By Elaine Forman Crane
"It used to be Rebecca's son, Thomas, who first learned the victim's id. His eyes have been interested in the victim's head, and aided through the flickering mild of a candle, he 'clapt his fingers and cryed out, Oh Lord, it really is my mother.' James Moills, a servant of Cornell . . . defined Rebecca 'lying at the floore, with fireplace approximately Her, from her decrease components neare to the Armepits.' He well-known her simply 'by her shoes.'"—from Killed unusually
On a winter's night in 1673, tragedy descended at the first rate Rhode Island loved ones of Thomas Cornell. His 73-year-old mom, Rebecca, was once stumbled on with regards to her bedroom's huge hearth, useless and badly burned. The criminal proprietor of the Cornells' hundred acres alongside Narragansett Bay, Rebecca shared her domestic with Thomas and his relations, a servant, and a lodger. A coroner's panel firstly declared her loss of life "an Unhappie Accident," yet prior to summer time arrived, a dismal internet of events—rumors of household abuse, allusions to witchcraft, even the testimony of Rebecca's ghost via her brother—resulted in Thomas's trial for matricide.
Such have been the ambiguities of the case that others will be attempted for the homicide besides. Rebecca is an instantaneous ancestor of Cornell University's founder, Ezra Cornell. Elaine Forman Crane tells the compelling tale of Rebecca's dying and its aftermath, vividly depicting the area during which she lived. That global incorporated a criminal process the place jurors have been anticipated to be accustomed to the defendant and case earlier than the trial even begun. Rebecca's unusual demise used to be an occasion of cataclysmic proportions, affecting not just her personal group, yet neighboring cities as well.
The records from Thomas's trial offer a unprecedented glimpse into seventeenth-century lifestyles. Crane writes, "Instead of the concord and recognize that sermon literature, legislation, and a hierarchical/patriarchal society tried to impose, facts illustrates filial insolence, generational clash, disrespect towards the aged, strength performs among partner's mother and daughter-in-law, [and] grownup dependence on (and resentment of) getting older mom and dad who clung to handbag strings." but even at a distance of greater than 300 years, Rebecca Cornell's tale is poignantly commonplace. Her court cases of household abuse, Crane says, went mostly unheeded by way of buddies and associates till, finally, their complacency was once shattered by means of her bad death.