Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Edmond Higgins Papers, 1849-1864

James V. Medler Crime Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, May 1996

Summary Information
Title: Edmond Higgins papers
Creator: Reed, John
Inclusive dates: 1849-1864
Extent: 28 items
Abstract:
The Edmond Higgins papers consist primarily of letters to John Reed, his legal council, which regards Higgins’ conviction and imprisonment for allegedly raping his daughter, Ruby Jane, and Higgins' efforts to obtain a pardon.

Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

December 1995. M-3202.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Edmond Higgins papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Biography

On the night of August 30th, 1849, a drunken Edmond Higgins was alleged to have raped his daughter three times while she slept at her mother's house in Denmark, Maine. Arrested and thrown into the Oxford County prison at Paris, Higgins insisted that the charges had been trumped up by a conspiracy of his enemies in an effort to conceal the true crime -- the seduction of Higgins' daughter, Ruby Jane, by his enemy, the "saducer... cursed libertine... [and] fel monster of hell," Capt. Taber (1849 September 6).

A cordwainer from Mexico, Me., Higgins' reputation in the community was already sullied prior to the rape. A self-confessed drunkard, Higgins had previously been involved as a plaintiff in civil suits stemming from his carousals, and he was alleged to have committed a rape at one time. Even his friend, Reed, admitted that "when intoxicated [Higgins] is very quarrelsome, [and] consequently... has got many enemies" (1852 April 12). But Higgins' stormy family life, and the wayward, even wanton behavior of his children may have damaged his reputation just as much in the eyes of the community. According to Edmond, Ruby Jane and her brother, Edwin, had once claimed that they would see their father jailed, even if they had to perjure themselves to do it, and Edmond also asserted that Taber had tried to lure the children into hiring someone to murder their mother. Both children, if Edmond is to be believed, had very bad reputations and criminal tendencies.

Even so, and despite the rape charges, Higgins initially expressed a seeming concern for Ruby Jane's well-being, and wrote that he felt that she had been mislead by Taber's evil influence. Through his counsel, John Reed, a former Democratic state representative and postmaster of Roxbury, Me., Higgins attempted to keep his daughter apart from her "saducer," informing her that he did so not "out of any ill will to you By no means But... for your own good for he was Effecting your present Everlasting and perhaps Eternal Ruin" (1849 October 12). His efforts failed. Edmond was informed that Ruby had moved in with the "libertine," although this was denied in court, and she may have gotten pregnant by him. When informed of this latter news, Edmond sarcastically told Reed that if Ruby Jane wished to arrange an abortion, she should talk to the Waltons, a prominent local family allied with Taber, "for you know it is an old proverb that practise makes Perfect in any avocation" (1850 May 7).

Higgins consistently maintained that Ruby Jane's allegations were fraught with inconsistencies, were flatly contradicted by the testimony of more reliable witnesses (including his wife, Melintha), and did not even make "common sense." After his conviction and sentencing to the Maine State Penitentiary at Thomaston, he continued to claim that the rape charge was "more than a thousand times worse to me than all the rest taken together that I Ever had to deal with..." (1850 January 1), and he continued to implicate some of the most respected members of the local community, as liars and conspirators, including Justice of the Peace, Charles W. Walton. His term in the Penitentiary was harsh, and when he was not too ill, he was put to work in the shoe factory, a place notorious as "the Chief scourge of the prison, and absolutely the worst place in the United States, a perfect Disgrace to the State & to Humanity" (1858 June 6). At one point, Higgins was denied even the meager wages he drew for his labor in the factory, while for eighteen months in 1861 and 1862, he was too ill to work.

