Folktale Friday: The Legend of Hockomocko (Written for a high school play, ca. 1930)

The Fairbanks cows grazing nearby Hoccomocco Pond. ca. 1930.

Near the shore of Hockomocko,

Where the limpid, deep blue water

Shows no ripple on its surface,

Can be seen a pile of pebbles,

Worn and smoothed by many a winter.

Countless storms have moaned above them,

Since the red men mutely dropped them

One by one upon the bottom.

When the waters murmur softly

In the early evening shadows,

If you listen, you will gather

From the plaintive half-heard whispers,

Fragments of an old tradition,

Of a simple Indian legend.

Long ago by Hockomocko

In the wigwam of her father

Lived a maid, the fair Iano,

Loved by many a youthful warrior,

Loved by Sassacus, the chieftain,

Loved and hated by Wequoash.

For the maiden, heedless ever,

Favor showed to bold Wequoash,

Wore the wreath his hand had woven

And the furs his bow had captured,

Roused in him a mighty passion,

Left him lightly for another,

Sassacus, the young men’s idol,

Sassacus, the whole tribe’s hero.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Nearer crept the marriage evening,

Then the gay, the fair Iano,

Like the wild folks of the forest,

Fled from out the dusky wigwam,

Playing truant to her lover

To the shore of Hockomocko,

Laughing ran the fair Iano;

Searched for a moment in the bushes

For her light canoe of birch bark,

Pushed it gaily to the water,

Darted from the shore like lightning.

O’er the tranquil surface skimming,

Flew the boat and flew the maiden,

Towards that spot by Hockomocko

Where a willow, huge and aged.

Mantled by a drooping grapevine,

Formed an arbor cool and quiet,

Called by all “Iano’s bower.”

When the shore lay far behind her,

Lo! The harvest moon in glory

Rose above the dusky pine boughs,

Silver light upon her rested

As she glided o’er the water.

From the shore, the bold Wequoash,

Hastening homeward from his hunting,

Saw the light canoe of birch bark,

Watched it skimming o’er the surface,

Watched the moonlight on the paddle,

Listened to the stroked so even,

Spoke with vengeance in his bosom:

“‘Tis Iano, the false hearted.

She alone can dip her paddles

With the lightness of the sea-gull,

She alone can bend so lightly,

She alone would gleam so brightly,

In the silver of the moonbeam.”

Silently, he dropped his weapon,

Silently, his robe discarded,

Softly swam beneath the surface,

Till he neared the fair Iano,

As she paddled towards the willow.

Close above the gleaming water,

Of a swift pursuer fearful,

Bent Iano, listening breathless,

At her folly laughing softly,

Wondering if her friends had missed her,

Wondering how upon the morrow,

Sassacus, the brave would greet her.

Suddenly, the bold Wequoash,

Seized her gleaming tresses lightly,

Drew her down beneath the water,

Hushed her shrieks an quelled her struggles,

Then his hold upon her loosened

Till she sank like lead beneath him,

All her charms and sweetness vanished.

Months slipped by: the bold Wequoash,

Still unsatisfied in spirit,

Still with vengeance in his bosom,

Poisoned Sassacus, the chieftain,

Ruled the tribe himself with glory,

But the harvest moon returning,

Brought him memories of Iano,

He would leave his loyal warriors,

And upon the shore would wander,

Or would crouch upon a tree stump,

Pondering o’er his deeds of darkness,

Then a flame would rise before him

Streaming from the dark blue water,

Twice this happened; then a whisper –

“Once again, O bold Wequash.”

When the year once more had waned,

All his warriors came before him,

Summoned at their chieftain’s bidding,

Then he told the sad, dark story:

How that Sassacus, the mighty,

And the lovely maid, Iano,

Both had perished through his hatred.

Awed they sat and watched their chieftain,

While he paddled o’er the water

To the spot where fair Iano

On that dreadful night had vanished.

Straightway rose a form to greet him.

Sassacus, in robes of blackness,

Had returned to bid Wequoash

Leave the haunts of men behind him,

On the spirit road to wander.

Lightnings flashed and thunders pealed,

Darkness fell o’er all the water,

Hushed the hardy warriors waited

Till the fearful storm was over;

Then made promise that thereafter

When they passed the spot of terror,

Each a stone should drop in mourning,

Each should sigh for fair Iano,

Should lament for bold Wequoash

And for Sassacus, the mighty.

