Stories

A tragic story from old Gloucester

In 1821, the Annisquam woods was the scene of a murder. Gorham Parsons, while chopping wood, struck and instantly killed a boy of 10 years, named Eben Davis, the act being done with a hatchet. The boy had given offense by singing a song. After committing the deed Parsons took the boy on his back and carried him to the village.

Parsons was arrested and tried for murder but set up the defense that the hatchet flew, striking the boy, killing him accidentally. Although the character of the wound rendered this story highly improbable, yet from the fact that Parsons had taken the boy from the woods, he was given the benefit of the doubt and acquitted. The record of the trial reads, “1821, Oct. 30. Gorham Parsons, a lad, for the murder of Ebenezer Davis, jr. also cleared.

Years after the trial, while on a fishing voyage he confessed the deed to some of the crew, declaring that he had carried the boy on his back long enough. Watching for his chance, he attached a millstone to his neck and jumped overboard. (From “The History of Gloucester,” by James R. Pringle, page 315)

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A similar version of the story is told in Notes and Additions to the History of Gloucester: Second Series by John James Babson

1821 May: Ebenezer Davis, a boy twelve years of age was killed in Squam woods with an axe by Gorham Parsons a lad. Parsons, as soon as he found he had fatally wounded the boy carried him on his shoulder out of the woods to Squam Hill. Two young girls were near at the time, but becoming frightened, they ran home.

An inquest was held and a verdict was given that Parsons had accidentally killed the boy, but on further examination of the body next day they found wounds on the back which convinced the jury that it was a wilful murder. Parsons was tried for the crime at Newburyport and acquitted.

He was afterwards heard to say that he was tired of carrying the boy on his back and one night told a shipmate on board of a vessel in which they were employed that he could not carry the boy any longer. The next morning he was missing as was also a small grindstone from which it was concluded that he had jumped overboard in the night with the grindstone for a sinker.

The name Gorham (aka Goram) Parsons was given to several people in Essex County ancestry. Gorham Parsons (1768-1844) was the son of Ebenezer Parsons (1746-1819) who lived in Gloucester and was a privateer at the start of the American Revolution. Ebenezer moved to Boston in 1781 where Gorham joined him in the business of trading commodities in the United States and overseas. The age of this well-known and financially successful Gorham Parsons does not coincide with the report that the person acquitted was a “lad.”

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