Monday, November 07, 2005

Purington Massacre -- Hallowell

Well, good news from the Hallowell inquiry. I had a response from an anonymous poster which put me on the trail of a mind-boggling event from Augusta & Hallowell's history. I'm not sure if it's the same massacre related to the green glow phenomenon I'm trying to find out about, but either way it is a serious piece of Maine history.

Thank you, Anonymous, for the tip. It is extremely helpful to have names and dates to work with. I did turn up some more information about the Purington (or Purrinton) Murders, including an image of a handbill about a graphic booklet printed after the murders.
The info comes from Martha Ballard's diary (as in "The Midwife's Tale" mentioned by Anonymous).

Above is a small version of the handbill or flyleaf. The fullsize original can be found by clicking on the "handbill" link above. Please note the graphic at the bottom of the image of the coffin with axe and razor. Stark and stunning.

In addition, I found a site mentioning that during its investigations around Augusta, focusing on AMHI, the North East Paranormal Society spoke with an Augusta historian and saw the ax which was allegedly used for the murders. To quote: "Upon entering her office she also stunned us with a piece of Purington history, the axe which had been found around 1988 by a man who was eager to try out his new metal detector. The axe was unveiled nearly two feet under the roadway where Captain Purington is believed to be buried, after having it checked out it does appear to be an axe dating back to the late 1700's and early 1800's."

According to Martha Ballard's accounts, Purington was buried with his murder weapons (a foundation for a ghost story if there ever was one!).

I'm going to see if I can find a copy of the account of the murder as seen above. Stay tuned!



Chris Jart said...

I hadn't heard this story before. Why is old fashioned murder so fascinating?

Michelle said...

Darned if I know. Axes, it's always the axes, too! Lizzy Borden, Captain Purington...

Yeah, I can't imagine how this isn't a hugely discussed murder in Maine. It's not like there have been larger homicidal disasters to drown it out...

Chris Dunham said...

The following account of the massacre is from the Portland Gazette of July 14, 1806, and was reprinted across the nation. I've transcribed it as published, so pardon the gory details, and the interminable first paragraph.

At an early hour on Wednesday morning last, the inhabitants of this town were alarmed with the dreadful information, that Capt. James Purinton, of this place, in cold blood, had murdered his wife, six children, and himself. His oldest son, with a slight wound, escaped, and his second daughter was found desperately wounded, and probably supposed dead by the father. Between the hours of 2 and 3 a near neighbour, Mr. Dean Wyman, was awakened by the lad who escaped, with an incoherent account of the horrid scene from which he had just fled; he, with a Mr. Ballard, another neighbour, instantly repaired to the fatal spot, and here, after having lighted a candle, a scene was presented which beggars all description. — In the outer room lay prostrate on his face, and weltering in his gore, the perpetrator of the dreadful deed — his throat cut in the most shocking manner, and the bloody razor lying on the table by his side — In an adjoining bed room lay Mrs. Purinton in her bed, her head almost severed from the body; and near her on the floor, a little daughter about ten years old, who probably hearing the cries of her mother, ran to her relief from the apartment in which she slept, and was murdered by her side — In another apartment was found the two oldest and the youngest daughters, the first, aged 19, dreadfully butchered; the second desperately wounded, reclining with her head on the body of the dead infant 18 months old, and in a state of horror and almost total insensibility — In the room with the father, lay in bed with their throats cut, the two youngest sons, the one 8, the other 6 years old — And in another room was found on the hearth, most dreadfully mangled, the second son, aged 12; he had fallen with his trowsers under one arm, with which he had attempted to escape — On the breastwork over the fire-place was the distinct impression of a bloody hand, where the unhappy victim probably supported himself before he fell. The whole house seemed covered with blood, and near the body of the murdered laid the deadly axe. From the surviving daughter we have no account of this transaction; her dangerous situation prevents any communication, and but faint hopes are entertained for her recovery — From the son, aged 17, we learn the following — That he was awaked by the piercing cries of his mother, and involuntarily shrieking himself, he leapt from his bed and ran towards the door of his apartment; he was met by his father with an axe in his hand (the moon shone bright) who struck him, but being so near each other, the axe passed over his shoulder and one corner of it entered his back, making a slight wound; his father then struck at him once or twice and missed him; at this moment his younger brother, who slept in the same bed with him, jumped from it, and attempted to get out at the door; to prevent this the father attacked him which gave the eldest an opportunity to escape. During this dreadful conflict, not a word was uttered. From the appearance of the wounds generally, it seems to been the design of Purinton to dissever the heads from the bodies, excepting the two youngest, whose throats it is supposed were cut with a razor. The oldest daughter and second son had several wounds, the probable consequence of their resistance. We have no evidence to lead us satisfactorily to the motives for this barborous and unnatural deed. Capt. Purinton was 46 years of age, and had lately removed from Bowdoinham to this town — an independent farmer, with a handsome estate, of steady, correct, and industrious habits, and of a good character and fair reputation, and strongly attached to his family. He had been heard lately to say, that he felt much distressed at the unpromising appearance of his farm; that he should be destitute of bread for his family, and hay for his cattle, and dreaded the consequences. The Sunday before his death, it is said, he wrote to his brother and informed him that on the reception of the letter he should be dead, and requesting him to take charge of his family. In the letter was a death's head marked out, and it was sealed with black. — It was found on Monday by his wife, and gave her the greatest alarm and uneasiness. This her husband perceiving, and learning the cause, he attempted to console her by assurances that he had no intention of committing suicide, but that he had a presentiment of his approaching death. Capt. Purinton was a warm believer in the doctrine of universal salvation, though it is not said of him, that he was a bigoted maniac or a religious enthusiast — his whole conduct the day preceding, and during the last and bloody scene of his life, seems marked with the utmost coolness and deliberation. Towards the close of that day he ground the fatal axe, and when the family retired to bed he was left reading the bible. The jury of inquest have brought him in guilty of wilful murder on his wife and six children, and that as a felon he did kill and murder himself — We do not recollect, that the annals of Massachusetts can furnish a transaction so distressing.

