Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Bathsheba Sherman's Vindication

Photo Credit: Kent Spottswood

"Sometimes histories about people from the past become distorted due to overactive imaginations and just the passing of time itself. Like the childhood game of “telephone,” after so many re-tellings it is hard to find where the facts of a story stop and where the fantasy begins.  Take the story of Bathsheba Sherman as one example. No one knew her name or her history besides maybe a local historian or two, prior to being mentioned in the film titled, The Conjuring. In fact, most people nationally, and globally, had never heard of her until the movie came out in 2013.

The movie was said to be based on the files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who had visited the home of the Perron family in the 1970s. The family claimed to have been tormented by evil spirits in their home in Burrillville, Rhode Island.  Let me make this perfectly clear from the beginning, there was a real person named Bathsheba Sherman who lived in Burrillville, but she was not the person that the movie portrayed her to be. Bathsheba lived in another part of Burrillville. She neither lived nor worked on the old Arnold Estate, which was the property the Perron family purchased in 1971.

It was not until the 1970's that mysterious rumors sprang up out of thin air, ruining Bathsheba’s reputation posthumously. No one in town had ever heard of any questionable events regarding Bathsheba, but all of a sudden, stories were spreading like wildfire in this small community. Older folks who respected history became agitated by the false accusations, while the younger more superstitious ones wondered about the possibilities of this spine-chilling folklore actually being real.

In the movie, it was stated that Bathsheba Sherman was a witch who worshiped the Devil, sacrificed her baby to Satan and then hung herself from the tree in the back yard.  Accounts in the movie portray Bathsheba’s spirit allegedly terrorizing all who live in the home, also causing all the different tenants over the years to kill their own children, and allegedly possessing Carolyn Perron. This is false.

None of the so-called history that was told in the film, The Conjuring, has anything to do with the real Bathsheba Sherman or the true history of the house on Round Top Road. It is a disservice to the memory of both Bathsheba Sherman’s family and that of the Arnold family that these horrific fabrications have been spread, whether it was done purposely or not.

The facts are not hard to find with thorough research and diligent investigating by truth seekers.  The real Bathsheba Sherman was born on March 10, 1812, to parents, Ephraim Thayer and Hannah Taft. Ephraim's first wife was named Bathsheba Pain. It is safe to assume that his daughter was named after his first wife or a relative in the family, as that was quite common given that time period.  For the record, Bathsheba was not an Arnold as Andrea Perron claims in her book House of Darkness, House of Light.*  In fact, Bathsheba was born a Thayer. Another point to mention is that Bathsheba never worked on the property of the Old Arnold Estate, nor did she care for a child that died on the property.  She was never accused of being a witch, nor was there any accusations of any accidental death or murder involving either Bathsheba or any other persons or infants.

* Pages 299 & 453, Kindle Version, Volume One. 

By the age of 32, Bathsheba married Judson Sherman, and soon after the couple started a family.  Herbert Leander Sherman was the only one out of the four Sherman children to live to adulthood. Herbert’s headstone states that he was born in 1850, however the 1850 census records show him to be one year old at the time it was recorded in August of that year.

Herbert Sherman’s first marriage was to Georgianna Irons, and took place on January 7, 1872.  Not much is known about Georgianna except that her parents names were William and Mary Irons and that they were from Glocester, Rhode Island. The young couple were happily married for only three short years when tragedy struck. Georgianna passed away on February 11, 1875.  She is buried with the rest of the Sherman family at the Riverside Cemetery in Harrisville.

Her headstone epitaph reads:
"Why should we grieve for one so pure,
 Our loss to her is gain,
 Her happiness is now secure,
 Our sorrows still remain."--

Herbert married for a second time, to a Ms. Anna Jane Phair on December 4, 1880. The pair had two sons, William, born in 1881; and Fred, born in 1883. Sadly, William died in 1900, at the age of 19.

All of the Sherman’s children, including Herbert, are interred at the Cemetery in Harrisville with Bathsheba, Judson and Bathsheba’s family. None of the children died of any suspicious or questionable circumstances.

