The hanging of Ezra Ross and Bathsheba Spooner, July 2, 1778

In 1778, sixteen year old Ezra Ross, son of Jabez and Johana Ross of Ipswich was condemned to death for his participation in the murder of Joshua Spooner of Brookfield MA. Spooner’s wife Bathsheba became the first woman executed in the newly created United States of America. Ezra Ross is buried in an unmarked grave at the Leslie Road Cemetery near the Ipswich-Rowley line. Church records list his burial:

Ezra Ross
DEATH DATE: July 2, 1778

Leslie Road Burying Ground
Ezra Ross and Rev. Lesslie are both buried in unmarked graves at the Leslie Road Burying Ground

M.V.B Perley described the affect of the hanging of Ezra Ross on the Rev. Leslie and his congregation:

“Mr. Lesslie attended Ezra Ross at the gallows, in Worcester, 2 July, 1778. Ezra’s parents were members of Mr. Lesslie’s church, and Ezra, of course, was a member of the church society. Ezra was sixteen years of age, the youngest of seventeen children, of whom nine were then living, and four of the nine were in the war. Returning from his first enlistment, young Ezra fell sick in Brookfield, Mass., and was nursed to health in the home of Mr. Joshua Spooner.

Mr. Spooner was a retired lumberman, passively disposed and of simple tastes. His wife was Bathsheba, daughter of Chief-Justice Ruggles. She never knew the want of a luxury that money could buy and was haughty and imperious, and the house was divided against itself. On Ezra’s return from his second enlistment, gratitude prompted him to visit his benefactress. He was youthful, had a fine physique, and stature far beyond his years; he was active, social, witty, handsome; she was artful, seductive, profligate. Mr. Spooner was in her way and he was removed. Four persons were arrested, including Mrs. Spooner and young Ezra.

The trial was short and the way to the gallows was short. Several petitions, because of her delicate condition and of his youth and accidental knowledge of the deed, were of no avail. Linebrook Parish was stricken with profound grief; the church appointed a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, which was solemnly kept.”

Bathsheba Spooner at her hanging.
Bathsheba Spooner at her hanging.

The town of Brookfield MA was founded by people from Ipswich in 1668, and is known as the site of a vicious massacre by native Americans. The following story appeared in Mass Moments:

On July 2, 1778, an intelligent and high-spirited beauty from Brookfield became the first woman to be executed in the new American republic. The 32-year-old’s crime was indeed horrific: she had arranged for the cold-blooded murder of her husband by three soldiers who fell under her spell.

In January of 1778, a proud and independent-minded Bathsheba Spooner found herself in a desperate situation. She was locked in a loveless marriage to Joshua Spooner, an abusive man to whom she had “an utter aversion,” and she was pregnant with her fifth child. It would not take long for people to connect her pregnancy with the 17-year-old Continental soldier she had housed and nursed when he fell ill on his way home from the front.

Ezra Ross was a young soldier who passed through Brookfield on his way home to the coastal town of Ipswich. (*Many of the Ross family in Ipswich descend from Killicross Ross, a Scottish soldier captured at the battle of Dunbar by Oliver Cromwell’s army. He was sold to Puritans who needed servants, and never returned to Scotland.) When Ezra fell ill, Bathsheba took him into her home — and to her bed. Once he recovered, Ezra continued on to Ipswich and later returned to the front, but he managed to visit Brookfield several times over the next year.

Ezra Spooner hanging
Bathsheba Spooner, Ezra Ross and and her other two accomplices being delivered to the gallows.

By January of 1778, Bathsheba’s pregnancy threatened to reveal her unfaithfulness. With disaster looming, she hatched a plan. First, she persuaded her young lover to poison her husband. When Ezra lost his nerve, she lured two British deserters into her home and entertained them with rum, suggestions of sexual favors, and promises of payment. On a moonless night in March, she sat in her kitchen waiting for her drunken husband to return home. When he approached the house, one of the British soldiers attacked and beat him to death; then she and Ezra Ross helped the other one dump Joshua’s body down the well.

Within 24 hours authorities had discovered the murder and apprehended the perpetrators. They all implicated Bathsheba. In April she and the three men were tried for the murder of Joshua Spooner. It took them only one day to convict all four defendants and sentence them to death by hanging. Afterwards, the three men made full confessions; Bathsheba refused to confess but she did appeal for a stay of execution until she could deliver her baby. The appeal was denied.

Bathsheba Spooner, five months pregnant, was hanged from the gallows along with her three co-conspirators. Some 5000 people came to Worcester to see her hang in a carnival-like atmosphere. On the scaffold she declared that she justly died; that she hoped to see her Christian friends she left behind her, in Heaven, but that none of them might go there in the ignominious manner that she did.

Ezra’s parents Jabez and Johana, made a lengthy appeal to the court to have mercy on their son, but to no avail:

Spooner murdered by his wife.

“On his return, from the first year’s campaign, he was by the lot of Providence, cast upon Mrs. Spooner, in a severe fit for sickness from whom he received every kind office and mark of tenderness, that could endear and make grateful a child of sixteen, sick, destitute, in a strange place, at a distance from friend and acquaintance.

After the evacuation of Ticonderoga, in his march to reinforce the Northern Army, gratitude for past favors led him to call on his old benefactress, who then added to the number of her kindnesses, and engaged a visit on his return–with a mind thus prepared, & thus irresistibly prepossessed, by her addresses, kindnesses, on his tender years, he of the first time heard the horrid proposals, tempted by promises flattering to his situation, and seduced both from virtue, & prudence a child as he was, by a lewd artful woman, he but too readily acceded to her measures black as they were–but never attempted an execution of the detestable crime, notwithstanding repeated solicitations, and as frequent opportunities, until on an accidental meeting, he became a party with those ruffians, who, without his privity, had fixed on the time and place for that horrid transaction, of which he now stands justly convicted….” Read the entire appeal.

Sources and further reading:

6 thoughts on “The hanging of Ezra Ross and Bathsheba Spooner, July 2, 1778”

  1. Such a sad end for such a young man as Ezra Ross and his sorrowful parents. Such a weight on his young shoulders.

  2. Please check out my new book, Bathsheba Spooner: A Revolutionary Murder Conspiracy, the most thorough retelling of the tale yet published. Named # 1 new release, US Revolution, at Amazon. Jonathan Cohn of the Huffington Post calls it “…meticulously researched, elegantly told.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s