"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Devils of Gloucester

Cotton Mather, via Wikipedia

Witchcraft trials were not the only weird experiences Massachusetts endured in the year 1692. During that same period, the town of Gloucester was said to have been visited by some very strange company indeed.

This account of the disquieting incident comes to us from Gloucester's minister, the Rev. John Emerson. Cotton Mather published Emerson's narrative in his 1702 book "Magnalia Christi Americana." Rather than try to paraphrase, I thought it best to simply reproduce the original story, and let the words of these men speak for themselves. Besides, I've always had a soft spot for Early Modern prose.

A Surprising Thing laid before the Reader for him to Judge, (if he can) what to make of it.

Reader, I must now address thee, with the Words of a Poet: 
Dicam Insigne Recens, adhuc Indictum ore alio. Horat. [Ed. note: "I will sing a notable event, hitherto unsung by any other lips."]

But with Truths more confirmed, than what uses to come from the Pen of a Poet.

The Story of the Prodigious War, made by the Spirits of the Invisible World upon the People of New-England, in the year, 1692, hath Entertain’d a great part of the English World, with a just Astonishment: and I have met with some Strange Things, not here to be mentioned, which have made me often think, that this inexplicable War might have some of its Original among the Indians, whose chief Sagamores are well known unto some of our Captives, to have been horrid Sorcerers, and hellish Conjurers and such as Conversed with Daemons. The Sum of that Story is written in The Life of Sir William Phips; with such Irreproachable Truth, as to Defy the utmost Malice and Cunning of all our Sadduces, to Confute it, in so much as one Material Article: And that the Balant, and Latrant Noises of that sort of People, may be forever Silenced, the Story will be abundantly Justified, When the further Account written of it, by Mr. John Hale, shall be published: For none can suspect a Gentleman, so full of Dissatisfaction, at the proceedings then used against the Supposed Witchcrafts, as Now that Reverend Person is, to be a Superstitious Writer upon that Subject.

Now in the Time of that matchless War, there fell out a Thing at Glocester, which falls in here most properly to be related: A town so Situated, Surrounded, and Neighboured, in the County of Essex, that no man in his Wits will imagine, that a Dozen Frenchmen and Indians would come and alarm the Inhabitants for Three weeks together, and Engage ’em in several Skirmishes, while there were two Regiments Raised, and a Detachment of Threescore men sent unto their Succour, and not one man Hurt in all the Actions, and all End unaccountably. And because the Relation will be Extraordinary, I will not be my self the Author of any one clause in it: but I will Transcribe the words of a Minister of the Gospel, who did me the Favour, with much critical Caution, to Examine Witnesses, not long after the Thing happened, and then sent me the Following Account.

A Faithful Account of many Wonderful and Surprising Things which happened in the Town of Glocester, in the Year 1692.

Ebenezer Bapson, about midsummer, in the year 1692, with the rest of his Family, almost every Night heard a Noise, as if persons were going and running about his House. But one Night being abroad late, at his Return home he saw Two men come out of his Door, and run from the end of the House into the Corn. But those of the Family told him, there had been no person at all there: whereupon he got his Gun, and went out in pursuit after them, and coming a little Distance from the House, he saw the Two men start up from behind a Log, and run into a little Swamp, saying to each other, “The Man of the House is Come now, Else we might have taken the House.” So, he heard nor saw no more of them.