Judson Sherman passed away on October 1, 1881, at the age of 68 years. Probate records indicate that Herbert was listed as the sole heir to the family estate after his mother. The Sherman estate at the time of Judson’s death was worth a little over $15,000.00.  By January 2, 1883, Bathsheba had remarried, this time to Benjamin Greene, a farmer from Providence.  Both parties had lost their spouses in death, and it appears that more than likely the pair may have married out of necessity, as many did in those days.

Bathsheba eventually succumbed to old age, dying from a stroke of paralysis in her bed at home, on May 25, 1885.  Her obituary, from the Burrillville Gazette read, “Bethsheba [SIC], widow of the late Judson Sherman, died at her late residence Monday morning last, from a sudden attack of paralysis, aged 72 years. The funeral services were held on Thursday, Rev. A.H. Granger officiating, and the interment took place at Riverside Cemetery, Harrisville. She was the last member of the Thayer family, once numerous and well known in this town, her son, Herbert Sherman, being the only near relative remaining.”—

As you can see by the documented records, Bathsheba Sherman died an old woman in her bed at home. She did not hang herself as the movie would have you believe. The question now would be, “where did all these over the top stories come from?”  The answer is actually more simple than one would think. But first, let’s go over the other stories that have also gained infamy by their erroneous attachment to the old Arnold Estate on Round Top Road as well.

We have already established that Bathsheba never lived at the old Arnold Estate, nor did she work there. She did not commit suicide either, but died of old age. So where did this idea of a woman hanging herself come from? The stories that started in the 1970s also included one about a lady named Susan Arnold who allegedly hung herself in the barn on the property.  I believe that whomever started this rumor assumed, given the same last name, that Susan Arnold must have lived at the old Arnold Estate. The fact was that Susan Arnold lived in another part of town, and did not commit suicide in the house or outside in the barn, as told and retold over the years.

The Black Book of Burrillville, a macabre record of unusual deaths in town, which has been added to over the years, lists various unusual deaths ranging from murder to suicides, also listing them by category.  Although it is noted that Susan Arnold did kill herself, as I stated before, she did not live at the old Arnold Estate.  According to her obituary in the local paper, dated April 13, 1866,  it read, “Susan Arnold, wife of John, hung herself in a chamber of her residence on Sunday, April 6; aged 50 years. She was the daughter of Dexter Richardson, Esq. The circumstances were as follows: on Monday morning, she went about her household duties as usual and while Mr. Arnold (who is an invalid) was conversing with a neighbor; she went upstairs. In about ten minutes the neighbor left, and Mr. Arnold started to go upstairs, as was his custom, to try his strength. At the head of the stairs he turned to go up another flight, when he missed the key from the door of a store-room, and then he had suspicions that something was wrong.

He immediately tried the door and found it locked on the inside. He tried to push the door in, but was so weak he could not. He then went through another room and through a window into a shed-roof and into another window, and there found his wife suspended from a wardrobe hook with a very small cord.

They immediately cut her down, but the vital spark had fled. She had evidently made every preparation for the act. She had a loaded gun, a dirk knife and a phial of mercury in the room with her; and had also laid out upon a bed in another room all the clothes for her burial. It is a sad affliction to her friends. “ —-

As terrible a story as that one is, the fact of the matter is that she didn’t commit suicide at the old Arnold Estate on Round Top Road. That makes all the difference in the story. If that wasn’t bad enough, there were more stories of suicides, rumors of drownings and a few suspicious deaths that seemed to somehow become attached to the home. All untrue of course.  The next story thrown around was the suicide of Mr. John Arnold, the son of Edwin Arnold and brother to Abigail Butterworth. When Edwin Arnold died, he did not pass the old Arnold Estate to John, he passed it to his son-in law, William Butterworth, Abigail’s husband. 

