In my search for more information about Nancy, wife of Daniel Lamphere (c1740 – 1808) , I decided to explore each of their children’s lives. I also examined the children from Daniel’s first marriage, since the circumstances of its ending are still unknown to me, and I thought if I learned more about them it might explain something about how Daniel and Nancy’s relationship began. Daniel and Nancy are my grandmother Edna Darling’s ggg-grandparents from Westerly, Rhode Island.
A murder mystery
I didn’t get too far. Imagine my surprise when I immediately found myself deep into a murder mystery. This is the story of that mystery, but it’s also a story about sources of information.
One of the first children born to Daniel and Eunice Lamphere was George Lamphere, on 31 March 1761, according to the Westerly birth records. The original Lamphere immigrant (gg-grandfather to George) was named George (c1638 – 1731) and there are many descendants with that name. I knew from my initial exploration of Daniel’s descendants that George and his siblings from the first marriage left Westerly for northern New England and New York. George was residing in Royalton, Windsor County, Vermont in 1810 when he gave a power of attorney during the settlement of his father’s property.
I saw that George married Delight Hilliard on May 2, 1782 in Shirley Bucknum’s Lanphere Family Research Aid. George’s family is #92 on page 19. They “removed from Westerly to Norwich by certificate 7 Mar 1783 (TCP 4/6: 465)” meaning they were given a certificate saying that their home was Westerly, which would ensure they would be allowed to maintain a home in their new location. I have not yet been to Westerly to check the town council records volume 4/6 for that myself. I did find the marriage recorded in the Bozrah, Connecticut records by Barbour.
The first sign of the murder
Then I saw a strange note for George in Lanphere Family Research Aid:
Newspaper dated 29 Nov 1806, Windsor, VT: “Mrs George L Lamphere died under suspicious circumstances from which her husband and mother were arrested & committed to jail” (RI VR 14 p37)”.
Her source was Arnold’s Vital Records of Rhode Island, vol. 14, p. 37. A look at that entry shows that James Arnold abstracted the information from the Providence Gazette of November 29, 1806. This is the Gazette article, from GenealogyBank.com:
In Windsor (Vt.) Mrs. Lamphere, wife of George L. Having died on Sunday, she was buried on Monday; but suspicions arising, her body was taken up some days after, and examined by a jury of physicians, who reported that she came to her death by blows received on her left side and across her back; that those blows were probably given by her husband, and that his mother was accessory thereto. They were both committed to Woodstock gaol.
A search brought up numerous other, similar newspaper entries from around New England, as paper after paper copied the Vermont story. The nearest local paper in Windsor, Vermont revealed a few more details.
The Windsor Post Boy of November 11, 1806 mentioned:
she had been under the care of a Physician several days, and a part of the time was supposed delirious. Her complaints were so singular, that she was suspected to have died by poison or violence; her body by permission of her relations, was on Tuesday taken from the grave and examined by nine Doctors …
The September 5, 1807 Rutland Herald (v. XIII, issue 36, p.3) gave the outcome of the trial:
Important Trial – On Wednesday last, before the Supreme Court at Woodstock, came on the Trial of Mrs Ewing and George Lanphear, of this town, on an Indictment for MURDER committed on the body of Mrs. Lanphear (wife of the latter;) and after an impartial trial, which continued for four days, the charge was given to the Jury by His Honor Judge Tyler; – who, after a consultation of three hours, returned a Verdict NOT GUILTY. — Windsor paper, Aug 31.
There are some good examples in here of how evidence can be skewed or overlooked:
- the article repeated in various papers specifies “Mrs. Lamphere, wife of George L.” But the Providence Gazette retelling of the story uses “Mrs George L. Lamphere.” The Gazette is making an assumption.
- A similar mistake was made by Arnold in his abstract of the death record from the Providence Gazette: “her husband and mother were arrested” but in fact the Providence Gazette had clearly stated “her husband, and that his mother was accessory thereto.” And frankly, to even put the abstract into his volume suggested that the individuals had Rhode Island origins – something that he could not have been sure of.
- George Lamphere lived in Royalton, Vermont, located in Windsor County. I could find no newspapers for Royalton (a small town) so looked in Windsor County. But for a while, I overlooked this clue: the Windsor Post-Boy stated that she “was interred in the West-Parish of this town” – if I had thought this through earlier I would have realized the paper was referring to the TOWN of Windsor and so the wife could not have been buried in Royalton. I was checking each town on the map, and I would have known Windsor was too far away to be a likely burial spot. Also, some stories gave a dateline of “Windsor, Vermont.” Of course that meant a town, not a county.
- Nowhere in these newspaper reports is the first name of the wife mentioned.
