This is a tale about America’s best-known vampire. It is a story about a rural family in late nineteenth century New England, which after suffering tragedy after tragedy, accused its own of vampirism in a futile effort to thwart further calamity. Twelve reported cases of vampire attack came forth from that region during the 1800’s, but the Legend of Mercy Brown is the most famous of them all.
Consumption, as it was then called, ran amok in those perilous times; often killing entire families within a matter of months. With no way to know that so many deaths had been caused by a virus–Tuberculosis to be exact, frightened families and individuals turned to superstition and the supernatural in their attempts to stem the steady march of death toward their very doorsteps. At the time, it was believed by many that consumption was caused by attacks of the undead–vampires–deceased family members who had returned from the grave to drink the blood of their former loved ones.
The Browns were a farming family that lived in the small town of Exeter, Rhode Island during that time period. Its members consisted of father George, mother Mary, a daughter also named Mary, a son known as Edwin and two other children in addition to daughter Mercy. During the 1880’s, tragedy first struck the family when wife and mother Mary lost her life to the disease on December 8, 1883. Almost exactly six months later, consumption claimed the life of the couple’s daughter Mary on June 6, 1883. She was 20 years of age.
Early in the next decade the Brown family’s only known son, 24-year old Edwin, contracted the disease. Desperate to find a cure for his progeny, George Brown took him west to Colorado, where the young man appeared to make gains toward recovering his health.
Unbeknown to the absent father and son, the disease continued to wreak havoc upon the family and on January 17, 1892 Mercy, whose primary desire had been to marry and raise a family, succumbed to the disease. Due to the severity of the winter, her body was placed in an above-ground crypt until a proper burial could be conducted after the arrival of spring–a common practice at that time.
After father and son returned to Exeter, Edwin’s condition once again began to deteriorate; According to the website entitled, Mercy Brown: New England’s Vampire Legend, the dying young man claimed that one night, he felt his deceased sister Mercy sitting on his chest, attempting to draw the remaining life out of him.
At the same time, rumors had begun circulating among the local townsfolk and reports of sightings were spreading. Some claimed to have seen Mercy walking among the graves in the cemetery; others had allegedly, spotted her meandering across local farmlands. Surely, Mercy Brown is a vampire, local residents thought, a member of the undead who has returned from the grave to claim the lives of her entire family member by member!
The constant talk by the townspeople forced George Brown to take drastic action. He would discover whether Mercy was indeed a vampire and if she were, he would do what was necessary to save Edwin and the rest of his family. After requesting the assistance of a physician from nearby Wickford known only as a Dr. Metcalf, Brown and his assistant set about the task of examining, first the bodies of his deceased wife and daughter, then that of Mercy, which was still above ground in the crypt.
After digging up the graves of both mother and daughter, it was determined that neither was a vampire because both bodies were decomposing as would be expected. Still, when the two next opened the crypt and gazed in at the remains of Mercy, it was discovered that not only had her body changed position inside the coffin, but her face was flush, her skin had not decomposed and most importantly, her nails and hair had continued to grow. Obviously, the unfortunate Mercy Brown was a vampire determined to draw the life out of her entire family!
Filled with fear, both men knew what had to be done. Quickly, they cut open Mercy’s body and examined her organs–organs that still dripped with liquid blood! In order to guarantee that she would never rise from the grave again, they burned her heart on a nearby rock and gave the ashes to Edwin to eat. In those days it was believed that consuming a vampire’s ashes would bring an end to the curse of death. In the case of young Edwin however, it didn’t work and shortly after the event, he passed from this world.
Mercy Brown was soon given a proper burial and she was permanently laid to rest under a gravestone that bears her name to this very day. She is interned in Exeter’s Chestnut Hill Cemetery along with her other family members.
It’s easy to pass off the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Mercy Brown as a lack of medical knowledge and of falling prey to fear and superstition. Yet, even today there are those who say that you can sometimes see her ghostly form if you visit her final resting place under the cover of darkness… Wherever the truth lies on this matter, Mercy Brown’s burial site continues to attract both local visitors and those from afar. Her name and legend continue to live on throughout the centuries.