Thus we see by Hockomocko,

When the limpid, dark blue water

Shows no ripple on its surface,

Still the pile of shiny pebbles,

Worn and smoothed by many a winter,

Witness of the old tradition,

Of that simple Indian legend.


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Note that various versions of the same folk tale will be published so as to compare how each are told.

Folktale Friday: “The Baby Doll Murder Case” by Glenn R. Parker

40 South St.

In 1919, Dwight Chapman inherited a house located at 40 South St. that originally served as a rooming house on the Blake Estate. The 74 year-old Chapman was a veteran of the Civil War and described as a cranky old eccentric with a foul mouth and a roving eye for young woman. He lived alone in an unattached building behind the rooming house on the bottom floor. It wasn’t a big space, just enough for an old single man. The outside area in front of Chapman’s place was an open area used as a vegetable garden, along with a trellised grape vine and stacks of wood used for heating. Chapman kept chickens and pigs, and he fed them with scraps from area eateries. The property was on a corner lot at Cottage St., opposite the Central House where Chapman spent much of his time.

Chapman’s Place

In 1919 a young couple got off the train at the Westborough station and went to the Central House to find lodging but were directed to Chapman’s place. The man was Harry Baker and the attractive young woman with him was his wife Eleanor Baker, so he said. The couple walked across the street and found Chapman tending his garden. Immediately Chapman took a liking to the young woman and was more than happy to rent the couple a room.

As was customary in Westborough, newcomers received nicknames after a few days in town. From that time on Harry became “Sneaks” Baker and his pretty little wife was known as “Baby Doll” Baker. For the next several days the couple got around the downtown and even applied for jobs at the Westborough State Hospital.

The Bakers were only in town for a couple weeks before they quickly disappeared without anyone knowing. This situation in itself was not unusual as downtown Westborough was a center for transients, salesmen, job searchers, and tourists.

Then, Westborough Police Chief Robert Johnson was notified by the keepers of the Central House that they hadn’t seen Chapman for several days. Although not out of the ordinary, the locals began to think that the coincidence of Chapman’s absence from his daily routine and the Baker’s sudden disappearance was suspicious. It seems as though Baby Doll had made it known that the old man was making sexual innuendos and advances towards her that made her feel uneasy. It was also observed that Chapman was suddenly flashing a wad of dough.

Chapman Kitchen, with safe on the right

Although Chapman’s absence was not a total surprise, the chief went to his place and saw the curtains pulled. There being no response at the door, he broke the lock and entered.  When the chief entered the kitchen, he was first met with an odor of rotting food and observed the usual squalor. But when the chief saw a large safe with the dial-lock knocked off and damage to the top of the safe, his curiosity became elevated.

As the chief opened the door to Chapman’s bedroom he observed what appeared to be a body under a blanket and was taken aback by the odor of death. He pulled down the blanket and found a naked Chapman lying lifeless with his head covered with blood. The discovery of the body was immediately deemed a murder.

Chapman Death Bed

The chief notified State Detective Robert Molt and asked for help in the murder investigation. A crime scene was established, and a subsequent search for evidence was conducted. During this time, the chief discovered a bloody claw hammer, a pry bar, and a hand drill near the safe. Although the safe had been badly damaged, the door remained closed and locked. The intent to rob was clearly obvious. Also discovered was that Chapman had taken a $1,500 mortgage on the property, which gave a strong indication as to motive. There was no money or other valuables found. The chief then ordered to have the safe opened and found it totally empty.

The Open Safe

Dr. C. S. Knight, state medical examiner, arrived to examine the deceased and declared Chapman dead of a skull fracture by multiply blows to the head with a sharp-edged weapon. As rigor mortis had set in and decomposition had begun, the doctor estimated the time of death between 24 and 36 hours from discovery. 

As the chief began his investigation beyond the crime scene he questioned a number of people who had contact with Chapman. Word quickly spread through the community that Chapman was bludgeoned to death while he slept. It didn’t take long before the chief had his prime suspects, the Bakers, and after a search of their room he was convinced. The Bakers had left town in a hurry leaving behind a small travel bag, some cloths and a couple of notes of paper. But where were they now?