His personality and record aside, Higgins was never without supporters. His wife stood by him steadfastly, as did his counsel, John Reed, and friend, E. L. Osgood. While first attempting to secure a pardon, Higgins so impressed Judge John Ruggles that he wrote, "I cannot but marvel that he [Edmond] should have been convicted of such a crime on such evidence attended with such circumstances" (1851 October 15). A year later, Melintha arranged for a respected attorney from Augusta, Lot M. Morrill, to assist in Edmond's efforts to obtain a pardon, and Morrill, like Reed and Ruggles, also appears to have been convinced of Higgins innocence. Higgins was even able to convince the warden and every minister in town to sign a petition backing his pardon. Nevertheless, "public feeling" ran strongly against him, egged on, perhaps, by Walton and his associates. Sensing the inevitable, he bitterly insisted that while rich men in Maine always get away with their crimes, are seldom imprisoned, and never sentenced to death, the poor suffer even when innocent.

Between 1862 and 1864 another campaign was mounted to obtain a pardon for Higgins, prompted by Reed's discovery of a letter from Ruby Jane to Taber demanding money, and threatening to inform on him if he would not pay. Reed deposed that he believed that Higgins had never raped his daughter, but had merely been trying to protect her from Taber's seductions, and Reed seems to have assumed that the letter would impugn the testimony of both Ruby Jane and Taber. Taber and the Waltons, however, continued to insist that Higgins was a bad man, rightly convicted, and demanded that his pardon be denied. Higgins was still in prison in August 1864, awaiting the final decision of the state council on pardons.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The Edmond Higgins papers provide a first-hand glimpse into the mind of a northern New Englander imprisoned for raping his daughter during the late antebellum period. The collection is among few assemblages of letters written by a convicted rapist in the antebellum period, discussing his case and efforts to obtain a pardon. The letters, most written by Higgins to his friend and counsel, John Reed, are filled with the worries of a prisoner who feels wrongly accused of raping his own daughter, wrongly convicted, and wrongly imprisoned. His letters give a strong sense of Higgins' attitudes toward his accusers and what he believed was a conspiracy to have him locked away.

The support Higgins received from his wife paired with the dire animosity of his children give some clues into family life among the Higginses, and Higgins' own feelings toward his family can be read through silences in the letters and occasional admissions of drunkenness and disorderliness. At one point, he commented revealingly about life among the boys of Oxford County: "The fact is there is no such things as Boys in Denmark for they Step directly out of the diaper & flannels into high hieled Boots & frock Coat and Chainge the nipple for the Cigar, the next step is to get an old watch with some Brass seals & the next indispencible Requisit is a wife and here the Curtin falls..." (1853 September 4).

Most revealing is the letter that Higgins wrote to his daughter -- and accuser -- Ruby Jane, shortly after his arrest. His wheedling assurance that he believes in his daughter's good name and good nature, and his claims to being concerned for her welfare are belied elsewhere in the collection by his admission that she was already a "very bad girl" when she met her "saducer." Edmond's reaction to his predicament, a mixture of remorse, embarrassment, anger, and denial, and his elaborate insistence that a conspiracy had been waged to frame him also provide potent commentary, if only through the silences, about his attitudes. His guilt, however, is hard to ascertain. Higgins freely admitted to drunken and violent behavior and to unspecified crimes, but there appears to have been evidence to suggest that Ruby Jane was sexually involved with Taber and that she may have come to a financial arrangement with him, possibly in exchange for her testimony. With only one side of the story present, Higgins' case is impossible to judge.

The Higgins papers contain sparse details of prison life, though there are significant, brief comments regarding the scourge of illness among the inmates, the hard labor regimen, and the role of wardens in bolstering (or undermining) the spirits of the prisoners. The collection does include some excellent examples of artisanal-class and prison slang, however. Writing from prison about his health, he concluded,

If any Enquire after me up there please tell them that I am well if not Better, tell them I have a Constation like a trip hammer, an apetite like a threshing machine, and can go ahead like a locomotive, and that I Expect soon to change my Boarding house and Reside down on the pick of the Cape, where girls grow Spontaineous and live on Oyster Soop. I have Bought me a pair of india rubber wings and a flying night dress, & a pocket spy glass, and I sleep altogether Best with Boath Eyes open" (1864 August 14).

