First Woman Executed in the New United States
Bathseba Ruggles was born February 13, 1745, to Timothy Ruggles, a very wealthy man who had held some of the most prominent positions in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Bathsheba was said to be her father’s favorite child, was educated well and had everything money could buy. Joshua Spooner was born in 1741.
Ruggles, a lawyer and chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas in Worcester, Massachusetts, was a strong-willed and determined man and an avowed Loyalist (British supporter). Under public censure for his refusal to sign the Stamp Act protest as a Massachusetts delegate to the 1765 Stamp Act Congress, Ruggles may have arranged the marriage of his daughter Bathsheba to Joshua Spooner.
At any rate, on January 15, 1766, Bathsheba Ruggles married Joshua Spooner, twenty-five. The son of a wealthy Boston merchant, Spooner was a well-to-do and well-connected farmer in Brookfield, Massachusetts. They had their first child, Elizabeth, on April 8, 1767; three more followed between 1770 and 1775, but one died in infancy.
At a time when class distinctions were important and social status was determined by family lineage, both Bathsheba and her husband were scions of prominent families of the colonial aristocracy, raised to a life of wealth and privilege. In these years immediately before the Revolution they were living in what was considered an elegant two-story house in Brookfield, and were considered wealthy by their neighbors.
When the American Revolution began, Timothy Ruggles remained a Loyalist and was ultimately banished from Massachusetts, and the hatred generated by this extended to members of his family. He was forced to flee to Canada in 1774 and his massive estates were confiscated.
Joshua Spooner supported the Patriots, while Bathsheba shared her father’s views. This caused much dissention in the Spooner marriage, and when Bathsheba wanted to see her father in Canada, Joshua forbade it.
It was becoming common knowledge that the Spooner marriage was not a happy one, and that Bathsheba had developed what she was to characterize as an “utter aversion” towards her husband. The reasons for the rift are not fully known, but records indicate that Joshua Spooner was frequently drunk and sometimes physically abused his wife. Bathsheba, on the other hand was independent, strongwilled, and impetuous.
When thirty-two-year-old Bathsheba Spooner met Ezra Ross in the spring of 1777, he was a sixteen-year-old soldier in the Continental Army, who had served under General George Washington for a year. Ross was walking home from Washington’s winter camp in Morristown, New Jersey, when he fell ill with fever and was nursed back to health by Bathsheba Spooner.