Upon this, the whole Family got up, and went with all speed to a Garrison near by; and being just got into the Garrison, they heard men Stamping round the Garrison: Whereupon Bapson took his Gun, and ran out, and saw Two men again Running down an Hill into a Swamp. The next Night but one, the said Bapson going toward a fresh Meadow, saw Two men, which looked like Frenchmen, one of them having a Bright Gun upon his Back, and both running a great pace towards him, which caused him to make the best of his way to the Garrison, where being come, several heard a Noise, as if men were Stamping and Running, not far from the Garrison. Within a Night or two after this, the persons in the Garrison heard a Noise, as if men were throwing Stones against the Barn. Not long after this, Bapson, with John Brown, saw Three men, about a Gun-shot off the Garrison, which they endeavoured to Shoot at, but were disappointed by their Running to and fro, from the Corn into the Bushes. They were seen Two or Three Nights together: but though the abovesaid strove to shoot at them, they could never attain it. On July 14, Bapson and Brown, with the rest of the men in the Garrison, saw, within Gun-shot, half a dozen men; whereupon all the men, but one, made haste out of the Garrison, marching towards them. Bapson presently overtook two of them, which run out of the Bushes, and coming close to them, he presented his Gun at them, and his Gun missing fire, the two men Returned into the Bushes. Bapson then called unto the other persons, which were on the other side of the Swamp, and upon his call, they made Answer, “Here they are! Here they are!” Bapson then running to meet them, Saw Three men walk softly out of the Swamp by each other’s Side; the middlemost having on a white Waistcoat. So being within Two or Three Rod of them, he Shot, and as soon as his Gun was off, they all fell down. Bapson then running to his supposed prey, cried out unto his Companions, whom he heard on the other side of the Swamp, and said, he had kill’d Three! he had kill’d Three! But coming almost unto them, they all rose up, and one of them Shot at him, and hearing the Bullet whiss by him, he ran behind a Tree, and Loaded his Gun, and seeing them lye behind a Log, he crept toward them again, telling his Companions, they were here! So, his Companions came up to him, and they all Ran directly to the Log, with all speed; but before they got thither, they saw them start up, and run every man his way; One of them run into the Corn, whom they pursued, and hemm’d in; and Bapson seeing him coming toward himself, Shot at him, as he was getting over the Fence, and saw him fall off the Fence on the Ground, but when he came to the Spot, he could not find him. So they all searched the Corn; and as they were searching, they heard a great Discoursing in the Swamp, but could not understand what they said; for they spoke in an unknown Tongue. Afterwards, looking out from the Garrison, they saw several men Sculking among the Corn, and Bushes, but could not get a Shot at them.

The next morning, just at Day-break, they saw one man come out of the Swamp, not far from the Garrison, and stand close up against the Fence, within Gun-shot. Whereupon Isaac Prince, with a long Gun, shot at him with Swan-shot, and in a moment he was gone out of sight, they saw him no more. Upon this, Bapson went, to carry News to the Harbour; and being about Half a mile in his way thither, he heard a Gun go off, and heard a Bullet whiss close by his Ear, which Cut off a Pine bush just by him, and the Bullet lodg’d in an Hemlock-Tree. Then looking about, he saw Four men Running towards him, one with a Gun in his Hand, and the other with Guns on their Shoulders. So he ran into the Bushes, and turning about, shot at them, and then ran away and saw them no more. About Six men returned from the Harbour with him, searching the woods as they went; and they saw, where the Bullet had cut off the Pine-bush, and where it was lodg’d in the Hemlock-Tree, and they took the Bullet out, which is still to be seen. When they were come to the Garrison, they went to look for the Tracks of the Strange men, that had been seen, and saw several Tracks; and whilst they were looking on them, they saw one, which look’d like an Indian, having on a Blue coat, and his Hair Ty’d up behind, Standing by a Tree, and looking on them. But as soon as they spake to each other, he ran into a Swamp, and they after him, and one of them shot at him, but to no purpose. One of them also saw another, which look’d like a Frenchman, but they quickly lost the sight of him.

July 15. Ezekiel Day, being in Company with several others, who were ordered to Scout the woods, when they came to a certain Fresh Meadow, two miles from any House, at some Distance from the said Meadow he saw a man, which he apprehended to be an Indian, cloathed in Blue; and as soon as he saw him start up and run away, he shot at him; whereupon he saw another rise up a little way off, who also run with speed; which, together with the former, were quickly out of sight; and though himself, together with his Companions, diligently sought after them, they could not find them. The same Day John Hammond, with several other persons, Scouting in the woods, saw another of these Strange men, having on a blue Shirt, and white Breeches, and something about his Head; but could not overtake him.

July 17. Three or Four of these Unaccountable Troublers came near the Garrison; but they could not get a shot at them. Richard Dolliver, also, and Benjamin Ellary, creeping down an Hill, upon Discovery, saw several men come out of an Orchard, walking backward and forward, and striking with a stick upon John Row’s Deserted House, (the Noise of which, was heard by others at a Considerable Distance;) Ellary counting them, to be Eleven in all; Dolliver Shot at the midst of them, where they stood Thickest, and immediately they dispersed themselves, and were quickly gone out of sight.

