Folktale Friday: “The Story of Hugh Henderson” by Glenn R. Parker

Introduction to Chauncy Village

When Chauncy Village was established as Westborough, the 100th town of Colonial Massachusetts, in 1717, there were fewer than 100 residents living in the area west of Marlborough, which included the north precinct (now Northborough). In 1720, the first meetinghouse was built on Powder Hill, and in 1724 Reverend Ebenezer Parkman became Westborough’s first ordained minister. But Reverend Parkman was more than the inspirational leader of the community. He also provided guidance and was the intellectual leader for the residents of the fledgling town.

Throughout his ministry, Reverend Parkman kept two diaries, a daily diary of family and town activities and a church diary. The daily diary became a significant work and a historical treasure that recorded the events of town matters, birth, deaths, baptisms, fires, barn raisings, and even the weather. Although there are months and years missing, the diary remains the foremost reference for historians and research into the life situations of Puritan Massachusetts.

By 1737, Westborough was experiencing a growing population, and a movement of the northern precinct to separate from the southern precinct was underway. The area was primarily wilderness, with farms and taverns offering food and lodging for travelers and serving as gathering places for residents. This historical nonfiction takes place at the Blue Anchor Tavern in 1737 and is about Hugh Henderson, the first person to be executed in Worcester County.

Revered Parkman’s diary entries were transcribed, researched, and clarified regarding the people, places, and events that he experienced during this time.  This extremely important work was accomplished by Harriet M. Forbes. Forbes was a historian, author, and a member of the Westborough Historical Society.

The following piece contains a number of direct quotes in italics, many of which are taken directly from Reverend Parkman’s Diary. The names of those mentioned and the locations are factual and accurate; however I have taken liberties with the remaining story line.

Glenn R. Parker

The Story of Hugh Henderson, alias John Hamilton

This is the unfortunate story of the untimely demise of one Hugh Henderson, alias John Hamilton, who was the first person to be hanged in Worcester County. He was born in Armagh, the ancient capitol of Ulster, Northern Ireland, in 1709, where he was baptized in the manner of the Presbyterian Church. As a teenager, Henderson was sent to live with his uncle when his parents died. Under the less than watchful eye of the uncle, Henderson became a petty thief, a night walker, and was generally uncontrollable. At age 20, he left his uncle’s home as an experienced thief.  

He came to America as a stowaway around 1729 during the great migration. Because his name was not on the ship’s manifest as a paid passenger, when he was discovered, he was flogged, and instead of being put ashore in Bermuda, he was kept on board and put to work as a ship’s hand doing the worst imaginable jobs as compensation for his passage.

Upon landing in Newport, RI, Henderson wasted no time in going ashore and continuing his criminal pursuit. As he wandered about the seaport town in search of a job, he was quickly discovered and immediately chased away when caught by a store owner with a loaf of stolen bread and some cheese from a barrel. He slowly began his vagabond’s trek north, then west following the King’s Highway into Sudbury, where he paused long enough to work for a few days as a farmhand and harvest firewood for the winter season at the Howe Tavern. Howe Tavern was a very busy inn located on the Post Road, the middle road leading west from Boston to Worcester.

Henderson had learned his trade well, never staying long enough to be detected or held to accountability, always staying one step ahead of the only means of communication of the day, the spoken word. Henderson wandered into Westborough in early September 1737, not knowing it would be the last town he would victimize. He first stopped at the Gale Tavern near the Southborough line for a few days where he found food and shelter in return for a day’s work harvesting firewood. The next day he was discovered sleeping in the big horse barn across the road from the Forbush Tavern and was chased off. He made his way up the hill, past the meetinghouse and parsonage of Reverend Parkman, before heading south to another populated area of town.

He made his way to a part of town where years prior there were a number of homes in the area built by the first settlers of Chauncy Village, one being the home and tavern of Abner Newton, formerly the Thomas Rice garrison. It later became known as the Blue Anchor Tavern.

The Abner Newton Tavern ~ Blue Anchor Tavern

By now, Henderson was running out of opportunities to find day work and keep his belly from grumbling from lack of sustenance. It was getting late in the year, the nights were getting cold, and he was becoming weary of his situation. So he again resorted to his old ways of taking that to which he was not entitled. The Newton Tavern, being easily accessible and appearing to be better off than most, seemed a likely target. Henderson watched the tavern from across the road, out of sight behind a large stone wall. When the time seemed right, after the residents and travelers had gone to bed, he forced the latch on the back door and entered the tavern. By the glow of the embers in the large fireplace that served to heat the room and cook the tavern meals, Henderson scrounged for food but took only enough to satisfy his immediate need and yet not enough to be noticed missing. He was a shrewd thief, only taking food so as not to be caught with personal property.

The following day, after the noon meal and when no one was about, he again entered the tavern and once again took only what he would immediately eat. But this time he never got across the road to his hideout. This time Newton caught him before he could consume the evidence. As he had done so many times before, Henderson pleaded for forgiveness and promised to work off the debt. But Newton was unwilling to barter with the crook. Henderson, still not admitting to the previous night’s theft, was brought back into the tavern. But this time, rather than agree to a severe lashing, a customary punishment dealt by the aggrieved victim, he thought to himself about the impending winter.