The chief then got a break when he talked with a railroad clerk who remembered Baker at the station buying two tickets for the 7:20 a.m. train to Boston but arrived late and waited for the 8:03 a.m. train instead. He remembered Baker and his pretty female companion who had one travel bag. Ironically, there were two of Baker’s trunks on the platform but only one got on the train, the other accidentally left behind. This trunk was opened and contained men’s clothing and more documents revealing the Bakers names and some of their history.

Another bit of luck came to the chief when a tracer put on Baker’s trunk revealed that the trunk went to North Station and was then loaded on the Boston and Maine Railroad to Portland, Maine.

When Chief Johnson learned that the Bakers were headed north to Portland, he immediately notified the authorities there to be on the look-out for the Bakers. However, by the time the message trickled down to the Portland beat cops, the hapless Bakers had accidentally boarded a ferry to Peaks Island thinking it was a transcontinental ship to Europe. When the Portland detectives tracked the couple to Peaks Island, they found the Bakers were gone, but they collected evidence indicating that the pair had left for Bangor. Upon notification, the Bangor Police alerted the entire force to be on the look-out for the suspected murderers. At the same time, Chief Johnson and Detective Molt were alerted of the new evidence and immediately boarded the next train to Bangor.  

Union Station at Bangor, Maine

Days later, Bangor Detective Golden having difficulty locating the Bakers and frustrated by the conventional method of interviewing people by knocking on doors decided on a hunch to stake out the train station in the hope of coming across Baker. In possession of a good description of the tall 25 year-old with a slender build, wearing a cap and a pinch back jacket, he saw a man of that description. He let him walk by without saying a word and noticed that the man avoided eye contact with him by staring straight ahead towards the Bangor House. But this man had a mustache. Could this be Baker? The detective decided to call out Baker’s name.

When the young man stopped and turned to the detective, a surprised Golden asked, “Are you Harry Baker?” Bakers face went pale and his head dropped as he replied, “Yes.” Then Detective Golden identified himself as a Bangor Police Officer and informed him of the Fugitive from Justice Warrant against him. Baker had easily given up. He was tired of running and living a lie. Golden then asked, “Where is your wife?”

Baker momentarily paused and looked at the hotel. “She is a chamber maid at the Bangor Hotel,” he replied. This was too easy, Golden thought to himself. He called for back-up and went to the hotel where Baker pointed out Baby Doll. As the detective approached her she made a lunge for her purse, but she was intercepted by a second officer, who opened her purse to find a small caliber handgun.  The chase was over, and now they were both in custody.

Chief Johnson and Detective Holt had arrived the day before and now took charge of the suspected murderers. They took them before a Maine Magistrate where the Bakers waived extradition and denied any knowledge of Chapman’s death. However, upon returning to Westborough Harry Baker admitted to killing Chapman in defense of his wife’s honor. In a surprise plea deal, Baker admitted in court to second degree murder and was sentenced to life in jail. Harry took the rap for Baby Doll Baby, who was given a one-year sentence as an accessory to the crime.

Detective Holt with Harry Baker, age 25, while Westborough Chief William Johnson escorted Eleanor “Baby Doll” Baker, age 20, into the Worcester County Courthouse.

The Rest of the Story . . .

After returning to Westborough, Chief Johnson and Detective Holt interviewed the Bakers while they were incarcerated at the Worcester Jail awaiting trial. It turns out that Baby Doll had a criminal past before coming to Westborough, while Baker had no record and was from Reading, Pennsylvania. How the couple met and why they came to Westborough was not known. It turns out that Baker named her “Baby Doll,” while she called him “Daddy.” 

The interview revealed that Baby Doll was never married to Baker. Her name was actually Eleanor Reise. She was married and originally lived in Wisconsin.  But after an incident of marital discord with her husband, Eleanor was arrested for throwing vitriol on him and was sentenced to six months in jail. When released, she never reunited with her husband or bothered to get a divorce.

Although Baker freely admitted to killing Chapman, investigators were not totally convinced that he was the murderer. The autopsy revealed that Chapman was not only struck numerous times on the head with a sharp instrument (a claw hammer), but he also suffered blunt trauma (a hammer head) to his lower belly and arms. The wounds, they concluded, were not consistent with Baker’s admission. They surmised that the act was a rage killing by a disturbed person, not Baker.