Although John Arnold did commit suicide, he did not kill himself in the attic of the old Arnold Estate because he did not live there. According to the Black Book of Burrillville, John Arnold committed suicide in 1911, at his own home which was near Tarkiln.  His obituary in the Pascoag Herald mentions that he had been in poor health for several years, and “in a fit of despondency he took a dose of paris green* and the efforts of a physician to save his life was unavailing.” John Arnold was 57 years old when he died, and his funeral was held at the Universalist Church, with Rev. W. S. Turner officiating the services. He was later interred in Douglas.

*Paris Green is a highly toxic crystalline powder used as a rodenticide and insecticide.
We have established that neither Susan Arnold, nor John Arnold died at the old Arnold Estate, but what about Edwin Arnold?  Although he did once own the property on Round Top Road, even he died elsewhere. His obituary dated in 1903, mentioned that his body was found “beside a stone wall on the Smith Aldrich farm north of the Sherman Stock farm.”  This information was kindly provided to me by current owner of the home, Norma Sutcliffe.

 Apparently, Mr. Arnold had stopped to rest there and he “died of natural causes resulting from exposure.” He had been missing for seven weeks, before Frank Pierce had found what was left of his body.  His remains were taken to Waterman’s undertaking rooms to be prepared for his funeral and subsequent burial. With all these misrepresented stories, it seems not even one can hold up when examined thoroughly.

You might ask yourself then, if Bathsheba Sherman, Susan Arnold, John Arnold and even Edwin Arnold did not die at the Arnold Estate, did anyone?  The answer is, yes; however, those deaths were from natural causes, such as illness or old age. Remember, the farm is over 300 years old, so it would be ignorant on anyone’s part to think that house has never seen one death.

Are there any documents of deaths at the old Arnold Estate? Yes.  According to family records of remaining descendants of the Arnold family, Sally Eddy passed away at the home, as did her two children, after suffering from Typhus.  I am sure over the span of the 300 years that the farm has stood, there are other relatives who have lived and died in the home, or on the property, but none of an unusual nature. 

There was one man who died on the property who had been tied to a notorious scandal a few years before. Jarvis Smith was born in April of 1844, in the state of Rhode Island. According to the 1860 census, he was living with his mother, Elizabeth, 44; and brother, Clovis, 18, in Smithfield, Rhode Island. The United States Civil War Index notes that at some point between 1861-1865, Jarvis served as a private, in Company F of the 9th Regiment, Rhode Island Infantry.  By 1898, Jarvis met a turning point in his life when he was charged with the murder of Brinton Rounds. Born in 1863, Brinton was the son of Arnold and Marcy Rounds of Foster, Rhode Island. According to the 1885 State Census, his listed occupation was a farm laborer in Foster.

 In October of 1898,  Brinton was stabbed to death, and Jarvis was charged with his murder. I could not find any further details on the circumstances of the case,  but I did find that Jarvis was acquitted of all charges.

 His name was well “known  around the state” as the newspaper stated, “as the man who stabbed Brinton Rounds at Foster, in October, 1898.”  So how did Jarvis Smith die? His body was found, laying face down in a “rickety shed along the highway,” by two men who were “passing along the road leading from Round Top to Douglas.”  The shed was on the property of the old Arnold Estate. The Butterworth family was notified and Dr. Wilcox was called. When the doctor finally arrived, he ascertained the Jarvis had died from natural causes, predominately exposure to the elements after passing out from extreme drunkenness.

The 1900 census lists Jarvis as having worked for William Mowry in Smithfield as a laborer at Mowry’s steam sawmill. The newspaper stated that “since his trial for the murder of Brinton Rounds, he had been working at various things in Foster and Burrillville.”  The two weeks prior to his death, Jarvis had worked at a sawmill in Douglas. The Saturday before his death, he went on a bender lasting several days, eating little to nothing and drinking his cares away. Jarvis was 57 years old when he died, with no wife or children of his own. The final words of his obituary notice stated, “He was possessed of rather more than usual intelligence of his class and was a peaceable, kindly disposed citizen when sober.” —

So, we have learned that although there are a few deaths we can tie to the property, there are no documents of truly unusual types of deaths having occurred at the old Arnold Estate.  But what about the murder of Prudence Arnold that Lorraine Warren claimed took place in the pantry of the home?