He would rather spend the winter months in goal rather than receive another flogging. The jailer would feed him and keep him warm for the winter months, and if he tried to escape, his sentence may be further extended into the early spring. This plan, he thought, would get him through the winter months ahead.

Newton then called for his neighbor Jonas Rice, the town constable, to take charge of the crook and bring him to justice. Rice then questioned the thief about his activities in Westborough and was given a full confession to the crimes at the tavern. Henderson then showed Rice the chicken carcasses from the night before. However, unbeknownst to Henderson, the General Court of Massachusetts in 1715 imposed the death penalty for burglary of a dwelling house at night.

Because the alleged housebreaker was considered a pauper and had no known address or means by which to support himself, he was unceremoniously detained by Constable Rice. As there was no lockup and the stocks built by Daniel Warren years before at the meetinghouse had fallen into disrepair from lack of use, the only alternative was to walk Henderson to the town pound, a stone enclosure 30-foot square and four-feet high with a wooden gate designed to keep stray cattle until the owner could claim such. The area had been donated by David Maynard, on land just south of the meetinghouse on Powder Hill.

Henderson languished here for days tethered hand and foot to a hitching post while under the watchful eyes of the town elders. But this time he did not have to work or steal his next meal. For the brief time of his incarceration, he was brought fine noontime meals better than he had ever had. Nor did he know these meals would be the finest of his remaining time of life.

Finally, an indictment for the crimes committed at the tavern was handed down from the September session of the Court being held at the new courthouse in Worcester. When Sheriff Daniel Gookin, the first Sheriff of Worcester County, got the orders to bring Henderson in to answer the indictment, he rode to Westborough to serve the process. Gookin met Constable Rice at the meetinghouse, and together they traveled the short distance to the pound to take Henderson into custody.

Henderson was then taken to the Worcester Goal some 10 miles west. Henderson ran alongside the lawmen, his hands bound to hinder a possible escape. They traveled the road toward the north precinct past the Broader and Cobb houses, crossed the Assabet River, then headed westerly along the lilac road to Shrewsbury while stopping briefly at the Pease Taver (later a scheduled stop for stagecoaches and the post riders from Boston to Hartford). Although Henderson began to complain about the pace, Constable Rice would not hear it. He was in no mood to give the house breaker rest. It was harvest time, and Rice was losing a full day in the field. Besides, Henderson had just spent the last several years making his way to Westborough in similar conditions. But Henderson would soon get his rest as the three approached the great pond and now had to wait for the ferry to take them across Quinsigamond before heading up Wigwam Hill on the other side.

The Worcester Court House, 1732

The goal where Hugh Henderson was confined stood on the west side of the new courthouse. It was a building forty one by eighteen feet. The prison part was eighteen square feet, made of white oak timber set with studs, four inches thick and five inches broad. The floor, roof, and ceiling were two-inch planks spiked together. A stone dungeon was underneath. The door was three planks of heavy oak bound together with iron braces, with a metal grate as a window and a wrought-iron latch lock.  The north end of the structure, finished as a dwelling, became the residence of the jailer (Luke Brown, History of Worcester).

Rev. Ebenezer Parkman’s Diary Entries

Reverend Parkman did not make any entries in his diary from April 2 to September 24 well after the actual event at Abner Newton’s Tavern. However, it is highly unlikely that Reverend Parkman did not know about the events that occurred at Newton’s Tavern, the arrest of Henderson, or the indictments that were handed down by the Court.

 Sept. 24, “Message from John Hamilton under condemnation for Burglary requesting that I would visit him.”

Sept. 26, “ I rode to Mr. Burr’s.  I hastened to the prisoner.” [Reverend Isacc Burr of Worcester]

 Oct. 12, “I went to Worcester to see Hugh Henderson, found him in much ye same distressed state yet I left him in, but I hope more knowing and acquainted with his condition and with his duty. Mr. Burr at ye Goal with me. I prayed with him a multitude attending. He earnestly desired me to see him again and wishes over and over yet I would preach to him.”

Oct.17, “Mr. Wheeler distressed in conscience for Hugh Henderson.” [Mr. Joseph Wheeler of the North Precinct]

Oct. 21, “I proceeded to Worcester and stopped at ye Goal at the grates to speak with  the Prisoner and to put him in mind of ye preparations needful for him to make in order to his keeping his Last Sabbath. I lodged at Mr. Burr’s.”

 Oct. 23, “Early in the morning began to write my address to the Prisoner. A.M. on Eccl. 11, 9, a crowded assembly, poor Hugh Henderson present. P.M. on Job 3, 36. A great congregation, it being in their apprehension the last Sabbath Sermon the poor Criminal is to hear. At evening called at Mr. Eaton’s and at the Sheriff’s, who went with me to the Prison. I interrogated the Prisoner what was the occasion of his coming to this country-whether he had discovered and acknowledged all that was fit and proper for him to reveal? Whether he had any confederates? A great number flocked in the Goal when at his request I prayed with him. I left him between 8 and 9.”