The unexpected plea to guilty of second degree murder by Baker was believed to deflect any suspicion or wrong-doing away from Baby Doll, both to keep her from a murder charge and keep her off the witness stand. The fact that she was not married to Baker would have made her eligible to testify, and that would not have bode well for her. In the end, there was no trial.

Baby Doll and Harry Baker pose for this courthouse photo.

Baby Doll Goes to Jail

In December 1919, Baby Doll was sentenced to the Worcester Jail for a one-year term but was paroled after serving six months. Upon her release, Eleanor changed her name to Hazel Manning and dyed her hair red. She got a job as an elevator operator in Worcester, then worked at the Wrentham and Foxboro State Hospitals. While living in Worcester, she kept her promise to wait for Baker and visited him often at the Charlestown Jail. However, her loyalty to Baker was short lived. As soon as Baker had given her all his money, she ceased all contact with him.

Not long after Baby Doll was paroled, she hooked up with a Boston cop who tried to help her after she was robbed of $200. The cop became enamored with Baby Doll, and he abandoned his wife and four children and quit the police force to be with her. He called her “Tiger Kitten,” and the two were seen at various Boston hotels portraying themselves as married. Shortly after, they were arrested on morals charges, found guilty, and given a six-month jail sentence. But the lovers fled the area pending an appeal. Shortly after, Tiger Kitten was admitted to a Providence hospital as a result of a suicide attempt and an admission of being depressed. The couple then fled to Texas, where they took jobs in a night club.

Baker Recants

After a year in jail, Harry Baker became increasingly enraged with Baby Doll abandoning him. He recanted his confession and stated that Chapman’s murderer was actually Baby Doll. She admitted to Baker that after a drinking binge at the Central House, she went to Chapman’s place with the express intent of taking revenge and stealing the old man’s money. But the encounter did not go well, and to escape Chapman’s advances she bludgeoned his head with a claw hammer numerous times.

When she told Baker what happened, he told her that he loved her and vowed to take responsibility for the act. The next morning the pair returned to the scene of the crime and found a pry bar and drill to break into the safe, but they were unsuccessful.  After covering Chapman’s body, they attempted to clean up the crime scene and locked the door from the outside. That evening they packed their travel trunks in preparation for a speedy escape and the next morning boarded a train for Boston.

In 1933, the former-cop-turned-lover of Tiger Kitten returned to Boston to make amends with his deserted wife and kids. He had been thrown out, and Tiger Kitten was again on the prowl.  Once back in Boston, he was apprehended by a bail bondsman on the default warrant for jumping bail for the old morals charges. He was held without bail and sent to jail for six months.

Meanwhile, Eleanor Reise, alias Baby Doll Baker, alias Hazel Manning, alias Tiger Kitten, was last seen heading to Mexico, never to be heard of again.

After serving 15 years of a life sentence in jail along with years of pleading his innocence, Harry Baker received a Governor’s Pardon and was placed on parole. However, it wasn’t long before he disappeared. He was later convicted by a Texas court of an armed robbery charge and sentenced to 25 years in jail.        

The Baby Doll Murder in historical records

The Racine Journal News: Monday, May 8, 1916

The most troublesome woman ever arrested is the title given Mrs. Ellen Reise 23 years old, by the Milwaukee police. She is the woman who was captured in this city last week by Detective Johns, and who, after being placed in charge of police woman Webers, broke fro her and ran away but Detective Johns afterward having a race in a taxicab captured her.

Her husband, Robert Reise testified that she had shot him, attacked him with a pair of scissors, attempted to burn down his parents’ house, and finally poured acid on him.

When taken to the detention rooms she made two or three attempts to get away and had matches which she probably intended to eat and poison herself. The charge against the woman was that she threw carbolic acid on her husband when he was asleep, severely burning him. This was on April 17.

Previous to this she had masqueraded as a man at Kenosha, This deception she carried out for ten days. Her husband, Robert Reise, declares that while he slept she threw the acid on his legs and body and when he was awakened by the burning she stood by the bed with an empty bottle. ‘He came here and met her on the street and induced her to accompany him to a hotel and then notified the police and her arrest followed.

