The Vampire Panic of the 1800s specifically took place in the states of Rhode Island, eastern Connecticut, southern Massachusetts, and Vermont. The panic was in reaction to an outbreak of tuberculosis in the New England states.
Tuberculosis (called consumption at the time) was thought to be a result of the dead consuming the living. The dead were considered to be "vampires" and their bodies were exhumed and their internal organs were burned to stop the "vampire" from attacking the living.
People afflicted with tuberculosis often experienced a change in appearance and behavior. Thus the community turned to their beliefs in folklore to account for the change in their loved ones. No one knew about germs or the concept of tuberculosis as a disease.
A number of victims ranging from the time period of the late 1700s to the late 1800s have been documented as having suffered from tuberculosis and their bodies exhumed as vampires.
One of the more interesting cases is that of John Barber (1788 - 1843). Barber was a 55-year-old farmer who had died of tuberculosis.
Vampire panic led to Barber's body being exhumed five years after his death. The head and femur bones were removed and placed on his chest in the manner of a skull and crossbones. The bones were arranged in this manner so that he could not walk around and attack the living. His ribcage had also been broken to remove the heart.
Barber was buried near another body who could have been his first cousin or son but their remains lay undisturbed and unharmed.