Today I read the tale of Alice Lake. I came upon the tragic story of Alice while researching my own family tragedy in the death of Rebecca Cornell and the subsequent hanging of her son Thomas Cornell II for her murder. Rebecca and Alice both suffered horrible deaths. Rebecca was possibly murdered and her body burned past recognition while her family ate dinner in the next room. Alice was hanged for witchcraft after being plagued by haunting visions of her lost child. Rebecca and Alice also shared one other detail in common; their daughter in law was Sarah Earle.
Recently I stumbled upon an article about an odd double murder that happened nearly a 100 years ago which left me fascinated and delving deeper for more information. The murders took place in Ripley County, Missouri during prohibition.
Ripley County was an area with a reputation for lawlessness. Homemade corn liquor poured from stills long before the law forbidding alcohol in the country. A lack of roads inhibited the law enforcement authorities from cracking down on unsavory types in a region where many of the locals traveled by the many waterways that snaked through the area.
The region was mostly poor; a majority of the population was illiterate. Many of the people in the area had immigrated to the area during the lumber boom after 1880, most of them from Tennessee. Small family farms and timber operations were the main industries of the area.
Charles Shuck was a son to Mose Shuck and Mary Ann Fleshman, a great uncle many times removed to myself.
I was looking up random ancestors names on Chronicling America when I discovered this article about the death of Uncle Charles Shuck. At age 80, Charles fell into his fireplace and burned to death. He was discovered with his face badly burned and his clothes nearly burned off. The fire was out and his body when he was found a day after he was last seen alive.
The moment I saw this article I thought of Rebecca Cornell and the odd way she died. She too was found dead in a similar manner. The difference being that when Rebecca was found burned to death at the foot of her fireplace her own son Thomas Cornell Jr was executed for her murder.
I am certain that burning to death was probably more common in a period where everyone cooked and heated their homes with an open fire. It seems odd that I had not just one ancestor, but two, who suffered such a strange unfortunate death.
That these cases had such vast different conclusions is even more shocking. By all accounts it appears that Charles’ death was never considered anything more than a tragic accident. In Rebecca’s case her son was hung for her murder on spectral evidence.
What do you think the difference was between the case of Charles Shuck and Rebecca Cornell and why do you think such different conclusions were reached in their deaths?
My Mom’s Uncle helped get my Dad’s Grandpa hanged… well that escalated quickly!
I finally got the chance to do some real research today after weeks of real life responsibilities killing my groove. I decided to grab up one of my loose ends and start digging in.
The line I chose was one that I suspected I connected to twice. Work smarter, not harder right? I’ve been doing genealogical research long enough to not be surprised by cousin marriages anymore. They are almost like a bonus because it narrows down the number of lines I need to research in the end.
My line in question was the Cornell line which was in New York around the early 1800’s. I had a Cornelia Cornell and a Harriet Cornell, both of who were my 3rd Great Grandmothers. Their Grandchildren, Myron Ashley and Sarah Eckler, were my father’s maternal grandparents. I was off and tracking the line, making progress at a pretty good pace, killing two birds with one stone.
The data was interesting but not noteworthy for countless generations as I followed the trail. The family is connected to the university that bears their surname, founded by some Cornell relative I haven’t bothered to connect yet. They trace back generation after generation, an American colonial family helping to forge a new world out of the frontier.
Cornelia and Harriet were sisters. They were the daughters of Wilbur Cornell land Sylvia Mosher. Wilbur was the son of Joseph Cornell Sr and Abigail Allen, Joseph’s parents were Zebulon Cornell and Ruth Allen. Zebulon was the son of Daniel Cornell and Elizabeth Allen. Daniel Cornell was the son of William Cornell and Mehitable Fish. William Cornell was the son of Stephen Cornell and Hannah Mosher.
That brings me to Stephen Cornell’s parents. Thomas Cornell II and Elizabeth Fiscock were his parents, the time period is the 1600’s, and they were my 10 great grandparents. At this point things got interesting in my research.
Rebecca Briggs Cornell Burned to Death
Thomas Cornell II has a very interesting footnote in history. In 1673 he was hanged for the murder of his mother, Rebecca Briggs. According to records from the time it was a farce of a case, most of the evidence being that his uncle had a dream in which Rebecca’s spirit visited him pointing the blame at Thomas.
This book provides a great look at the case of Thomas Cornell II and the death of his mother.
One of the other noteworthy witnesses to offer testimony that led to the hanging of Thomas Cornell II was a local town Constable at the time. The town was Portsmouth, Rhode Island and the Constable was none other than George Soule. I’ll have to research further to confirm but I believe this would be my 10th great uncle, as opposed to my 10th great grandfather of the same name due to the year. That’s right my mother’s ancestor helped get my father’s ancestor hanged…probably a good thing they didn’t know this when they got divorced!
By modern accounts the testimony against Grandpa Thomas was shoddy at best. In a court of law today there is no way Thomas Cornell II would have been hanged. Present researchers think Rebecca Briggs probably burned to death when an ember from her pipe fell on her igniting her clothing. In the end the result was the same, Thomas Cornell II was hanged in Rhode Island for the death of his widowed mother in May 1673.
His wife went on to give birth to a daughter after his execution. She named the child Innocent. As a further interesting side note many researchers believe that Innocent Cornell went onto marry Richard Borden and is the 4th great grandmother of the infamous parent murdering Lizzie Borden. So maybe Gramps wasn’t so innocent after all….
Not bad for a morning dipping back into the research pool. I tracked two lines for the price of one and discovered an unexpected connection between my maternal and paternal relatives hundreds of years before they would cross paths later to create little ole me.
Did my 10th Great Grandfather burn my 11th Great Grandmother to death or was she the victim of a tragic accident for which her son would lose his life in a quest for justice? Some mysteries will always be mysteries….