Meet the Real-Life Vampires of New England and Abroad

The legend of the blood suckers, and the violence heaped upon their corpses, came out of ignorance of contagious disease

At home and abroad, vampire scares usually began when a person died and others in the vicinity began dying, too, usually of the same sickness. (Dod Miller / Getty Images)
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Bristoe Congdon’s child: A “black” man named Bristoe Congdon and several of his children died of tuberculosis in Rhode Island in the 1800s. “The body of one of the children was exhumed,” one source wrote, “and the vital parts were burned in obedience to the dicta of this shallow and disgusting superstition.” Though it’s not entirely clear whether Congdon was African-American or American Indian, the case was the first that folklorist Michael Bell has found suggesting that the vampire tradition crossed racial lines.

Annie Dennett: She died of consumption at the age of 21 in rural New Hampshire.  In September of 1810, a traveling Freewill Baptist Minister from Vermont named Enoch Hayes Place attended her exhumation, which her family undertook in an effort to save Annie’s father, also sick from tuberculosis. Place’s diary entry is a curious example of the participation of a respected New England minister in a vampire hunt. “They opened the grave and it was a Solemn Sight indeed,” Place wrote. “A young Brother by the name of Adams examined the mouldy Specticle, but found nothing as they Supposed they Should…. There was but a little left except bones.”

About Abigail Tucker

A frequent contributor to Smithsonian, Abigail Tucker is writing a book about the house cat.

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