Oct 27, “The Governor has Reprieve Hugh Henderson for a month at the request of Mr. Burr and Mr. Prentice.”

Nov 21, “I rode up to Worcester to see Hugh Henderson again. Was sorry to hear he had tried to make his escape by filing the goal door. We talked more of other matters and kept longer off y main point of his case y heretofore. I’m more put to it to judge of his fame.”

 Nov 23, “I rode up to Worcester at the Request of the Criminal and others to Preach to him. There were so many at the Goal we were obliged to go to the Meeting House. He spoke of making a solemn vow warning taken from his mouth but chose to have it deferred to ye morning, but prayed that I would be early.”   

Nov 24, “I went to the Prisoner when I could, and Mr. Burr was with me to assist in penning down what ye prisoner had to deliver by way of a Confession and Warning and strict as I could be in inserting his own words as near as I could and when any others were used.”

The confession and dying warning of Hugh Henderson who was executed at Worcester in the county of Worcester. November 24, 1737. Signed by him in the presence of four of the ministers the morning of the day of his execution.  

“I, Hugh Henderson, otherwise through my wickedness called John Hamilton of about 28 or 29 years of age, was born in Armagh in the kingdom of Ireland, received baptism in the manner of the Presbyterians and was brought up by my uncle, who was obliged to give me suitable learning but did not: which neglect, together with my own neglect of God afterward of learning the word of God afterwards, was a great reason of my taking to such wicked courses as have brought me to my unhappy, untimely End.”

“I began with smaller sins, while I was young, with but stealing Pins, against which I received warnings oftentimes, but persisted in it, and was very disobedient, till I increased further in Sin.”

“Having given this Warning, I desire to commend myself to the Charity and Prayers of all Gods People for me, and that you would lift up your Hearts to God for me, for the Pardon of my Sins, an interest in Christ, and that I maybe Sanctified by the Sprit of God; But above all I Commend myself to the Infinite Mercy of God, in my Dear Redeemer, Begging and beseeching that through the merits of His Blood, I may this day be with him in Paradise.”  XX … Hugh Henderson, signed with his mark

Four indictments were found against Henderson, two for burglary and two for larceny, and he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged on one for burglary. The court was the Superior Court of Judicature sitting in Worcester in the September Session, with the following named Judges on the bench: Benjamin Lynde, Paul Dudley, Edmund Quincy, Jonathan Remington, and Richard Saltonstall.

Shortly after the final verdict was read, the word quickly went out far and wide to all of the impending execution. Men, women, and children were invited to witness the event. It would be the first execution witnessed by the citizens of Worcester County. The Reverend Parkman and a number of Westborough citizens had traveled to Worcester to witness the solemn event.

On November 24, the convicted housebreaker was prepared to meet his fate. But there was no special last meal or final statement presented. Henderson had already made his amends with Reverend Parkman in the days previous to the trial and his confession to his waywardness the night before. He had nothing more to say, but Reverend Parkman would spend several hours with the condemned felon in prayer and reflection.

“On the day of the Execution the Reverend Campbell of Oxford preached to the Prisoner and a great assembly, a very suitable sermon on I Peter 4-5. The prisoner was exceedingly moved and in such Anguish of soul that the expressions of in the face of the congregation, in crying and moans, in prayers and tears and passionate gesture there were even to disturbance.” –The N. E. Weekly Journal, Dec. 6, 1737

From behind the Goal a wagon appeared driven by a hooded man, with Henderson sitting on the end of the wagon, followed by Sheriff Gookin. The convicted felon was bareheaded with his hands tied in front so that all could see. The hangman was wearing a hood, and his face was blackened to hide his features from the large crowd that had gathered to witness the event. Because this was the first hanging to take place in Worcester County, a hastily built gallows was waiting the hangman’s noose.

The wagon was now brought into place beneath the gallows, and Henderson was brought to his feet and stood at the edge of the wagon. But the hangman, not having prior experience in the proper placement of the noose, only delayed the event and added suspense while merely prolonging the agony for Henderson.

“At the place of execution, after the Reverend Mr. Hall of Sutton had prayed, the prisoner with great earnestness desired all that were present to harken well to what was going to be read to them, and to mind to take the warning contained in it, after which he put up a most importunate and pathetical prayer himself which manifested more of knowledge of religion, sense of his own state and humble faith and hope in God, then anything that has been received from him before.”

As the Reverend Hall of Sutton finished the final prayer, the gathering bowed their heads in solemn respect. The time had finally arrived. The large gathering fell silent while small children fidgeted.

Now the noose was thrown over the head of the six-footer and laid on his broad shoulders. A burlap bag was then placed over his head to cover his face from the crowd. The time had finally arrived. The hangman slapped the horse so it would be startled forwards, but rather than the horse bolting quickly away, it only reared causing Henderson to fall off the end of the wagon, and instead of a quick snap of the neck ending his agony, he hung from the rope dangling, legs flailing, choking but certainly not dying as expected. At every gasp, crying out a profanity at the hangman then begging for forgiveness, the crowd was aghast.

