"They Lynched Jim Cullen" 
New England’s Only Lynching
Dena Lynn Winslow, Ph.D.
Copyright 2008
Public Presentation at the Turner Memorial Library on the 135th Anniversary of the Lynching of Jim Cullen, April 30, 2008
Let’s begin with a moment of silence for Jim Cullen, Granville Hayden, William Thomas Hubbard, the lynchers, and all those affected by the decisions of that fateful night – exactly 135 years ago tonight. Also, please remember the thousands of other victims of domestic terrorism here in the United States and elsewhere.

How far we have come as a nation in the past 135 years is worth commenting on for a moment – maybe it’s not so far as we think! There has been an almost universal nation-wide acceptance of the practice of lynching in the United States that has continued even to the present day. Between 1882 and 1951 there were over 4,730 lynchings reported by the Tuskegee Institute, with many more not reported during that period. Yet, even with this alarming number, the United States Senate NEVER enacted any anti-lynching legislation despite over two-hundred bills coming before it during the first half of the 20th Century.

In June of 2005 the US senate made a formal apology for never having enacted any anti-lynching legislation. When discussing the apology, southern Senator Mary Landrieu said, “These were more than crimes. This was, in some measure, domestic terrorism, American against American.”

In June of 2005 the documentary film, “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till” opened in New York. It was the lynching of fourteen-year-old Till in Mississippi in 1955 that helped spur the Civil Rights Movement in this country. Till’s body was exhumed in June of 2005 and the case was re-opened for possible prosecutions of the perpetrators still living.

Young Emmett, a Black youth from Chicago, was on vacation in Mississippi visiting his uncle’s family that fateful summer of 1955. His crime,… he whistled at a white woman. A few days later, on August 28, 1955 he was abducted from his Uncle’s home during the night and viciously beaten and murdered. His body, almost unrecognizable, was then dumped in the Tallahassee River. Two of the lynchers were tried by an all White jury and found innocent. They later boasted of the crime and gave details of what they did in a Look Magazine article. In spite of the fact that there are people still living for whom there exists strong evidence of involvement in Till’s lynching, on February 27, 2007 the Mississippi Grand Jury decided not to prosecute in this case.

Lynch mobs had no fear of any reprisals for their actions, and became so brazen that they often had their pictures taken standing next to the still-hanging bodies of the victims. Postcard pictures of lynchings became commonplace, and until 1908 were sent through the US Postal Service. In that year, the mailing of violent or sexually explicit material was restricted.

In the few cases where there was any kind of an investigation, the result of an inquest was a verdict of “killed by a person, or person’s unknown to the jury.” Clearly, retribution was not a factor when people took the law into their own hands and committed these crimes. This lack of punishment and general acceptance of the practice of lynching in the United States contributed to the frequency with which these incidents occurred. Even today, we see the hanging of nooses on door knobs, reminiscent of the fact that domestic terrorism is, in fact, still being practiced in the United States today.

However, one lynching stands out as unique among the others. In the spring of 1873 James Cullen, the only lynch victim in New England’s history, swung into eternity at the hands of a lynch mob in Mapleton, Maine. There are few events in the history of this region which can match the story of the lynching of Jim Cullen. Aroostook county and New Brunswick old-timers have kept this hair-raising tale alive through countless retellings to fascinated listeners for generations. His lynching, and the subsequent oral tradition give us access to the life and death of this man, who would otherwise have remained unknown.

Lynching is perceived to be as much a part of the culture of the United States as baseball and apple pie. Lynching stories, jokes, and songs abound in the folk culture.

We have come to identify lynching with racially motivated violence towards Blacks in the south, or punishment for outlaws in the wild and wooly west. We think of New England as largely free from violence. However, mob violence regularly erupted in the northeast, and on several occasions, other lynchings nearly occurred. The death penalty was in place in Maine at the time of Jim Cullen’s lynching, but the residents did not wait for justice to take its course in this one and only case.

