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True Crime in 1831, Part 1 - The Chapmans

Updated: Jan 30, 2021

Philadelphia, 1820's

This post will be a little different than my usual ones. I am using this category because it does not directly involve a family member. However, the events I will relate come from a transcription made by a relative, William Ewing DuBois (see prior post "An Assayer of the U.S. Mint").

In 1832, while still a law student, William published a thorough transcript of a trial that took place for the crime that will be described in this and forthcoming posts. He recorded virtually every word of the opening and closing statements, witness testimonies through to the final sentencing. However, he did not record the lawyers' questions, only the witness responses. It is a fascinating account of a shocking crime from the early part of the 19th century and one of the first "true crime" books every published.

This was one of the motivations for publishing the record since, at that time, there was an appetite for crime stories; the more lurid and sensational, the more popular. That has not changed, as evidenced by numerous true crime TV shows and podcasts. I will now relate this story in several serialized posts.

Dr. William Chapman

William Chapman was born in Buckingham, England in 1778. He arrived in Philadelphia on 3 October 1801 aboard the ship “Roebuck.” He was an educated man who listed his occupation as a teacher, but, because of a stammer, he took a job as a bookkeeper. Eventually he opened his own office and had numerous clients. In the meantime, he applied to become an American citizen, but it was a slow process. In 1812, America went to war with Britain and, as it continued, Pennsylvania allowed non-citizens the opportunity to prove their loyalty by enlisting in the militia. William took advantage of that opportunity. In the summer of 1814, the British captured Washington, D.C. and headed north towards Baltimore. Concerned that Philadelphia would be next, the militia was called up and encamped south of the city to supplement the regular army. For the next several weeks, William and the other volunteers endured rigorous military training and wet autumn weather. By the time his military experience ended, his stammer was miraculously gone. In addition to being a bookkeeper and teacher, he became interested in science. Philadelphia, at the time was the scientific capital of America and was home to a famous hospital, a renowned medical school and multiple scientific societies. He would eventually study medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, focusing on speech impediments, such as he had suffered. He would develop a method for correcting it.

Lucretia Winslow

Lucretia Winslow was born in 1788 in Barre Plains, Massachusetts. When she was 16 years old, she fell in love and became engaged. However, rather than marry her, he left go to college, leaving her in disgrace. She lived at home and at the age of 20 she became a schoolteacher. She taught at a local school for 5 years. Other women her age married and had children, but her fiancée never returned to her and no one else showed interest. She was on her way to becoming a spinster, so she decided to make a new start and moved to Philadelphia in 1813.

She initially taught at Bergerac School, then at Charles LeBrun’s Boarding School. Lucretia learned to sing, play the piano and advanced her French language skills. By teaching the children of affluent Philadelphians, she gained entry into the higher social circles. She attended parties, dinners, teas and, as a result, was introduced to an assortment of men. However, no one showed the interest in her that she craved. Maybe it was because, as a journalist described her several years later, that she was “masculine”. In 1817 she left the LeBruns and took the risk of opening her own school for girls. Lucretia’s Young Ladies Seminary in Philadelphia was one of the first in the country. Her school had both day and boarding students. While she employed a cook, she did the shopping herself. In a short while, she was running a business that was more than a school. She hired additional teachers and was able to turn a profit.

William and Lucretia

William and Lucretia eventually met. He was ten years older than she was. He had a stocky build and was also several inches shorter than her 5’10” height, which caused her to tower over men in general of that time. She found him intriguing and he found her appealing. His interest in her was enough for her to overlook his bulky body and the facial ticks which still plagued him, a reminder of his earlier speech impediments. They did have several shared interests and experiences, such as education, being newcomers to Philadelphia, and a driving desire for wealth and success. When William asked Lucretia to marry him, she said yes, and her fear of remaining single for the rest of her life was gone. They married in August 1818.

In 1820, while continuing to work as an accountant and as a speech therapist, he began his plans to open an institution of his own, applying his stammering cure to a wider audience. Thus, the United States Institution for the Treatment of Defective Utterance was born. By 1822, they had their first child, a daughter, Mary. She was followed by two more daughters, little Lucretia and Abby Ann, and then two sons, William Jr. and John. To accommodate the growing family, they purchased a home on Pine Street in Philadelphia. Lucretia ran her school from the home, her children attending classes and playing with her students.

Lucretia was happy in the early years of her marriage. She cared for the children, performed all the household chores involving the bills, managing the servants, and corresponding with the families of prospective students and speech patients. William spent his time in scholarly pursuits. Although friends and family found Lucretia to the primary force, she did not appear to mind that role. They seemed to be a happy couple. They also increasingly spent time in the higher levels of Philadelphia society, something that delighted both.

William, with the aid of Lucretia, would publish a book in 1826 entitled The United States Institution for the Treatment of Cases of Defective Utterance Such As Partial Speechlessness, Stuttering, Stammering, Hesitancy, Weakness of Voice, Mis-Enunciation, Lisping, Etc., Etc. In it he praised his methods, which he never revealed, as well as including testimonies from former patients and, even though he had taken medical courses for less than two years, he began referring to himself as Doctor William Chapman. He also opened an additional clinic in New York City.

As their fortunes changed, so too did Philadelphia. The city was increasingly becoming a center for manufacturing and attracted immigrants looking for work in the new mills and factories. The Chapmans began to look for a new home, away from this environment. They found one, just north of Philadelphia in a town called Andalusia in Bucks County. It was named for a large estate owned by a wealthy Philadelphian who imported sherry from the Spanish province of Andalusia. By the time the Chapmans bought a home there, it was populated not only by merchants and bankers from Philadelphia, but primarily farmers, for it was still a rural, agricultural area. This was evident to the Chapmans for across the road lived a man named Benjamin Boutcher who raised ducks and chickens with his wife and nine children.

The house was a three-story mansion on four acres of land. With plenty of room, they closed their two clinics and consolidated them in their new home. Lucretia renamed the school the “Andalusia Boarding School for Young Ladies” and soon it began to flourish. While Lucretia tended to her students and the running of the home, William preferred to stay at home and further his studies. He immersed himself in his work and would sometimes miss dinner. He would go to bed early and steadily grew overweight, sluggish, and hard of hearing. Whether she was overworked or dissatisfied with his lack of involvement in maintaining the home and the school, she began to demand his help with the chores and voiced her complaints aloud.

At twilight on 9 May 1831 (some records indicate the 19th), the Chapmans’ elderly housekeeper was milking the cows when she heard the family’s dog begin to bark. She looked up to see a stranger approaching and called off the dog. The stranger was dirty and wore muddy boots and disheveled clothing. “I need victuals. Victuals and lodgings for the night, “he said. She pointed to the front door of the house. Without a word, he turned, walked to the door and began to bang on it.

The Chapmans’ world was about to change forever.


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