Phil Wood, 64, from Whittington, England, has been with MyHeritage.com now for quite a few years. Having done extensive research into his family history, he's come across a number of interesting stories, including a rather dark tale from his family's distant past. He shares this story with us here.
|Phil Wood at age 7|
A very distant relative of mine, John Westwood, was born 1802 in Hammerwich and married Sarah Parker at the age of 20. The couple subsequently had seven children so life was hard, and making ends meet was a daily task. Thus, to help with their money John and Sarah rented out a room to a lodger, Samuel Phillips - a Nailor who was employed as a farm labourer come harvest time. Years went by and the family was on good terms until one day John found out Samuel had been romancing his wife. A fight ensued, witnessed by the whole neighbourhood, which John won. Afterwards he became possessive, ordered his wife to stop going with Samuel, and tried locking her indoors. But Sarah proved a defiant wife, swearing at John, threatening to leave him and continuing to see Samuel.
On 9 November 1843, John (who had had Typhus the previous year) had been working with his son and afterwards complained that he was starving. The family ate gruel with sugar and butter, and some meat and fried bread. John then went to lie on his bed as he had done since having typhus, and read a few pages of the Bible. Later that day, he began to vomit, and despite his wife's insistence that she should fetch the doctor, John said he would be alright if he could just get warm. An hour later, he was dead. A post mortem was carried out in his bedroom, and a large quantity of arsenic was found in his stomach.
|The Shire Hall in Stafford which housed the Assizes Court
where Sarah was trialed in 1841
It appears that Sarah had consulted Samuel's mother, Hannah Mason, about a cure for 'The Itch'. Hannah was an amateur herbalist and 'wise woman', and she went with Sarah to a chemist to obtain hellebore, arsenic, and red and white precipitate that she said would cure the itch.
However on 8 November Sarah had returned to the chemist for further supplies of arsenic and the obliging chemist sold them to her believing it to be on Hannah's advice.
Sarah was sent for trial accused of John's murder and the jury found her guilty and handed down the death sentence. She was the last woman to be hanged in Staffordshire, on 13 January 1844. Samuel Phillips later married and had children. He settled in Burntwood, and died there on 25 October, 1893.