Saturday, April 08, 2006

Amos Babcock... Crazed Murderer, or...?

Many people have heard someone say, "hey, I saw a UFO." Even the title of the Peter Jennings UFO documentary a year ago, "Seeing Is Believing", references sight, but not the other senses.

Sometimes, however, people don't see a UFO, but they hear it.

Back in October, 2005, I recounted a UFO report from Bedford, Nova Scotia, witnessed by two people and an RCMP officer, and "heard" by two neighbours. That column can be found here.

The "visual" witnesses saw lights in the sky. They reported no sound. However, at the same time, here is what the neighbours were experiencing, as recounted by ace Nova Scotia researcher Chris Styles, who interviewed them years later:

"Mr. Bedford explained that on the night of October 16, 1976, Constable Pharand knocked on their door. The couple spoke with the mountie at the doorway. They never stepped outside to look up. They did not want to. Previous to Constable Pharand's intrusion the Bedford's had been hiding upstairs with the blinds drawn. The cause for concern was a loud, persistent roaring noise unlike anything that they had heard before. Mr. Bedford felt that the source of the strident noise was something hovering low over their suburban home. Mr. Bedford was just as certain that whatever that 'something' was it was not anything like a helicopter or conventional aircraft. It should be noted that at the time of the incident Mr. Bedford was employed by DND as a naval architect and had considerable experience with such equipment. Robert Bedford refused to speculate as to how his house could come under a threatening din of noise while just next door, the Webster's and Constable Pharand managed to enjoy a two hour exhibition of three UFOs that hovered and maneuvered in silence. He was just grateful that the ordeal ended at the precise moment that the mountie knocked on the door."

Sometimes, in other words, people hear UFOs, rather than seeing them.

Could something similar have happened in southeastern New Brunswick in the early 19th century, with tragic consequences?

In 1804 and 1805, a series of religious meetings were held in the settlement of Shediac by a man named Jacob Peck, who was a convert of a preacher named Joseph Crandall (who later became a Member of the House of Assembly), who in turn was a convert of Henry Alline. These were not staid Church of England meetings - Peck referred to himself as "John the Baptist", and the meetings themselves were wild and woolly, where an extreme form of New Light evangelicalism was practiced and taught.

William Hanington provided this report of one particular meeting, in February 1805, where things got even stranger than normal:

"The evening of the 8[th] they met at Amos Babcocks & Did not go to Bed, & in the heights of their Confused noise they was alarmed By a Great noise as of something of a Great weight & force had fell on the Upper floor."

How loud was this noise?

"Some of them thought the French was firing against the house, & they stopped a few minutes."

Sounds pretty loud to me.

So, what did these people hear?

Who knows? Hanington doesn't say, and it appears that the people didn't know themselves.

So what, you might say. A loud sound, in the midst of a revival meeting. Big deal.

But this wasn't any ordinary revival meeting.

These people believed that the end of the world was imminent. Some of them had visions. Peck was eventually brought to book by the worried authorities for "blasphemous and seditious language" - here's a portion of his indictment:

"The Jurors of our Lord the King upon their oath present that Jacob Peck... being a profane wicked and blasphemous man, and a wicked and base Imposter and perverter of the sacred Scriptures of the New Testament and contriving and intending to personate and to represent himself to be John the Baptist mentioned in the Holy Gospels of God, and also to terrify and deceive divers of the liege subjects of His majesty... with false denunciations of the Judgments of Almighty God and to bring the Christian religion and the doctrines thereof into derision and contempt..."

Well, you get the picture.

Peck wasn't the biggest problem, however - that turned out to be Amos Babcock, in whose house the loud cannon-like sound was heard. On the same day that the grand jury indicted Peck, they indicted Babcock.

The crime?

The murder of his sister, ironically named Mercy.

The following account was provided by Babcock's brother Jonathan at the coroner's inquest. It is a chilling narrative.