What prompted the residents of northern Maine to take the law into their own hands on this one occasion? Let’s begin at the beginning…

James Cullen was born to a poor Irish Protestant family in approximately 1846 in Peel, New Brunswick, Canada, which is close to the border behind Maine’s Mars Hill Mountain. In 1864 when James turned 18 years old, he applied for a grant of land next to his father’s lot in Peel and began a small farm. Like other young men of his time, James spent his winters working in the woods as part of a lumber crew. In approximately 1870 he was headed to work in the woods near Ashland, Maine for the winter when he met Rosellah Twist. She was married to his friend John Twist and they had a baby son named Edwin.

The following spring when James came out of the woods, Rosellah and Edwin returned to Peel with him. They didn’t stay in Peel long before returning to Mapleton, Maine where Jim had met Rosellah. In 1871 Jim was working odd jobs in the mills and on farms in the area. Rosellah was pregnant with Jim’s baby and the two of them were married in Presque Isle on August 2, 1871.

In the spring of 1873 times were beginning to get tough economically in Aroostook County. Later that year a serious depression and panic hit the area. James was unable to find work at that time and their economic problems intensified. Adding to the difficulties for James and Rosellah, their infant son, known only in the records as “Dummy Cullen,” or “Dummy Twist,” was deaf.

Young, handsome William Thomas Hubbard, known as “Thomas,” arrived in Mapleton about the same time Jim Cullen and Rosellah had. Rosellah saw a more promising future with Hubbard and began seeing him secretly. Hubbard bought the farm where Jim and Rosellah had been squatting in preparation for asking Jim to leave. Shortly after that, Jim learned of their affair and some time during the night of April 27th, 1873, he stabbed Hubbard’s horse which was in the barn at Jim’s house. He also broke into David Dudley’s store in Mapleton and took about $25 worth of goods.

On Monday morning, April 28, Thomas Hubbard and David Dudley went to Presque Isle where they found Constable Rufus Kalloch, the local law officer, at the Presque Isle House. An arrest warrant was sworn out for Jim. However, across the street from the hotel was a popular young business man, Granville Hayden. Granville heard about the events and came over to volunteer to go after Jim. He was deputized by Rufus Kalloch.

Granville planned to find Jim Cullen and inform him of the arrest warrant – but let him escape if he agreed to leave the area and never return. This was a common practice at the time, however, Rufus Kalloch did not approve of the idea and advised Granville against the plan. Granville left town with Thomas Hubbard to find Jim Cullen.

When the two men arrived in Mapleton, they met 15 year old Minot Bird who wanted to go with them to find Jim Cullen. Minot knew Jim and knew the area. Suspecting no problems, Sheriff Hayden agreed to take Minot along and the three set off for John Swanback’s shingle camp in Chapman where Jim had gone.

John Swanback was at work in his camp when the group arrived. Jim was there also. After supper, Granville took Jim outside and told him of the arrest warrant and told him he planned to let him escape in the night if he would leave town and not return. Apparently, Jim agreed to this plan and the men bedded down for the night at Swanback’s camp. During the night, Jim Cullen got up, took his thins, and left the camp.

Along towards morning however, Jim returned to the camp. He entered quietly then kicked the fire to life. No one stirred. Taking an axe from the wall where it had been left for the night, he stepped between the sleeping forms of Sheriff Granville Hayden and William Thomas Hubbard and gave them each one blow to the head with the blunt end of the axe, thus killing them. John Swanback and Minot Bird were awakened by the noise and fled the camp.

Jim decided to burn the bodies in the fireplace and carried cedar from John Swanback’s shingle making operation into the camp in order to build up the fire. Because cedar burns hot and fast, the camp quickly caught fire and burned. While it blazed, Jim carried things out of the camp until he could no longer enter the inferno. In the mean time, Swanback and Hubbard had come out of hiding in the woods and Jim agreed to let them live if they would help him burn the rest of the camp and agree to never admit what happened there. The plan was that they would say they hadn’t seen Sheriff Hayden or Thomas Hubbard. However, when they got a chance, although clad only in their underwear and stockings, they ran for their lives stopping at the first house, located several miles away, for help.

