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The Manchester, Vermont Vampire Panic

manchester vermont vampire burned

From Beyond the Grave: The Chilling Tale of Vermont's Accused Vampire Rachel Harris Burton

The Death of Rachel Harris

Have you heard the bizarre tale of the Manchester, Vermont vampire? In 1789, 20-year-old Rachel Harris married Captain Isaac Burton, a deacon of the Congregational Church in Manchester, Vermont. Isaac Burton's stalwart service in the Revolutionary War had earned him the honorific title of Captain among the townsfolk of Manchester. When he took the fair Rachel Harris as his bride in 1792, by all accounts she was the very picture of vibrant wholesomeness and comeliness.

Sadly, their marriage was short-lived, as Rachel fell ill with tuberculosis, known as “consumption” at the time, and died in 1790, at the age of 21. Her death deeply affected her husband, who for a time lived in seclusion in the large home he had built for his late wife.

Captain Burton Remarries, Second Wife Falls Mysteriously Ill

In April 1791, Burton remarried a woman named Hulda Powell. Tragically, within months of their marriage, Hulda began showing signs of the same wasting disease that had claimed Rachel. Desperate to save his second wife, Burton summoned doctors from throughout the region, to no avail. As Hulda declined, female relatives began taking turns caring for her. She died in 1793.

Suspicions and Accusations of Vampirism in Vermont

It was after one of these vigils that an elderly aunt offered Burton a chilling theory – Rachel's “wicked spirit” was draining Hulda's life force. She claimed “It's the one who went a'fore that's to blame!” Burton immediately realized she was referring to Rachel's dying proclamation: “I'll be with you – always!” The aunt insisted “It's got to be burnin' – that's the only way to stop the heart beatin' sure.”

The Exhumation of a Suspected Vampire

manchester vermont vampire
Exhumation of a suspected vampire in Manchester, Vermont

As Hulda Burton's health rapidly declined, a grim consensus emerged amongst the Manchester community – Rachel Harris Burton had returned from the dead as a vampire, intent on stealing away Hulda's life force. In the winter of 1793, an ominous procession wound its way to the Mead's Mill cemetery where Rachel lay buried. Led by Timothy Mead, the village's solemn-faced magistrate, the party unearthed Rachel's coffin beneath the icy ground.

Rachel's body was exhumed. Her corpse was bloated and barely recognizable. Huldah's aunt cried “Gorged on the blood of its victim! Look – see the stains about the mouth!” Selectman Timothy Mead officiated, stating the “abomination” must be destroyed to save Hulda.

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A Suspected Vampire Burning Ritual at Manchester, Vermont

Her heart, liver and lungs were removed and burned to ashes on the blacksmith's forge before a large crowd of people. Her organs, now putrid after over two years interment, were systematically removed and transported to the nearby forge.

There, townspeople crowded in hushed awe as Mead consigned the ghastly relics to the scorching flames, the acrid smoke ascendant as if delivering the remains heavenward for cleansing. Many claimed to see an apparition writhing in the black smoke.

Despite the ritual, and a rumor that that the ashes were mixed with water and given to Hulda to drink, Hulda died months later. The desperate cure had come too late to save Burton's devoted second wife from the insidious predations of the so-called “demon vampire”.

Aftermath and a Long-Overdue Moment of Dignity

In the following decades, some came to believe witchcraft, not vampirism, was to blame. Rachel, Hulda, and Isaac's third wife were likely buried in a cemetery now paved over. Isaac and his fourth wife lie in Dellwood Cemetery. Rachel's exhumation was one incident in a broader 18th-19th century New England vampire panic caused by tuberculosis outbreaks and superstition.

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  • 160 Pages – 05/28/2011 (Publication Date) – Schiffer Publishing (Publisher)

Over two centuries after the grim exhumation of Rachel Harris Burton, a gathering converged at the gates of Factory Point Cemetery to grant the accused vampire a long-overdue moment of dignity. Manchester officials congregated with local historians and preservationists to unveil a memorial marker, poignantly adorned with Harris Burton's name and turbulent history. While in life she suffered the indignities of consumption and postmortem mutilation, in posterity she is remembered with equanimity as an unfortunate victim of tragic superstitions.

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