- Publisher: Andrew Noone
- Publication Date: 2021
- ISBN: 9780578835426
What possessed a woman from the elite of eighteenth-century New England society to conspire with American and British soldiers to murder her husband at the midpoint of the American Revolution? The story of Bathsheba Spooner has alternately fascinated and baffled residents of Worcester County for centuries. Beyond central Massachusetts, the tale is largely unknown. Many, when first hearing of the scandal, assume it to be the stuff of legend. It was, in fact, the most sensational “true crime” tragedy of the American 1700’s.
The episode’s ingredients included a cold, possibly abusive husband, a handsome, directionless teenager, a pair of roughened British prisoners-of-war, and readily available cash set aflame by social and political isolation, wartime uncertainty and social upheaval. Add to this mixture a haughty, impetuous and (possibly insane) beautiful woman, and what resulted was a brutal homicide whose notoriety was only heightened by the distraction of New Englanders war-weary and economically stressed. The crime was familiar to observers and participants whose names still represent for us the best in Revolutionary Massachusetts: a signer of the Declaration (Robert Treat Paine), Governor John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson’s attorney general (Levi Lincoln), Justice Jedediah Foster (shared creator of the Massachusetts constitution, which inspired the national document), one of the colonies’ most famed printers (Isaiah Thomas) and, even, obliquely, Abigail Adams. Timothy Ruggles, father of the crime’s instigator who, had he chosen to side with local Patriots rather than become an infamous spokesman for the King, would likely be as famous today as Paul Revere or Samuel Adams. It is tempting to speculate if the crime could have happened had his loyalties been with the Revolutionaries.
Early American marriage and divorce, its political and military background, the social strata, its legal and retributive approach to justice---these contexts serve to frame an amateurly-conceived crime whose circumstances were uniquely suited to provoke a scandal which in its time was as gripping as that of Lizzie Borden’s over a century later.