Edmond Higgins papers  1849-1864
full text File Size: 23 K bytes


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.