Many years ago in the village
of Westborough there lived a woman named Ruth Buck. Ruth Buck was stout and
always wore a plaid kerchief on her head. She wandered from house to house
plying her trade as a seamstress. She had a very sharp tongue and the children
were frightened at the sight of her.
Many farmers and their wives
were very superstitious and looked on Ruth with suspicion. You see many in the
town believed she was a witch. Whenever the cows did not give milk or the sheep
got sick everyone would blame Ruth Buck.
One day a prosperous farmer
named John Belknap was loading his wagon with eggs. He was going to travel up
the turnpike to Boston and sell them at a handsome profit. John and his hired
hand, Eli, loaded the wagon until it was completely full. They carefully placed
a board across the back to make sure the eggs would not fall.
John and Eli were working so
hard that they did not see Ruth Buck walking up the hill. Ruth called to them,
“Good day, Squire Belknap, and where might you be going? Your wagon is loaded
particularly full. Would you be so kind as to give me a few eggs, you have so
many a few will hardly be missed.”
John Belknap was not glad to
see Ruth. He was anxious to get started on his long journey and did not want to
be bothered. “I have not time for you, Ruth,” he said. “I must get started for
Boston if I am to arrive there by nightfall. I will not tive you any of my
eggs. They are packed and ready to be sold.
Eli looked at his master with
surprise. “Mr. Belknap, what are you doing? Don’t anger Ruth Buck for you know
what they say about her, she is a witch,” he said. John Belknap knew what the
townfolk said about Ruth, but he was a sober man who did not consider such
things. “Eli, I do not believe in old farmer’s wives tales.”
Ruth grew angry. “I ask you
again, Squire Belknap, will you give me some of those eggs?” “No, I must be
going so be off with you,” replied John. Ruth looked at him with cold, beady
eyes and said, “Squire Belknap, you will never get those eggs to market. I
promise you that all the eggs will be broken before you reach Boston, and you
will never receive a penny for them.” She walked off leaving an angry John and
a scared Eli.
John and Eli clicked the
reigns and the horses pulled the wagon through the village of Westborough. The
sun was shining and the day was warm. They soon forgot about Ruth Buck. They
traveled down the Boston Turnpike through Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, and
Newton. The sun was beginning to set as they started to climb Chestnut Hill.
Midway up the hill the horses stopped and nothing could persuade them to go
John Belknap grew impatient
and handed the reigns to Eli. “I will pull them you hold tight,” he said. He
grabbed the bridles and pulled the horses until they reluctantly moved forward.
The horses stopped again and all of a sudden there was a crash. The board on
the back of the wagon fell to the ground and all the eggs tumbled out. Eli and
John ran to the back of the wagon and found ALL of the eggs were broken.
All they could do was look at each other and think of what Ruth Buck had said. She was right, none of the eggs had reached Boston. John Belknap had to turn his wagon around and go home. He made no handsome profit selling his eggs at the market that day.
From The Hundredth Town by Harriette Merrifield Forbes, 1889, pp. 146-153.
Of Ruth Buck’s ancestry we know nothing, nor was she associated
with any particular locality. The Town Records mention her first in 1763, about
seventy-one years before her death. In the warrant for the town-meeting, May 9,
1763, one article was, “To see what ye Town will do with respect to Ruth Buck,
which ye Selectmen of this Town have sent to Southboro’, for ye Selectmen of
Southboro’ refuse to take y’e sd Ruth Buck as their proper charge.” They “voted
not to stand Toyal (trial) with Southboro’ with respect to Ruth Buck.” In
October of the same year, Mr. Samuel Allen prayed “that ye Town would Relieve
Him someway or other with respect to Ruth Buck and her child.” They afterwards
appropriated money for her support, and so in the early days of her unfortunate
motherhood she became a town charge.
What became of the little one whose babyhood was so overshadowed
with trouble and want we do not know. The fact of his existence faded from the
minds of most. In 1778 Ruth appeared before the church, confessed her sin, and was
“admitted into full communion.” Of the next years of her life we know nothing;
perhaps they were the best years, spent in the care of her boy.
