Post by Joanna on Oct 5, 2013 22:37:56 GMT -5
New England Vampires: Rachel Burton - 1793:
At its core, the vampire is a creature of superior will, resisting the pull of death by grasping at life. Eerily reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Legiea” is the story of Rachel Harris Burton – among the earliest incidents of vampirism yet unearthed in New England.
On March 8, 1789, Captain Isaac Burton, of Manchester, Bennington County, Vermont, married Rachel Harris, but their happiness was short-lived for they had not celebrated their first anniversary when she died of the wasting fever called consumption on February 1, 1791. Characterized by the coughing of blood and a slow, lingering decline, the fever had destroyed Rachel’s body, but never quenched her will to live. At the end, she smiled at her husband and softly whispered: “I’ll be with you – always!” before breathing her last.
Rachel’s passing deeply affected Burton and for a time he remained secluded in the large home he had built for his wife. Eventually, however, duty compelled him to face the world again and on April 4, 1791, he took a new bride. Huldah Powell became Huldah Burton and Isaac’s life began anew. Sadly, a peaceful existence was not in the stars for the man or his new wife.
A few months into the marriage, the robust Huldah began exhibiting signs of the wasting fever. Dread washed over Burton as he recognized the symptoms of the illness that had claimed his beloved Rachel. Although he knew it would prove ultimately futile, he threw the weight of his considerable wealth into summoning doctors throughout the region in a desperate attempt to save his partner. Sadly, the physicians were unable to stem the progress of Huldah’s decline and soon, like Rachel before her, she was confined to her bed. Mrs. Burton’s female relations commenced taking turns visiting her, applying cool damp cloths to her fevered brow and encouraging her to drink broth to keep up her strength.
It was following such a vigil by an elderly aunt that Isaac was offered a chilling explanation for his wife’s illness. The old woman was blunt in her assessment, claiming that a “wicked spirit” was draining the life from Huldah’s body. Burton was stunned by the woman’s wild theory, but his horror was doubled when she pressed the issue. “It’s the one who went a’fore that’s to blame!” the old woman insisted, “the one who can’t rest for want of the life she’s lost!” Burton needed no clarification. He recalled the willful determination in his first wife’s eyes as she proclaimed, “I’ll be with you – always!” before slipping into death. Huldah’s aunt paused at the door as she was leaving. “It’s got to be burnin,’” she told him, “that’s the only way to stop the heart beatin’ sure.”
The following sunrise found the captain with a few stoic family members and friends at the grave of Rachel Burton. Two hired men commenced unearthing Rachel’s coffin from the cold ground that February morning. By the time the box was pulled free of the earth, the assembled witnesses were chilled to the marrow by the frigid winter wind. A close family friend, Selectman Timothy Mead, had agreed to preside over the exhumation. The coffin, once opened, revealed a bloated corpse, barely recognizable as Rachel Burton. “Gorged on the blood of its victim! Look – see the stains about the mouth!” cried Huldah’s aged aunt as she pointed accusingly at the hideous thing in the box.
“It is agreed then,” Mead proclaimed. Clearing his throat and in a firm voice, he continued, “Having duly concluded that the life of Mrs. Huldah Burton is jeopardized by unnatural attentions cast upon her by the former wife of Capt. Isaac Burton, it is adjudged that the aforementioned abomination be destroyed in the prescribed manner.”
A sizable crowd had gathered at the blacksmith’s forge to witness the finale of the bizarre events. The heart, liver and lungs of Rachel Burton had been removed and were now cast onto the searing coals of the forge. The stench that rose from the burning organs was almost overwhelming and several onlookers later reported seeing the apparition of a terrible beast writhing in the greasy column of black smoke that billowed forth.
Judge John S. Pettibone in his History of Manchester, Vermont, described the incident thus: “She [Hulda Burton] became ill soon after they were married and when she was in the last stages of consumption, a strange infatuation took possession of the minds of the connections and friends of the family. They were induced to believe that if the vitals of the first wife could be consumed by being burned in a charcoal fire it would effect a cure of the sick second wife. Such was the strange delusion that they disinterred the first wife who had been buried about three years. They took out the liver, heart, and lungs, what remained of them, and burned them to ashes on the blacksmith’s forge of Jacob Mead. It was the month of February and good sleighing. Such was the excitement that from five hundred to one thousand people were present. This account was furnished me by an eyewitness of the transaction.”
Despite the completion of the grim remedy, Hulda Burton did not survive. Family members surmised she was too weakened by the ordeal to recover from the ravages of the fever, but consoled themselves that the gruesome ritual would ensure the malady would not claim others in the ensuing years.
The graveyard where Rachel Burton was interred and exhumed is no longer extant, but Huldah, Captain Burton and his 3rd and 4th wives, Clara Benedict and Dency Sammis, are all buried in Manchester’s Dellwood Cemetery.
Compiled by Graveyardbride from the following sources: The Vampire Hunter’s Guide to New England by Christopher Rondina; Food for the Dead: On the Trail of New England's Vampires by Michael E. Bell; New England's Things That Go Bump in the Night by Robert Ellis Cahill; History of Manchester, Vermont, by Judge John S. Pettibone; and Find-a-Grave.
See also “New England Vampires”
“New England Vampires: Abigail Staples - 1796”
“New England Vampires: Sarah Tillinghast - 1799”
“New England Vampires: Nancy Young - 1827”
“New England’s Last Vampire”