July 18. Which was the Time that Major Appleton sent about Sixty men, from Ipswich, for the Towns Assistance, under these inexplicable Alarms, which they had suffered Night and Day, for about a Fortnight together; John Day testifies, that he went in Company with Ipswich and Gloucester Forces, to a Garrison, about Two miles and an Half, from the Town; and News being brought in, that Guns went off, in a Swamp not far from the Garrison, some of the men, with himself, ran to discover what they could; and when he came to the Head of the Swamp, he saw a man with a Blue Shirt, and bushy black Hair, run out of the Swamp, and into the Woods; he ran after him, with all speed, and came several Times within shot of him: but the woods being Thick, he could not obtain his Design of Shooting him; at length, he was at once gone out of sight; and when afterwards, he went to look for his Track, he could find none, though it were a low miry place, that he ran over.

About July 25, Bapson went into the Woods, after his Cattel, and saw Three men stand upon a point of Rocks, which look’d toward the Sea. So he crept among the Bushes, till he came within Forty yards of them: and then presented his Gun at them, and Snapt, but his Gun miss’d Fire, and so it did above a Dozen Times, till they all Three came up towards him, walking a slow pace, one of them having a Gun upon his Back. Nor did they take any more Notice of him, than just to give him a Look; though he snapt his Gun at them, all the while they walked toward him, and by him; neither did they quicken their pace at all, but went into a parcel of Bushes, and he saw them no more. When he came home, he snapt his Gun several Times, sometimes with but a few Corns of Powder, and yet it did not once miss Fire.—-After this, there occurred several Strange Things; but now concluding they were but Spectres, they took little further Notice of them.

[Several other Testimonies, all to the same Effect with the Foregoing, my Friend had added, which for brevity I omit: and only add, the most considerable of these passages were afterward Sworn before one of Their Majesties council.]

Reverend and truly Honoured Sir, According to your Request, I have Collected a brief Account of the Occurrences, remark’d in our Town, the last year. Some of them are very Admirable Things, and yet no less True than Strange, if we may Believe the Assertions of Credible persons. Tho’ because of Great Hast, it is a rough Draught, yet there is nothing written, but what the persons mentioned would, if duely called, confirm the Truth of, by Oath.

I might have given you a larger Account; only several who Saw and Heard some of the most Remarkable things, are now beyond Sea. However, I hope, the Substance of what is written, will be enough to Satisfy all Rational Persons, that Glocester was not Alarumed last Summer, for above a Fortnight together, by real French and Indians, but that the Devil and his Agents were the cause of all the Molestation, which at this Time befel the Town; in the Name of whose Inhabitants I would take upon me, to Entreat your Earnest Prayers to the Father of mercies, that those Apparitions may not prove the sad Omens of some future and more horrible Molestations to them. May 19. 1693. Sir, Your very Humble Servant, J. E.

Now Reader, albeit that passage of the Sacred Story, 2 Chron. 20:22. The Lord set Ambushments against the Children of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, and they were Smitten; is by the best Expositors thus understood; that there was the Ministry of the Holy Angels wondrously employ’d in this matter; the Angels in the Shape of Moabites and Arnmonites fell upon them of Mount Sier, and upon this apprehended provocation they then all fell upon one another, until the whole Army was destroyed: Nevertheless I entirely refer it unto thy judgment, (without the least offer of my own) whether Satan did not now Set Ambushments against the Good People of Glocester, with Daemons, in the Shape of Armed Indians and Frenchmen appearing to considerable Numbers of the Inhabitants and mutually Firing upon them, for the best part of a Month together. I know, the most Considerate Gentlemen in the Neighbourhood, unto this Day, Believe this whole matter to have been a Prodigious piece of the Strange Descent from the Invisible World, then made upon other parts of the Country. And the publication of this Prodigy among other Wonders of the Invisible World among us, has been Delay’d until Now, that so the Opinion of our most considerate Gentlemen about it, might have Time for a thorough Concoction: and that the Gentlemen of the Order of St. Thomas, may have no Objection to make against it. But, be it what it will, they are not a few profane Squibs from the Sons of the Extravagant Bekkar, that will be a fit Explication for Things thus Attested, and so very Marvellous.

If there is any moral to this story, I suppose it would be this: If demons want to hang around your neighborhood, you might as well just let them.


  1. The creepiest things about stories like this is when the mysterious people do things that are just slightly abnormal, such as hitting a house with a stick. Why do that? Is there a secret purpose to it? Something supernatural? I'd rather have someone just try to burn the place down. That I understand.

  2. You just can't beat "horrid Sorcerers, and hellish Conjurers" can you?


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