At Milwaukee she was taken before Judge Pago and he expressed a belief “that she was not mentally sound. and said that she had attempted to set fire to the house of her father-in- law and tried to shoot her husband with a shotgun and that she should be examined when her case is called in the municipal court. The charges which she made against her husband while here are said to have been the result of her imagination.

The Racine Journal News: Saturday, May 20, 1916

Ellen Reise, 23, the woman who, when arrested here some days ago by Detective Johns attempted to escape from Miss Rose Webbers policewoman then tried to jump out of a window of the detention rooms in city hall and who was discovery to have a quantity of matches in her possession with which undoubtedly, intended to poison herself, broke away from three deputy sheriffs in Milwaukee yesterday, and attempted to leap from the eighth story of the municipal court building.

The sheriffs managed to catch her after a desperate struggle she was overpowered. The charge against the woman is assault with intent to do great bodily harm on the person of her husband by throwing carbolic acid on him while he slept. She said that she committed the assault because she loved her husband and was afraid some other woman, would get him away and she desired to mar his beauty. She was sentenced to two years in prison. When the judge pronounced sentence, the woman exclaimed: “O Lord: only two years, I thought I was going to get fifteen.”

Mr. Reise testified that the woman shot him on one occasion, attacked him with a pair of scissors, poured water on him when he was in bed, attempted to burn the home of his parents and finally poured acid on him.

The Milwaukee Journal, May 19, 1916

The front page of the Milwaukee Journal headline reads: “Furious Woman Startles Court- -Raves, Stamps her feet, Defies Judge and Sheriff- -Dashes Out, but Is Overtaken, Handcuffed and Taken to Jail- Accused of Pouring Carbonic Acid on Sleeping Husband.”

Quivering with rage, Mrs Ellen Reise, 23, charged with pouring carbonic acid upon her husband, Robert, stamped her small foot in municipal court Friday, defied the Judge, district attorney, and sheriff, and then darted through the courtroom door and made for the banister in the corridor. Deputies seized her, handcuffed her and let her to the jail.

Mrs. Reise weighs about ninety pounds. She has been in the jail two weeks and has kept the institution in a turmoil. Firemen in Engine 1 declared they have scarcely slept for ten days. The woman sings, shouts and raves throughout the night, according to the sheriff and prisoners complain they cannot sleep. She has attacked the matron and sheriffs several times, the court was informed.

 She Poured Acid on Him. –

The woman’s husband took the stand and said that, while he was asleep in his home on American Ave, she poured carbonic acid over his body. He asserted that she is extremely jealous, and that she shot at him once, put fire to his home, and attempted to cut his throat with a razor. He said they quarreled day and night.

After pouring acid upon him, Reise told the court, she went to the shop where he was employed and told the foreman that he had committed suicide. She got his pay, he said, and his tools and clothing, and left the city.

“I did that to my husband, but I did it because of love,” Mrs. Reise told the court. “I never did anything to anybody else. Send me to Waupun, but don’t send me to the insane asylum, I am not crazy.”

Judge Backus called her attention to the record showing that she has been arrested several times for being drunk and disorderly. He declined to sentence her, but appointed Doctors Studley and Bradley to examine her mental condition.

Mentally Deficient or Mean?

“I don’t believe she is right mentally,” said the court. “If she is sound mentally, then she has the meanest disposition of any woman who ever came into this court.”

During the time she was before the court, Mrs. Reise kept up a running fire of comment, informing the district attorney and attaches what she thought of the proceedings and of them personally.

When the court warned deputies to be careful that the woman did not escape when being taken to the jail, she said: “You think you’re cute, don’t you?” Another time she informed the district attorney she was “No rummy,” and that she did not have her ears stuffed with cotton.G


Boston Daily Record, Westborough Chronotype, and crime scene photos contributed by David Kaprelian.

Dwight Chapman deed,  2168-152.

1874-538 Emily Blake deed.

1646-532 Ellen R. Woods deed.

1924…2330-5 Don C. Parker bought estate for $3,000

Susan Doyle provided news articles


Click here to read more Westborough Folktales!

Note that various versions of the same folk tale will be published so as to compare how each are told.

Extended Deadline for Photographer-in-Residence Applications

Ebenezer Lincoln getting into his buggy on Main Street, Westborough, photographed by F. E. North.

