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NOTES FROM AN EARLY ABORTION TRIAL (CRIME.) Courtroom notes from the important Rhode Island trial of Frances Leach for murder by abortion.  manuscript pages, disbound, 11 3/4 x 7 1/4 inches; minor wear; marked "Filed 1840" on final page. Kent County, RI,  to 17 October 1833
In February 1833, a Rhode Island woman named Sally Burdick sought an abortion. Frances "Fanny" Leach of Killingly, CT undertook the procedure using instruments borrowed from a physician named Robert Gibbs. The operation went awry, and Burdick died after six days of suffering, leading to murder charges against Leach and Gibbs. Thomas Wilson Dorr (soon to be famous as the leader of Dorr's Rebellion) was one of two attorneys for the state. Leach's case was tried in October, resulting in a two-year manslaughter sentence. According to the Niles Weekly Register of 30 November 1833, it was believed to be the second-longest trial ever held in Rhode Island, and "the first of the kind ever tried in New England." The present lot is a packet of an unidentified attorney's notes from the trial, including notes on jury selection and arguments, but mostly consisting of testimony by witnesses. Numerous depositions in the case had been taken in March 1833, and published as "A Report of the Examination of David Gibbs, Fanny Leach, and Eliza P. Burdick, for the Alledged Murder of Sally Burdick." The present file contains notes on the actual testimony given in court in October of that year, including many of the same witnesses who had earlier been deposed. For example, Celia Burlingame's March deposition was published on pages 14-16, while her October testimony appears here on pages [3-4]. Here she describes making several visits to the deceased during her final days, and having rubbed her with brandy to offer relief. Approximately 20 different witnesses are represented in these notes, offering a much more detailed insight into the trial than is otherwise available through published records. We don't know much about the defendant's life after her prison term, but in the 1860 census, Fanny Leach appears in the census in Killingly, CT, aged 75, as an insane pauper living in the town almshouse. Provenance: found by the consignor among the family papers of the Rev. Jason Whitman; we have traced no close connection between the Whitmans and the principal figures in the trial.
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