Labored breaths brought forth jagged coughs. Every movement of the chest, be it violent coughing or mere inhalation was accompanied by pain. Hot with fever yet shivering with chills, Fannie Taylor …
Labored breaths brought forth jagged coughs. Every movement of the chest, be it violent coughing or mere inhalation was accompanied by pain. Hot with fever yet shivering with chills, Fannie Taylor could do nothing but surrender to the tuberculosis taking over her body.
The 26-year-old African-American girl had lost her mother at a young age and was brought up by her father James, a farm laborer and native of New Guinea, who she had resided with in a tiny cabin in the woods about half a mile from Slocumville. During the summer of 1897, however, she was taken into the custody of the State of Rhode Island and placed at the State Insane Asylum in Cranston.
It was the third week of June 1897 when someone attempted to wreck the postal express train at Slocumville by putting a pile of fence rails on the track. When police located nine vagrants sleeping in a barn near where the barrier was placed, they were certain they had caught the culprits. They soon learned there was no evidence connecting them to the crime.
Over the next week, there would be seven attempts made at wrecking the Shore Line train at Slocumville, all through fence rail barriers laid at almost the same location. Railroad foreman Myron Plympton came forward and told police that, just before the first instance, he had sighted 19-year-old Fannie Taylor standing alone near the tracks not far from where the barrier was later found.
Plympton wasn’t the only one who had pretty much narrowed down the source of the trouble. The night after the attempt was made to wreck the postal train, railroad section hands were patrolling the track when they noticed Fannie standing alone nearby. That night, and the following night, rails were laid as a barrier again.
Police began an investigation. They looked closely at the shoe tracks leading up to and away from the barriers. They noticed that the print of one shoe clearly showed there to be a patch on the sole held in place by string. The tracks lead to the Taylor cabin.
Police kept the residence under surveillance for several nights. They would see her leave the cabin but lose sight of her before returning to the track and finding yet another barrier had been put up. Finally, on June 28, they stretched a cord down each side of the track, held onto it and waited.
Just before midnight, Fanny left her cabin, obtained a split fence rail about seven inches thick and carried it to the train track. She placed it on the rails about 600 yards north of Slocumville Station and stood back to await the midnight express.
The lawmen began to run towards her but, seeing she’d been caught, she fled swiftly into the woods. For the next three hours, she ran through the pitch black forest while six officers chased her. On her feet were worn shoes, one with a patch held in place by string.
At about 3:00 the next morning, the chase ended. The night watchman for the railroad sighted Fannie walking aimlessly on the railroad track and he approached her, took her by the arm and asked her name. She didn’t answer and made no attempt to break free. In court, she refused to plead guilty or not guilty therefore a plea of not guilty was entered on her behalf. She was then taken to Kingston Jail to await a hearing. At the jail, she banged on the door of the cell for hours.
When Fannie refused to speak during court proceedings, she was adjudged insane and committed to the State Insane Asylum. There at the asylum, she was diagnosed as having hebephrenia, a subtype of schizophrenia. While delusions and hallucinations are not common with this subtype, those afflicted with the disorder are prone to disorganized speech and behavior as well as inappropriate emotional responses. It usually becomes apparent around the time of puberty.
On April 24, 1904, Fanny died at the insane hospital, where she had resided for almost seven years, from the effects of tuberculosis. Records state that she was buried in “The Colored Burying Ground” in Exeter. It is likely her parents were buried there as well.
Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.
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