Suicide in Waynesville ~ Richard P. Williamson
It was reported in the Miami-Gazette newspaper on April 30th, 1873:
MELANCHOLY AND HORRIBLE SUICIDE ~ A thrill of horror went thro’ this community last Sunday morning when the news, spreading like an electric current, was circulated that Mr. Richard P. Williamson, eldest son of Dr. Francis Williamson, of this place, had put an end to his existence by the most excruciating torture of burning himself to death. When the facts were known, it was found to be but too true that the spirit of the young man had indeed left forever its earthly tenement, and that there was scarcely sufficient of the tenement itself left to enable his nearest friends to recognize him. For some time, Mr. Williamson had been living in the village, at the house of his parents, having rented his farm. On Saturday morning, Richard went out to the farm, where he employed his time in looking around the fields, and fixing the fence. During the afternoon, he was seen in an old log cabin on the place, fixing up a sort of pen, with rails, in the large ten-foot fireplace. Mr. Settles, the man who resides on the farm, remarked to Richard that he thought he was preparing to burn himself up. Richard’s reply was, “Pshaw, Mose, do you think me a fool.” Still Richard kept on with his mysterious work, and although his brother and Mr. Settles viewed him with anxiety they feared to excite him by asking questions or appearing to watch him. When suppertime arrived, Richard was urged to come in to supper by Mr. Settles, but he said he was going over to Mr. Smith’s to stay all night, and that he would get his supper there. And so they parted, Richard starting in one direction, Moses and Charlie in the other. While in the midst of eating, it flashed simultaneously in a forcible manner upon the minds of the two latter, that Richard was burning himself up in the old log cabin. They rushed to the door, and there, sure enough they saw a blazing light issuing from the door of the cabin. With the utmost possible speed, they ran to the cabin, were, oh horror of horrors! Their worst fears were but too terribly realized. They saw a sight that almost paralyzed them with terror. There in the rail-pen built in the large fire-place by his own hands, was Richard Williamson surrounded with fire, and so fearfully burnt and charred, that no one would have known him. ~~ He had, it appears, made the fire, and, entirely nude, plunged into the flames as if about to plunge into a pleasant bath. He was taken from the fire with difficulty, by means of a chain in the hands of Mr. Settles and on Sunday morning, the remains were placed in a coffin and brought to his parents’ home. It is hoped, though the torture was of the severest character, that life soon became extinct by inhalation of the fire, and his agonies, though intense, were mercifully brief. But why he should have deliberately chosen such a horrible means of ending an existence which he had often before remarked had no charms for him, can only be accounted for by the idea that he must have entertained a conviction that he was required to make a sacrifice of himself, and by frequent meditation on the deed and the means, he had wrought himself up into an ecstasy of fanaticism on the subject, so fatally carried out.
Richard Williamson was endowed with high moral sentiments, coupled with strong will power. The lower sentiments were unusual which rendered him unpretending. From an early period of his life, he manifested some considerable eccentricity, which by some was considered a species of mental alienation. His sense of justice and philanthropy made him a servant of his race. Some took advantage of these faculties. It was this, combined with veneration that made him self-sacrificing, and finally caused him to immolate himself on the shrine of extreme torture through fire. These faculties, however, were evidently inflamed, hence that mental depression, added by adversity in other matters, which caused him to commit the horrid act. His ideality and mathematic powers, when invoked, were strong and rational. He is now remove from all the causes and influences, whatever they might be, that combined to render him partially deranged. Free from human suffering, he now rests with a merciful Savior. Mr. Williamson was 28 years of age. He was esteemed by all as an upright man, and among those who knew him most intimately and well, his qualities of mind and heart made him an object of great affection. From that Heaven where his purified spirit now rests, may solace come to the lacerated and bleeding hearts he has left behind. The funeral took place on Tuesday morning in the midst of a large number of relations and friends, whose sympathies, with those of the entire community, are bestowed upon the afflicted family in their poignant grief and distress. Dr. James Wilkins Haines conducted the religious exercises in an acceptable manner, as the deceased was an esteemed member of the Hicksite Friends’ church. The remains were buried in Miami Cemetery. The pallbearers were Messrs. S. E. Elliott, Drew Sweet, William Retallick, Jr., Levi Kelley, David Evans, Samuel B. Cook. So ends the most sickening tragedy ever, perhaps, known in the history of this Township~ a human holocaust ~and the like of which we hope it may never devolve upon us again to record.
Richard P. Williamson (June 25th, 1846 – April 26th, 1873) is buried next to his parents in Miami Cemetery in Corwin (Section G). He had joined The Society of Friends, a member of Miami Monthly Meeting, but was disowned for a marriage contrary to Quaker discipline. His parents were both physicians, Drs. Francis and Miriam Pierce Williamson.