The ways of Providence are dark and mysterious! yet God is just! and man, weak man, must tremble and adore!

After the Coroner's Inquest had executed its office, the selectmen took charge of the dead. Their remains in eight coffins were conveyed to the Meeting-house.

Mrs. Purinton and her children were placed in the body of the house; Capt. Purinton in the porch.

Their funeral took place yesterday afternoon, attended by an immense concourse of people.

The public services at the Meeting-house were solemn and pertinent — commenced by a Funeral Anthem — Prayer by the Rev. Mr. Stone — Sermon by the Rev. Mr. Taylor — a Prayer by the Rev. Mr. Merritt.

The bodies of Mrs. Purinton and her children were interred in the common burying ground; Capt. Purinton in the highway adjoining the same, and the bloody axe and razor buried with him.

They were attended to their graves by a numerous and respectable procession, which was arranged by John Davis, Reuel Williams, and H. W. Fuller, esq'rs. appointed and acting as marshals on the occasion.

The procession moved over the bridge and through the principal streets, to the place of interment in the order following order. Senior Marshal — The Coroner and Inquest — Rev. Mr. Haskel, Rev. Mr. Stone — The Corpse of Mrs. Purinton and her six children, according to their ages, supported by bearers attended by pall-holders, followed by the surviving son — Other relations — Selectmen — Clergy — Sheriff of the county — Judges of Courts — Military officers — Magistrates — Citizens. — Marshals — A cart bearing the body of captain Purinton, closed the procession.

The church service was performed at the grave over the body of Mrs. Purinton and children, by the Rev. Mr. Haskel, in a very solemn and impressive manner. The procession then returned to the meeting-house, where the solemnities of the day were closed by another and an appropriate prayer by the Rev. Mr. Gillet.

Michelle said...

Chris D--
Thank you for the addition to the discussion. Such an event, when fully described... I think I am really quite speechless.

I find myself wishing to see that fateful letter, but I suppose it must have been burned or some such.

NOTE: Those interested in less gruesome and more current Maine news may want to take a peek at Chris Dunham's site, All Things Maine.

Fran said...

Wow, this is pretty where is the family buried?? Does anyone know???

Michelle said...

Fran-- I'll let you know if I dig anything up!

Oh wait, that sounded very wrong... I mean, research-wise.


Anonymous said...

I do believe they are buried in Gardner.

Anonymous said...

Burnt Hill Burying Ground (northwest corner of
upper Winthrop Street and Granite Street)
In July, 1806, James Purrinton, a neighbor of the
Ballards, murdered his wife and seven of his eight children
before killing himself. Martha Ballard observed the murder
scene and described it as “the most shocking scene that
was Even seen in this part of the world.” The terrible
murders shook the foundations of the entire community.
Mrs. Purrinton and her six children were
buried in the northeast corner of the Burnt
Hill Burying Ground on July 10, 1806.
Their actual graves are unmarked. James
Purrinton, as befitted the perpetrator of such
a horrible act, was not buried in the cemetery
but outside the walls near the intersection of
Winthrop and High Streets. Martha Ballard
attended the funeral and described the ceremony
in her diary. Joseph and Hannah
North gave the cemetery land to the town in 1802

As found at

Angela Purinton Sequeira said...

I recently learned that James Purinton is a great uncle of mine. Strangely enough this was not the only axe killing that happened in the family! Around the same time another family member killed a sheriffs horse with an axe after being asked to pay a debt. He was then a arrested and put in jail in Portland. Interesting family history.