On July 2, 1778, Ezra Ross became the
first Continental soldier ever hanged in Massachusetts after being
convicted of a crime of murder of Joshua Spooner, a wealthy
Massachusetts merchant, by a civilian court.
Ross was born in 1760 in the Linebrook
community of Ipswich, located just right out of Boston. Ross was the
son of Jabez and Johanna Ross, and the brother of 16 other siblings.
Eight of Ross's siblings would die of Smallpox during the Smallpox
epidemic of Boston in 1776.
Ross's first taste of he Revolutionary
war came on April 21, 1775 during a British invasion of the small
Massachusetts town of Ipswich, known locally as the Ipswich Fright.
Ipswich had sent several militia men to
fight in the battles of Lexington and Concord, including two of Ross's
brothers. When the British were seen sailing up the Ipswich River
towards Ipswich, an alarm sounded. Most feared that Ipswich would pay
dearly for their role in the insurrection.
The Ipswich fright became the Ipswich
flight. During the alarm, Citizens rushed out of their homes in fear
of being murdered by the British. Some of the families left in such a
hurry that they left their babies inside their cribs in the houses,and
some babies were even left along the side of the road in bushes so
their crying wouldn't alert the British. The fears of the citizens
were unfounded though because the British ended up not burning any
houses or killing anyone.
Ross joined the Continental army on
December 19, 1775 in the Massachusetts 26th regiment under the command
of Col. Baldwin. Ross fought along with the rest of 26th regiment with
Washington from the fortifying of Dorchester Heights, located in
Cambridge MA in March 1776 until the battle of Trenton on December 26,
1776. Ross's company followed Washington through his bitter defeats
during the New York campaign from Long Island through New jersey. At
the winter encampment at Thompson mills PA from December 8, 1776 until
December 30, 1776, the Massachusetts regiments faced a severe shortage
of tents. Some men including Ross had to sleep outside in the elements
without any protection against the cold weather.
After the victory at Trenton, Washington
offered anyone a ten dollar bonus if they would reenlist. Ross
refused. In the past year, Ross had faced some of the most
demoralizing and brutal circumstances of the Revolutionary war. It was
now time to go home.
On December 30, 1776, Ross began the 240
mile walk back to lpswich. By the time he arrived in March 1777, Ross
was suffering from frostbite, dehydration, and a fever. Just a few
miles from his house, Ross passed out in front of the doorsteps of
Joshua and Bathsheba Spooner.
For the next couple of months, Ross
stayed with the Spooners until he was nursed back to health. Ross left
the Spooner house in the Spring of 1777.
In August 1777, Ross reenlisted with the
continental army. Before going off to war, Ross stopped by the Spooner
house to thank Bathsheba for nursing him back to health. Upon arrival,
Ross found Bathsheba destrought. She told Ross that her husband had
just beat her and left for the tavern. Ross began to comfort
Bathsheba. Bathsheba began to kiss Ross passionately. So began the
love affair of Ezra Ross and Bathsheba Spooner.
Ross was sent to participate in the
ill fated attempt to recapture Mount Independence located in
Vermont on September 18, 1777. Mount Independence was the largest
fortification in North America in 1776. Over 12000 American soldiers
were housed there before the British took it over in July 1777 during
Burgoyne's campaign. In November 1777, the British burned the fort to
the ground before leaving for Canada after the defeat of Burgoyne at
Saratoga in October 1777.
On September 19, 1777, Ross
participated in the battle of Freeman farm NY. the American were
defeated because they ran out of ammunition,. However on October 7,
1777, the Americans were able to defeat the British at Saratoga( the
2nd battle of Freeman's farm).
Ross began his walk home constantly
thinking of Bathsheba. Ross arrived in Ipswich in December 1777, and
began the love affair with Bathsheba again. By February1778,
Bathsheba began to show she was pregnant. Fearing for her life, if her
husband found out she was pregnant by another man, Bathsheba began to
plot to have her husband killed.
During the month of February1778, Ross
attempted to kill Joshua Spooner twice but changed his mind both
times. Finally Bathsheba hired two escaped British soldiers from the
Rutland Prison camp located in Rutland MA. The atrocities that the
British faced in the American prisoner of war camps were almost as bad
as what the Americans were going through in the British prison ships
in New york. On February 28, 1778, Joshua Spooner was murdered by the
two British soldiers. Ross helped dump Spooner's body down a well.
After dumping Spooner's body down the well, Ross washed the blood
stained clothing of the British soldiers.
The next morning, Joshua Spooner's
body was found in the well, and all four conspirators were arrested.
On March 3, 1778, All four conspirators were found guilty and
sentenced to hang. Massachusetts law forbade any pregnant woman to be
hanged while with child, but the judge was the brother of
Joshua Spooner, and ordered Bathsheba hanged even with child anyway.
On July 2, 1778, the four
conspirators were hanged in a torrential rain storm. One local pastor
wrote, "the heavens mourn today for the unborn child. Before Ross was
hanged, Ross was said to have prayed the most eloquent prayer ever
recorded in Ipswich. At the young age of seventeen, Ross was hanged to
death. After the hanging, Ross was buried in the Linebrook meeting
house cemetery. Today, Ross's grave is among the hundred of nameless
graves in the Linebrook cemetery.