Westborough has a strong photographic history. Many photographers maintained studios in Westborough over the years, which is partly why the documentation of Westborough’s history is so rich and deep. In celebration and recognition of this history, the Westborough Public Library through the Westborough Center for History and Culture will annually designate someone to serve as a Photographer-in-Residence to capture the life and culture of Westborough over the course of one year. The overall goal is to continue adding to Westborough’s photographic legacy, showcase how various photographers approach capturing Westborough’s life and culture differently, and in the process document changes in the town over time.

The position of Photographer-in-Residence includes a $1,000 stipend, and the term runs from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020. Anyone interested in serving in this position should submit a statement of vision for the year-long project and a sample portfolio of no more than twenty (20) photographs by Friday, June 14, 2019. The statement of vision and sample portfolio can be dropped off at the Westborough Public Library’s circulation desk in print and/or in digital form on a thumb drive. This year’s winner will be announced by Friday, June 28, 2019.

  • Positions are open to all ages from high school and up.
  • Positions last for a one-year term, from July 1 to June 30.
  • The Photographer-in-Residence will receive a stipend of $1,000 for the year, half of which will be awarded at the beginning of the term and half at the end.
  • The Photographer-in-Residence is required to submit twenty-five photographs every three months for a total of 100 photographs taken throughout the year. Each photograph should capture Westborough’s life and culture in some way, and information about each photograph (title, date, description, identification of people and events in the photographs, etc.) must be included. Photographs can be submitted in digital and/or printed form.
  • Anyone interested in applying for the position must submit a statement of vision for the year-long project and a sample portfolio of no more than twenty (20) photographs in print or in digital form on a thumb drive. A committee will decide who will be awarded the position.
  • Terms can be renewed, but preference will be given to qualified photographers who have not yet served in the position.
  • Applicants do not need to be Westborough residents, but they need to be willing to engage enough with the Westborough community to produce results.
  • All photographs submitted as part of the year-long project become the property of the Westborough Public Library.

Contact Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, at with any questions.

Folktale Friday: Tom Cook (Alice Morse Earle)

From Stage-Coach and Tavern Days by Alice Morse Earle, 1900, pp. 381-384.

In the year 1741 the little child of Cornelius Cook, the blacksmith of Westborough, Massachusetts, and of his wife Eunice, lay very close to death. As was the custom of the day, the good old parson, Dr. Parkman, and his deacons prayed earnestly over the boy, that the Lord’s will be done; but his mother in her distress pleaded thus: “Only spare his life, and I care not what he becomes.” Tom Cook recovered, and as years passed on it became evident by his mischievous and evil deeds that he had entered into a compact with the devil, perhaps by his mother’s agonized words, perhaps by his own pledge. [This episode supposedly took place in the former blue “plaster house” near the corner of Lyman and East Main Street, which was torn down and replaced with another blue house a few years ago.] The last year of this compact was at an end, and the devil appeared to claim his own as Tom was dressing for another day’s mischief. Tom had all his wits about him, for he lived upon them. “Wait, wait, can’t you,” he answered the imperative call of his visitor, “till I get my galluses [suspenders] on?” The devil acquiesced to this last request, when Tom promptly threw the suspenders in the fire, and therefore could never put them on nor be required to answer the devil’s demands.

Tom Cook became well known throughout Massachusetts, and indeed throughout New England, as a most extraordinary thief. His name appears in the records of scores of New England towns; he was called “the honest thief”; and his own name for himself was “the leveller.” He stole from the rich and well-to-do with the greatest boldness and dexterity, equalled by the kindness and delicacy of feeling shown in the bestowal of his booty upon the poor and needy. He stole the dinner from the wealthy farmer’s kitchen and dropped it into the kettle or on the spit in a poor man’s house. He stole meal and grain from passing wagons and gave it away before the drivers’ eyes. A poor neighbor was ill, and her bed was poor. He went to a thrifty farm-house, selected the best feather bed in the house, tied it in a sheet, carried it downstairs and to the front door, and asked if he could leave his bundle there for a few days. The woman recognized him and forbade him to bring it within doors, and he went off with an easy conscience.

