The Strange Death of Sarah Grosvenor in 1742

In 1742 in Pomfret, Conn. Sarah Grosvenor and Amasa Sessions were boyfriend and girlfriend, he 26 and she 19. In May of that year, Sarah told Amasa she was pregnant, and he agreed to marry her. But they never made it to the altar. In August, Sarah miscarried and lost the baby. In September, she was overcome by a fever and died.

Her story might have ended that simply, with a headstone in the local cemetery, but the town was swarming with rumors over Sarah's death. Three years later, a Grand Jury was empaneled to investigate. The jurors indicted Amasa Sessions and Dr. John Halowell, a local doctor, for murdering Sarah Grosvenor. In the first case of its type in North America, the jury accused Halowell of murder for performing an attempted abortion on Sarah.

It would be 1747, a full five years after Sarah's death, that the cases would be tried and the whole story of Sarah's death came out in court.

sarah grosvenor

Painting: Winsted, Connecticut, by Sarah Harvey

In 1742, in May, Amasa helped Sarah obtain an herbal remedy designed to make her lose the baby. She denied being pregnant to anyone who asked, and continued taking the medicine for the next two months. By July the situation grew more dire. The medicine had not worked and Sarah began feeling sick.

Sarah admitted to her sister and her cousin that she was pregnant, and Dr. Hallowell visited her home. She was feeling ill and now the doctor worried that she had taken so much of the medication that she would not survive giving birth. Aided by Sarah's cousin and sister, he attempted an abortion on August 2. Two days later, Sarah miscarried.

Sarah's sister and cousin buried the dead baby and Sarah began to feel better. But her condition soon worsened. Within two weeks, Sarah developed a fever. Dr. Parker Morse was summoned by the family to treat Sarah's fever. Dr. Morse had heard a rumor that Sarah was pregnant, but her family told him she was not and that he could prescribe whatever treatment would be best for Sarah with no worry that she was pregnant.

On Sept. 14, Sarah died at age 20. The jury charged with sorting out the question did not convict Amasa of any wrongdoing for his part in arranging for Dr. Hallowell's services, but it did convict Dr. Hallowell of a misdemeanor for performing the surgical abortion. He would petition the Connecticut legislature to reduce his punishment to a fine, with no corporal punishment, but it refused.

Thanks to: Taking the Trade: Abortion and Gender Relations in an Eighteenth-Century New England Village, Cornelia Hughes Dayton.

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