The Vampires

1793 - Manchester, Vermont - Rachel Harris
In February of 1793, the friends and family of Captain Isaac Burton disinterred the remains of his first wife, Rachel Harris. At least five hundred (maybe as many as a thousand) citizens of Manchester, Vermont, looked on as Timothy Mead removed Rachel’s liver, heart, and lungs and, on Jacob Mead’s blacksmith’s forge, burned them to ashes.

1796 - Cumberland, Rhode Island - Abigail Staples
The members of the Town Council of Cumberland, Rhode Island, gave Stephen Staples permission to exhume the body of his deceased daughter, Abigail Staples, “in order to try an experiment” to save the life of another daughter, Livina Chase. The council stipulated that, after the experiment, Mr. Staples rebury Abigail’s body in a “Deasent Manner.”

circa 1794-98 - Dummerston, Vermont - Last Spaulding child buried
After six or seven of Lt. Spaulding’s family had died of consumption, and another daughter was ill, the body of the last dead child was dug up and the vital organs removed and burned. The daughter recovered and lived many years.

1799 - Exeter, Rhode Island - Sarah Tillinghast
Six of Stukeley Tillinghast’s fourteen children had died of consumption, a seventh was near death, and Stukeley’s wife, Honor, was complaining that Sarah, the first to die, came back at night and caused her “great pain and misery.” A community consultation was convened and it was decided to exhume the bodies of the dead children. One by one, they found the bodies in advanced stages of decomposition, until they got to Sarah, whom they found in a “remarkable condition.” They removed her heart and burned it on a rock in front of the family home. “Peace then came to this afflicted family, but not, however, until a seventh victim had been demanded.”

early 1800s (before 1830) - Griswold, Connecticut - J.B.
In 1990, Connecticut State Archaeologist, Nick Bellantoni, was excavating an unmarked family cemetery in Griswold, Connecticut, when he uncovered the complete skeleton of a man whose skull and thigh bones were found in a “skull and crossbones” pattern on top of his ribs and vertebrae. On the lid of the his hexagonal, wooden coffin, an arrangement of brass tacks spelled out “JB-55,” presumably the initials and age at death of this individual. An examination of J.B.’s skeletal remains by forensic anthropologist Paul Sledzik revealed lesions on J.B.’s ribs, probably the result of tuberculosis. Had J.B. been exhumed and his bones rearranged to counteract the spread of tuberculosis?

1807 - Plymouth County, Massachusetts - Last buried sister
Within the single year of 1807, all but the mother and youngest son of fourteen children had died of consumption. Not two months from the death of the thirteenth child, “an amiable girl of about 16 years of age,” the remaining son began to show signs of the dreaded disease.With the consent of the mother, and accompanied by the surviving brother, four persons exhumed the remains of the last buried sister and turn her face down in her coffin. The brother died within two weeks and the mother lived for barely a year.

“A few years before” 1810 - Loudon, New Hampshire - A woman dead eleven years
When the body of a woman who had been dead for eleven years was exhumed, eleven sprouts were discovered growing out of her bones. The people who broke off the sprouts soon died, as did the sick relation.

1810 - Barnstead, New Hampshire - Janey D. Denitt
The remains of Janey D. Denitt, who had died of consumption at the age of twenty-one more than two years previously, were exhumed and examined “to see if any thing had grown upon her Stomach.” This measure was undertaken to save her father who was dying of consumption.

1817 - South Woodstock, Vermont - Frederick Ransom
In 1817, Frederick Ransom, a twenty-year old student at Dartmouth College, died of consumption. His father, believing that there was a “tendency to consumption” in his family and that “if the heart of one of the family who died of consumption was taken out and burned, others would be free from it,” had Frederick’s body exhumed and his heart taken out and burned in Captain Pearson’s blacksmith forge. Unfortunately, the remedy failed, for Frederick’s mother, sister, and two brothers died with that disease afterward.