The Uxbridge Tragedy, as the newspapers labeled it, was truly a very sad story, but it didn’t take place at the old Arnold Estate. Instead, it took place at the Richardson house in Uxbridge, Massachusetts in 1849. According to the Rochester Republican, William Knowlton, 22, cut the throat of 12-year-old Prudence Arnold, after she refused to marry him.

The Woonsocket Patriot also covered the story, adding that little Mary Thayer of Burrillville, was at the house with Prudence that day. Although Knowlton convinced Prudence to go upstairs, Mary remained downstairs and did not witness the actual act. She did say that when she saw Knowlton come down the stairs, she could see that he had a lot of blood on his hands. She ran up the stairs only to find Prudence laying on the floor, making noises. She eventually bled to death.

After apprehending Knowlton, the constable interrogated him. It was reported that Knowlton resolutely stated he had every intention to kill Prudence and followed through with it, because as he said, “love and jealousy would lead a man to do anything.” 

Some of the papers revealed that Knowlton was of low moral perception, and was prone to drinking a lot. The defense tried to use the insanity plea, but that failed in the end. Knowlton was found guilty of the murder of Prudence Arnold, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.  Again, as horrific as this story may be, it did not take place at the Arnold Estate in Burrillville, Rhode Island.

Now that I have proven to you that none of the alleged murders or suicides took place at the old Arnold Estate, let’s look go back to Bathsheba’s story now and analyze how on earth this urban legend of sorts could have possibly started and taken on a life of its own over the years. 

For starters, you have to think back to when the rumors began.  The Kenyon family owned the property before the Perron’s bought it in 1971, and before that, the Kenyon’s ancestors, the Butterworth’s and even earlier, the Arnold’s had owned it since the 1700s.  Prior to the Perron family purchasing the property, there was no mention whatsoever of any sort of murders, witchcraft accusations or any sort of scandalous events tied to Bathsheba Sherman.

So were there any sort of terrifying stories in the local area that could have inspired the Bathsheba Sherman story? Yes. During my research of the history of Burrillville, I found another interesting tale about the Old Paul Place or "The Old Paul House."  It was said to be in ruins even at the time the book," Burrillville: As It Was, As It Is" was written in 1856. The home, or "castle" as it was called, was said to have been originally built and lived in by the Ballou family. Years later, Paul Smith and his family took up residence on the property.

“Not far from the center of the town, is a house, fast crumbling down, which has long been known as the above title ("Old Paul Place"). It was originally the residence of an ancient family of Ballou’s, a common name in this town.  A little to the east of the old castle are four graves where they were buried.

It was afterward occupied by Paul Smith. The old man met with many misfortunes which gives the place a romantic interest. His wife was insane for many years. 
She was confined in a lonely room, and with none of the appliances with which modern science and philanthropy soothe and improve the stricken mind, she sank into hopeless idiocy. One of the sons, an athletic young man, was engaged in a foot race in Slatersville, when he burst a blood-vessel and died in a short time.

Several families have resided there since Paul Smith died, but the edifice is at present forsaken,  the moss-grown roof has partly fallen, the massive chimney is breaking down, and the wild wind shrieks through the crazy fabric like the pitiful wail of its ruined  mistress. The forest is growing up all around it, and timersome do not like to frequent the place after nightfall. The raven croaks hoarsely from the open gable, and the twilight bat flits undisturbed through the forsaken and desolate apartments."----
 "Burrillville: As It Was, As It Is." (Horace Keach, 1856)

Could this story have inspired part of the idea of the Bathsheba tale? Quite possibly. Not only does it speak of the mistress of the house becoming insane, but it speaks of the fact that many in the area were easily frightened by old, scary houses.  Then comes the story of Laura Sherman who is buried in her family cemetery on Buck Hill. Local teenagers have been flocking to this spot for decades due to the legend that if you circle her grave three times on a full moon, that she will appear.

