Murdered by His Wife

Murdered by His Wife

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

Overview

In March 1778, Joshua Spooner, a wealthy gentleman farmer in Brookfield, Massachusetts, was beaten to death and his body stuffed down a well. Four people were hanged for the crime: two British soldiers, a young Continental soldier, and Spooner's wife, Bathsheba, who was charged with instigating the murder. She was thirty-two years old and five months pregnant when executed. Newspapers described the case as "the most extraordinary crime ever perpetrated in New England."

Murdered by His Wife provides a vivid reconstruction of this dramatic but little-known episode. Beautiful, intelligent, high-spirited, and witty, Bathsheba was the mother of three young children and in her own words felt "an utter aversion" for her husband, who was known to be an abusive drunk.

A year before the murder, she took in and nursed a sixteen-year-old Continental soldier who was returning from a year's enlistment under George Washington. The two became lovers and conceived a child. Divorces were all but impossible for women at that time and adulteresses were stripped to the waist and publicly whipped. Bathsheba's pregnancy occasioned a series of desperate plots to murder her husband, finally brought to fruition with the aid of two British deserters from General Burgoyne's defeated army.

The plots, the crime, the trial, and the aftermath are presented against a backdrop of revolutionary turmoil in Massachusetts. As the daughter of the state's most prominent and despised Loyalist, Bathsheba bore the brunt of the political, cultural, and gender prejudices of her day. When she sought a stay of execution to deliver her baby, the Massachusetts Council rejected her petition and she was promptly hanged before acrowd of 5,000 spectators.

Editorial Reviews

Virginia Quarterly Reviews Review
This history "of the murder of Joshua Spooner in Brookfield,Massachusetts,in March 1778 and the execution of his wife Bathsheba and three accomplices four months later recounts a case as sensational to contemporaries as the O. J. Simpson trial was to us....Bathsheba found herself trapped in a loveless marriage to an abusive husband. Becoming desperate after discovering she was pregnant by a 17-year-old Continental soldier whom she had boarded during his trip home,Mrs. Spooner recruited two British Army deserters to help kill her husband.... Navas provides insights into Bathsheba's psychological state and also considers the political,cultural,and gender prejudices that prevented the state from staying her execution until she could give birth. The author also provides the full texts of newspaper accounts,trial records,and other primary sources dealing with the crime. This readable book introduces an infamous local episode to a wider popular readership.
John Demos
Navas has produced a little gem — rock hard and glistening. Her story itself has great intrinsic fascination (sex,violence,betrayal,even a kind of 'redemption'. But her telling of the story is best of all: so simple,so direct,so utterly compelling.
Choice
This well-written book exposes the harsh realities of life in revolutionary New England.
Booknews
Fiction writer and independent scholar Navas reconstructs a little-remembered incident during the US war for independence. Bathsheba took in and nursed a 16-year-old Continental soldier returning from a year under Washington, and became pregnant by him. Because divorce was nearly impossible and adulteresses were publicly stripped and whipped, she, with help from the boy and others, beat hubby to death and stuffed him in a well. It did not help her case that her father was the state's most prominent and despised Loyalist. There is no index. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781558492271
Publisher:
University of Massachusetts Press
Publication date:
12/07/1999
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
6.29(w) x 9.31(h) x 0.80(d)

What People are saying about this

John Demos
Navas has produced a little gem-rock hard and glistening. Her story itself has great intrinsic fascination (sex, violence, betrayal, even a kind of 'redemption'). But her telling of the story is best of all: so simple, so direct, so utterly compelling. In short, one feels a very gifted writer at work here.
— (John Demos, author of The Redeemed Captive)

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