In Dr. Parkman’s diary, now in the library of the American Antiquarian Society at Worcester, under the date of August 27, 1779, is this entry: “The notorious Thom. Cook came in (he says) on Purpose to see me. I gave him w{t} admonition, Instruction, and Caution I could–I beseech God to give it force! He leaves me with fair Words–thankful and promising.” There came a time when his crime of arson or burglary led to his trial, conviction, and sentence to death. He heard the awful words of the judge, “I therefore sentence you to be hanged by the neck till you are dead, dead, dead,” and he called out cheerfully, “I shall not be there on that day, day, day.” And when that day came, surely enough, his cell was empty.

Tom Cook was most attractive in personal appearance; agile, well formed, well featured, with eyes of deepest blue, most piercing yet most kindly in expression. He was adored by children, and his pockets were ever filled with toys which he had stolen for their amusement. By older persons he was feared and disliked. He extorted from many wealthy farmers an annual toll, which exempted them from his depredations. One day a fire was seen rising from the chimney of a disused schoolhouse in Brookline, and Tom was caught within roasting a stolen goose, which he had taken from the wagon of a farmer on his way to market. The squire took him to the tavern, which was filled with farmers and carters, many of whom had been his victims. He was given his choice of trial and jail, or to run a gantlet of the men assembled. He chose the latter, and the long whips of the teamsters paid out many an old score of years’ standing.

* * *

References to Tom Cook in Historical Records and Scholarship

The LIFE, LAST WORDS, and DYING SPEECH of LEVI AMES, Who was executed at Boston, on Thursday Afternoon, the Twenty-first day of October, 1773, for Burglary. Taken from his own mouth, and published at his desire, as a solemn warning to all, more particularly young people. There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. Prov. 14.12.

I have several times taken sundry articles off of lines, hedges, fences, bushes, apple-trees, grass, &c. but cannot recollect the owners. Thomas Cook and I stole two great-coats and sold them. I have left three shirts and several pair of stockings at Scipio Burnam‘s, at Newbury-Port: I then went by the name of Isaac Lawrence. I stole an ax out of a cart and hid it in a stone wall between Watertown and Boston, (the night before I took the money from Mr. Hammond) in Little Cambridge, near to Mr. Dana‘s tavern; there I left it with a design to tell it when I came back. . . .

Some time last fall I saw Thomas Cook, who told me he had seven pounds of plate hid, viz. a tankard, a number of table spoons, and one soup ditto; these he dug up while I was with him; we carried them away from that place and hid them in a stone wall, near a barn, close to the sign of the bull on Wrentham road, but he never informed me where he got them, or how he came by them; he offered me half if I would dispose of them, but I was afraid to do it.

* * *

Simons, D. Brenton. Witches, Rakes, and Rogues: True Stories of Scam, Scandal, Murder, and Mayhem in Boston, 1630-1775. Beverly, MA: Commonwealth Editions, 2005.

“Among his [Levi Ames’s] victims were two officeholders in Waltham, Jonathan Hammond and Jonas Dix . . . He had a partner for the Hammond theft—the ‘infamous’ Thomas Cook, who, according to Boston diarist John Boyle, was soon apprehended. Not only did the pair rob Hammond, but they turned cattle into his cornfield, causing considerable damage to the gentleman’s crops.”

* * *

Parkman’s Diary

1765 September 13 (Friday).  When I returned home Mr. Beeman and his Wife came in, and brought me a Letter from Mr. Manning of Providence.  The Occasion was, Thomas Cook was found to be the Thief who entered Mr. Beemans House on the Lords Day and Stole a variety of Goods from them.  He had been in Jail in Providence for Some Time, for other the like Crimes. 

1765 December 4 (Wednesday).  We have not only Sorrowfull News of the Death of Mr. Cornelius Cook, once of this Town; but of the sad Condition of Several of his sons — That Daniel is hanged, and that Thomas has been condemned and has broke Jayl.  It occasioned sorrowfull Reflections on Such vicious Lives!

1767 December 2 (Wednesday).  John Maynard here at Eve, and Supps with us — relates Particulars of Thomas Cooks being taken, Examined and let go from Harringtons at Waltham plain.

1776 November 14 (Thursday). P.M. The infamous Thomas Cook came boldly to See me.  I gave him what Admonition, Caution and Charge I could. 

1779 August 27 (Friday).  The notorious Thomas Cook came in (he says) on purpose to see me.  I gave him what Admonition, Instruction and caution I could.  I beseech God to give it Force!  He leaves me with fair Words — thankful and promising.

