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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

Rider then relates the following narrative:

    At the breaking out of the Revolution there dwelt in one of the remoter Rhode Island towns a young man whom we will call Stukeley. He married an excellent woman and settled down in life as a farmer. Industrious, prudent, thrifty, he accumulated a handsome property for a man in his station in life, and comparable to his surroundings. In his family he had likewise prospered, for Mrs. Stukeley meantime had not been idle, having presented her worthy spouse with fourteen children. Numerous and happy were the Stukeley family, and proud was the sire as he rode about the town on his excellent horse, and attired in his homespun jacket of butternut brown, a species of garment which he much affected. So much, indeed, did he affect it that a sobriquet was given him by the townspeople. It grew out of the brown color of his coats. Snuffy Stuke they called him, and by that name he lived, and by it died.

    For many years all things worked well with Snuffy Stuke. His sons and daughters developed finely until some of them had reached the age of man or womanhood. The eldest was a comely daughter, Sarah. One night Snuffy Stuke dreamed a dream, which, when he remembered in the morning, gave him no end of worriment. He dreamed that he possessed a fine orchard, as in truth he did, and that exactly half the trees in it died. The occult meaning hidden in this revelation was beyond the comprehension of Snuffy Stuke, and that was what gave worry to him. Events, however, developed rapidly, and Snuffy Stuke was not kept long in suspense as to the meaning of his singular dream. Sarah, the eldest child, sickened, and her malady, developing into a quick consumption, hurried her into her grave. Sarah was laid away in the family burying ground, and quiet came again to the Stukeley family. But quiet came not to Stukeley. His apprehensions were not buried in the grave of Sarah.

    His unquiet quiet was but of short duration, for soon a second daughter was taken ill precisely as Sarah had been, and as quickly was hurried to the grave. But in the second case there was one symptom or complaint of a startling character, and which was not present in the first case. This was the continual complaint that Sarah came every night and sat upon some portion of the body, causing great pain and misery. So it went on. One after another sickened and died until six were dead, and the seventh, a son, was taken ill. The mother also now complained of these nightly visits of Sarah. These same characteristics were present in every case after the first one. Consternation confronted the stricken household. Evidently something must be done, and that, too, right quickly, to save the remnant of this family. A consultation was called with the most learned people, and it was resolved to exhume the bodies of the six dead children.

Posted By Michael Bell

Sidney S. Rider probably was the foremost, certainly the most prolific, chronicler of Rhode Island history, yet his own biography remains elusive, as Russell J. DeSimone and Erik J. Chaput noted in their article, “Sidney Rider and the Business of Rhode Island History”:

For those who have set out to write about Rhode Island’s rich history, Rider is a familiar name. The size of the ‘Sidney Rider Collection’ at Brown University’s John Hay Library is extensive, often overwhelming those who set out to sift through it. Researchers will encounter more than 15,000 items including books, pamphlets, manuscripts, and newspaper clippings chronicling the founding of the colony in 1636 to the post-Civil War era. However, while researchers may spend months with this material, most know nothing about the man who assembled it.

As I recounted in Food for the Dead, I spent some time with the Rider Collection at Brown University's John Hay Library in early 1983. But I must have been fortunate, indeed, for I located my quarry in about an hour.

I was attempting to assemble as much information as possible that would shed some light on the extraordinary vampire narrative that appeared in Book Notes in 1888, Rider’s long-running periodical on Rhode Island history. Rider’s narrative follows a pattern similar to that employed by George Stetson some eight years later, and by the Providence Journal in 1892:

  •     the definition of vampire;
  •     the historical and geographical distribution of the belief and practice;
  •     the local narrative(s) under consideration;
  •     speculation concerning how the tradition came to New England; and
  •     an attempt to contextualize the incident and summarize its meaning.

Rider sees two European vampire traditions. The first, he maintains, is an earlier form that originated in Eastern Europe (which, today, we might see as the “classic” vampire); the second is the werewolf tradition. According to Rider, the first form

came to this country, and seems to have been prevalent at one time here in Rhode Island. In fact, in may even at this day be held in her remote regions, if, indeed, that term be not inapplicable with the narrow confines of this little State. Strange, even incredible is it that anybody should believe in such absurd superstitions. It is true, nevertheless. There were, and there are now, those who do believe them, and the purpose of this paper is to narrate a case which took place here in Rhode Island at no very remote period. It was of a genuine vampire.