There is an ancestor on the Shepard side of our family by the name of Walter Palmer. He was a Puritan born about 1585 in probably, Yetminster, Dorsetshire, England who emigrated to Salem, Massachusetts in June of 1629. When his daughter Grace married Thomas Minor in Massachusetts in 1634, our Palmer surname line ended. (This line of Minors eventually married a Lantz and daughter Susannah Lantz married Edmund Hays.)
Walter has the honor of being the first ancestor I have run across in my tree who commited murder, and got away with it.
In 1630 a servant by the name of Austen Bratcher was to be punished by whipping, and Walter Palmer, a giant of a man at around 6’4″, was to do the job. Apparently he was quite enthusiastic about his responsibility, so much so, that he killed the man. The charge put forth by the court is stated below:
“the strokes given by Walter Palmer were occasionally the means of death of Austen Bratcher & so to be manslaughter.”
The court records have no details about why Austen was being punished, but one wonders if the offense merited such an enthusiastic response. A jury trial was held:
“Jury called on September 28, 1630 to hold an inquest on the body of Austin Bratcher.” “…that the strokes given by Walter Palmer, were occasionally the means of the death of Austin Bratcher, and so to be manslaughter. Mr. Palmer made his personall appearance this day (October 19, 1630) ; stands bound, hee & his sureties, till the nexte court.” At “a court of assistants, holden att Boston, November 9th 1630” numerous matters were taken up and disposed of, including the trial of Walter Palmer…” “A Jury impannell for the tryall of Walter Palmer, concerning the death of Austin Bratcher…The jury findes Walter Palmer not quilty of manslaughter, whereof hee stoode indicted, & soe the court acquitts him.”
One of the witnesses in the trial was William Chesebrough who happened to be a very good friend of Walter’s. William was a gunsmith who traded in illicit goods, such as guns and rum, with the local indiginous people. (Although, he always vehemently denied any such rumors.) Maybe his testimony persuaded the jurors to acquit his good buddy Walter.
After the trial Walter went on with his life as if he had done nothing wrong. His fellow citizens didn’t hold a little murder against him either, he took the Oath of a Freeman on May 18, 1631 (An oath drawn up by the Pilgrims during the early 17th century meant that the person was an established member of a colony who was not under legal restraint, and vowed to defend the Commonwealth and not to conspire to overthrow the government),2 and continued to be a respected member of the community until he died.
So I guess the world being what it is, as usual, being one of the top dogs in town is all it takes to get off of a murder rap.
3.General source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Palmer_(Puritan)
6 thoughts on “Commits murder and gets away with it”
an adoptee who found I have Walter Palmer ancestry as well.. (grandmother was a Palmer) it is a strange story. I would like to visit the Connecticut Palmer homes sometimes. Also, I was recently in Salem.. wondered where Mr. Batcher was buried.. do you happen to know? I was hoping to make some kind of amends.
I have no idea where Mr. Batcher is buried, but what a great idea. If you find out I would love to know too.
I would guess you are correct, that Austen’s punishment did not fit whatever his crime was. But it is important to note that the charge was manslaughter, and that given the paucity of records we are not in a position to judge if Palmer actually committed murder.
I think the fact that he was so zealous in meting out punishment, and a man was dead because of it, sounds kind of like murder to me. No matter what kind of spin the wordsmiths want to put on it. If the offense of Mr. Batcher was a heinous crime, he most likely would have been put to death by the community. His punishment was whipping. He could have been drunk, had relations outside of marriage, or swore. Then he was dead. Ah, the good old days.
I’m not 100%, but believe my ninth great grandfather served on the jury that acquitted Walter Palmer: Gen. William Bunnell, Member of Withrop Society, originally from Cheshire, England. You’re welcome.:)
Thank you. If I look hard enough I might even find some ancestors of mine who also served on the jury. But I will live in ignorance.