Full communion with the church did not mean full social
fellowship with the good people of the town. It is not long before we find her
regarded with distrust, though still going from house to house, following her
profession of tailoress, looked upon with fear by the little children, and by
many of their elders as a social outcast and witch.
What she herself thought has come down to us in a very negative
way. Old David Fay, a rough, eccentric man, called out to her one morning as
she was passing his house: —
“Well, Ruth, they say you are a witch.”
“If I’m a witch,” she answered, as she trudged on, “you are the
She is remembered as a very stout woman, with large, strong
features. Her temper was uncertain, and many a sharp retort came from her lips.
It was a bad thing to arouse her opposition, and feel the sting of her venomous
She always wore a cap or handkerchief on her head, sometimes of
white material, more commonly of plaid. Below it was seen a bit of the lobe of
each ear, with a little gold knob fastened into it. She was never seen without
this covering, and it was said and believed that she had a very good reason for
wearing it. One day she had asked a farmer to do some ploughing for her. His
refusal displeased her, and she angrily said, “You will have trouble with your
oxen to-day.” The farmer found she was right; the usually docile beasts refused
to move. At last, feeling sure that they were bewitched, he resorted to the
usual method of letting out the evil spirit, and cut off the tops of their
ears. From that time dates Ruth’s wearing of the head covering, and it was
generally understood that the few who, in some unguarded moment, had obtained a
glimpse beneath it had seen that her ears were cropped.
Across her throat she had a long purple mark, which she covered
with a handkerchief crossed in front. There was a farmer living in Grafton
whose sheep one day showed the familiar and unmistakable signs of being
bewitched, not onlv by their erratic actions, but even more by the blindness
which had suddenly come upon the whole flock. At last he resorted to the “sharp
medicine” of the knife, cutting the throat of the worst one. He had no more
trouble with them; but, until her death, Ruth was marked with a livid line just
where the farmer’s knife had cut the bewitched sheep.
She seems to have oftener used her uncanny influence over inanimate
things. One day she met Mr. Joseph Belknap, soon after he had started from his
farm at Rocklawn, to “go below,” as was the phrase commonly used of a trip to
Boston, with a large number of eggs for the market. She asked for some; but he
refused to sell them, as his box was even, full, and closely packed. “Well, as
you please,” she answered; “but you will never get those eggs safe to the market.”
In some unaccountable way, near the end of his long drive, the
board in the back of his wagon came out, and the box of eggs slid to the
ground. Every one was broken.
Another time, a farmer, against whom she had previously vowed
vengeance, passed her as he was carrying a load of wood to the school-house,
now known as No. 2, near the H. A. Gilmore farm. She told him he would never
reach there safely with his load. She passed on, but the oxen refused to move;
he took off part of the load, but, after a short distance, they stopped again.
This was repeated, until, just before reaching his destination, he threw off
the last stick, and the oxen, starting on a dead run, rushed by the
There were innumerable slight annoyances to which the good woman
of the house was subjected, against whom Ruth Buck had a spite. When she
lighted her candles, she found that all below the rim of the old-fashioned
candlestick was gone; only the wick was left. These candlesticks were made with
a long socket, which held more than half the candle; a small slide raised or
lowered at will made it possible to burn them almost the entire length. She
believed the witch had come in an invisible shape and eaten the candles.
Mrs. Samuel Grout was one of the ladies most annoyed by Ruth’s
pranks: her bread wouldn’t rise; it refused to bake, no matter how hot the oven
might be; the butter wouldn’t come, and many other things went wrong in her
work. One day, after churning for a long time, she tried, on a large scale, the
remedy mentioned by Whittier in his New England Legend, —
“The goodwife’s churn no more refuses
Its wonted culinary
Until with heated
The witch has to her place
and dropped a hot brick into the offending cream. The butter
soon came, but not long afterwards a neighbor ran in saying that Ruth Buck had
been dreadfully burned.
