True Tales from Canton’s Past: Worlds Collide

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The following is an excerpt from Worlds Collide, the latest installment of True Tales from Canton’s Past by local historian George T. Comeau. The story is part one in a series about Jack Battus, one of Canton’s most notorious murderers.

A detail of the woodcut from the Confession of Jack Battus

A detail of the woodcut from the Confession of Jack Battus

… As a boy, Battus lived a typical life under the roof of the Blackman family. He received an education, was well spoken and was able to write, and was well treated in all respects. Yet there were plenty of misdemeanors that went unnoticed whenever Jack was around. Described as “the foibles of youth,” Battus was responsible for stealing a gun, strap buckles, and shoes that he “had frequently seen and suited [his] feet.” There were plenty of petty crimes that Battus recalled over his youth and they ranged from stealing biscuits and cakes to lifting eight pounds of beef from a butcher in Boston and bringing it home to Canton, where he presented it as a gift to the Blackman family.

Sitting in his cell in Dedham, on the eve of the day in which he would be “launched from this world into eternity, and stand foremost in the list of the blackest deeds of man,” Battus was thinking back on a sunny day in late June to a moment that he described as “if possible, more horrid to me than the day of my death.” It was June 28, 1804, when the world of 14-year-old Salome Talbot and Jack Battus would collide and result in one of the most heinous crimes in our history.

Salome had been picking cherries on the farm of Lemuel Davenport on what is now Farrington Lane. After finishing a day’s work, Salome started home through the fields and woods towards Ponkapoag Pond. Tucked inside her small hands were cherries, a present for her mother. Cutting quite near the fields, she saw Battus and he saw her. As she passed through a solitary thicket, Battus pursued. In his words, he writes, “Into this gloomy thicket this lovely and blooming damsel was entering, when an unpremeditated thought, an uncherished impulse prompted me to pursue her, for the purpose of gratifying that lust, which would have disgraced and condemned even one of her own complexion and choicest of favorites.”

Battus came up on the young girl, like a wolf tracking its prey, and within a few yards he stepped out behind her and said, “Sally, whither are you going?” Turning, Salome recognized the youth as they had only lived about a mile apart and had certainly met and talked three or four times before. “Home,” replied Salome, and then without hesitation, in the breath of a moment, he seized her about the waist and dragged her small body about 60 feet off the path and into the thickest of bushes.

Animal lust coursed through Battus’ veins as he threw Salome onto her back. Hammering of blood in his ears matched the cadence of the gallows being built, and Battus choked back tears of the memory of that day. While late that same evening, David Talbot’s walk retraced the scene of the crime that took Salome from his life. Both men shuddered at the loss and depravity, the father as a victim and the murderer as condemned …

See this week’s Canton Citizen to read the full text of Worlds Collide. Click here to order your subscription today. (Special May discount: $10 off 1 year)

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