Centuries-old murder case to be revisited in New London
New London — This much historians agree on: A 12-year-old Native American girl was hanged before a crowd of spectators in the city on Dec. 20, 1786, for murdering a 6-year-old white girl named Eunice Bolles.
In the coming months, members of the community will be researching the case and revisiting it through a series of events that will take participants to four key locations: the crime scene, which is believed to be near the Connecticut College Arboretum; the Huntington Street courthouse, which had opened just two years before the incident; the execution site near the intersection of Granite and Hempstead streets; and Hannah's grave in a Ledyard cemetery.
The group will attempt to determine whether Hannah received a fair trial or whether it's appropriate to request she be exonerated by the General Assembly.
"Four or five years ago, I learned the story of Hannah and was always troubled about it," said Tamara Lanier, vice president of the New London chapter of the NAACP. "People are shocked to learn something like this happened. The story has such rich details."
Lanier and NAACP Chapter President Jean Jordan have assembled a group that includes historians, tribal members, attorneys and interested community members. The events are expected to begin in early spring and culminate with a roundtable discussion on June 14, during the annual Juneteenth holiday commemorating the end of slavery, which will be celebrated in New London.
When a case is 234 years old, it's not easy to determine the facts.
Some sources say Hannah was Pequot, others say she was Nehantic and had an African American father. She was believed to have an intellectual disability and a mother who was a "drunkard" and to have been indentured to an elderly widow after she and her brother beat another girl years earlier.
Accounts of the case indicate Eunice accused Hannah of stealing strawberries during the harvest season, and Hannah attacked Eunice weeks later for revenge. The victim's body was found on July 21, 1786, on the road leading from New London to Norwich. The 6-year-old had a fractured skull and signs of strangulation and her body had been covered in stones. Hannah initially told authorities she had seen four boys in the area, but later confessed when shown the girl's body.
She was found guilty at a trial and sentenced to death by a judge who told her, "the sparing of you on account of your age would ... be of dangerous consequence to the public, by holding up an idea, that children might commit such atrocious crimes with impunity."
The organizers envision that at the courthouse, prosecutor Paul J. Narducci and attorney Matthew G. Berger will facilitate a legal discussion of the case. The group also has reached out to the Connecticut Innocence Project and state public defenders and is checking to see if descendants of the victim's family are available and willing to participate.
Nicole Thomas from the city's Homeless Hospitality Center and Pastor Sara Ofner-Seales of New London's First Congregational Church are planning a ceremony at the execution site that includes a sermon by Ofner-Seales that is "very different" from the fiery one delivered by her forebear, the Rev. Henry Channing, in 1786.
Eastern Pequot Tribal Councilor Valerie Braxton-Gambrell is coordinating a culturally appropriate graveside ceremony that could include native drumming, dancing and poetry, according to Lanier. The group also has reached out to Norwich City Historian Dale Plummer and State Historian Walt Woodward, neither of whom could be reached to comment this past week.
The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center has a small exhibit on the case. Niantic author Jan Schenk Grosskopf in 2013 published a fictionalized account called "For Mischief Done." The Hartford Courant reported on the case in 2014. On Nov. 29, 2019, the story was the subject of a True Crime podcast called Color in Crime.
Lanier said she has talked to state Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, about possibly reading a proclamation about the case on the House floor, though she cautioned that the group is keeping an open mind and may not be able to reach a conclusion.
Tom Schuch of Niantic, a local history lover who recently worked with The Day on a podcast called "The Green Book, New London Style," is conducting research and enlisting others.
"She had three strikes against her," Schuch said of Hannah during a recent planning meeting at The Day's offices. "She was a child, she was a woman, and she was a person of color."
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