Killed Strangely: The Death of Rebecca Cornell by Elaine Forman Crane

By Elaine Forman Crane

"It used to be Rebecca's son, Thomas, who first learned the victim's id. His eyes have been attracted to the victim's head, and aided by means of the flickering gentle of a candle, he 'clapt his arms and cryed out, Oh Lord, it really is my mother.' James Moills, a servant of Cornell . . . defined Rebecca 'lying at the floore, with fireplace approximately Her, from her reduce elements neare to the Armepits.' He famous her simply 'by her shoes.'"―from Killed surprisingly

On a winter's night in 1673, tragedy descended at the decent Rhode Island family of Thomas Cornell. His 73-year-old mom, Rebecca, was once chanced on on the subject of her bedroom's huge hearth, useless and badly burned. The felony proprietor of the Cornells' hundred acres alongside Narragansett Bay, Rebecca shared her domestic with Thomas and his kinfolk, a servant, and a lodger. A coroner's panel first and foremost declared her loss of life "an Unhappie Accident," yet earlier than summer time arrived, a depressing internet of events―rumors of family abuse, allusions to witchcraft, even the testimony of Rebecca's ghost via her brother―resulted in Thomas's trial for matricide.

Such have been the ambiguities of the case that others will be attempted for the homicide to boot. Rebecca is an immediate ancestor of Cornell University's founder, Ezra Cornell. Elaine Forman Crane tells the compelling tale of Rebecca's loss of life and its aftermath, vividly depicting the area within which she lived. That global integrated a criminal approach the place jurors have been anticipated to be acquainted with the defendant and case sooner than the trial even begun. Rebecca's unusual demise used to be an occasion of cataclysmic proportions, affecting not just her personal neighborhood, yet neighboring cities as well.

The files from Thomas's trial supply a unprecedented glimpse into seventeenth-century lifestyles. Crane writes, "Instead of the concord and appreciate that sermon literature, legislation, and a hierarchical/patriarchal society tried to impose, proof illustrates filial insolence, generational clash, disrespect towards the aged, strength performs among better half's mother and daughter-in-law, [and] grownup dependence on (and resentment of) getting older mom and dad who clung to handbag strings." but even at a distance of greater than 300 years, Rebecca Cornell's tale is poignantly everyday. Her lawsuits of household abuse, Crane says, went mostly unheeded by means of buddies and friends until eventually, ultimately, their complacency was once shattered by way of her negative death.

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Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston. qrk 6/25/02 4:45 PM Page 26 were therefore sacred since they reflected God’s desires and instructions. 33 It is impossible to say with certainty whether John Briggs was sympathetic to Quaker teachings, but he certainly had Antinomian tendencies, and dream interpretation was among the Antinomian spiritual practices that Quakers were quick to adopt. It is also clear that a number of Quakers would eventually affect the outcome of this story, and testimony about “signs in the night” may have resonated powerfully as prosecutors and jurors decided Thomas Cornell’s fate.

Eventually, such sarcasm would work against him, but at the time Thomas saw no danger in insinuating that Rebecca Cornell had suffered from God’s displeasure. ”55 Rebecca Cornell’s ghost was not the only creature from the invisible world to make an appearance as this strange case unfolded. qrk 6/25/02 4:45 PM Page 37 against their husbands. ”56 Yet Rhode Island was shaping its own legal identity, and in this instance Sarah Cornell’s testimony was, apparently, considered vital to the proceedings, English precedent notwithstanding.

Two nights later—on February 12—Rebecca Cornell’s ghost startled her brother, John Briggs, with an unexpected visit. Not surprisingly, her appearance concerned her gruesome death. Briggs, a sixtyfour-year-old grandfather in 1673, was inextricably linked to the history of Portsmouth, as well as to the Cornell family itself. Born and married in England, he appears to have either preceded or followed his sister and her husband to New England, where Briggs and his brother-in-law, Thomas Cornell Sr.

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