Else Hambleton: “A Deerfield Story: The Mysterious Death of Infant Smith”
Friday, November 7 at 12:15 p.m.
Simeon Strong House, 67 Amity Street, Amherst, MA
Tradition says that Sarah Smith gave birth to an infant daughter in the northeast upstairs chamber of this house in Deerfield on Sunday, January 11, 1697/8. She claimed to have placed the baby on the bed beside her, before tying it up in her apron and hiding its body on the sill behind the bed. She said the baby girl never cried. While historians debate whether or not the child was stillborn, the minister, Reverend John Williams, the goodwives of Deerfield and the hastily called coroner’s jury charged Sarah Smith with infanticide. The charge of infanticide was laid, not because the baby was dead, but because Sarah Smith had concealed the infant’s birth.
Her trial was held the following August in Springfield. It took two days. Legally there was no question of her guilt but it was a capital crime and the Puritans were punctilious. They also knew a good object lesson when they say one. She was hanged the following week following an execution sermon preached by Rev. John Williams which, when printed, ran 64 pages.
This talk will consider Sarah Smith’s story in light of the Puritan sexual and legal mores, the importance of the women’s community in childbirth and the pressures of living on the frontier during Queen Anne’s War.
Else Hambleton is a long-time trustee of the Amherst Historical Society. She holds a PhD in History from the University of Massachusetts. Her dissertation became the book Daughters of Eve: Pregnant Brides and Unwed Mothers in Seventeenth Century, Massachusetts. She is currently working on a social history of Amherst between 1730-1830.
Join us with your lunch in hand. We will provide coffee, tea or cider for you as you listen to the presentations. The 30-minute program will begin promptly at 12:15 with seating and beverages ready just before noon. The lectures are free and everyone is welcome to attend. For updated information, check our website atwww.amhersthistory.org
Upcoming topics include:
Lynne Bassett, “With Womanly Weapons Girt”: Women’s Voluntarism & Quilts in the Civil War
Bill Gillen, A Comparison: Farming today at Amherst’s Sunset Farm to farming in the 1860 South as described by Frederick Law Olmstead