Mrs. Grout, seeing Ruth soon after with her hand in a poultice,
asked her what the matter was.
“You know what is the matter,” was her answer, “and you’ll find
yourself well paid.”
The same day, one of. Mr. Grout’s cows was found with a broken
leg, with no apparent reason for the accident.
This was not the only burn that Ruth received. One day Mrs.
Beeman was very much troubled with the behavior of her spinning-wheel. It
refused to turn, the thread broke, and the good-woman’s patience was well-nigh
exhausted. She took an old horseshoe, heated it red-hot, and laid it on the
wheel. Everything went smoothly after that, but Ruth bore the scar for many a
This woman, so the farmers’ wives thought, had the power of
knowing when she was talked about, and hearing what was said. Perhaps the low
tones thcy thought necessary to use when telling each other about the
afflictions she had brought upon them, may account in part for the lasting
impression of curiosity and awe which her character left on the little children
of the day, now most of them past their eightieth year.
One day she was trudging up a long hill in Upton, when a girl
named Lackey looked out from one of the windows of a house on top of the hill,
and saw her coming. “Oh dear,” she said to her mother,” here comes Ruth Buck. I
hope she isn’t coming to stay.”
Ruth came on, made a pleasant call, but refused all their
invitations to lay aside her wraps. When she stepped over the threshold after
bidding them good-by, her expression changed. Looking sharply at her late
hostesses, she said: “Oh dear, here comes Ruth Buck. I hope she isn’t coming to
stay. Won’t you take off your things? I don’t want you to stay.”
She went off repeating these words to herself.
The last years of her life she was obliged, to a great extent,
to give up her wandering habits. After the manner of dealing with paupers in
the early part of this century, she was knocked down at auction to the person
offering to board her for the least sum, and so fell to the thrifty hospitality
of John Fay, who lived about two miles from the station, on the North Grafton
She finally, in 1834, at the age of ninety-two, ended her days
in the poor-house.
Since her day there has been no one in town invested with her
* * *
From More Old Houses in Westborough, Mass. and Their Occupants, Westborough Historical Society, 1908.
At this house [Morse
Homestead] Ruth Buck came to make the boys’ clothes and Patty was so afraid to
sleep alone that she willingly ran the risk of being bewitched by her bed
fellow. But grandmother said though she watched closely, Ruth never removed her
turban either night or day in her presence. Patty was dying of curiosity to see
for herself whether Ruth’s ear-tips were gone, cut off, as tradition said, when
she was a pig.
Written by Grace W. Bates,
* * *
References to Ruth Buck in Historical Records
1778 July 30
(Thursday). Ruth Buck desires to be propounded in
Order to her Humiliation and joining with the
Church, is Examined.
1778 August 2 (Sunday).
Ruth Buck was propounded.
1778 August 3
(Monday). Mrs. [Jemima Hardy?] was here with Objections
against Ruth Buck. I [advised?] Mrs. Hardy to go to her,
and discourse with her. [illegible] She said she had Seen and
spoke with her. [But to?] little [effect?].
1778 August 11
(Tuesday). Capt. Morse here in Defence of Ruth
Buck against Mrs. Hardy; and insists on her (the
latter) being distracted.
1778 August 12
(Wednesday). [I then went?], and Mr. Elijah Hardy with
me, to Mr. Isaac Parker’s where dwells the widow Jemima
Hardy, that I might direct her with respect to Ruth Buck.
But I found her much out of her Head, and incapable of any regular
Conversation. Dr. Stimson has been here, is soon going
to settle at Great Barrington.
1778 August 15
(Saturday). Miss Ruth Buck came with her Confession
and Relation; and it proved a yet greater Interruption, as I was obliged to new
methodize and wholly transcribe her writings for the public Reading of
them. But there is no material Objection against her.
1778 August 16
(Sunday). At noon Miss Ruth Buck was here, and I read and
She signed the Address she is about to make to the Church.
* * *
Blake’s Worcester County, Massachusetts, Warnings
1763 May 10. Buck, Ruth, from Southborough. March 16, ’63.