The execution had not succeeded, so the wagon was retrieved and Henderson was again placed at the wagon’s edge. Now sobbing, Henderson stood bent over still gagging from the botched execution, his hands still tied. This time the hangman would not fail. Re-positioning the noose and resting the knot on Henderson’s left shoulder, he tightened the knot with sufficient slack in the rope. The horse was again given a good slap on the rear only to jerk backwards, with Henderson merely losing his balance. But after yet another slap, the horse jumped forward, pulling the wagon from under Henderson’s feet, and sending him in the opposite direction. This time, his neck broke with a sickening sound that was heard by the entire crowd. As the body flopped back and forth, his end came quickly. The crowd stood motionless. Some wept, some covered their children’s eyes, some cried out for mercy, while most just stood in awe at the sight. A lifetime of petty thievery and blasphemy had ended.

Not for some time after the body had ceased convulsing and the horrified onlookers had seen enough was the lifeless body taken down so as not to damage the rope for future use. The deceased was then laid out in the wagon. He was covered with a shroud and taken behind the goal until such time as a suitable grave could be dug in the street, a customary practice afforded to those who died from their own hand, convicted felons, slaves, or non-believers.

There was no graveside ceremony, no minister’s prayers, nor tearful goodbye. At dusk, the wagon carrying Henderson’s remains was brought from behind the goal to the hastily-dug grave site. Henderson’s body was then unceremoniously rolled into the open pit dug at the side of the road and quickly covered over. No stone adornment or remembrance of the remains would be found. The event was only memorialized in this broadside some days later.

Part of the Broadside of Hugh Henderson

“A Poem occasioned by the Untimely Death of Hugh Henderson alias John Hamilton who was hanged at Worcester for House Breaking, Nov. 24, 1737” reads:

“The scene we did but lately view ~ Too well evinces this is true ~ A man with healthful Vigour bless’d ~ The morn of life but hardly past ~ Compelled to leave the pleasing Light ~ And stretch away to endless Night ~ Because regardless of his Peace ~ He choose the flowery Path of Vice.” –The New England Weekly Journal, December 6, 1737.

The uncle also receives his desserts in the poem as follows:

“But when he met with no Restraint, and found his uncle was no Saint, in Vice’s pleasing Steps he ran.

“O Henderson! Unhappy Man! How did’st thou feel, When in Thy Ken, the best was Horror, like Despair, amazing doubt or anxious fear, what pangs, what extasys of smart convuls’d, thy poor, thy Bleeding Hear, When in that state, were bro’t to mind the unnumber’d crimes of life behind? He died the Death of the accused tree, that from the sting of death you might be free.” –Author Unknown

This ends the tragic story of Hugh Henderson and the notoriety that Westborough attained as being the first community to have the first person to be executed in Worcester County. The former tavern remains at 108 West Main St.

***

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Folktale Friday: Jack Straw

Jack Straw Monument, at the corner of Bowman Lane and Olde Coach Road. The inscription reads:

Atop a nearby hill in the early 17th century was the wigwam of Jack Straw, a friend of Sir Walter Raleigh. He accompanied him to England and remained for several years as his servant. Returning to the colonies, he was the first Christian Indian granted land. It was in the vicinity of the reservoir and schoolhouse no. 5 in the area which later became Westborough. Schoolhouse no. 5 was located about 700′ east of this site. 

Coversant in English, he served the colonists and the government as interpreter with the Indians. His name has endured in Jack Straw Brook, Jack Straw Pasture, Jack Straw Hill all to the northwest of this place. 

Near this spot was also the Rev. Thomas Hooker Trail (Bay Path) which became part of the old Indian trail to the Quonektacut River now known as the Connecticut River.

From The Hundredth Town by Harriette Merrifield Forbes, 1889, pp. 27-30.

After the white man became somewhat established in the land, the Indians themselves were often called by English names. A few places still bear these adopted names of their Indian owners. The most interesting in Westborough is Jackstraw hill.

In his day, Jack Straw was a famous man, — the first Indian baptized in the English colonies, taken to England from Virginia, in ”Sir Walter Raleigh’s service,” proving himself a faithful friend of the white man, always ready to help him by strength or stratagem; but after all, finding that his Indian nature was the strongest part of him, he returned to this country, according to Governor Winthrop, and “turned Indian again.” (Winthrop’s Journal, I., 52.) Accepting the name he so little deserved, of Jack Straw, after one of “the greatest rebyls that ever was in England,” he continued occasionally to serve the English as servant and interpreter, and probably ended his days within the limits of this town.

So much we learn from the histories; from tradition, only that an old Indian named Jackstraw once owned all the land in the vicinity of the reservoir and No. 5 school-house, and that he had his wigwam on the summit of the hill, more than a quarter of a mile west of the school-house. He was soon forgotten, but Jackstraw hill is his monument; and so it happens that his name is spoken in .town every day. His land was granted, in the latter part of the seventeenth century, to the widow of Richard Beers, who fell, bravely defending Deerfield against the savages. This grant of land, described as being “at a place called Jack Straw’s Hill,” embraced the present town reservoir and District No. 5 school, and farms in that vicinity. (Hist. of Worc. Co., II., 1336.) There were three hundred acres in the farm.

