It is a harrowing disease, one of the deadliest across history, it’s victims are left in a pallid state , their eyes blood red; wracked by extreme fever and night sweats, their weight plummets as they simply waste away. If one succumbs to the disease it is all but certain, especially in rural farming communities, to spread to other family members in a seemingly random way. Tuberculosis, it’s said, not only destroys the body, but consumes the very soul of the unfortunate victims. This gave rise to its nomenclature across New England: The Consumption. Modern medical advances have attributed the disease to an airborne bacteria in the lungs, but in 17th and 18th century New England, most notably Rhode Island, it cause was believed to something far more sinister: Vampirism.
Not long after the death of her sister, Abigail, Lavinia Chace fell ill to the same Consumption that felled her younger sister. As her body wasted away, Lavinia would tell her husband, Stephen Chace, of fever dreams in which she felt smothered by shadowy figure. Often she would awaken for an uneasy sleep, bolt straight up, and yell the name ‘Abigail’ before falling back into an even more fitful sleep. Her husband tried to reassure his wife these dreams would pass, but these incidents unnerved her husband enough to contact his father-in-law Stephen Staples. After confiding with each other they came to the conclusion that it may be an evil spirit responsible for Lavinia’s ailment, and that her sister, Abigail Staples, could be the vampire responsible. The two men decided the best course of action was to disinter Abigail, possibly needing to destroy her body, in an attempt to cure Lavinia of the consumption that was wasting her away. However, rather than going out on their own to dig up the grave, the two men officially petitioned to the Town Council of Cumberland for a request to disinter Abigail. After a very tense meeting, the selectman of Cumberland reluctantly agreed to officially allow the men to disinter the body of Abigail Staples with minimal spectacle and the expectation that the two would re-inter her body with full respects. Though they were not totally convinced of the the two men’s story, seemingly for the greater good and piece of mind of their small community.
They issued the following edict:
‘At a town Council held at Cumberland in the County of Providence, being specially called and held on the eighth of February 1796.
Present members: Mr. John Lapham. Mr. Jason Newell. Capt. Benjamin S. Westcott. Mr. Benjamin Singly.
Mr. Stephen Staples of Cumberland appeared before this council and prayed that he might have liberty granted unto him to dig up the body of his dofter (daughter) Abigail Staples, late of Cumberland, single woman, deceased, in order to try and experimental on Lavinia Chace, wife of Stephen Chace, which said Lavinia was sister to said Abigail, deceased. Which being duly considered it is voted and resolved the said Stephen Staples have liberty to dig up the body of said Abigail, deceased, and after trying this experiment as aforesaid that he bury the body of the said Abigail in a deasent(sic) manner.
Voted that this Council be dissolved. Witness, Mr. Jonathan Carpenter, Council Clerk’
What happens next is inconclusive. Of Abigail’s condition when her grave was opened, no records exist, nor is there any certainty of the events that followed. It it said that what the men saw when they opened Abigail’s coffin so mortified Stephen Chace that he fled the graveyard in a panic. Stephen Staples never spoke of what he witnessed, but from that night on he was said to be a changed man. Nothing is known of the fate of Lavinia Chace either. No further records of her known.
Abigail Staples is buried, in an unmarked grave, at Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Cumberland # 17 – Staples Family Plot. It is a small, fairly overgrown, graveyard on the side of the road with most of the gravestones, some dating back to the mid 1700s, worn and illegible. Still, it’s well checking out if one is in the area. There are no records of the whereabouts of the remains of Lavinia Chace