“In a little time I expect to be in bliss”
Bathsheba Spooner is the holder of a number of criminal records: she was the first woman executed by Americans, hers was the last public hanging in the Commonwealth, the first capital case tried in American jurisdiction in Massachusetts and the first case of a capital offence under the new Constitution. She was also probably the most socially prominent American woman ever to have been executed. Beautiful, well educated and wealthy, she was the daughter of General Timothy Ruggles, a Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Court. In 1766, at the age of 18, she married Joshua Spooner, a wealthy retired merchant old enough to be her grandfather. The match was not a happy one but nor had her parents’ been. One day she saw her mother serve her father his favourite dog for dinner, roasted. Her father also instilled in her his staunch royalist Tory views. In the early 1770s she took an interest in almost any man who passed by and cuckolded her husband many times.
At the start of the American Revolution she sent out her servants to lure soldiers back to her home for dinner and then her bed. In 1777 she began an affair with Ezra Ross, a young soldier with George Washington’s army. At this time she decided to get rid of her husband.
She had two reasons: he was too old to be any good in bed and he was a revolutionary whereas she was loyal to King George. On 8 February 1778 she saw two British soldiers Sergeant James Buchanan, 30, and Private William Brooks, 27, who had escaped from a prisoner of war camp. Using her feminine wiles, she persuaded the two to join Ezra Ross in killing her husband, for which they would be richly rewarded. On the night of 1 March 1778 the three men attacked Spooner outside his home, throttled him, then threw his unconscious body head first down a well. The corpse was soon discovered and Buchanan and Brooks were found a few days later wearing Spooner’s clothes.
Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
Sunday 1 March 1778
At their trial on 1 April 1778 all four conspirators pleaded not guilty and Bathsheba’s lawyer tried to claim that she was insane. All were found guilty and sentenced to hang on 4 June 1778. The execution was delayed when Bathsheba claimed that she was pregnant.
She was examined and found not to be with child. A second examination declared that she was indeed pregnant but the first midwives — staunch revolutionaries — insisted that their diagnosis was correct and on 2 July 1778 all four were hanged before a crowd of 5,000 people. Bathsheba was last to die and she called out, “I am ready. In a little time I expect to be in bliss.” Her last request was a full autopsy, which showed “a perfectly developed male foetus aged between five and six months.