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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

Although they seemed to be vigorous and healthy, within a span of sixteen years nine members of  Leonard Spaulding’s family, including the father, died of consumption. The deaths began with Mary, aged 20, in 1782, continued on a regular basis through the father’s death in 1788, and culminated with the death of the last remaining son, twenty-seven year old Josiah, in December of 1798.

We pick up the story of what happened to the Spaulding family of Dummerston, Vermont in the following account from a published history of the town: “Among the superstitions of those days, we find it was said that a vine or root of some kind grew from coffin to coffin, of those of one family, who died of consumption, and were buried side by side; and when the growing vine had reached the coffin of the last one buried, another one of the family would die; the only way to destroy the influence or effect, was to break the vine; take up the body of the last one buried and burn the vitals, which would be an effectual remedy: Accordingly, the body of the last one buried was dug up and the vitals taken out and burned, and the daughter, it is affirmed, got well and lived many years.”

Looking at the sequence of deaths in the family, it appears that the exhumed body belonged to either Leonard, Jr. (the sixth to die, in 1792) or John (the seventh, who followed his twin brother, Timothy, to the grave in 1793). Apparently the remaining three daughters lived well into maturity.

If the Spaulding family had allowed the vine to enter another grave to infect yet another soul, the curse would have been prolonged, opening the door to an endless chain of death. While I cannot know what the surviving Spauldings were thinking when the vine was cut, nor where they might have learned of the ritual, I can view their act against a background that links them to other, perhaps ancestral, traditions.