In 1675 a party of eleven Indians attacked the house of Mr. Thomas Eames, of Framingham, he being absent, killed his wife and some of his children, and carried the rest away. In this company there were three — father and two sons — bearing the name of Jackstraw. They lived in Hopkinton. They were probably son and grandsons of the Westborough Jack Straw. They were tried, convicted, and executed, in spite of the pathetic petition which they addressed to the Court of Assistants, in which they said: “You were pleased (of your own benignity), not for any desert of ours, to give forth your declaration, dated the 19th of June, wherein you were pleased to promise life and liberty unto such of your enemies as did come in and submit themselves to your mercy, and order, and disposal;” and they further claimed that they took no active part in the massacre.

Sewall, in his Journal, thus makes record of their death: ”September 21, 1776, Stephen Goble, of Concord, was executed for the murder of Indians. Three Indians for firing Eames, his house, and murder. The weather was cloudy and rawly cold, though little or no rain. Mr. Mighil prayed; four others sat on the gallows, — two men and two impudent women, one of which, at least, laughed on the gallows, as several testifieth.” (Temple’s Hist. of Framingham, p. 78.)

This seems to have been the last mention of the Jackstraws in this vicinity. About 1845, a young Indian from Maine came to Hopkinton, and worked for Elbridge G. Rice. He was savage and ugly, and bore the name of Enoch Straw.

In the northern part of Northborough there is a sheet of water, ninety by seventy-five rods, called “Solomon’s pond,” “from the circumstance,” says Peter Whitney, in his “History of Worcester County,” published in 1793, “of an Indian of that name being drowned therein, by falling through a raft on which he was fishing.” In the early part of this century an Indian’s canoe was found sunk in the pond. It was supposed to have belonged to this Solomon.

An Indian has been said to be responsible for the old name of the pretty rounded hill on the left-hand side of the Northborough road, just before reaching the village. It was called, in deed and grants, “Licor hill,” before 1662. In 1836 it was rechristened Mount Assabet. The story about the Indian and his bottle is here given, copied from a small paper published at that time by the boys of Dr. Allen’s school.

“There was formerly, at the foot of this hill, a tavern where an Indian stopped. On his return home he passed over the hill, and sat down under a tree to take another refreshing draught, not being able to resist the temptation any longer. When he had drunk until he was entirely disabled from proceeding any farther, his bottle (one of the ancient form, in the shape of an old keg), by some unhappy accident, slipped from his grasp and rolled down the hill. The Indian eyed it wistfully on its rapid course, and, hearing the peculiar sound of the liquor issuing from its mouth, called after it, ‘Ay, good, good, good! I hear you, but I can’t get at you.’”

There were, as early as this, a few Indians in this vicinity who spoke English, but probably no tavern was built on the “cow commons” of Marlborough. The Indian, doubtless, had brought his bottle farther than the above historian supposes.

Besides these few names, there are no traces of the early Indians, except arrow-heads and spear-points turned up by the farmer’s plough, or found on the shore of North pond in Hopkinton, in the fall, when the water is low.

***

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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 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

Sources

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

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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.

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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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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

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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.

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Blake’s Worcester County, Massachusetts, Warnings

 1763 May 10.  Buck, Ruth, from Southborough.  March 16, ’63.

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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. 

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Folktale Friday: Captain Kidd

Allen & Ginter (American, Richmond, Virginia) Captain Kidd, Burying Treasure, from the Pirates of the Spanish Main series (N19) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes, ca. 1888 American, Commercial color lithograph; Sheet: 1 1/2 x 2 3/4 in. (3.8 x 7 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick (Burdick 201, N19.9) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/408721

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From The Hundredth Town by Harriette Merrifield Forbes, 1889, pp. 12

Tradition affirms that Captain Kidd concealed a large portion of his ill-gotten booty somewhere along the inhospitable shores of the Hobomak, and so vigilantly has it been guarded by the infernal powers, that not a soul has caught a glimpse of it since. Not that no attempt has been made to recover it from such infamous stockholders, and give it a more honorable investment. Many a deep-sunk pit would you find along the desolate shores of the pond, dug, about the charmed hour of midnight, by two ignorant day-laborers, while a third stood guard, holding a drawn sword and gun charged with a silver bullet, and a fourth marched close to the limit of the magic circle, reading most reverently from a big family Bible which he carried perpendicularly before him; thus, by weapons carnal and weapons spiritual, bidding defiance to the Spirit of Darkness. But, with all their midnight financiering, the gold pieces were never observed to twinkle particularly bright through the interstices of their silk purses.

* * *

From “A Look at Westborough’s Historic Past,” The Community Advocate, June 27, 1997.

According to Jacqueline Tidman (former historical librarian): “another area – this one off Flanders Road – has been said to be where one of Kidd’s confederates, ‘Pirate Joe,’ buried some of his ill-gotten booty.”

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

“A Legend of Hobomak,” from The Hundredth Town by Harriette Merrifield Forbes, 1889, pp. 13-27.

Editor’s Note: This post begins a series on Westborough folktales.

Hoccomocco Pond, ca. 1930-1949.

