The scriptural story of Bathsheba is a theme as old as mankind itself: lust, adultery, and death. The real-life story of one Bathsheba Spooner contains all those dark elements with an added twist, as this Bathsheba will face the gallows in Worcester for her part in the murder plot of her husband, Joshua.
Bringing this tragic historical story to light from the perspective of court documents is author Andrew Noone in his recently released publication titled, “Bathsheba Spooner: A Revolutionary Murder Conspiracy.”
The author spent no less than seven years researching the details of this murder-for-hire plot and then another seven writing the book. The result is a comprehensive look at the facts of the crime as well as a deep dive into the politics and laws that governed the land before, during, and after the Revolutionary period.
Spooner’s family tree is populated with familiar names such as Ruggles, White, Crocker, Howland, Bourne, and Cogswell to name a few. But it is Spooner’s father, Timothy Ruggles, whose presence in Rochester has been documented and ties the story back to the Tri-Town.
Noone said, “In 1710, Timothy Ruggles’ parents moved from Roxbury to Rochester. A year later, Tim was born. In 1732, following his Harvard graduation, he returned, and by 1735 had established his law practice in town. He soon secured a seat in the General Court as Rochester’s representative. In 1739, he married recently widowed Bathsheba Bourne Newcomb, and moved to Sandwich, where our Bathsheba would be born a few years later.”
To open the pages of Noone’s book a little wider, we find that Bathsheba was named after her mother, born the last of seven children in the Ruggles clan. Their lives would have been spent in relative comfort given that the patriarch of the family was a professional versus a farmer. Ruggles was also a very staunch Torrey to the point that he was stripped of his position in the community and banished to live in Hardwick. He would later up-sticks with his family to Staten Island to be near other Torreys.
It is speculated that the young Bathsheba was given over in an arranged marriage to an older but well-healed gentleman, namely Joshua Spooner. She had been a widow of some means with older children, a possible attraction for Ruggles. But accounts also recorded that she was beautiful. By all accounting, if not heated with passion, the marriage was calm.
Yet Spooner would turn her affections towards a 17-year-old child in the community of Brookfield where the Spooners had settled, a lad named Ezra Ross. Spooner is said to have conspired with him to dispatch her husband, making way for them to legally be together. But the young man apparently did not have a murderer’s disposition.
Enter two British deserters, Private William Brooks and Sergeant James Buchanan. Offered money and rich clothing, enough to see them through for some time, these two characters in the plot are said to have done the deed. They beat Spooner at least to a senseless state and then, as was apparently suggested by the lady, thrown in a very deep well on his own property. One wonders at the rather ill-conceived plan, why put him in a place so easily found? That question may never be answered.
Throughout the dramatic story of the criminal activity, Noone has woven a rich fabric of the surrounding history of the Colonial and Revolutionary eras.
In discussing his approach with The Wanderer, Noone said, “My chief motivation in choosing this story was to elaborate upon Worcester County’s most notorious saga as a means of sharing Worcester’s crucial, too-often-ignored contribution to the Revolution. Worcester coined the term ‘minuteman,’ witnessed the most significant anti-British action between the Boston Tea Party and Lexington-Concord, was very nearly the scene of the first battle, served as the site of Sam Adams’ and John Hancock’s hideaway following the opening battles, and in Isaiah Thomas featured the most important Patriot printer of the Revolution.”
Noone further elaborated, “I wanted to place Bathsheba in the context of a socially and politically-driven set of families, whose heritage would be tragically marred by the actions of one descendant. Her father, the legal star of Rochester, fatefully pivoted on a dime in 1765, overnight becoming the scorned loyalist whose politics helped to shape his daughter’s miserable end.”
Spooner’s hanging, along with those of the three men who participated in full or in part with the killing of her husband, speaks to the morals and laws of the day as well as the unevolved concepts of human psychology.
It is most likely – and Noone notes this – that, by today’s standards, execution and possibly even a long jail sentence could have been avoided given Spooner’s questionable hold on reality. Further, and probably the most troubling aspect of her grim demise, it is the verified fact that Spooner was five-months pregnant at the time of the hanging. She was hanged, despite carrying a baby. This fact alone would have spared her life in the 21st century.
To learn more about Bathsheba Spooner and her notorious status as the first woman to be executed in post-revolutionary America, visit Noone’s website: www.bathshebaspooner.net. Noone’s book is available at all major book retailers.
By Marilou Newell