Saturday, September 27, 2008

101 Ways, Part 42: Fell by the Hands of . . . an Infatuated Man

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

On December 11, 1782, William Beadle of Wethersfield, CT attacked his family with a knife and an axe, killing his wife and all four (or five?) of his children. He then committed suicide by shooting himself with a pistol. The family's maid was the only survivor of the household — William sent her to bring a letter to a neighbor just before the attack. The letter turned out to be a confession, but by the time the neighbors arrived at the house, it was too late.

William Beadle was not the only 18th-century American to murder his family. Many modern readers will be familiar with the Purrinton murders, a case publicized by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in her Pulitzer Prize-winning A Midwife's Tale. Between 1780 and 1840, at least seven American men committed acts of familicide, crimes that were widely publicized in sensational (and very popular) pamphlets. Daniel Cohen, author of "Homicidal Compulsion and the Conditions of Freedom," argues that family annhilators "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."

Most of the family annihilators, like Beadle, committed suicide and were not given "decent" burials. I'm not sure whether they were denied the honors of burial in consecrated ground because they were murderers or because they were suicides. Here's the Connecticut Journal (12/12/1782) on the subject:

I have not been to the graveyard in Whethersfield, so I don't have a picture of Lydia Beadle's grave. I don't want to steal other people's photos, but I will link to them (here and here).


Here lie interred Mrs. Lydia
Beadle Age 32 Years
Ansell Lothrop Elizabeth Lydia & Mary
Beadle her Children: the eldest aged
11 and the youngest 6 years Who
on the morning of the 11th day of Decr AD 1782
Fell by the hands of William Beadle
an infatuated Man who closed the
horrid sacrifice of his Wife
& Children with his own destruction.

Pale round their grassy tombs bedew's with tears,
Flit the thin forms of sorrow and of fears;
Soft sighs responsive swell to plaintive chords,
And Indignations half unsheath their swords.

2 comments:

RJO said...

It's interesting to see the heart with initials in the newsprint block, because that same element sometimes appears on headstones. I have pictures of one from a bit later that has such an initialed heart inscribed on a tympanum urn.

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

I'm always surprised to see hearts on old gravestones. For some reason, they just seem incongruously modern to me.

My favorite heart stone is the Lydia Wood stone in Charlestown, which has a lovely floral design. I think it's pictured in Forbes, but I'm not sure.