1781 July 4 (Wednesday).  Dr. Crosby made me a Visit, and dined here.  I perceive that the Thieves — [blank] More and Thomas Cook are Sent to Worcester Jayl.


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Note that various versions of the same folk tale will be published so as to compare how each are told.

Folktale Friday: Ruth Buck, the “Witch of Westborough” (Forbes and History)

Ruth Buck’s “Confession and Apology for Sin,” 1778.

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 devil.”

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 hate.

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 school-house.

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 uses,

Until with heated needle burned,

The witch has to her place returned,” —

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 day.

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 road.

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 peculiar gifts.

* * *

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, September 1908

* * *

References to Ruth Buck in Historical Records

Ruth Buck’s “Relation of Faith,” 1778. (Also see her “Confession and Apology for Sin” at the beginning of this blog post.)

Parkman’s Diary

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.


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Note that various versions of the same folk tale will be published so as to compare how each are told.

Reminder: Introduction to the Game of Cricket, Sat. May 11 (Rain date: May 18)

Learn about the history, worldwide appeal, and rules of cricket from members of the Westborough Cricket Club on Saturday, May 11 at 10:00 a.m. (with a rain date of May 18) at Hennessy Field on 1 Upton Road.

The event will begin with an overview of cricket and the skills needed to play it. Members of the audience will then be asked to play in a game, while others are encouraged to stay and watch the action. Food trucks will also be on hand to provide refreshment. Anyone interested in playing in a cricket game can pre-register at

This program is part of the Westborough History Connections series at the Westborough Center for History and Culture at the Westborough Public Library.

Information: Jennifer Kirkland, Westborough Recreation,, 1-508-366-3066; or Anthony Vaver, Westborough Public Library,, 1-508-366-3050 (ext. 5284).

Folktale Friday: The Capture of the Rice Boys (Westborough Historical Society Third Grade Program)

Rice Brothers Memorial, 1906 (near the current Westborough High School).

You have probably driven by, walked by, or even stopped to read the plaque on the large stone near the Westborough High School. It marks the spot where one of the most famous stories in the town’s recorded history took place. In 1704, two sons and three nephews of Thomas Rice were captured by the Cagnawaga Indians from Canada. They were kidnapped and taken away from their families.  This event happened over 300 years ago. French settlers in Canada had encouraged Indians to raid the American colonies. Sickness had killed many boys in their tribes, so they needed more young men.

Thomas Rice had built a garrison (fort) house near a brook where Westborough High School is now. On a hot summer day, August 8, 1704, a group of men and boys were at work in the nearby field spreading flax.  The group included five Rice boys – Asher (10), Silas (9), Adonijah (8), Timothy (7), and Nahor (5). A wooded hill was near the field. Suddenly a party of eight or ten Indians rushed down from the hill and captured the five boys.

After a short distance, Nahor was killed because he was too young to survive the journey to Canada. The place where he was buried became Memorial Cemetery in the center of town. The other four boys were carried off into the woods. The rest of the farmers escaped in panic to the nearby home of Thomas Rice, father of the missing Asher and Adonijah.

What a sad day for these pioneers! They realized their boys had been kidnapped and taken north to Canada to be trained in the native culture. All rescue attempts failed until four years later when Asher was “redeemed” (the ransom paid) by his father. Asher was returned to his family. Later his father built him a home on South Street.  

Adonijah, Silas, and Timothy grew up with the Canawaga Indians near Montreal, Canada. Adonijah later married and settled near Montreal as a farmer. Asher lived until age 90 with his family in Westborough and Spencer. He never got over his fear of another attack. He stayed watchful and prepared himself for trouble.

Silas and Timothy stayed with the Canawagas and adopted their ways. Timothy was adopted by a chief and became a respected chief (or sachem) of the Iroquois nation himself. He helped to persuade his tribe not to take sides in the wars between the English and the French. He visited Westborough in 1740, but he could no longer speak English. He remembered his old home and some of the people he had known as a boy.

Perhaps the next time you read the plaque near the high school, you will be able to look out over the hill and picture that summer day – over 300 years ago – when the young Rice boys were ambushed and taken to Canada. How frightened they must have been! How strong they were to survive the experience and learn to live a different life. 


Click here to read more Westborough Folktales!

Note that various versions of the same folk tale will be published so as to compare how each are told.