Hannah Rose

SUMMARY: Hannah Rose died in Vermont in 1829 or 1830 after an abortion perpetrated by Dr. Norman Cleaveland.

In Irasburg, Vermont, some time in 1829 or 1830, Dr. Norman Cleaveland perpetrated an abortion on Hannah Rose, an indigent widow.

The New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette indicates that he might have had “an improper connection” with Hannah and have thus had a personal motive to keep the pregnancy from being discovered.*

Up until his arrest, Cleaveland had an excellent reputation in town. He had been a civil magistrate.

An autopsy found that Cleaveland had used a double-edged instrument of some sort, leaving six punctures in Hanna’s cervix. Her iliac vein was also punctured, and her abdomen filled with blood.

Cleaveland was originally sentenced to death by hanging, but after a petition campaign the Vermont legislature passed a bill commuting his sentence to five years of prison.

In a bizarre twist, a member of the Vermont legislature, Mr. Murdock, evidently had a psychotic break during discussion of the bill to commute Cleaveland’s sentence. Becoming convinced that he was Cleaveland, he became “so much agitated that he could not speak” and was led from the legislative chambers by his friends. Still convinced that he was Dr. Cleaveland, he killed himself to escape a death by hanging.

Roots Database names a Hannah Robinson Rose who died in Caledonia County, Vermont on August 24, 1830. I am working on verifying if this is the Hannah Rose who died at Cleaveland’s hands. Irasburg is in Orleans County, adjacent to Caledonia County.

*The Inquest, a novel by Jeffrey D. Marshall which is reportedly a novelized account of an inquest into another abortion death in Vermont in 1830, is reportedly very meticulously researched. Marshall indicates that Hannah was hired to have a baby for Cleaveland and his wife, but soon after Hannah got pregnant, Mrs. Cleaveland became pregnant as well. No longer wanting the baby, Marshall says, Cleaveland badgered Hanna into letting him abort her baby. He botched the job, mainly due to his inexperience and lack of knowledge of female reproductive anatomy. The fact that Cleaveland was a Freemason, Marshall’s characters assert, is the reason that he was able to avoid hanging.


  • “The Death Penalty in Vermont,” by Allen Gilbert
  • “Capital conviction.” New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette, Apr. 26, 1830
  • “Trial for Murder,” Gettysburg (PA) Compiler, 11 May, 1830
  • Untitled clipping, Philadelphia National Gazette, 11 May, 1830
  • “Dr. Cleaveland,” (Amherst, NH) Farmer’s Cabinet, Nov. 6, 1830
  • Untitled clipping, Portsmouth (NH) Journal of Literature and Politics, Vol. XLI Issue 50, p. 1
  • Principles of Medical Jurisprudence, William Augustus Guy, Harper & Brothers, 1845