1806 · Hanover, N.H.
by [Burnham, Josiah]
Hanover, N.H.: Printed by Moses Davis, 1806. 11, [1 blank] pp. Original stitching, untrimmed. Scattered spotting and light wear, else Very Good. This sensational murder trial drew more than 10,000 spectators on execution day. The site was the west side of Powder House Hill in the little town of Haverhill, just north of Dartmouth College. They came on foot, horseback and in wagons; men, women, and even children; some brought full picnic baskets. Josiah Burnham [1743-1806] was a land owner whose litigious and unpleasant disposition alienated everyone. His many disputes resulted in his insolvency and incarceration. Jailed in Haverhill for swindling, forgery, and as a criminal co-respondent in a divorce action, he shared a cell with Captain Joseph Starkweather and Russell Freeman. They had been jailed for debt, and taunted him about his relationship with a woman connected to the divorce action. Retaliating, Burnham gutted them with a knife he had fashioned in prison. After watching Starkweather die he turned his attentions to Freeman who, thanks to Burnham's work, was holding his bowels in his hands. Burnham stabbed him several more times to ensure his death. The pamphlet also recounts Burnham's early life, including his time in a whale fishery and his establishment of the town of Coventry, New Hampshire; and the series of abuses he suffered, not without provocation, including the destruction of his house by a mob. As a result, "my temper,.. became quick and furious -- my disposition remarkably changed, and not for the better." Burnham pleaded not guilty. The Court appointed Alden Sprague of Haverhill, and a young Daniel Webster to defend him. Burnham was found guilty. "Burnham had no witnesses. He could not bring past good character to his aid nor could we urge the plea of insanity...," Webster recalled in 1851. "I made my first and only solitary argument of my whole life against capital punishment, and the proper time for a lawyer to urge this defence is when he is young and has no matters of fact or law upon which he can found a better defence" [Lawson]. The trial is notable also for the fact that Burnham's execution was delayed so that his body could be used for dissection at the Dartmouth Medical School. "Transporting [the] corpse in the July heat, and then storing it.... presented a unique set of problems...," so argued the illustrious Dr. Nathan Smith, founder of the Dartmouth Medical School. [Waite] Burnham was put to death on August 12, 1806, the day of his 63rd birthday. ["The Trial of Josiah Burnham for the Murder of Captain Joseph Starkweather, Plymouth, New Hampshire, 1806," Lawson, John D.: AMERICAN STATE TRIALS, VOL. VIII, St. Louis: 1917, pp.1-9; "The Doctor, the Murderer, and the Governor," by John Waite, February 9, 2015, The New Antiquarian blog, accessed at the website of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America on April 17, 2019.] McDade 145. Cohen 12401. AI 10073 [1-AAS]. OCLC notes seven copies under three accession numbers as of October 2019. (Inventory #: 35775)