Maine Genealogy Blog

Case Study: The Last Purrington

Early the morning of July 9, 1806, Martha Ballard awoke to the news that "Capt Purington had murdered all his famely Except his Son James who must have Shared the Same fate had he not been So fortunate as to make his Escape after an attempt was made to take his life." Captain James Purrington had killed his wife, six children, and himself with an axe and razor. A seventh child would succumb to her wounds a few weeks later.

Searching Maine Newspapers at Chronicling America using the "Purinton" spelling of the name and limiting the search to 1806, we find in the Portland Gazette and Maine Advertiser of July 14 an account of the "Horrid Murder." The article confirms that Purrington's "oldest son, with a slight wound, escaped." The bodies of his deceased mother and siblings "were interred in the common burying ground; Capt. Purinton in the highway adjoining the same, and the deadly axe and razor buried with him."

Most accounts of the Purrington murders end there, but what became of the sole survivor, James Purrington, Jr.? Using free online resources, we can establish the fate of James, and determine whether this branch of the family is extinct.

The Kennebec County entry in the Maine Places resource guide provides links to land and probate records that will prove useful to our search. First we will check the Kennebec County Probate Estate Files collection at FamilySearch. These are not searchable, so we will have to browse the images. In the Case Index we find an entry for "Purrinton, James, & son" of Augusta, with a reference to case file P-10. (Use the Tools menu to rotate the images.) The file should be found in the batch titled "Case no P-9-R Pullen, James to P-11-R Perkins, Benjamin, 1799-1865."

The cases are arranged alphabetically, and on image 945 we find the first page of the Purrington estate file. Paging through the file, we quickly learn that James, Jr., "a minor above the age of fourteen years & son of James Purrinton late of sd Augusta Deceased," chose Elias Craig as his guardian in August 1806; and that Hezekiah Purrington of Bowdoinham was made administrator of Capt. Purrington's estate. An inventory of the estate shows that he owned Lot No. 17 (in Augusta). A second inventory shows that he also owned land in Bowdoinham. Among the expenses mentioned in the account of Hezekiah Purrington were cash and items for young James, as well as the cost of boarding him as late as July 1807.

Kennebec County deeds are online and indexed here. A search doesn't turn up Capt. Purrington's deed to Lot No. 17 in Augusta, but we do find that John Niles mortgaged "part of front lot No. 17 on the west side of the Kennebec river" to "James Purrinton of Bowdoinham" on March 22, 1811. This was nearly five years after the murders, and suggests that James, Jr., had moved to Bowdoinham in the interim.

Let's turn our attention to Lincoln County, where Bowdoinham was then located. An index of early Lincoln County deeds may be viewed here, or at FamilySearch. The deeds show that Capt. James Purrington did reside and own land in Bowdoinham before moving to Augusta. FamilySearch also has images of Bowdoinham vital records, and there we find a record of the birth of James S. Purington, son of David and Mary. On July 3, 1811, James Purinton of Bowdoinham sold to Hezekiah Purinton Jr. land in Bowdoinham upon which lived Mary Purinton, widow of David. James and Hezekiah evidently were cousins, and grandsons of Mary.

James, Jr., was "above the age of fourteen years" in 1806, but I find no record of him marrying in the decade after the murders. Two final deeds were recorded in September 1813, by which James sold additional parcels of land in Bowdoinham. We have to turn to Lincoln County probate records to learn of his ultimate fate. The records for this period are not searchable, but each volume includes an index. In volume 18, we find this document, stating that the will of "James Perrington" was exhibited at court in Boone County, Kentucky, on July 4, 1814. The text of his will was recorded both in Lincoln County and in Boone County. James writes that he is "of the township of Bowdoinham County of Lincoln and State of Massachusetts, at present on a journey in the western part of the United States, & confined by sickness in the County of Boone and Commonwealth of the state of Kentucky." It mentions property in Bowdoinham and Augusta, and members of the Purrington family, including "my grandmother Mary Dinsmore." The will was dated June 17, 1814, proved July 4, 1814.

We can conclude that James Purrington, Jr., died without issue, leaving his branch of the family without living descendants. A monument was dedicated in Augusta to his mother and siblings on the bicentennial of their deaths.

 Published January 1, 2021