Old Print Article: “Edith Freeman’s Murder,” New York Times (1879)

"It was then indicated to him that a member of his family must die by his hand."

“It was then indicated to him that a member of his family must die by his hand.”

When a New England farmer believed that God demanded he murder his youngest daughter, he was not alone in his delusion, as evidenced by an article in the May 5, 1879 New York Times. The story:

Boston–Charles F. Freeman, the Pocasset farmer who lunged a knife into the heart of his little daughter Edith on Thursday morning last, became converted to the ultra views of Second Adventism about a year ago. This sect, which has made its appearance in the more sparsely settled parts of Massachusetts with more or less prominence at various times during the last 30 years, believed not only in the personal coming of Christ, but quite firmly in the continuance of revelations, signs, and miracles. Its followers were led to many acts of fanaticism, and by many citizens were regarded as crazy on the subject of their religion. The fanaticism reached its culmination in this most unnatural crime, which has awakened a widespread feeling of horror.

It seems incredible that so numerous are the members of the sect in that part of Cape Cod, known as Sandwich, that the crime is excused; yet such is the fact, and the murderer of his own child is upheld, while God is charged by some with having broken his promise to a faithful servant in not restoring the child alive to him.

Farmer Freeman became a leader among the Second Adventists. He believed it his mission to preach, and was a zealous exhorter. That great things were in store for him as a missionary among the faithless of the world he did not doubt. As time passed, he came to regard it as his duty to make some great sacrifice, which should result in a miracle and fix the attention of mankind upon the new faith. Some time ago he announced this belief to several of his fellow-worshipers. Two weeks ago, as he says, the long-expected revelation of the necessary sacrifice came to him in the night. It was then indicated to him that a member of his family must die by his hand. He talked the matter over with his wife, and persuaded her not to stand in ‘the Lord’s way,’ as they both considered it. They had two daughters, Bessie, 7 years old, and Edith, 5 years old. The latter was a sunny-haired child, the pet and idol of the household. The father prayed long to know who was appointed as the victim. He says that he prayed that it might be himself, but it was not to be. After patient waiting the second revelation came, late in the night of the murder. The pet Edith was pointed out as the sacrifice. The father was taken aback, but dared not resist the command of God. He awoke his wife and told her what was demanded. Then the mother’s heart refused to acquiesce in the unnatural deed. She begged hard for her darling’s life, but the husband was inexorable. Working on his poor wife’s fear of displeasing God, he at last gained her consent. The scene that followed is horrible beyond precedent. After Freeman had knelt and prayed that he might be spared the test of his faith, he nerved himself for murder. He felt he that he was another Abraham, and that God would either stay his hand or else raise his daughter from the dead, as a reward for his obedience. Then he and his wife went into the bedroom, where their two children lay sleeping, side by side. The mother carried the eldest to her own room. Freeman turned down the bed-clothes from the form of little Edith, raised the knife which he had provided for the occasion, and waited to see if God would not interpose. After a vain watch, he bent forward over the child, and with great care plunged the knife into Edith’s heart. There was an exclamation, and all was over. The insane father clasped his pet in his arms, and held her until he was certain life was extinct. Then he laid down and slept by her side, satisfied that he had done the will of God.

When the news of the murder was told to his fellow-believers, although staggered by such a proof of faith, they joined Freeman in holding that God would restore the child to life. There was some protest, but so infatuated was this entire following, comprising more than a score of respectable people in Pocasset and its vicinity, that they did not look upon the action as a crime, and beloved with the perpetrator that it was done by God’s command.

There was among the Second Adventist band, therefore, the deepest surprise, chagrin, and confusion to-day at the failure of little Edith to rise from the dead. Their faith did not waver in the least; and as an instance of this unparalleled credulity a Journal reporter telegraphs that last night he talked with Mrs. Swift, the child’s grandmother, who begged him not to mention to Mildred, the other child, anything about the murder, saying that there was no need of her knowing anything about the affair, because Edith would be alive again in the morning. Two or three of these peculiar people, however, doubted whether the resurrection would take place to-day, all, nevertheless, being sure that it would come soon. These few are not disheartened, but claim that the truth of their doctrine will yet be shown. But others mutter about “God breaking his promise,’ &c.

The funeral services took place in the Methodist Church this afternoon, the little edifice being crowded to suffocation and hundreds standing around the outside of the building. The Pastor, the Rev. Mr. Williams, assisted by the Baptist clergyman of the village, conducted the services and improved the opportunity to give the deluded Adventists, who all the while kept their eyes on the coffin, some sound advice. He said a great deal in a few words, warning them to give up their false belief while their reason remained. The funeral being over, Alden P. Davis, the leading spirit in the Advent company, now that Freeman is in jail, attempted to make a speech, but was ordered to keep quiet or submit to arrest. When the body had been removed to the little grave-yard, Davis mounted a grave and made just such a speech as might have been expected, saying that he was an infidel until two years ago, when God revealed himself to him. He eulogized the murderer until the crowd interrupted with cries of ‘Choke him,’ ‘Bury him in the open grave,’ &c., and a scene unparalleled in recent New-England history ensued over the coffin and the grave. No violence, however, occurred.” 

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