1836: Oliver R. Babcock to Jacob D. Babcock

Jacob D. Babcock, ca. 1860

This letter was offered for sale on e-bay in October 2011. The seller offered the following transcription of a portion of the letter describing the murder of Augustus A. Babcock (1813-1835), a son of Asa Babcock (1775-1821) and his wife Catherine (1788-1834). Augustus, an 1830 graduate of Cazenovia Seminary, was bludgeoned to death in his own home by a boarder named Edward Varndell who suspected Augustus was carrying on an illicit affair with his wife Sally. After killing Augustus, the 30 year-old Edward killed his 25 year-old wife Sally with the same axe, and then committed suicide by slitting his throat with a straight razor.

In offering the letter, the seller claimed the first name of the letter’s author was illegible but confirmed that it was written by a man named Babcock. From the content of the letter we know that the author was a cousin of Augustus Babcock residing in Bridgewater, which tells us that he was either a son of Oliver Babcock or Martin Babcock (Asa’s brothers). Oliver had two sons — Oliver (b. 1805)  and Peleg (b. 1813); and Martin had two sons — Clark (b. 1824) and Henry (b. 1828). Given their ages, I’m going to conclude that the author was Oliver R. Babcock (1805-1870), the oldest cousin then residing in Bridgewater and who represented the town in the board of supervisors in 1843/44.

The recipient of the letter was Jacob D. Babcock (1789-1867) of Hopkinton, Rhode Island. Jacob’s father, Deacon Daniel Babcock (1762-1846) was a younger brother of Joshua Babcock (1743-1810), the father of the Bridgewater Babcocks — Asa, Oliver, and Martin.

Also mentioned in the letter is Leander Babcock, the only surviving brother of the murdered Augustus. Leander was a graduate of Union College at Schenectady, read law with Esquire Willard Crafts  of Utica and afterwards became a very popular lawyer in the  city of Oswego; served his people in the thirty-second Congress  in 1851-1852.


Bridgewater, [New York]
January 3, 1836

Dear Jacob,

…It is with no ordinary sensations that I now take my pen to give you a description of the most awful and horrible transaction that ever occurred in this country. I cannot think of language strong enough to convey my feelings. We have heard of scenes of horror with melancholy surprise and wonder at the depravity of human nature. We can read of murder and suicide that is committed at a distance and among entire strangers with little emotion and memory of the event passes like a dream.  But I have witnessed a scene the recollection of which time can never efface while memory and reason hold their empire in my bosom.

On Sunday last at about 8 o’clock in the morning, I was called to witness the dead bodies of 3 persons who had been murdered about 2 hours before (to appearances) and one of them was Augustus Babcock, Uncle Asa’s youngest son. Now for the circumstances, Augustus had become the [owner] of most of the farm in Paris which Uncle Asa used to own and being a single man he had hired an Englishman who had been married but a few months to come and occupy his house that he (Augustus) might board with them. Varndell (for such was the man’s name) had a few days previous to this transaction expressed himself jealous of his wife and associated Augustus with several other young gentlemen in this neighborhood in her guilt…

“And then hacked her head in pieces with the edge of the axe.”

His wife however was as innocent in all probability as any person living. It is supposed he arose at about 6 o’clock, built a fire, brought in water, and then himself and wife set down and smoked their pipes (as they were warm when persons arrived), got into a quarrel or dispute and he became enraged, went into the room adjoining Augustus’ bedroom where he usually kept his axe, took that and went into Augustus’ room and inflicted three blows on the right side of his head with the head of the axe. He appears to have been asleep and not to have moved a muscle. He was undoubtedly killed the first blow.

He then went into his own room where he left his wife, and inflicted a blow on the top of her head, it is supposed, which knocked her down and then hacked her head in pieces with the edge of the axe. It appears that he then went to his chest which was in the same room, took out his clothes, pocketbook, hat, etc., then probably despairing of an escape, he took his razor and closed this awful tragedy by cutting his own throat.