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Appellate procedure.
    • Child abuse.
    • Convict labor--Maine.
    • Incest.
    • Pardon.
    • Prisoners' families--Maine.
    • Prisoners--Maine.
    • Prisons--Maine.
    • Rapists--Maine.
    • Taber, Capt.
    • Trials (Rape)
    • Walton, Charles W.
    Contributors:
    • Higgins, Edmond.
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    Box   3 Medler Crime Collection  
    Edmond Higgins papers,  1849-1864 [series]:
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    Abortion
    • 1850 May 7
    Drinking of alcoholic beverages
    • 1849 October 21
    • 1850 January 1
    • 1862 October 19
    Appellate procedure
    • 1851 May 4
    • 1851 July 4
    • 1851 October 15
    • 1851 [December 5]
    • 1852 April 12
    • 1852 May 30
    • 1852 September 12
    • 1853 January 16
    • 1853 September 4
    • 1858 June 6
    Assault and battery
    • 1844 November 17
    • 1844 November 17
    Brown, David P.
    • 1844 November 17
    Child abuse
    • 1862 October 19
    Convict labor--Maine
    • 1858 June 6
    Father and child
    • 1852 April 12
    • 1852 May 30
    • 1862 October 19
    Fathers and daughters
    • 1849 September 6
    • 1849 October 12
    • 1850 May 7
    Fathers and sons
    • 1849 October 12
    Higgins, Edmond
    • 1844 November 17
    • 1844 November 17
    Higgins, Edwin Lewis
    • 1849 November 1
    Husband and wife
    • 1849 November 18
    • 1849 November 18
    • 1850 January 1
    • 1853 September 4
    Incest
    • 1849 October 21
    • 1850 January 1
    • 1851 May 4
    • 1851 July 4
    • 1851 [December 5]
    Judges--Maine
    • 1862 October 19
    Letter writing
    • 1854 April 23
    Murder--Maine
    • 1853 September 4
    Osgood, E. L.
    • 1853 September 4
    Pardon
    • 1857 January 4
    • 1862 February 2
    • 1862 May 24
    • 1862 October 19
    • 1864 August 14
    Prison wardens
    • 1857 January 4
    Prisoners' families--Maine
    • 1849 September 6
    • 1849 October 12
    • 1849 October 21
    • 1849 November 1
    • 1849 November 18
    • 1850 May 7
    Prisoners--Maine
    • 1849 September 6
    • 1849 October 12
    • 1849 October 21
    • 1849 November 1
    • 1849 November 18
    • 1849 November 18
    • 1850 January 1
    • 1850 May 7
    • 1851 May 4
    • 1851 July 4
    • 1851 [December 5]
    • 1852 February 23
    • 1852 March 26
    • 1852 September 12
    • 1853 January 16
    • 1853 September 4
    • 1854 April 23
    • 1857 January 4
    • 1858 June 6
    • 1862 February 2
    • 1862 May 24
    • 1862 October 19
    • 1864 August 14
    Prisons--Maine
    • 1849 November 18
    • 1849 November 18
    • 1857 January 4
    • 1858 June 6
    Rapists--Maine
    • 1849 October 21
    • 1850 January 1
    • 1851 May 4
    • 1851 July 4
    • 1851 [December 5]
    • 1852 April 12
    • 1852 May 30
    • 1852 September 12
    • 1853 January 16
    • 1853 September 4
    • 1862 October 19
    Reed, John
    • 1849 September 6
    Storer, Ben
    • 1853 September 4
    Suicide
    • 1854 April 23
    • 1857 January 4
    Taber, Capt.
    • 1849 September 6
    • 1849 September 6
    • 1849 November 1
    • 1850 May 7
    • 1851 October 15
    • 1851 [December 5]
    • 1852 April 12
    • 1862 May 24
    • 1862 October 19
    Trials (Rape)
    • 1851 May 4
    • 1851 July 4
    • 1851 [December 5]
    Walton, Charles W.
    • 1849 November 18
    • 1849 November 18
    • 1850 May 7
    • 1862 October 19
    Wealth--Moral and ethical aspects
    • 1853 September 4
    Wives--Maine
    • 1853 September 4
    Young men--Maine
    • 1853 September 4