1827 - Foster, RI - Nancy Young
After Nancy Young died at age nineteen in 1827, her sister “commenced a rapid decline in health with sure indications that she must soon follow” Nancy to the grave. When other children in the family began to decline “in the same manner,” her father, Captain Levi Young, asked his neighbors and friends to exhume and burn Nancy’s remains “while all the members of the family gathered around and inhaled the smoke from the burning remains.” This cure apparently did not work, as five more children died.

circa 1830, Woodstock Green, Vermont - A man dead six months
About 1830, the undecayed heart of a man who had died of consumption six months before was burned to ashes in an iron pot in the middle of Woodstock Green, Vermont, in an attempt to save his consumptive brother.

before 1859 - Vermont - The last deceased
Henry David Thoreau recorded in his journal, dated 29 September 1859, the following entry: “I have just read of a family in Vermont who, several of the members having died of consumption, just burned the lungs, heart and liver of the last deceased, in order to prevent any more from having it.” Thoreau’s interest in this event must have been more than mere curiosity, for at the time of this entry he knew he had consumption. Thoreau died of the disease three years later.

1854 - Jewett City, Connecticut - Lemuel and Elisha Ray
In1845, Lemuel Ray died of consumption at the age of twenty-four. His father, Horace, died four years later. Then his twenty-six year-old brother, Lemuel, died. By 1854, “the same fatal disease seized upon another son,” Henry Nelson, at which point it was decided to exhume the bodies of Lemuel and Elisha. On May 8th, the family and friends of the deceased, accompanied by various others, proceeded to the burial ground at Jewett City, . . . dug up the bodies of the deceased brothers, and burned them on the spot.” Henry Nelson died soon after.

circa 1874 - Peace Dale, Rhode Island - Daughter of William Rose
About 1874, “Mr. William Rose himself dug up the body of his own daughter, and burned her heart, under the belief that she was wasting away the lives of other members of his family.”

circa 1872-1888 - West Stafford, Connecticut - Unknown
In a family consisting of six sisters, five died in quick succession of “galloping” consumption. “The old superstition in such cases is that the vital organs of the dead still retain a certain flicker of vitality and by some strange process absorb the vital forces of the living.” To back up their belief, residents told of “instances wherein exhumation has revealed a heart and lungs still fresh and living, encased in rottening and slimy integuments, and in which, after burning these portions of the defunct, a living relative, else doomed and hastening to the grave, has suddenly and miraculously recovered.” To be effective, they asserted that the ceremony must be conducted at night by a single individual at the open grave.

1892 - Exeter, Rhode Island - Mercy Brown
The wife and a daughter of George T. Brown, of Exeter, Rhode Island, died of consumption. Within a few years, his only son, Edwin, began to show the signs of the disease. Soon, his nineteen year-old daughter, Mercy Lena, had contracted the disease, too. She quickly passed away and was buried in the family plot on Chestnut Hill in January of 1892. With no other hope to save his family, and urged by friends and neighbors, Brown agreed to have the bodies of his wife and two daughters exhumed. The mother and eldest daughter were nothing but skeletons, but Mercy, who had been buried for only two months, appeared to have liquid blood in her heart. Attendants at the scene cut out her heart and burned it to ashes on a nearby rock. Edwin was said to have drunk the ashes in water shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, he died two months later.

before 1893 - Ontario, Canada - Unknown
In 1893, writing about “Scottish myths” he had collected in Ontario, Canada, C. S. Fraser noted that he “was a little shocked” to encounter “a horrible vampire story given in explanation of the ravages often made in a family by consumption.”

“in the early years” (sometime before 1898) - Seneca Lake, New York - “A young woman”
An author commented on the vampire practice he found in the Finger Lakes area of Upstate New York. “The superstition of the vampire, that horror of the grave which was supposed to harbor the dead yet derive its sustenance from the living, had one illustration at least about Seneca Lake. . . . In the early years the corpse of a young woman was exhumed, and the heart and other vital parts committed to the flames. . . . Of several sisters, all in succession had wasted away, until one remained and she was ill. Though in the grave for many months, the burned portions of the body were fresh in appearance. The living sister, undoubtedly from mental relief, recovered her health after the event.”