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Robert Treat Paine Papers, Volume 4

Trial notes
Worcester. Supr. Court. April 1778

State vs. William Brooks, James Buchannon, Ezra Ross, for Murder of Joshua Spooner, & vs. Bathsheba Spooner as an Accomplice before the fact.

Sally Bragg ) a fortnight before then Jesse Parker was saying how bad a man Mr. Spooner was, bad to his Wife, had just got him drunk, that Mrs. Spooner had sent for Brooks to have their frolic; Mr. Spooner will not get drunk many times more he is a short lived man, he was directing him Brooks & Cummings, Cumming said yes I am sure he is Hannah Walker ) Mrs. Stratton sd. Mrs. Spooner told me what I durst not tell for my life, this was last fall, in Worcester She went to live at Spooners, she said she was going to live at Mrs. Spooners and was like to do well, 35 last fall the week before she went to live there, she lodged with Mrs. Spooner, & he came home she sd. she hated him Mary Parks ) Mrs. Spooner never, wished her Hus dead, or intimated she would put him out of the way, she said she did not love her hus: Dr. Jona. King ) I spent Evng wth. Decd. at Mr. Cooleys, between 8 & 9 he went from there I went there abt. dusk & found him there, we came away together, & parted at the Door. he sd. good night. he was sober & sociable. blood lay within 8 ft. of the corner of the house on the Gate, curb of the well & on his Cloak none of the house went out to look at the Corpse; wn. we carried Corpse into the Room, Mrs. Spooner shut out & did not turn her Eye, the bruizes, Mrs. Spooner eating her breakfast Ephm. Cooley ) Came to my house between Sun down & Dark tarri’d till between 8 & 9. & went away, was very pleasant next morning Alex. came riding on Spooners horse between 8. & 9. & enquired for Mr. Spooner, he was told to go to Dr. Kings & he went part of the way & turned back; I went to Mrs. Spooners they at Breakfast. Talk’d with her wept & took it hard for such reflections went out found his Hat under Snow. Charles Cobbin a Negro ) Master Welden sent me to Mrs. Spooners after his horse He had to Worcestr. saw a man there, I took it to be Mr. Ross wm. I had seen before, in the kitchen, he went into the Parlor, Saw two men come in from Springfeild Reuben Old ) I lived a Mr. Spooners last Fall, abt. fortnight before murder he asked me to stay with him he fetched down a Trunck & we set up all night, Brooks was up Stairs a bed, Sergt. there, Spooner sd. he was afraid they were agoing to rob him, I went into other Room to Buchannon & he sd. he wd. put him into the Well for a copper & if he comes out & says a word he would put him into the Well, Mrs. Spooner opened the Window & sd. people may call it a negro frolic I’m determined to make them go through with my design Obadiah Rice ) last Fall I rememberher I heard her say she wish’d Old Bogus was in Heaven, in Coming down, she sd: If it had not been I had a great desire to see my Daddy this murther had never been comitted & also the moment the breath of life left his Body I would have given 10,000,000 £ would it had been in again that she wd. suffer 10 deaths before Mrs. Stratton & Alex shd. suffer. 36 Susannah Wilson ) I saw Sergt. & Brooks, there a fortnight abt. three weeks before murder She asked one of them to go into the other Room She & Alex. were whispering together. Saw Ross at Mr. Spooners last Thanksgiving. Thos. Green ) Swears to the Buckels Dr. Jona. King Ephm. Cooley. at Mrs. Brown. She told me she had been the whole cause of this murder she mentioned an old grudge & began the Discourse Ephrm. Curtis I was at the taking & Walkers & stood Guard, Buch. jump’d out of the window, he let himself blood on Wednesday bled much, found a Ring on him. Capt: Josha. Whitney ) 2d March at Mr. Walkers Saw Brooks with a watch in his pocket & buckles in his Shoes Standing by the fire & Buchannon sitting on the Bed. I asked for the others took a light & went up Stairs, found Ross in upper Garret he quivered & was much scared, Buchannon jump’d out of window, Brooks gave the negro Girl the watch in Examn. he owned that to be the watch he had in his pocket, Ross told me he was guilty of this crime was very full, & wanted a minister, Did not strike the first blow, but was Aiding & assisting, very penitent. Ross sd. he had on Mr. Spooners Jacket & Breeches & had given his own to Brooks who had bled his own in taking up the body. & Brooks afterward owned he took up the body, Ross, said his Pistol was at Mrs. Walker, & I went & found it there, & his Pocket book with 10£ notes & 8. Doll. bills, given him by Mrs. Spooner, & other money his own, Mr. Spooners horse was in Mr. Spooners Walkers barn, the baggs & shirts in it, he sd. the marks burn’t out Saml. Bridge. the buckles in Brooks shoes. Mr. Spooners, the Jacket on Ross. Mrs. Spooner sd. if she cd. see the persons face to face she cd. give Satisf: & this is the Effect of bad Company. John Green ) abt. buckles & watch Charles Simpson ) the Jacket, Brooks has on, I altered for Mr. Spooner John Hibird ) the Jacket Mr. Spooners abt. 9 mos before murder while Decd. gone to Springfeild Serjt. & Brooks at Mrs. Spooners, afterwards saw Brooks there I think the Baggs Mr. Spooners. 