"Witness Examined - Jonathan Babcock - Says that on the night of the Thirteenth Instant [13 February 1805], he was at his Brothers Amos Babcocks house, & in the evening was grinding some wheat on a hand Mill, & he Desired him to Stop to pray for he was tired & Sleepy, & Insisted on his Staying all night. He then made his Children Relate Some Dreams & he then Related his Dream & went to Prayers. After Prayers he went out of Doors, & the Witness Began to grind again. He [Amos] hearing a Noise Commanded Silence, & the Witness supposed he wanted to Listen to Something & he went out to See. He was Standing & Looking upwards & seemed to be Sniffing. He then came in & sat Down a few minutes, got up & Traversed the Floor, & Said there was Some great thing going to happen that night, & he should not Wonder if the Midnight Cry [Mat: 25.6] was to be made that the Lord should Come to call the People to Judgment. He appeared to be much Distressed in his mind & Groaned often. He seemed to intimate that he was commissioned from the lord to Reveal Some great thing. He then Pulled off his Coat & Tucked up his shirt Sleeves & took a Bark of Meal & Rubbed his Arms & feet with it & then went out of Doors, & Immediately Callled to the Witness to Bring him a Towell, & he tied it Round his Waist. The Witness then went into the house & sat Down & heard the Prisoner Repeat, Oh Lord not only My head & my hands But my feet also & would Frequently Pray a few words, & Just Before he came into the house he said, I see the Stars falling from heaven, And then came into the house, & Told his wife & Children to be of God Chear, that nothing would hurt them, & then Prayed a few Words, & to put their trust in god. He went to the Window & Said I see them coming & that it will be But a few Minutes Befoe they will be here. He then took out his knife & Sharpened it on a Stone, & then Laid them on the hearth, the Knife on the Stone & Said that [it] was a Cross. A short time after he Stamped on it, & then he Spit on all his Childrens heads & Rubbed it Down their hair, & Said he was Anointing them & named his Sons Gideons men. He then took up one of his Children about 3 years old, & Blowed his Breath into the Childs mouth, So that it was almost Strangled, & Then Throwed it with great force across the house against the Logs. He then Pulled the cap off the head of the Deceased [Mercy], & said she must make herself Ready, & Told her to pull off her shoes. He then took up the Knife & Stone & Danced about the house. He then came to the Witness with his Knife, & Commanded him in the name of the Lord God of Israel to Strip, Saying he was the Angel gabriel. He then turned to his Wife & ordered here to Look him Steadfastly in the fact, & not to take her Eyes off, or Else he would Run her Through. She took her Eyes off him & he struck her with his fist, the Children all Standing in a Row as he had Placed them. He then turned [to the] Witness & made two or three Feints, with his Knife, & Struck him with his Left hand. He then walked Cross the house & then flew a cross to the Deceased [Mercy] with the Knife in his hand and as the Witness made his Escape He heard the Deceased Screich out. The Witness then Alarmed the Neighbours."

Mercy died of multiple stab wounds.

At his trial, Babcock was undefended. He was found guilty, and hanged.

So, a few nights after a revival meeting at Babcock's home, where the participants reported hearing a loud, unexplained noise that lasted for several minutes, Babcock went nuts, and killed his sister?

No UFO or paranormal connection here, surely. The loud sound certainly has some logical explanation, and Babcock was obviously insane.


On the night he killed his sister, Babcock, according to his brother, seems to have heard a noise, and even smelled something odd - both of which, if one reads his brother's account, may well have come from the sky (when he went out to see what Amos was doing, Babcock was looking at the sky). Babcock also supposedly saw "stars falling from the heavens."

The accounts of his subsequent arrest and imprisonment show that the authorities thought Babcock was delusional, but perhaps as a result of an outside agent (which makes one wonder what Babcock told the authorities - there is no record). Solicitor-General Ward Chipman, who prosecuted Babcock, addressed the prospect of insanity at the trial - in doing so, he made particular reference to "Satan" as a possible cause of Babcock's delusions.

"If insanity is his defense, he must shew a total alienation of mind... With regard to those whose coming is after the working of Satan - because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved - for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie. But such delusion will by no means lessen their guilt." [emphasis in original]

For whatever reason, Ward Chipman, at the time the Solicitor-General of New Brunswick, and who later became a justice of the Supreme Court, and is considered by historians to be one of, if not the, most influential early leaders of the colony of New Brunswick, saw fit to enter into the record a refernece to the possibility that Babcock was under the influence of Satan (but that this still didn't excuse his crime).

What if, however, Babcock was under the influence of another paranormal actor, one beyond his ability to comprehend, so he fit it into the limited world-view that he had?

Loud noises.

Stars falling from heaven.


I'm sure Babcock was just plain old crazy. I mean, what else could it be? If he did see "stars falling from heaven" they were probably just meteors, and the loud noises, as I said, almost certainly have a mundane explanation - maybe the French, who formed the majority in the Shediac area, really were firing at them.

But there are a couple of interesting questions.

What did Babcock hear on the night of the murder. Or did he just think he heard something?

Further, there seems to have been no sign leading up to the murder that Babcock was crazy enough to commit murder. Sure, he was involved in some pretty wild revival meetings, but then so was his whole family, and plenty of others, both there and throughout the Maritimes, and yet none of them committed murder as a result.

So, was Babcock the one of the bunch who completely lost it?

Almost certainly.


Stars from heaven.

Loud noises.


If nothing else, it's more intersting than the Alien Autopsy "film", and more likely to be evidence of the paranormal, in some way or another - which, I admit, isn't saying much!

Still, it also shows, as does the Biard story from 1611, and the 1796 New Minas story, that the Maritime Provinces have a pretty rich and interesting - and occassionally weird - history.

And I haven't even told you any of the ghost stories yet!

Paul Kimball

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