A coroner’s inquest was held and the conduction was as I have stated above. A girl about 14 years old slept in the same room in which he murdered his wife and himself and was not awaked by the noise. On awaking about daylight, she first discovered him on the floor bleeding. On raising herself in bed, she discovered his wife. She sprange from the bed and ran to alarm Augustus whom she found also dead, then gave the alarm to the neighbors.

His funeral was attended on Wednesday last after Leander had arrived from Oswego. The collection was the largest that I ever saw at a funeral, all deeply sympathizing with poor Leander who is the only remaining member of his father’s recently prosperous family…”


From a history of Bridgewater:

The deep snow of the winter of 1835-6 will long be remembered by the inhabitants of the Valley. It fell to a depth of six feet and remained during the whole season. Two events serve to fix the period in the memory of all — the great fire in New York city, and the horrible murder of Mr. Babcock and Mrs. Varndell, and the suicide of Mr. Varndell, in the south-east part of our own town, it being the only murder ever committed in the town of Paris up to that time.

On Sunday, December 27, 1835, Amasa S. Newbury, of Sangerfield, one of the coroners of Oneida county, was called to view the bodies of Augustus A. Babcock, Edward Varndell and Sally Varndell, wife of the latter, who were found dead on the morning of that day, in the house owned by Mr. Babcock and occupied by Varndell, near where Mr. Chapman now resides, on the “Stone road” about one mile south of Holman City. (The old house was afterwards moved and converted into a dairy house.) After a full and accurate investigation of the facts connected with this tragical catastrophe, the jurors impaneled, returned a verdict in substance that Mrs. Varndell and Mr. Babcock were willfully murdered by Edward Varndell, who subsequently committed suicide by cutting his own throat with a razor. When found, Mr. B. was dead in his bed, the right side of his head having been beaten in by several blows from the head of an axe, and his brains scattered about the bed and room. Mrs. Varndell was found lying on the floor in another room, her head and face shockingly mangled by the same weapon. She was still alive, but soon after expired. The body of Varndell was in the same room with his wife. The razor with which he had destroyed himself, was found hanging across his hat near his body. From the evidence it is probable the act was committed near morning, the bodies being still warm when the murder was discovered at 7 o’clock A. M. What is singular, a young woman about 17 years old, slept in the same room with Varndell and his wife, and was not awakened or disturbed by the transaction. She afterwards awoke and saw Varndell and his wife on the floor; after going to Babcock’s room for assistance, and finding that he also was dead, she gave the alarm to the neighbors.

From evidence adduced on the inquest, there can remain little doubt that the cause of this horrid act on the part of Varndell was a causeless jealousy entertained by him against his wife. Several conversations were testified to by witnesses, in which an unjust suspicion was distinctly announced, but from all the testimony no impropriety could be discovered in the conduct of Mrs. Varndell. Persons who were at the house the preceding evening did not notice anything singular in Varndell’s conduct, but it appeared that before this he had had several trifling disputes with Babcock, and that on one occasion he had declared his belief that an illicit intercourse existed between his wife and Mr. B., as well as with other persons in the neighborhood.

Varndell was an Englishman, aged about 30 years, his wife about 25, and Mr. Babcock about 23 years.

From a history of the town of Parisby Henry C. Rogers:

Augustus was assassinated by Edward Varndell on the morning of December 27, 1835, at the old home place. The assassin, in a fit of maddened jealousy, beat out his brains with the head of an ax in early morning while he lay sweetly reposing in his bed. Varndell then returned to the room, which he and his wife occupied, and struck her while she was sitting in her chair before the blazing fire partially dressed, killing her, then cut his throat from ear to ear in the same room, killing himself almost instantly. This was one of the greatest tragedies that ever occurred in this part of the country. Augustus was but twenty-two years old when he met this untimely doom.

On Augustus’ tombstone:

Babcock, Augustus A., youngest son of Asa & Catherine Babcock who was assassinated on the morning of Dec. 27 1835 ae. 22 yrs. & 6 mos.

Babcock, Augustus A., youngest son of Asa & Catherine Babcock who was assassinated on the morning of Dec. 27 1835 ae. 22 yrs. & 6 mos.

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