37 Alex Cumings I came to Mr. S the day the troops came to from a fortt. before murder. S & B came to Mr. Spooners house pr . Rel. to Serjt. I knew him in Canada Mrs. Spooner ordered me to call all British Troops in that went along, she asked ’em how they did Gentlemen, she said she wished she had Mr. Spooner was out of the way they could enjoy one another, he sd. he wishd. he was out of the way, they staid while Mr. Spooner was absent at Princeton, wh. he came home Serjt. & Brooks sd. they wd. put him out of the way after they were ordered away they tarried two days & nights in the Barn, & I carried ’em victuals by her orders & she carried some Ross came there Saturday night then Mrs. Spooner came home. Mrs. Spooner ordered the horse put up. Ross was kept concealed all day. the Serjt. & Brooks came there Sunday Evning while I was gone to carry home horse. I found Ser. & Ross in Parlour & Brooks was out by the Road, I step’d out with a blanket coat on & Brooks took me for Mrs. Spooner & bid me ask Mrs. Spooner to step out. I said I would not, Brooks told me he was watching for Mr. Spooner & he should not come home a living man that night I went to Bed, & got to Sleep, & was waked by their coming up stairs & smelt woolen burning. I went down, & saw the pris. all in the Parlour sitting & Brooks wn. he came to the house had white woolen Jacket & Breeches & they were burning Cloathes, Mr. Ross put on a pair of blk breeches of Mr. Spooners. I fetched down Jacket & Mrs. Stratton the Breeches Buchannon had on a Ruffled shirt Mrs. Spooner took Mr. Spooner’s money and carried it into the Setting Room, but I did not see her give ’em any money, She told me to get water to wash Brooks breeches & I should have ’em, She had told me if ever Mr. Spooner was killed she would have him thrown into the well. Serjt. sd. did yo. think this man of mine could have done the Jobb. abt. a month before She asked me if I would kill Mr. Spooner for her & she wd. make a man of me, She sd. had not cut his throat but pushed him down the night before he went to Princetown he spit out Gorg Ross sd. he had put aqua fortis he told Mrs. Spooner he had carried poison to Princeton, but had not opportunity to give it him, Buch. when he went away shook hands with her & said she might expect to see him again in a fortnight, next morning she went with me to the Well & she sd. she hoped he was in heaven & desired me to take the horse & go & enquire for him she sd. she wanted him to be put to the bottom of the well. 38 Sarah Stratton ) Ross at Mr. Spooners between thanksgiving, the Sunday all there in Front Room & Ross ask’d me to call Mrs. Spooner in, she went in; Gray & al. came there & sup’d in the kitchen, & the Pris: supd in Sitting Room; I went to light Mr. Gray to bed & coming down saw Mrs. Spooner taking the money Box, she took hold of my hand & said she hoped Mr. Spooner in Heaven, she carried the box into the sitting room, she sent me for Breeches & I came down & saw ’em all standing round Table in sitting room & the box open & money in Buchs hand. She bid Alex get water & wash Breeches that were bloody & he should have ’em we went to well & could not get water they had some Buckels: I have seen her wear a ring like this. She sighed & turnd all night, in the morning she desired me not to tell of it & I shoud not want any thing, they all came into the Kitchen & bid ’em good night & Buc. sd. to Mrs. Spooner you Shall see me in a fortnight: Brooks sd. his time was come. Ross when he came there se...ated himself from Mrs. Spooner Jesse Parker ) Buc. & Brooks there she used to be in sitting room with Serjat, they kept in the barn she & I & Alex. carried victuals to them, She asked me to get Mr. Spooner to the Barn, wn. he came from Princeton she said she was never so strong in her life, she sd. she was going to Worcester the regulars were going there. Obadiah Rice ) some time ago she wished old Bogus was in Heaven; I came down with Mrs. Spooner Mrs. Stratton & Alexr. Elisha Hamilton ) She sd. if it was not for this thing I cd. meet my Judge, she told Coley he had done no more than his duty it was her own doing. Asa Biggelow ) before the Inquest, she sd. she was the cause of it tho she did not say lay hands on him. She had hird Serjt. & Brooks to do it & gave 1000 dolls & had given 200 Wm Young Esqr ) abt. a week after the Exan. I went into the Goal to converse, Ross sd. a good part of his Exmn. was lying he sd. he took him by the feet & Brooks by the shoulders & put him into the Well Brooks acknowledged he gave a blow Mrs. Spooner sd. she must confess she consented to the Murder John Cunningham ) Brooks sd. to me I made a mistake in my Confession, for he Struck the blow. 39 Joseph Wheeler Esqr. ) Brooks desired some alterations to be made, for he struck the first blow. Ross sd. he wanted to make some alteration Mr. Sprague1 the Evid: vs. Ross, only makes him an access. after fact. the Pris: suffer by being tryed all together because they charge one another Mr. Lincoln confession sometime prove false. Ross’s good Character if he had engaged to comit the crime why did he not do it before he was obliged to conceal himself on acct. of the horse Marq. of Beccaria2 Presumptive Evidence dangerous. the Care of the Uncle & neice of the Stolen horse the credibility of Prue Mary Walker Mrs. Stratton Alex. Mrs. Spooner must be out of her head to comit this crime & orphanize her children, hus. a Cloak Could she expect impunity. Would they not have agreed upon a plan of escape

MS .


John Sprague (1740–1800), a 1765 graduate of Harvard, joined the bar in Worcester County in 1768 after reading law with James Putnam. He settled in Lancaster and was one of only three lawyers in the county following the departure of his Tory colleagues during the Revolution. Sprague represented Lancaster in the General Court beginning in 1782 and occasionally sat in the Senate. He was first appointed judge in 1784 and in 1798 became chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas for Worcester County (Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, 16:237–239).


This reference to Cesare Beccaria, the Italian jurist, is one of the very few non-English citations that RTP used in court. It presumably refers to Beccaria’s Essay on Crimes and Punishment (1764), which John Adams had cited in the Boston Massacre trials (Alan Rogers, Murder and the Death Penalty in Massachusetts [Amherst, Mass., 2008], 31, which also discusses the Spooner trial, 32–37).