and Neale, Abnormal Psychology, p. 230; also see, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, pp. 213-33.

92. [Mitchell], Narrative (1783), pp. 7-9, 13-14, and 16-[18]; Horrid Massacre!!, pp. 4-11; Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, pp. 10, 13, and 17-18.

93. [Mitchell], Narrative (1783), pp. 14 and 16 [sic; actually 17]; Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, pp. 8-9; Horrid Massacre!!, pp. 4 and 8.

94. See Horrid Massacre!!, pp. 5-6; [Mitchell], Narrative (1783), p. 9; [Mitchell], Narrative (1795), pp. 18-19; Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, p. 13. My claim that Beadle, Clemmens, and Purrinton suffered from depression by no means precludes the possibility that their murders were committed in the context of psychotic episodes; on depression with "psychotic features," see Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, p. 223.

95. Cowan, Life, p. iv. For a contemporary "scientific" account of "homicidal monomania," see Ray, Treatise, pp. 147-72; also see Davis, Homicide in American Fiction, pp. 57-116.

96. Cowan, Life, pp. vi and 19; West, Murder Followed by Suicide, p. 81; Guttmacher, The Mind of the Murderer, p. 33. In current clinical terms, Cowan may have been suffering from a Delusional (Paranoid) Disorder, Jealous Type; see Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, pp. 199-203.

97. See Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, p. 223.

98. That possibility was suggested to me by John Murrin.

99. See Carol Zisowitz Stearns and Peter N. Stearns, Anger: The Snuggle for Emotional Control in America's History (Chicago, 1986); Peter N. Stearns, Jealousy: The Evolution of an Emotion in American History (New York, 1989).

100. See P. Stearns, Jealousy, pp. 21-65, quoted at 21.

101. For a provocative discussion of the influence of American freedom on twentieth-century mass murderers of a very different type, see Elliott Leyton, Compulsive Killers: The Story of Modern Multiple Murder (New York, 1986), pp. 294, 298, and passim.

102. See Jay Fliegelman, Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution Against Patriarchal Authority, 1750-1800 (Cambridge, 1982); Nancy Woloch, Women and the American Experience, 2nd ed. (New York, 1994), pp. 84-87; John D'Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (New York, 1988), pp. 41-48 and 73; Elizabeth Pleck, Domestic Tyranny: The Making of Social Policy Against Family Violence from Colonial Times to the Present (New York, 1987), pp. 34-48; Rotundo, "Patriarchs and Participants: A Historical Perspective on Fatherhood," in Michael Kaufman, ed., Beyond Patriarchy: Essays by Men on Pleasure, Power, and Change (Toronto, 1987), pp. 64-70; Rothman, Hands and Hearts, pp. 17-55, passim; Mary P. Ryan, The Empire of the Mother: American Writing about Domesticity, 1830-1860 (1982; rpt. New York, 1985), pp. 41-42; Mary Beth Norton Mary Beth Norton is a scholar of American history. She is currently the Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History Department of History at Cornell University.[1] , Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 (Boston, 1980), pp. 228-55, passim; Degler, At Odds, pp. 3-110; Christopher James Perry, "From Patriarch to 'Dad': Fatherhood in the AnteBellum North" (Senior thesis, Amherst College, 1979); Nancy E Cott, "Eighteenth-Century Family and Social Life Revealed in Massachusetts Divorce Records," Journal of Social History 10 (Fall 1976): 20-43; Herman R. Lantz, et al, "Pre-Industrial Patterns in the Colonial Family in America: A Content Analysis of Colonial Magazines," American Sociological Review 33 (June 1968): 413-26; and other works cited in note 15 above. However, for a perceptive discussion of "affection" as central to the "the traditional family paradigm of patriarchal authority," see Melvin Yazawa, From Colonies to Commonwealth: Familial Ideology and the Beginnings of the American Republic (Baltimore, 1985), pp. 12-7.

103. See, for example, [Mitchell], Narrative (1783), p. 13. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has offered a speculative "patriarchal" interpretation of the Purrinton murders; see Ulrich, A Midwife's Tale, pp. 301-3.

104. "An Account"; [Mitchell], Narrative (1783), pp. 14 and [18]; Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, p. 6; Horrid Massacre!!, p. 4; Young, Life, p. 18. On Clemmens's relationship to his family, also see the testimony of witnesses in "Trial of Abel Clements."

105. In both of the exceptional cases, the conflict was between husband and wife, not between father and children.

106. That is in sharp contrast to the "typical" family-killer of the late twentieth century, who is a "lifelong member of the community" in which he commits his crime; see Holmes and Holmes, "Understanding Mass Murder," pp. 57-58.

107. See [Mitchell], Narrative (1783), pp. [5]-6; Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, pp. [3]-12; Horrid Massacre!!, pp. [3]-4; Cowan, Life, pp. 9-17; Young, Life, pp. [3]-5 and 10-14.

