On the evening of October 6, 1843, a corn husking was held at Dresser Stevens’ farm on the Greenwood Road. It is likely that none of the individuals participating could have known that the day would end in tragedy.

The husking took place in the central alley of the Stevens barn. Ears of corn to be separated from the husk for drying were piled around the edges of the barn floor; lanterns provided dim light and heavy shadows. A group of about 25 local men had been recruited to carry out the work and they drifted in one or two at a time. The work was already underway and the barn echoed with the sound of a husking song when Claudius Noyes and Hiram Totherly arrived. This entrance caused the group’s attention to turn to “twitting” Hiram Totherly. (Twitting is an old term referring to taunting by focusing on a fault or perceived defect of the victim.)

Hiram was a youth in his mid-teens who is described as having been orphaned by the death of his father twelve years before, as a result, his mother and five children found themselves in utter poverty. As a child, he stayed with a number of what would now be considered foster families. Hiram’s mother, Sally Holt Totherly, is said to have had unusually large front teeth and this was often the foundation for the twitting. A song had also been composed unkindly highlighting the plight of the Totherly family. One disadvantage of a small isolated community is that everyone knows far too much about their fellow inhabitants.

In response to the unkind attention, Hiram chose Washington Hobbs as his target asking him, “How does Olive tonight?” The question was a reference to the young lady who had claimed he had fathered her child. The verbal sparring continued its assault on tender egos.

Ebenezer Hobbs, second cousin to Washington Hobbs, took offense at the insult to his relative and exchanged heated words with Hiram. Ebenezer came from an established and respected family of the town.

As the husking drew to a close around 11 p.m., Hiram Totherly and Ebenezer Hobbs were still exchanging challenges and insults. The other participants were leaving the barn for the traditional husking dinner of baked beans and pie. Totherly and Hobbs continued to trade insults, with one calling the other a liar. In court, the witnesses disagreed as to which one threw the first punch.

The two stumbled around the cluttered barn floor, eventually falling in a clutch and rolling around. First one would be on top and then the other, with punches being thrown. The whole struggle lasted about a minute, according to those present.

At some point, Totherly introduced a pocket knife into the mix; but, in the dim light, no one seemed to notice until the two stood up and Hobbs collapsed after only a couple of steps. He was bleeding and was assisted into the Stevens home and laid on a bed. It was then obvious that he had been stabbed eight times. He died on the morning of October 8 as a result of a wound to the neck.

Hiram Totherly was arrested, taken into custody, and the grand jury charged him with murder. The next spring, the charge was amended to manslaughter. He was found guilty and sentenced to the county jail. (Some sources say the sentence was for one year and others say two years.). Upon release, Hiram Totherly went to Portland and enlisted in the military. As a soldier, he was sent to fight in the Mexican War where he was wounded and later died in the hospital. And so ended the most famous case heard in Oxford County, up to 1844. Two sad endings to two such young lives.

For more details on this case, visit the Norway Museum and Historical Society, open Saturdays from 9-12.

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