[From p. 10: “The legend of this pond was written by Hon. Horace Maynard for the ‘Horae Collegianae,’ published by the undergraduates of Amherst, in 1838. He says it was told to him ‘by an old Indian, the last of his tribe.’ This was probably old Andrew Brown, of whom more hereafter. With some omissions, it is as follows: —”]

I.

“‘And this is my wedding-night,’ said the beautiful lano, as she stood contemplating her lithe and graceful form, mirrored in the glassy rivulet which forms the outlet of the Hobomak. Her beads and wampum were most daintily entwined about her neck and arms; her hair hung negligently on her shoulders, confined only by a fillet of wildflowers; a neatly wrought moccasin concealed a wanton little foot and ankle; and a mantle of bear-skin completed her attire. She was the belle of her tribe, and, like all belles, an incorrigible coquette. All the young warriors had in turn sued for her hand, and all had been rejected except the chief, Sassacus. He had remained a long time unsusceptible to her charms; or, if he had been moved, his emotions were kept locked up within his own breast. Even when he had inwardly re- solved to wed the proud and volatile creature, he refrained from communicating his sentiments, but adopted a course of policy which has succeeded in bringing many a flirt into the arms of her lover since those times. Somebody has said, — caustically enough, to be sure, — that if the suitor would cease to pursue his mistress, she would turn and give chase to him. Whether this be truth, or a mere epigram intended for effect, our regard for the sex will not allow us to decide; such, certainly, was the experience of Sassacus. He stood aloof from the fair one till she began to pine in secret for his love. Often would she watch him as he sat in council, or joined in the wild measures of the war-dance. She fed upon his looks till he became her soul’s ideal of beauty, — such steadfast limbs, such a massive chest, such a noble gait, such a lofty, commanding brow! All her arts of fascination had failed; and a sigh of mingled vexation and despair would escape from the very bottom of her heart, as she saw him from day to day sporting with the other and less beautiful maidens of the tribe.

“The keen-eyed chief let none of these things escape his notice; and when he had sufficiently humbled the proud spirit of the girl, he changed his demeanor. By a few trifling presents and an occasional flattering word he kindled a feeble spark of hope in the breast of the fair despondent, but, at the same time, without allowing her to presume on his affection. In this way he inveigled her completely into his power, and extorted a full confession of love, before he had given her the least proof of his ow^n attachment. He now began to play the lover in real earnest. Having stipulated with the parents of the maid for the price of her ransom, and all the other preliminaries being duly settled, he made preparation for the marriage festival. lano had reached the very pinnacle of happiness. Her step was the lightest among the maidens as they tripped it through the glades of the forest; her canoe danced gayest as they glided cheerily over the water. She longed for the hour when the priest should bind herself and her lover in the mystic girdle. And what betrothed damsel will not sympathize? Thus she stood by the brook meditating her approaching happiness, now readjusting her ornaments, and studying the effect; now patting the water with her tiny foot, and watching the ripples as they circled out of sight, till the sun had dropped behind the hills, and night had begun to fling her gray shadows over the earth. In the ecstasy of her joy her disposition for frolic returned. She had never ventured to play her pranks upon the stern Sassacus, but the temptation was too great to be resisted; she could not give up her maiden freedom without one more act of enjoyment. ‘The young men are assembling,’ she continued, soliloquizing; ‘I hear them laugh. I’ll give them the slip for one night.’

II.

“The wedding-party had indeed assembled. The warriors were there, each with all the scalps and wolf-locks he and his ancestors had ever taken from the foe or secured in the chase. These trophies marked their rank more truly than the purest heraldic emblazonry; and, reckoned by this rule, Sassacus was found abundantly deserving the post of chief. He was the bravest of his nation; no arrow was more certain in its flight, whether winged at man or beast; and no tomahawk cleft its victim with a more deadly aim than his. On this occasion he was decked with unusual splendor. The string of fish-bones — the insignia of royalty — depended from his neck ; a triangular breast-plate, wrought from the fangs of the catamount, adorned his front; shells of small turtles dangled from his ears ; a circlet, into which were fastened the tails of rattlesnakes, entwined his brow, making music as he walked ; a tuft of eagle feathers crowned his head; while over his left shoulder was carelessly thrown a robe of wolf-skins, fringed with human scalps, a few of which were still green from the head of the fallen Pequot. Thus arrayed, he took his seat at the sacred fire, and on either side of him his warriors, according to rank. The seat at his right hand was vacant.

“‘Where is Wequoash?’” inquired he, glancing his eye over the company. As no one could answer him, all remained silent. He then propounded the question to each one in turn, and, by way of reply, he got an abundance of conjecture and much information touching the precious whereabouts of the missing; but, as far as any valuable, or in the least available, intelligence was concerned, his inquiries ended just where they began. The person in question was the second in rank to Sassacus, and his rival in war. For a long time he had been the avowed, and, as he supposed, the accepted, lover of the fair lano. The wreath that decked her brow his hand had woven; the fur robes that covered her lovely form were the spoils of his bow. In secret, indeed, she had cherished his hopes, intending to accept him at last should she fail in attracting Sassacus, though in public she had always treated him with the same cold indifference which marked her conduct towards the rest of her admirers. Thus fed, his passion increased in strength and violence, till it was too late to check its growth or to transfer it to another object. . . . In his anguish he had vowed eternal hate, and now awaited with his native indifference a favorable opportunity to wreck his purposed vengeance. By rank he was expected to be present at the marriage and to assist at the customary sacrifices, and the ardor with which he had superintended the preparations made his absence appear strange and unaccountable.

