Sarah Beels Proctor died 17 August 1842

Sarah Beels Proctor was born 31 December 1814 in Sullivan NH, the fourth of eight children of Philip Proctor and Dorcas Dimmick.  Dorcas’ mother’s name was Beels or Beals and is probably the source for Sarah’s middle name. 

The Proctor family lived in Sullivan during the 1820 census, and sometime in the next couple years, they moved to Rutland VT.  Sarah’s father was a farmer, and at one time owned the farm on Durgy Hill Road in West Rutland that in 1831 became the town’s poor farm.  The family was still in Rutland in 1840, but the census only listed the head of family.   I did not locate Sarah, although in 1840 there was one young woman age 20-29 that I would have thought would be Sarah (by ruling out her now married sisters, except that Daphne could be living in Philip’s household.) 

Sarah moved to Lowell, Massachusetts.  Another Proctor researcher and e-mail pal of mine has researched this family and this generation in detail.  She learned that economic conditions were bad, and the local Rutland paper was publishing six to ten bankruptcies each week.  Like many other young girls, Sarah went (or was sent) to Lowell to work in the mills.  She worked for the Merrimack Manufacturing Company. The Lowell City Directory 1836 – Female Supplement Directory lists her boarding at the Merrimack boarding home/house #45.

Sarah died 17 August 1842, and the vital records of Lowell say “Proctor, Sarah, bur Rutland, Vt., killed by jumping from a window, Aug. 17, 1842, a 27 y. “   It would be nice to believe it was a fall, or perhaps a factory fire forced her to jump, but we didn’t find this to be the case.  When I got access to the old newspapers through the New England Historical Genealogical Society, I found a couple items in different papers that related to Sarah’s death: 

The Daily Atlas, (Boston, MA) Friday, August 19, 1842; Issue 42; col D

Fatal Accident.  The Lowell Courier says – on Monday evening, between 9 and 10 o’clock, a female named Sarah Proctor, who worked in the Boott Mills, started from her bed while asleep, and fell from the second story window of Dr. Holt’s Thomsonian Infirmary, on Merrimack street, and struck the ground head foremost.  She survived only about half an hour.  She was between 20 and 30 years of age.

Shocking Accident.  On Wednesday evening, Miss Sarah Proctor, of Rutland, Vt. jumped from the second story window of Holt’s infirmary, in this city, and striking her head upon a post as she fell, died in about an hour.  It is supposed that she was asleep, and although there was a woman sitting in the room, it was impossible for her to prevent the sad event.  She was about 25 years old, and had been employed in one of the mills.  (Lowell Advertiser)

On Wednesday evening last week, Miss Sarah Proctor, of Rutland, Vt. jumped from the second story window of Holt’s infirmary, in Lowell, and striking her head upon a post as she fell, died in about an hour. 

So the first story says fell, but the last two say jumped.  We now know that she was not at work, and not at home, but rather at an infirmary, and that someone was sitting with her but wasn’t able to stop her.  My guess is that she had been identified as depressed and/or suicidal, perhaps even had attempted suicide before. 

The stories don’t mention a motive.  Perhaps she was terribly homesick.  Perhaps she suffered a romantic loss, or was assaulted or pregnant. 

I researched “Thomsonian Infirmary” on the Internet and found information about Samuel Thomson, who used native and settler folklore and Hippocratic teachings to become a healer. He endorsed people taking more responsibility for their own health and removing the mystery of medicine.   He felt that disease was the result of a decrease or derangement of the vital fluids, brought about by a loss of animal heat. Treatment was aimed at restoring vital energy and removing disease-generated obstructions. Thomson believed that in restoring vital heat by means of steam baths and cayenne (Capsicum annum), toxins which obstructed health would be thrown into the stomach where they could be eliminated by emetics.  This simple theory recognized and sought to treat an underlying, fundamental cause of illness. The theory implied that the treatment of symptoms and illnesses, per se, might actually hinder the healing process. Sarah, it seems, had gone (or been taken) to the Thomsonian infirmary for treatment. has an essay written in 1844 about suicides at the mill.  The victims are not named, but the factors involved may well have applied to Sarah. 

Sarah’s body was returned to Vermont, and she was buried at the Pleasant Street Cemetery in West Rutland, with her brother Edson, who had died in 1829.  The person who carved her headstone should have proof-read his work:  Practer (sic) Sarah B., dau of Philep (sic) & Dorcas, d Aug. 17, 1842 in 27th year of her ae. 







  1. Your cuz. said,

    August 17, 2011 at 13:53

    I’d like to think somehow, some way, we WILL find out what caused her to make the choice that she did.

    • Elaine Cannon said,

      February 24, 2015 at 13:49

      Perhaps she was delirious from a high fever or effects of “Thomsonian” treatments.

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