Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Wakemanite Murder.

In 1855 a religious sect known as the Wakemanites met regularly at the home of Samuel Sly in New Haven, Connecticut. The Wakemanites were follower of Mrs. Rhoda Wakeman who had been chosen by the Lord to prepare the faithful for the return of Christ and the new Millennium.

69-year-old Rhoda Wakeman had previously lived in Greenfield, Connecticut with an abusive husband. Some 30 years earlier, Mr. Wakeman had beaten her so badly that, according to Mrs. Wakeman, he killed her. Two angels stood beside her and when they touched her with their bright swords she rose from the cloud of death and went to heaven.  She saw Christ, in his crown of thorns and with nails in his hands and he spoke peace to her soul. She saw God sitting upon his throne in all his glory surrounded by angels in white robes. Then a spirit took her to earth where she saw her dead body lying on the floor and she knew she had come back to this wicked world to live again. She had been dead for seven hours but rose again. From that point on she would communicate directly with God as she pursued her task of preparing the world for the second coming. 

When her husband died, she moved to New Haven where she was known as Widow Wakeman. She lived with her half-brother, Samuel Sly (aka Elder Sly), and gathered followers who met at his house to hear her message. They called themselves Wakemanites and called their leader The Prophetess. While the Wakemanites never numbered more than a dozen or so, they were true believers and devoted servants of The Prophetess.

In December 1855, Mrs. Wakeman began suffering from severe bodily pains. She knew exactly what caused the pains; one of her followers had stopped coming to meetings because he had become possed by an evil spirit. This evil spirt was not only a source of pain for The Prophetess but was also a great obstacle to the immediate commencement of the millennium. Moreover, if she should die as a result, her death would be followed by the general judgement and destruction of the world without any millennium.

The Wakemanites understood the urgency and set about to rid Mathews of his evil spirt. One of the followers, Polly Sanford, was Justus Mathews’ brother; she went with her husband, Almeron Sanford to discuss the matter with Mathews and convince him to come to a meeting on Sunday, December 23. The group had been praying and singing since 2:00 that afternoon and Mathews arrived some time after 9:00 pm. He expressed a desire to be relieved of the evil spirit which afflicted him, and through him, afflicted others, especially The Prophetess. 

Polly Sanford tied a handkerchief over his eyes to diminish the power of the spirit and to prevent Mathews from enchanting anyone with his eyes. She tied his hands behind his back, “as they would the devil.” Then she left him alone and went upstairs to pray with the others. The meeting went on until 2:00 am and Mathews was visited at intervals by one or more of the company to beseech him to give up the evil one. They told him it would be better that he should die than that Mrs. Wakeman should be afflicted unto death and the world destroyed. He reportedly expressed a willingness to die. Eventually they all went home without checking any further on Mathews.

Justus Mathews never came home that night and the next morning his son went looking for him. He went to Sly’s house and when no one answered the door he broke it open. He found his father lying on the floor with pools of blood surrounding his head. His throat had been cut from ear to ear and his head nearly severed from his body. A small rope was found on the floor and marks on his wrists showed that he had been bound and his abdomen was covered with puncture wounds as if he had been stabbed with a table fork. The boy immediately raised the alarm.

Later that day a coroner’s jury was convened and many of those at the meeting gave evidence. They testified to the belief that if Mrs. Wakeman should die the world would be destroyed. They believed that Justus Mathews had killed himself to be rid of the evil spirit. Several Walemanites were arrested and charged with committing or in some way being accessory to the crime—Israel Wooding, Almeron and Polly Sanford, Abigail Sables, Thankful S. Hersey, Widow Wakeman, Samuel Sly, and Josiah Jackson.

On Wednesday, Samuel Sly confessed to the murder. He said his sister had been so distressed by the bad spirit in Mathews that he knew something must be done to remove it. As people were preparing to leave, Sly went into the front room where Mathews was sitting and locked the door. He struck the blindfolded man in the temple with a two-foot club of hazel wood knocking him to the floor, then struck him several more times with the club. He took out his pocketknife with its two-inch blade, commenced to cutting Mathews’ throat. Then he mutilated the corpse with a fork. 

He went to Thankful Hersey, who had a room in the house, and she brought him a basin of water to wash off the blood. They tore up his bloody shirt and burned it in Miss Hersey’s stove. He broke the club into three pieces and threw it along with his knife, into the privy vault.

That April, Samuel Sly, Widow Wakeman, and Thankful Hersey were tried for the murder of Justus W. Mathews. None of the Wakemanites who testified had wavered in their belief that Mathews had been possessed by an evil spirit and had to die to save the world. The verdict was not guilty on the ground of insanity and the defendants were sent to the Insane Retreat in Hartford, Connecticut.

This was not the last murder connected to the Wakemanites, here is the story of Justus Mathew's maniac nephew: Murdered by a Maniac


Sources:
“Effects of Fanaticism,” Examiner and Chronicle, January 3, 1856.
“Horrible Ignorance and Superstition,” Portland Weekly Advertiser, January 1, 1856.
“A Most Horrible Murder! One of the isms.,” National Aegis, January 2, 1856.
“The New Haven Tragedy,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, January 12, 1856.
“The Wakemanites,” Manchester Daily Mirror, April 24, 1856.
“The Wakemanites,” New York Evangelist, April 24, 1856.

1 comments :

NorthsideRasta says:
May 15, 2020 at 4:39 PM

Fervent Fanatics

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