III.

“On the north shore of the Hobomak is a plain stretching away to the distance of several miles, skirted on the western side by a high range of hills, whose declivities, lined as they are with jutting masses of rock and a few scattering old trees, are, even at this day, sufficiently solemn and gloomy.” The most prominent of this range is Boston hill, so called, because it was supposed to be as thickly populated with rattlesnakes as Boston with people. “Here and there yawns a cavern whose frightful depths few have courage or inclination to penetrate, so are left to be the abode of serpents and toads, and all such creatures as flee the face of man. Among these dismal haunts Wequoash, desirous to appear at the wedding signalized by some recent achievement, had been searching all day for the lurking-place of a panther which for a long time had infested the neighborhood. After an active and patient search, he found a crevice between two overhanging rocks that opened wider and deeper than the rest, and plunged into it without hesitation. On reaching the bottom he descried a narrow passage which branched off in a lateral direction under the base of the hill. Along this he crept upon his hands and knees for several hundred feet, till at length it terminated in a spacious cavern, the size of which, perfectly dark as it was, he found it difficult to determine. In this perplexity he gave a shrill cry, to try the effect of the reverberations. A low, faint echo died along the distant walls, followed by the hoarse growl of a wild beast. The experienced ear of the Indian instantly told him that he had hit upon the object of his search, and, directing a glance to another part of the vault, he discovered the eyes of the animal glaring like meteors in the midst of the surrounding darkness. . . .

“Wequoash quickly saw that he was discovered. He could perceive the gleaming eyes gradually making towards him, till, crouching within a few feet, the animal appeared on the point of making the fatal spring. It was a moment requiring all the nerve for which he was distinguished even among his own stout-hearted race. He had left his bow behind him, not supposing that he should require its service in the bosom of the hills; and his tomahawk, hanging at his side, was his only weapon of attack or defence. To move from his position, in a place with which he was wholly unacquainted, would be attended with great hazard, and to retreat through the narrow aperture by which he had entered would expose him to the attack of his foe at still greater disadvantage. Amidst these perplexities the cool-headed Indian formed his plan of action as deliberately as if the merest trifle had been staked upon the issue. Seizing his hatchet from his belt, he hulled it with an instinctive aim, and bounded from the floor of the cave. In his descent he fell prostrate upon the body of the beast. The deadly missile had cleft his skull, and, by vaulting from his position, the hunter avoided the fatal spring which the creature sometimes makes upon its enemies, in the agonies of death. With much effort he drew his booty to the mouth of the cavern, and, throwing it over his shoulder, commenced his return, night having long since fallen.

IV.

“The volatile lano could not resist the temptation to play the truant to her betrothed, and to disappoint, for one night at least, the assembled youth of the tribe. At the farther extremity of the Hobomak was a huge old willow, mantled by an enormous wild grape-vine whose branches depended so as to form a beautiful natural arbor. Thither she was fond of retiring with one or two of her companions, and they, in honor of her, had named it lano’s bower. In this charmed retreat she determined to pass the night, even at the risk of forever alienating her lover. So, unmooring her canoe, she stepped into the toppling thing, and darted from the shore. Away, away it flew dancing over the water, so light as scarcely to leave a ripple on the tranquil surface. Before she had reached the middle, the harvest-moon arose and threw its full-orbed light directly upon her. Hearing the sound of a light, stealthy footstep, and fearing that she should be discovered, she turned her canoe towards the nearest shore, and took refuge under the shadows of the overhanging trees.

“Wequoash was hastening homeward with his game, anxious lest he should be too late to participate in the cheer of the festival ; for it ill assorted with his ideas of manliness, as well as with his dark system of policy, to appear wanting in merriment and good-nature on an occasion so joyous to his rival and so humiliating to himself. As he neared the shore of the pond he descried a canoe skimming gracefully over the water, the moonbeams glancing from the paddle as it rose in light and even strokes, which the rower would now and then suspend, and look cautiously about her as if suspecting danger.

“‘It is the canoe of the False-hearted,’ said he to himself; ‘no other of our girls can dip her oars so lightly.’ She was alone, and he could wish for no more favorable opportunity to accomplish the pent-up purpose of his breast. The demon of vengeance had seized fast hold upon him, and every other consideration was forgotten. Seeing her approach the shore, he cast off his hunting-dress, dropped into the water a little before the bark, and swam softly beneath the surface till he was within a few feet of it. Just then the vigilant fugitive let fall her paddle, and applied her ear close to the water that she might detect more readily the footsteps of her pursuers, little dreaming that so deadly a foe lurked at the very bow of her skiff. To seize her by her floating tresses and drag her down required but little effort. A thrilling shriek of agony, a few frantic struggles, and all was over. She sunk like lead when released from the powerful grasp of the warrior. The canoe he dragged to a little distance, threw into it a large stone, which secured it firmly at the bottom, thus obliterating every trace of his victim. He regained the shore, resumed his dress, bore away his game to a place of concealment, and, plunging into the forest, quickly was out of sight.