The village businesses were closed immediately and men set off in groups to find Jim Cullen. He was located in his cellar and from there was taken to David Dudley’s store where he was given a box to sit on and tied to a post because Mapleton had not jail. Throughout the day while he was held in the store people crowded in to see him and to ask him if he’d done it.

By nightfall when a small group left Mapleton for Presque Isle with Jim Cullen in their custody, it was generally know that he would not arrive alive. A local reporter who was present at the store, was so sure the lynching would occur that he had written the story of the lynching and sent it to the outside newspapers – even before it occurred!

Just outside Mapleton village, a group of men, mostly members of the Masonic Lodge, of which Granville Hayden was a popular member and leader, and William Thomas Hubbard was in the process of joining, lynched Jim Cullen. They placed his body in a wooden box intended to hold coffins for burial. This box had been brought to Mapleton to carry the remains of his victims, but instead became Jim Cullen’s coffin.

Further down the road, the group met a second, and much larger mob intent upon torturing Cullen and then lynching him. When they were told he was already dead, they scattered.

Cullen’s body was displayed in a local store where citizens filed by to look at him. Someone thought an inquest should be held, so a coroner was called. The coroner’s jury decided that Jim came to his death by being hung by parties unknown, a typical verdict following lynching no matter where it occurred.

Eventually, Jim was buried at the town dump in a shallow unmarked grave. That site today is located near the runways of the Presque Isle Airport.

It was at the time Jim’s body was put on display in the store that marks the beginning of the creation of the mythic monster, Jim Cullen. Very typical of other lynchings across the country, a tradition of the evil character of the lynch victim developed immediately following the lynching and was carried into the folklore. Folklore tells us that while his body was on display in the store following the lynching, ladies who filed past stabbed it with hat pins and men spit on him.

Over time, the stories of Jim’s strength grew with the tellers of the tales. We now have stories of him lifting barn beams that three other men couldn’t lift; and of him carrying ten bunches of cedar shingles in the mill just to show off or win bets. One of the more notable stories of his strength is illustrated by him being incarcerated in the Houlton County Jail prior to the lynching and escaping by shaking the bars on the window so hard that the wall fell down! While one of his brothers was incarcerated at the Houlton Jail, Jim was never there! Stories of the huge size of his feet and his fiery red hair and beard grew right along with his remarkable strength!

Oral tradition gives us a picture of his character as well. There are stories of the theft of food and clothing before the robbery. And, despite a marriage record in the vital statistics, folklore is adamant that Jim was not married to Rosellah. She continues to this day to be referred to in the oral tradition as, “Mrs. Twist.” There may be some justification for this. Rosellah was married to John Twist at the time she married Jim Cullen so she was a bigamist at that point. That fact has not come down in the folklore, but we do get a picture of Rosellah’s character from oral tradition. She was described as being as wide as she was tall – a real beauty, they said. We also learn from oral tradition of the love affair between she and Thomas Hubbard. It has been said that she liked to dance for Thomas, and one man reported, “when she danced, the concealed was revealed!” Tradition tells us that when the search party came to their home to find Jim after the murders, she said, “He’s not here!” while pointing to the cellar – thus giving him away.

Stories of Jim’s bad past developed following the lynching – as was typical of other lynchings. There were reports he had murdered a lawyer in New Brunswick by locking him in his office and burning the building down. These reports proved untrue, in fact Jim had no criminal record prior to this incident. So great was the dislike of this man that oral tradition tells us a doctor present at the lynching was called to examine the body. He reportedly said, “He’s dead boys, but let him hang a little longer!” And, of course, the significance of burying him in the town dump in an unmarked grave indicates how much the citizens disliked the man.

While there are countless other fascinating things in the oral tradition about this particular incident that illustrate the creation of the mythic Jim Cullen, one of particular interest involves his head.

In the fall of 1873 after Jim Cullen was lynched, Luther Bateman, a Phrenologist from Lewiston, Maine area, arrived in Presque Isle with his lecture tour. Luther worked for the Lewiston Journal (today the Lewiston Sun Journal) as an editor where he wrote a popular series on Phrenology early in 1902. Phrenology you will recall is the study of bumps on heads and face shape, head and brain size, and so forth. It is from the work of the early Phrenologists that we get our modern day IQ testing!