The fact that strongly supported the story
As I read more notes online (repeating over and over that this couple was George and Delight Lamphere) and as I eventually saw the original court record (see below), I became aware that the accused murderer’s mother was named Eunice. That was also the name of my George Lamphere’s mother, although I had been uncertain as to her fate (Eunice’s husband Daniel remarried about 3 years after his and Eunice’s last recorded child). The newspapers mentioned “Mrs. Ewing” but I quickly found an 1804 marriage in Windsor, Vermont of Eunice Lamphear and William Ewing. This made me wonder if Daniel and Eunice had gotten a divorce, and she had eventually accompanied her son up to Vermont. In fact, another of Eunice’s children, Eunice, was also living in Royalton with her husband, Eliphalet Davis. I checked with the Rhode Island Judicial Records Center, but no divorce for Eunice and Daniel was found, but I have never found a death record for Eunice either.
Looking around online
Over a period of weeks I explored sources both contemporary to the event – like newspapers, census records, and vital records – and more recently compiled sources, like family genealogies, online notes, and lists.
The Barbour vital records for Bozrah, Connecticut (just next to Norwich, where George and Delight had gone in 1783) reported the marriage and five births for George and Delight between 1783 and 1791: Jesse, David, George, Erastus, and Daniel.
The History of Royalton, Vermont with Family Genealogies 1769-1911 by Evelyn M. Wood Lovejoy (Burlington: 1911), (volume 1 and volume 2 are online) has a brief entry for the George and Delight Lamphere family on page 847, in which son George is noted, birth date unknown, and the births of Daniel, William, Eunice, Jeremiah, Sally, and Sidney are reported between 1796 and 1806. The book also mentions a David, Erastus, and Jesse, about whom nothing was known, but I was able to easily see that those names matched the children born in Bozrah. It was noted that the family, living on Broad Brook, Royalton, seemed to have a presence in Royalton from 1793 until around 1820 only.
I was rather shocked to find (in the Mayflower Descendant, vol. 51 (2002): p. 95, accessed on AmericanAncestors.org) an article “William Hillard of Duxbury, Massachusetts” by Victor Grant Hillard Jr. which repeats the story of Delight being murdered (which is not uncommon to find) but takes it a step further and states, on page 123, that Delight’s mother, Victoria, was living 29 Nov 1806 when jailed for the murder of her daughter Delight. The source cited was the garbled Arnold abstract of the Gazette death notice. It’s a good illustration of how indexing, abstracting, and retelling can change the story – and how important it is to check other sources.
But for once, it was actually the comments, queries and notes online that helped the most. I was pleasantly surprised to see that although the story of George Lamphere murdering Delight was repeated often online, some commenters took issue with this story and cited sources to argue that the story should not be attached to the George Lamphere who married Delight Hilliard. I usually ignore random genealogy information posted online because it is usually unsupported. But in this case there were serious comments, evidence and reasons. In particular, “calliecute” on Ancestry.com left a comment on someone else’s tree that contained two excellent pieces of evidence:
- details of the graves of both Daniel and Delight, in New York State, c 1830
- a mention of the trial record, which she cited as “WINDSOR SUPREME COURT DOCKET VOL 3 P28 – AUGUST TERM 1807″ which names the wife as “Amelia.” Prior to seeing this, I had barely begun pouring over court record guides to figure out Vermont court records – this note assured me a record existed.
The facts that disproved the story
An email to the Vermont Archives (see Windsor County on this page) brought me a quick reply with a two page summary of the case, which was the only surviving record (Windsor County Supreme Court, January 1807 – January 1818 (vol. 3) p 28 – 29). I am very grateful for their help. Here is the pdf document of The State vs. Eunice and George Lanphier, August Term, 1807: WindsorSC_v3_p28 as sent to me by the archives. Here is a pdf of my transcription: Windsor County Supreme Court. The archives staff said it was a public record and I was welcome to post it. If anyone is wondering, I transcribed the Windsor County jurors as Isaac Tower, Theophilus Bates, Leonard Walker, Junice Parker, John Parker, Arnold Wheeler, Leonard Richardson, Amos Horner, John Billings, Moses Davis, Prince Haskell, and Thomas Hodgkins.
I thought from what I saw online that the court record would name the wife as “Amelia.” And sure enough, the wife was named Amelia. That does not disprove anything, really, since Delight could have died and George remarried, although it certainly eliminates Delight as being the victim.
Another important piece of evidence didn’t strike me until I went through the timeline of this story. According to the book History of Royalton, Vermont (linked above), Daniel and Delight’s last child, Sidney, was born December 12, 1806. Ancestry.com has images of a card file for Vermont Vital Records, 1720 – 1908. Sidney’s card appears below. So not only was Delight alive in December of 1806, but she and Daniel were still married and having children. I would not say this is absolutely conclusive proof of anything, but it goes far to prove that Daniel was unlikely to have married and murdered Amelia by the date of the assault, October 25, 1806.
