The Vampires of Rhode Island: Half An Orchard Died. Sarah Tillinghast, 19, Exeter. 1799

 Stuckley Tillinghast was known to be a jovial good-natured man. He managed to provide decently for his family by selling his apples across Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts. Honour, his wife, kept a busy well-ordered household, watching over the couples many children. All of their  children worked daily in the orchards. As time went by on the farm, older children grew and got married and new babies were born into the family.  Stuckley and Honour, at the time, had twelve children; the youngest born in 1790.

In the autumn of 1799, as the harvest season began, Stuckley started to have harrowing nightmares. The were so vivid that he would awake in a panic and could  not return to sleep until Honour would calm him down. He told his wife of what he saw. In his dream he was working among the orchard when he heard his daughter, Sarah, call out to him. As he turned around  to look for her, a dark cold wind picked up blowing the leaves around him until he was nearly blinded. When the wind died down he looked for Sarah, but she was nowhere to be found. He turned back to the trees, and saw that the leaves had turned brown, and the fruit was rotting while still on the branches. The smell of death and decay was so vivid that he was nearly ill. Exactly half the orchard had died. The dream persisted night after night; every time the same. Disturbed by this dark omen, Stuckley confided in the local pastor; who  tried to reassure Stuckley that his dreams were just anxiety over the upcoming harvest. He was barely comforted by the pastor’s assurance, but despite his fears the harvest season was without incident. As the season passed, the dream receded to the back of Stuckley’s mind.

Sarah Tillinghast had just turned nineteen, quite and reserved, she kept to herself. When she wasn’t working the field or doing housework, she preferred to read her mother’s books or keep busy with stitchwork. After the 1799 harvest season, Sarah began to stay in her room for long periods of time, coming down only for meals with the family. It was soon apparent that Sarah was gravely ill, and it was  that she was not long for the world. She was soon diagnosed with Consumption and within a few weeks Sarah Tillinghast was dead. By Spring, a few weeks after her passing, her brother, James aged nine the youngest of the boys, complained of a pain in his chest. When asked where it hurt, he pointed towards his heart and said, ‘Here, where Sarah touched me’.  Soon after, James was dead. Andris, fourteen, was the next to grow ill, then soon after Ruth, aged sixteen. Both girls had told of Sarah visiting them at night standing by their beds telling the girls she was cold and needed them to be warm. It wasn’t long before both teenagers were gone. The Tillinghast family was complete at a loss as to how to handle their situation, assuming their family was cursed with an evil spirit. Stuckley again went to the pastor seeking advice. The Reverend tried in vain to convince Stuckley that this was not an evil curse, and that  everything would pass in God’s time. Hannah, twenty-six, the oldest of the Tillinghast’s children, lived a few miles away in West Greenwich with her husband. As the ailments of her family worsened she began to spend more time at her childhood home; despite the warning of her mother. It wasn’t long before Hannah herself began seeing Sarah lingering over her as she tried to sleep. Soon after these visions, Hannah fell ill and, quickly, she too was gone. Next Honour began seeing her daughter Sarah . “Mama it’s so lonely, so cold. Won’t you come with me?” the visage of Sarah told her. Around the same time eldest son Erza, seventeen, fell ill as he too began seeing visions of Sarah. Stuckley Tillinghast decided he had to act. One of his farmhands, Jeremiah Dandridge, told him  of old story from a nearby town  in which the dead were thought come out from the grave to  torment a family. Jeremiah also told Stuckley of the suspected means to dispose of the spirit . Stuckley was reluctantly convinced this was the curse affecting his own family. One morning, almost immediately, Stuckley, Jeremiah, and an another farmhand, Caleb, went out to the Tillinghast family burial plot and began dis-interring the bodies of the children; from the last buried to the first. One by one they began digging up the graves and opening the coffins. The bodies, some in the ground for months, were in state of decay. By late afternoon, they finally came to the grave of the first of the children to fall ill, Sarah. Open opening the coffin, Stuckley Tillinghast held back tears as he looked upon the body of his daughter. Though she had been buried for now almost six month, Sarah lay there as if resting; her color was flushed and her glassy eyes were open in a dead stare, looking up into nothing. Stuckley then proceeded to vanquish the  ‘vampire’ according to the instructions Jeremiah told him. With tears following, Stuckley Tillinghast drove his knife into the body of his daughter in order  to remove Sarah’s heart. After removing it from the corpse, Stuckley then pour oil onto the heart, lit a tinder, and burned Sarah’s heart to ash. After that day no one in the family saw visions of Sarah again. Ezra Tillinghast illness, though, was too far advanced at the time of the exhuming of the bodies, and he soon succumbed to consumption. Looking back, Stuckley was reminded of the dream he had at the beginning of the 1799 harvest, of his, then,twelve children, six lay dead; exactly half of his ‘orchard’. Honour Tillinghast made a complete recovery of her illness, and would, in fact, go on to bear two more children in the following years.

Sarah Tillinghast is buried in an unmarked grave at  Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Exeter #14 – Stutley Tillinghast Lot. It is a tiny, very  overgrown, burial plot that is rather hard to find as the cemetery is basically in the backyard of a suburban neighborhood. Most of the older graves belonging to Sarah Tillinghast’s immediate family are worn or unmarked, but there are other graves dating from the early 1800s still intact. This quaint, and rather creepy, graveyard is well worth a visit; even without the vampire connection. It is also very close to some of the other suspected vampire burial spots.

One these graves marks the final resting spot of Sarah Tillinghast

Some shots of the Cemetery at large