108. See Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, pp. 6-13, quoted at 9.

109. See Cowan, Life, pp. vi and [9]-18, quoted at vi and [9].

110. See Young, Life, pp. [3]-14 and 17-19; quoted at 19.

111. See "An Account"; [Mitchell], Narrative (1783), pp. 6-7 and 12; Cruel Murder!!, pp. 5-12; Horrid Massacre!!, pp. [3]-4; Cowan, Life, pp. 11-17; Young, Life, pp. 10-13.

112. See [Mitchell], Narrative (1783), pp. 7 and 20-21; [Mitchell], Narrative (1795), pp. 20-21; Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, pp. 8-9 and 11; "Trial of Abel Clements," pp. [1-2]; Horrid Massacre!!, p. 4; Cowan, Life, pp. 15-17; Young, Life, 13 and 18-19.

113. For a perceptive analysis along those lines, relying heavily on a number of published sermons on the familicide cases (which I largely ignore), see Fitzgerald, "Towards an American Abraham."

114. It should be noted that a number of essentially fictional crime narratives were published during that period, but they are generally fairly easy to distinguish from the non-fictional pamphlets.

115. That attempt took place in the case of John Cowan; see The [Cincinnati] Catholic Telegraph, Nov. 20, 1835, pp. 452-53.

116. See "An Account"; Leland, "True Account," p. 7; Wood, "Evangelical America," p. 371.

117. See Young, Life, pp. 4-13. On millennialism in antebellum religion, see Wood, "Evangelical America," pp. 360-61 and 376-77; J. F. C. Harrison, The Second Coming: Popular Millenarianism mil·le·nar·i·an  
1. Of or relating to a thousand, especially to a thousand years.

2. Of, relating to, or believing in the doctrine of the millennium.

One who believes the millennium will occur.
, 1780-1850 (New Brunswick, NJ, 1979), pp. 163-206; Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York
Western, New York is also the name of a town in Oneida County, New York.

Western New York refers to the westernmost region of New York State.
, 1800-1850 (1950; rpt. New York, 1965), pp. 287-321.

118. [Mitchell], Narrative (1783), p. 20; Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, pp. 9 and 12; Horrid Massacre!!, pp. 4, 8, and 18. On the doctrine of universal salvation in the early republic, see Marini, Radical Sects, pp. 68-75, 144-48, and passim; Conrad Wright, The Beginnings of Unitarianism in America (Boston, 1955), pp. 185-99.

119. See "An Account"; [Mitchell], Narrative (1783), pp. 15 and 21-22; Leland, True Account, p. 7; Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, pp. 5-13, quoted at 11 and 13; Horrid Massacre!!, pp. 6 and 9-10, n. 2; Young, Life, pp. 7 and 9.

120. See "An Account"; [Mitchell], Narrative (1783), pp. 22; Leland, True Account, pp. 7-8; Young, Life, pp. [3]-6 and 12-13; Clemmens, Cruel Murder!!, pp. 5-20. Polarization of thought and impulse is characteristic of obsessive-compulsive personalities; see Wilhelm Stekel, Compulsion and Doubt, transl. Emil A. Gutheil (New York, 1949), pp. 4, 90, 99-100, 114, and passim.

121. As recently as 1985, two leading experts claimed that the "annihilation of an entire family by one of its members" is the most frequent form of multiple homicide; see Levin and Fox, Mass Murder, p. 230. For more on my skepticism concerning "patriarchal" interpretations of the early national familicides, see discussion in text above.

122. See New York Times, Jan. 10, 1986, p. A8; Des Moines Register, Jan. 26, 1986, pp. 1B-2B; Boston Globe, March 6, 1986, pp. 1 and 18-19; Boston Globe, March 7, 1986, pp. 17 and 20; New York Times, May 16, 1986, p. A19 (early edition only).

123. Those cases also illustrate the tendency of familicides to occur in clusters, suggesting the possibility of a "copycat syndrome" or "Werther effect"; see note 2 above.

124. Wiebe, Opening of American Society, p. 143.

125. Cowan, Life, p. 21.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Journal of Social History
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 Reader Opinion




Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Cohen, Daniel A.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Date:Jun 22, 1995
Previous Article:The People Speak Out: Anti-Semitism and Emancipation in Nineteenth-Century Bavaria.
Next Article:Clothes shopping in Imperial Russia: the development of a consumer culture.

Related Articles
Hormones linked to some obsessions.
Obsessive-compulsive risks for teens.
The loss of freedom in Canada.
Mexico protects its gay and lesbian citizens with new law.
James O. and Lois E. Horton. Hard Road to Freedom: The Story of African America.
Morality matters: if America continues to shed the values of her Judeo-Christian heritage, she will surely follow ancient Rome into bondage. Freedom...
Freedom and liberty.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2014 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters