The Portsmouth Historical Society in partnership with Portsmouth Free Public Library will host a book club discussion of Killed Strangely: the Death of Rebecca Cornell by Elaine Forman Crane. The book discussion will be held at the library.
On a winter's evening in 1673, tragedy struck the Rhode Island household of Thomas Cornell. His 73-year-old mother, Rebecca, was found close to her bedroom's large fireplace, dead and badly burned. The legal owner of the Cornells' hundred acres along Narragansett Bay, Rebecca shared her home with Thomas and his family, a servant, and a lodger. A coroner's panel initially declared her death "an Unhappie Accident," but before summer arrived, a dark web of events―rumors of domestic abuse, allusions to witchcraft, even the testimony of Rebecca's ghost through her brother―resulted in Thomas's trial for matricide. The documents from Thomas's trial provide a rare glimpse into seventeenth-century life. Crane writes, "Instead of the harmony and respect that sermon literature, laws, and a hierarchical/patriarchal society attempted to impose, evidence illustrates filial insolence, generational conflict, disrespect toward the elderly, power plays between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, [and] adult dependence on (and resentment of) aging parents who clung to purse strings."
This session is part of a series of book club discussions about local history selected by the Portsmouth Historical Society. Books will be available one month prior to the discussion at Portsmouth Free Public Library. This event is free and open to the public. Please sign up on the library's website or by calling the library at 683-9457.