by Thomas D’Agostino
An excerpt from the book, A History Of Vampires in New England by Thomas D’Agostino and Arlene Nicholson.
It seems vampires ran rampant among the New England people in the 18th and 19th centuries. Scores of families exhumed their loved ones in search of the ghoul that was taking their families from the grave. These people in many cases were well-educated citizens, some holding public positions within their town government. Here is a case from Manchester, Vermont, dating back to 1793.
Captain Isaac Burton, a deacon of the Congregational Church, married Rachel Harris on March 8, 1789. Less than a year after the couple exchanged vows, Rachel contracted consumption. Her health declined swiftly, and on February 1, 1790, died of the dreaded disease.
About a year after Rachel’s interment, the captain married his second wife, Hulda Powell, on April 4, 1791. She, as well, became ill within a short time and began to show signs of consumption. As her health began to decline in a swift manner, the captain knew all hope was lost.
It was then that a strange belief took hold of the family and friends of Captain Burton. They concluded that the first wife was coming back from the grave and feeding on the lifeblood of Hulda, thus creating her consumptive condition. They were convinced that if the vitals of the first wife were reduced to ashes, Hulda would be cured of the terrible wasting illness.
Rachel had been buried for three years when the deed was carried out. It is reported that almost one thousand people showed up for the gruesome exorcism. What remained of her heart, lungs and liver were placed on the blacksmith forge of Jacob Mead. The decomposed liver, heart and lungs were then reduced to ashes. Timothy Mead presided over the blessing of the remains in an attempt to purge the demonic disease that gripped Hulda. This form of medicine did not work, as Hulda succumbed to the dreaded consumption on September 6, 1793. It is not clear whether she was made to drink Rachel’s ashes with some form of medicine. The gruesome act of feeding the ashes of the exorcised remains was thought to be a form of treatment in the curing of the person afflicted with the wasting disease.
When Judge John Pettibone wrote about the account in History of Manchester, Vermont, he stated that it was “furnished” to him by an eyewitness. Here is an excerpt:
“She 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.”
—Judge John S. Pettibone (1786–1872), History of Manchester, Vermont