Post by Joanna on Oct 7, 2013 2:43:15 GMT -5
New England Vampires: Abigail Staples - 1796
On a quiet road in northern Cumberland, Rhode Island, lies a small, neglected graveyard (pictured above) dating to the Revolutionary War. Broken stones among accumulated layers of dead leaves are the only memory remaining of the members of this branch of the Staples family. Beneath the soil of the ancient plot, however, may lie the unquiet bones of Abigail Staples, who died more than two hundred years ago at the age of 23. Sadly for the family, Abigail’s early death does not seem to have been the end of her story. In the months following her demise, members of the Cumberland Town Council were petitioned with an unusual request:
From Cumberland Town Council Records - 1796
At a town Council held at Cumberland in the County of Providence, being specially called and held on the eighth day of February 1796.
Mr. John Lapham
Mr. Jason Newell
Capt. Benjamin S. Westcott
Mr. Benjamin Singly
Mr. Stephen Staples of Cumberland appeared before this council and prayed that he might have liberty granted unto him to dig up the body of his daughter Abigail Staples, late of Cumberland, single woman, deceased, in order to try an experiment on Lavinia Chace, wife of Stephen Chace, which said Lavinia was sister to said Abigail, deceased. Which being duly considered it is voted and resolved that the said Stephen Staples have liberty to dig up the body of the said Abigail, deceased, and after the experiment as aforesaid that he bury the body of the said Abigail in a decent manner.
Voted that this Council be dissolved.
Witness, Mr. Jonathan Carpenter, Council Clerk
Shortly after the death of her sister Abigail, Lavinia Chace, wife of Stephen Chace, fell prey to consumption, whereupon her life seemed to be draining slowly from her body, leaving her weaker and paler each day. In Lavinia’s fevered dreams she was tormented and smothered each night by a shadowy figure which perched upon her chest, crushing her with its weight and then drawing out her breath as though feeding upon it. Lavinia confessed the dreams to her husband, who reassured her the nightmares would pass. Then one morning, as Chace was beginning to awaken, Lavinia sat bolt upright in bed and cried, “Abigail!” before falling once more into a fitful sleep.
Much disturbed by the strange episode, Chace went that evening to the home of his father-in-law, Stephen Staples, to tell him of Lavinia’s outburst. Staples sat at the kitchen table warming his hands on a mug of hot wine. He listened patiently to the young man’s account of his wife’s behavior, staring silently into the flickering lamp that rested upon the table. “I’m not sure what to think, Sir,” Chace continued, “but it is odd, is it not?”
“Odd – yes.” The old gentleman’s words were slow, considered. “I’m not much given to ideas of witchery and spooks, Stephen.”
“Nor I, Sir, and yet, if such things exist, if there’s a chance?”
Staples rubbed a hand across his face. He looked weary, older than his years. “This is no simple matter, boy. If we’re to pursue this sort of madness, then we’ll need to have the support of the rightful authorities.”
“Do you think that wise, Sir? If they refuse?”
“If they refuse, then we obey their judgment! The alternative is to dangle from a gibbet!”
Chace bit back any further comment he might have been considering. The request was made. Now it would fall to the town elders to decide.
A rumble of low comments moved through the assembled council members. Ben Westcott, a portly man who had been decorated during the War for Independence, spoke up. “Mr. Staples, we extend our condolences on the recent loss of your daughter Abigail. We sympathize also with the condition of your daughter Lavinia and pray for her swift recovery.”
Then Council Chair John Lapham spoke. “The unusual matter of which you speak is somewhat beyond our ken, I’m afraid. We are somewhat unsettled to hear a sensible man such as yourself putting forth such a notion.”
Undaunted by the council’s skepticism, Staples pressed his point. “Surely you don’t mean to suggest that our Sunday worship is an act of folly, Mr. Lapham? Yet only this week past were we counseled by our own Pastor Forbes on the wiles and dangers of the Devil.”
The councilmen appeared momentarily taken aback by Staples’s argument, allowing Stephen Chace to take up the thread. “Would it not be wiser, Sirs, to grant license for this experiment – in the sake of the community’s good? If it’s for naught, then no great harm done, yet if it be true, and allowed to fester . . . .” The younger man trailed off, as though unwilling to speculate on the consequences of inaction.
Laphan held his hand up to silence the two petitioners. “Naturally, I mean no disrespect for our pastor or his words – though you might do well to regard them more philosophically in the future.” He sat back in his chair and regarded the two gentlemen before him. “Your request is granted, though it is against the better conscience of this council.” Lapham reached for paper and quill and began to draft an order. “See that your daughter is re-interred with full respect at the conclusion of this affair – and I charge you also to see that this experiment is conducted with a minimum of spectacle.”
Staples agreed to conduct the affair with no undue attention and was as good as his word. The hillside graveyard was hidden from common view on his property, but the group of neighbors waited until almost dark to make their way to the location just the same.
There is no record of Abigail’s condition when the grave was opened, nor can we be certain of the events that followed. Though the names and occurrences recounted herein are plain to see in the Cumberland Town Council’s journal of 1796, no other accounts of the family seem to exist. No followup is present in Council records, nor are any graves to be found for any of those involved in the strange drama. It is as if Stephen Staples, Stephen Chace and Lavinia all vanished into the darkness of that night, never to be heard of again.
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; and New England's Things That Go Bump in the Night by Robert Ellis Cahill.
See also “New England Vampires”
“New England Vampires: Rachel Burton - 1793”
“New England Vampires: Sarah Tillinghast - 1799”
“New England Vampires: Nancy Young - 1827”