Influenced by the work of such men as Cesare Lombroso, an Italian Phrenologist who was attempting to discover anatomical differences between criminals and insane men, Luther Bateman had a theory that criminals had differently shaped heads than non-criminals. If he could prove his theory, we could lock up all the criminals before they committed any crimes and then we would have a crime-free-society!

As strange as that sounds to our modern ears, these and similar beliefs had captured the nation’s fancy during the mid and late 1800’s. Phrenology permeated all levels of society with women having their hair dressed to best display their head shape, and employers required phrenological readings for prospective employees. Virtually all prominent Americans had their heads examined by Phrenologists! Such writers as Edgar Allen Poe, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman were heavily influenced by Phrenology. There was even one book published on raiding horses using Phrenology!

When Bateman heard about Jim Cullen and the lynching, he knew he had to obtain the skull for his collection. He hired a young lawyer named George Smith, who later became a prominent judge in Maine, to accompany him to the town dump and remove Jim’s head. Luther offered to pay George $25 to help him.

By dark of night the two men set off for the dump where they located Jim’s shallow unmarked grave and dug it up. Oral tradition gives us the grisly details. After taking turns digging up the shallow grave, which filled with water as fast as they dug, the men finally reached the wooden box containing Jim Cullen’s body. Bateman removed the lid and the men were struck with the odor. Smith wanted to quit at that point but Bateman produced a bottle of gin which assisted them in continuing. Once the head was removed, the lid was replaced on the box that had become Cullen’s coffin and the dirt was returned to the grave. Bateman spread leaves over the area so no one would know that the grave had been disturbed. Finding a pail, they filled it with water in the brook nearby and boiled the flesh from the bones over the flames of the burning trash at the dump. After boiling the skull three or four times, they buried the red hair and flesh. Bateman carefully tucked the prized skull under his coat so no one would be the wiser as they returned to the village.

Needless to say, Luther Bateman’s theory didn’t prove true and we don’t have a crime free society today! We now know that it isn’t the shape of a person’s head that causes them to commit crimes!

Bateman continued to lecture and write on Phrenology into the early 1900’s. He returned to Presque Isle from time to time and brought the skull with him – along with others he had collected. Folklore tells us that after one of these lectures, Jim’s widow, Rosellah, and her older son Edwin Twist, asked to see the skull and Bateman showed it to them. According to one newspaper account, she reportedly said that she was pleased that her husband had become such an important man and was proud of his stage career.

Eventually Luther gave up Phrenology when it was discovered not to be scientifically accurate. He then ran for Governor of Maine three times – and nearly one the last time. He continued to work for the newspaper and kept his collection of skulls. Jim Cullen’s skull was his favorite – and he kept it in a glass case on his desk at the newspaper office, proudly displaying it and telling the story to anyone who asked. Luther died on September 20, 1924. Last known to be in Lewiston, Maine, the whereabouts of the skull today is unknown.

Jim Cullen was not alone in having his skull preserved! There were other victims of lynching who provided evidence to Phrenologists. For example, Big Nose George Parrot, who was lynched on March 22, 1881 in Montana. After the lynching, Dr. John Osborne removed George’s chest skin and had a medicine bag made from it. He also had skin from George’s thighs cut into a pair of shoes for his nurse. George’s brain was removed for Phrenological study investigating brain size and linking it to intelligence, in other words, the larger the brain the smarter the person was believed to have been. We have no indication today of how intelligent George was determined to be from this analysis, but the top of his skull was preserved and used as a flower pot by the nurse who received the shoes.

It is highly unlikely that Jim Cullen’s lynchers were thinking about Phrenology when they took the law into their own hands that fateful spring night in 1873 in northern Maine, but the shape of his skull became important later as people grappled with their actions and decided that justice had been served. After all, the skull showed the believed traits of a criminal. Phrenology, then, influenced the oral tradition and became part of the creation of the mythic monster we know today as Jim Cullen. These beliefs influence the way we perceive the life and death of Jim Cullen, and in turn add to the cultural identity of northern Maine.