The story about the Old Paul Place could have been passed down through the years and perhaps parts of that mixed with the old legend tripping tales of Laura Sherman’s grave on Buck Hill could have made for one big ghost story that has mistakenly become attached to the wrong person.

According to retired journalist and local historian Kent Spottswood, “This whole story is one of 1970’s folklore fantasy.”  Spottwood’s opinion is that after the publication of the Satanic bible, which was first published in 1969, that was when stories of devil worship really hit the mainstream. He also mentioned that many young women who were lonely and seeking power, turned to Wicca, becoming solitary practitioners of the craft, which became almost fashionable at the time.  It appears that someone, influenced by current events happening at that present time may have taken pieces of Burrillville history- real events, real people, and intertwined them with grossly fabricated, false stories. This not only sullied the reputation of Bathsheba Sherman, but all who were involved or lived on the property during those times.

It’s not a matter of making up a theory and saying prove me wrong,” remarked Spottswood. “But that is exactly what has happened in the case of Bathsheba Sherman, and the old Arnold Estate’s history.”

The idea that out of all those years, one day this story just happened to come out of the woodwork to reveal itself is quite ludicrous. Bathsheba Sherman was not related to Salem witches, nor was she a witch. She was never suspected of witchcraft and was never accused of any crimes, murders or suspicious deaths. That entire idea was “conjured” up in the mind of someone either overly imaginative or delusional.  To make matters worse, once the rumors had spread, there was no taking them back.  Again, like the game of “telephone,” after this story was told and retold more and more, ridiculous claims have become attached to the story. And now we have the biggest fabrication of all, the film The Conjuring.

Kent Spottswood searched tirelessly for the history of both the Arnold property and Bathsheba Sherman’s life. At one point he even asked some of his lawyer friends to do some digging in the archives, in places the average person would not be allowed to look. After all the time spent searching for any shred of evidence that would back up the slanderous claims about Bathsheba, they “came up with nothing.”   There are no inquest records about any deaths of infants in the care of Bathsheba or of her own children dying of a suspicious nature. The facts are that there are no records in existence, because none of these events ever happened. According to the current owner of the old Arnold Estate property, Norma Sutcliffe, she also did thorough research on the home’s history and came to the same conclusion as Spottswood, that none of the accusations against Bathsheba ever took place as portrayed in the movie or Andrea Perron’s book.   

Norma insists that while visiting her house several years ago, Lorraine Warren walked around the home and told her, "This is such a loving home and the most wonderful place for the children.”  When asked by Sutcliffe why the Perron’s had experienced supernatural events and her family had not, Norma claims that Lorraine’s explanation was that certain dynamics within families can give rise to supernatural activity in a home. Whatever the case may have been, Norma and her husband have lived in the home since 1987, and besides the occasional creaking noises and doors being opened by drafty rooms, she states there hasn’t been any events she would credit to the spirit realm.  “Nothing has ever happened here that could not be explained by other things,” Norma added. Sutcliffe went on to mention that she told the same thing to the Providence Journal back in 1997. 

I received a package of sorts from Norma  while working on this chapter in my book. Among the many invaluable newspaper clippings dating back as early as 1849, up to the present day, I found a clipping of what appears to be a magazine article with the year “1985” scribbled on the margin. The headline of the piece read, “Fashion Model Meets Headless Ghost.”  At first glance it looked like a common tabloid story you might find while standing in line at the grocery store, but as I read the text of it something else became quite clear, it was all too familiar. 

The article described a couple by the names of Carol and Ronald Barron, giving accounts of their horrific experiences in their Rhode Island home.  The photograph actually shows the Old Arnold Estate, although the names were obviously changed for the article. From vicious attacks to horrific sounds, it details accounts one by one, as claimed by the lady of the house, Carol Barron, a former fashion model turned housewife. It highlights that the Warrens came to the rescue, per the Barron family’s request, but that although the Warrens tried to do their best to rid the home of the evil entities, their efforts failed.