Lastly, and again I would like to thank Ancestry.com user calliecute for this information, George and Delight Lamphere are buried in Riverside Cemetery in Pierrepont, St. Lawrence County, New York. Because of spelling variations, the Lamphere name is hard to find online and so various compilations of records have been built, including the Lamphear Genealogy Web Site on Rootweb. There I found some lists of New York graves for Lampheres, including this page which lists St. Lawrence County graves. To quote the information on that page, provided by volunteers Alice Rosenburger and Bob Lamphear:
LANPHEAR, George died August 19, 1832 at 71y, 4m, 18d
LANPHEAR, Delight (wife of George) died July 24, 1831 at 77y 11m 5d
This is definitely the George and Delight I’ve been studying. Calculating back George’s birth date puts it one day off from the recorded Westerly birth date of March 31, 1761. Delight’s age at death does not seem to match the date of her birth recorded in the Barbour volume for Stonington, Connecticut (p. 191): August 18, 1764. The age on the grave marker suggests a birth date of August 19, 1753 – one day and 11 years off. That would suggest she was 77, and her husband 70, at the time of her death – something that would be very unusual in that era. I suspect the gravestone may have been hard to read; perhaps it said she was 66.
Also, the markers noted in that cemetery included other family members – Hiram, son of Sidney Lamphear, and Eliza Ann and Zerah, daughters of Erastus Lamphear.
I am not finding census records to back up this move to New York, but George may not have been the head of a household later in life. I did find evidence that he was trying to move as early as 1805 – an 1805 ad by him, in the Windsor Post-Boy, offering his farm for sale:
Said farm contains upwards of 100 acres of excellent land, 40 acres under good improvement with a young and thrifty Orchard, well watered. Wood easily brought to the door for use – and Mills handy – 25 cattle can now be kept thro the year on said farm … 500 dollars in Cash, and the remainder in neat stock and horses. –George Lamphear, Royalton, February 13, 1805.
My conclusion is George and Delight Lamphere should no longer be considered as a part of the murder story. Sadly, that doesn’t really solve anything.
The crime itself
Apparently any record of the evidence presented at trial is no longer available. So we don’t know what the jury was told, other than the words of the indictment. I wonder why she was under a doctor’s care and yet the concerns arose by what she said, not by what that doctor saw. I wonder why her body had to be exhumed to find the evidence of a lethal beating. I suspect, but don’t know, there were no other suspects. I am not knowledgeable about the legal system of the time (although I follow The Legal Genealogist faithfully!) and don’t want to assume I know the law – I am wondering if beating her was really no crime? Wouldn’t the handkerchief about the throat seem to clearly indicate an intent to murder her?
I don’t think I will easily forget the grim details in the court record:
Eunice & George did then & there feloniously, willfully and with malice prepense strike, knock down, and with great force & violence beat and kick the said Amelia Lanphier upon the back, the left side, the neck, and the Loins of her the said Amelia, and did also, then & there feloniously, willfully, and with malice prepense bind a Handkerchief around the neck and throat of her the said Amelia, and thereby with great force and violence, did squeeze and press the neck & throat of her the said Amelia …
the said Amelia, from the said twenty fifth day of October until the first day of November in the year last aforesaid at Windsor aforesaid, did languish, and languishing did live and on the same first day of November in the year last aforesaid at Windsor aforesaid, the said Amelia died of the several mortal strokes, bruises & hurts, and so the Jurors aforesaid upon their oath aforesaid do say, that the said Eunice & George, her the said Amelia in the manner and form aforesaid, feloniously, willfully, and with malice prepense, did kill, and murder …
The brutality, and the agonizing days of pain which ended in her death are a terrible legacy for Amelia, whoever she was. One senses this was not the first episode of violence in this household, if two family members were conspirators in it. We are only hearing one part of this story (accurate or not) in the indictment but if it was true, ultimately there was no justice for Amelia. She went to her grave, perhaps leaving beloved children behind, and (if she was murdered by these family members), the murderers went on with their lives after a brief jail stint. There is nothing to be done about that, but at the very least she should NOT be remembered as a different person altogether.
I hope that genealogists can do that for her. If anyone puts her identity together, I would like to know.
In this research, I found good evidence where I least expected it, and bad information in places that should have been more reliable. I also noted some subtle errors introduced by abstracting. This has been a great reminder of the importance of examining all sources for information, and checking each fact as thoroughly as possible, even those that appear to be substantiated.
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