“For the Moon Shone Bright” – The Purington Murders of 1806
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[Please note – some of the descriptions in this article/episode are graphic. Use discretion with younger readers/listeners] You are lying in your bed on this hot July night. It has been a long, hot summer with no rain for weeks. The ground is turning to dust and the wind is warmer than usual. Outside, the light of moon is bright as it peeks between the curtains and if you are still, you can hear the rustle of the leaves and the peepers outside in the distance. You close your eyes again and know that soon, you will drift back to sleep. There are chores to do in the morning and it will come soon enough. As you lie there drifting back to sleep, you hear a sound, something not ordinary, something not expected. You stiffen and listen more intently. Time slows down to a crawl as you attend to every single noise. What was that? Was that your mother? Your sister? And then a thump and a muffled scream bolt you to attention. Someone is in the house, someone is moving in the darkness. Another muffled sound – someone is in trouble. You jump out of bed, shouting for your father to help as you move toward the door. But it is too late. From the light peeking in at the window, for the moon shone bright, you see the glint of an ax and you see the form of a man moving toward you with dire intent. The ax falls but you are fast and it glances over your shoulder instead of into it. You are near enough to the door to make your escape into the yard, away from your assailant. As you run, your mind a whirlwind, you cannot shake the vision that fills it. That man wielding the ax, that man who is undoubtedly attacking your family as you run for help…no, it couldn’t be…because he is the one who has supported and protected you your whole life. But you know it as surely as you feel the pain in your shoulder – the man who attacked you was your own father. Captain James Purington (Purrinton, Purrington) was born in Bowdoinham, Maine in 1760 and was from good Yankee stock. His father was a Cape Cod man and his mother was from North Yarmouth. Having married young Betsy Clifford of Bath, James came into an inheritance upon the death of his father that set him up as what we would today call a rich and independent farmer. Known for his frugality and his industrious work ethic, the people of Bowdoinham found him to be worthy of the rank of Captain of their militia. From what little we know of him in this time, he had every reason to be happy. After all, he had been blessed with a productive farmstead, a wife who had given him twelve children, four of whom died in infancy, and the respect of his community. Indeed, he seemed to possess everything a man could desire for the sum total of happiness. But there is always more to a person than possessions or achievements, something deeper and more essential to the true character within, something that few people even suspect might be there, hiding in the dark shadows of the mind. What makes one person successful might make another person a failure, depending on such intangible things as their outlook or their point of view. James Purington was a man with a grave countenance, a man who kept his own counsel in polite company, and who, it is claimed, had trouble looking another man in the eye while he spoke. It was, perhaps, simply an idiosyncrasy, just a way of his, but add that to his way of never believing he was wrong, never admitting to an error. James Purington always had to be right. Those who knew him claim that he was ‘easily elated or depressed,’ depending on how well his finances fared. Some ideas seemed to weigh more heavily on his mind than others. For all of these qualities, he was also a tenacious worker, a man who understood what it meant to do an honest days labor. As the Captain of the Militia, he took his responsibility toward his community very seriously. Yes,if ther
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