Virginia’s Emory and Henry College hosted a lavish wedding in May of 1855. Noted bachelor Henry Solon Kane, Esq., of Scott County, married Miss Sarah Anderson, daughter of the esteemed Col. Anderson, of Washington County.
The couple enjoyed a beautiful ceremony. Festivities then moved to the groom’s family home in Scott County, for the reception. His family estate was called “Flat Lick.” One of the party’s highlights was luscious custard, a delicacy at the time. Everyone enjoyed their fill, but the revelry was not happily-ever-after.
Things took a horrific turn that night. Everyone who attended the reception and enjoyed the custard grew violently ill. The few who hadn’t enjoyed the dessert attempted to care for the ailing. Two physicians had been invited to the festivities and both concluded the entire party had been poisoned. The remaining custard was examined and found to contain a lethal level of arsenic.
The servants did not draw suspicions because they had eaten just as much as the guests, and were just as ill. The victims exhibited similar symptoms. They complained of a burning sensation in their stomach, which lead to an agonizing headache.
By the time all victims succumbed to the poison, around 25 people were not expected to survive, including the bride. Regardless of how grim it appeared, the only known fatality was a man named John Bishop. Suspicion eventually fell upon a slave, but was then redirected towards an unnamed white woman. The deed was also attributed to a white couple and their slave. A slave named Anderson was arrested and jailed in Scott County, but later released.
Fortunately, both bride and groom survived the brush with death and went on to have seven children. Information began to circulate around the end of July that several physicians suspected the poison was really that of iron and copper. This was in part because the victims all exhibited jaundiced skin, which is not a symptom of arsenic poisoning. If this theory were true, the poisoning was accidental.
This article was highlighted in a follow-up conducted by the New York Times.
For those with accounts at Newspapers.com, here is a list of articles discussing this tragedy.
North Carolina » Wilmington » The Tri-Weekly Commercial » 1855 » July » 07 Jul 1855, Sat
West Virginia » Wheeling » The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer » 1855 » July » 30 Jul 1855, Mon
Virginia » Richmond » Richmond Dispatch » 1855 » June » 12 Jun 1855, Tue
Virginia » Richmond » Richmond Dispatch » 1855 » July » 25 Jul 1855, Wed
Illinois » Chicago » Chicago Tribune » 1855 » June » 12 Jun 1855, Tue
North Carolina » Raleigh » The Biblical Recorder » 1855 » June » 07 Jun 1855, Thu
Louisiana » Shreveport » The South-Western » 1855 » July » 11 Jul 1855, Wed