 The most intriguing part of this article was towards the end, when Ed Warren was quoted mentioning that the 300 year old home had seen tragedies, such as suicides, drownings and even murder.  He also went on to mention that an 98-year-old woman had lived there who practiced witchcraft and as a gift to the Devil, she murdered her own child by driving a nail through it’s head.  Interesting, isn’t it?

Another thing to mention is that the article was written by a journalist named Tony Spera. Upon further  investigating, it turns out that he is Ed and Lorraine Warren’s son-in-law. The article then ends with the mention that the home was set to be buried under a huge reservoir planned to be constructed.  Of course we all know that didn’t take place, as the house still stands today. 

If this was the same home, and the Warrens claimed it was so plagued with problems that the only option was for it to be buried underwater, why did Lorraine tell Norma years later that the home was such a lovely place?  I think only  Lorraine Warren has the answer for that one.

My personal opinion on the “haunting” aspect of the home is that no one truly knows what happened in the house, except for the people who lived there at the time.  The fact that current owners of the home claim they do not experience negative activity leads me to believe that perhaps whatever was plaguing the Perron family while living there was brought there and left  when they moved.  Still, this chapter is not meant to be about the paranormal, but instead it is about the true history of the property and of Bathsheba.

Bathsheba Sherman was buried at the cemetery in Harrisville, alongside her first husband Judson, her children and other immediate family members. Her funeral was officiated by Rev. A. H. Granger, who was a well known and highly respected Baptist minister. Had Bathsheba been suspected of any sort of wrongdoing in her lifetime, there would have been a mention of it somewhere.

Another thing to consider, if such suspicion of her being involved in any sort of satanic rituals or witchcraft had been raised, she would have been shunned by the community and would not have had the full honors bestowed on her as a member of her church in her beloved hometown. 

To give any entity an identity and attach to them the name or stories of people who were once actual living human beings and then sully them in death is so very wrong.  This has happened to poor Bathsheba, and for far too long. My job as a writer is to sift through the story and get to the raw facts. Sometimes we find out that stories are not fact based, and so we have the responsibility to provide the true information to the public in order to set the stories straight. I truly hope that with this chapter, and the information I have posted on my blog, that Bathsheba’s true story will finally be told correctly.

I also hope that the stories of Susan, Edwin, John and Prudence Arnold will be told accurately, as well as the story of Jarvis Smith’s life and death.  A wise man once  told me, “It’s how we treat our dead that defines who we are.” So let us all treat these stories with the care and respect that they so deserve."

----------- Copyright 2016, "Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered," by J'aime Rubio 
( ISBN-13:  978-1523981175)  www.jaimerubiowriter.com

All rights reserved.  J'aime Rubio identified as the AUTHOR and PUBLISHER of the work in accordance with all U.S. Copyright laws. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission by the author/publisher.

Source Citations:

U.S. Census, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1885, 1900; United States Civil War Index, 1861-1865; Marriage, Death records from Burrillville Town Hall, Vol. 1. Deaths, 1854-1900, Vol. 1-A Marriages, 1846-1900; Bathsheba Sherman’s Will, (5-BUR-5-511), Public Records; Black Book of Burrillville; “Burrillville: As It Was, As It Is,” Horace Keach, 1856; Thayer Family Genealogy Records, Ancestry & Family Search; Information courtesy of Norma Sutcliffe: Copies of obituaries in archived Burrillville Gazette and Pascoag Herald, 1885, 1866, 1903, 1900, 1911, “Fashion Model Meets Headless Ghost,” Tony Spera, (unknown publisher), 1985; Providence Journal, 1997; Harrisville Cemetery records; U.S. Register of Historic Places; Find-a-grave; Baptist Missionary Magazine, 1848; Rochester Republican, 1849; Woonsocket Patriot, 1849; “House of Darkness, House of Light”- Andrea Perron, Author; Interview with Norma Sutcliffe, owner of Old Arnold Farm; Interview with Kent Spottswood, retired Journalist and local Historian.

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