V.

            .           .           .           .           .           .           .           .           .           .           .           .

“The maidens who had been appointed to escort the bride into the presence of her lord sent one of their number with a message that lano had disappeared a little before sunset, and could nowhere be found. A suspicion flashed across every mind that her disappearance was some way connected with the absence of Wequoash. All knew the strength of his former attachment and suspected the depth of his disappointment, and they were well assured that his haughty and irascible spirit would never brook an injury. Seizing their hatchets and bows, Sassacus and his young men sprang off into the woods to discover, if possible, the delinquent bride. Long and diligent was their search; every glade and dell was explored, but all to no purpose. Her canoe was gone, and no traces of it or of her could be found. Silent and dejected, they returned to the scene of their festivity; all but Sassacus. He came not. For hours they awaited him, indulging a feeble hope that he had been more successful; but even this, faint as it was, was dashed by the approach of the chief, wearing a look of despair. He had seen his bride unmoor her skiff, and, guessing her intention, had run along the shore, keeping parallel with the course, intending to surprise the fair fugitive by seizing her in his arms just as she should spring to the land. She had eluded his sight by rowing under the cover of the woods on the opposite shore, and he began to fear she had given him the slip, after all his vigilance, when a narrow opening in the trees let in the moonbeams upon her, enough to project the out- line of her form. All at once he saw her drop her oar, bend her ear to the water in the act of listening, then sink heavily beneath the wave. He remembered the heartless sacrifice, and his native superstition overcame him. His bride had perished by the unseen power of the Evil Spirit.

            .           .           .           .           .           .           .           .           .           .           .           .

“After two days had elapsed, Wequoash had appeared in the village bearing the body of the panther. He was received by the aged and the children, the women and the warriors, with yells of delight; for his burden explained the cause of his absence, and, as usually happens when men find they have been indulging in groundless suspicions, their regard for him rose to a higher pitch than before. On learning the miserable fate of lano, he was smitten with deep apparent grief; he smote his breast, and uttered the most frantic exclamations, like one distracted. Recovering at length, he applied himself with unwearied assiduity to console the unhappy Sassacus, and by degrees the chief became more and more cheerful, till he appeared to have quite forgotten his sorrow. His gladness was but temporary, for heaviness and depression of spirits again stole over him, which terminated soon after with his life. Wequoash had now obtained complete revenge; his rival and his false-hearted mistress were both sleeping in the arms of death, and no one suspected his agency in destroying them. He assumed the command of the tribe, and having mourned a decent interval over the dead body of his predecessor, he sought to obliterate his memory from the minds of the people by leading them out to battle against the brave Narragansetts. Since, among savages, personal prowess is the only basis of distinction, his bravery and address in war soon rendered him a universal favorite.

VI.

‘”The thirteenth moon had just begun to wane when Wequoash, returning one evening from a hunting expedition, seated himself upon a fallen tree near the shore of the Hobomak, and not far from the spot where, the year before, he had taken such vengeance upon the solitary maiden. . . . As he sat thus in troubled contemplation, a flame appeared streaming from the water just over the place where the bones of the maiden slept, and casting upon everything around a blue mephitic light, of all, the most fearful. Presently a canoe arose, and floated straight towards him, as if animated by an invisible agency. Urged by an irresistible influence, he entered it, and was wafted directly to the strange illumination, which gradually resolved into a form like the form of the murdered lano, only the expression was more sad and pensive. The spirit gazed intently upon him for a long time, unable as he was to resist the fascination; then, uttering a piercing shriek, melted away from his sight. He fell in a state of insensibility; on recovering, he found himself lying by the fallen tree, suffering from extreme exhaustion, and with much difficulty crept home before morning.

“Another revolution of the seasons brought another similar night. The lightnings gleamed vividly in the far-off horizon; the fireflies flitted over the morass; stillness reigned; the blue flame arose; the skiff came to the shore; the chieftain was again impelled to embark; the sorrowful form of the dead again appeared before him, and, exclaiming ‘Only once more,’ again vanished into the abyss of waters.

“Deep melancholy now pervaded the mind of Wequoash. For days he would roam the forest without food, and shunning the faces of his fellow-men. . . . In this manner the year wore away, and the fatal night returned. This time he assembled the tribe by the shore, and, in a long and pathetic harangue, disclosed to them how that it was by his hand the canoe of lano had sunk; how that he had poisoned the sorrowing Sassacus under the pretence of administering exhilarating draughts. He then recounted his interviews with the unavenged spirit of the injured girl, and darkly alluded to the fate that there awaited him. Petrified with fear, they saw him enter the approaching canoe, and move passively to the mysterious flame. A form arose, but it was not the form of lano. Her gentle spirit could not come for vengeance. It was the form of Sassacus, dark, terrific, confounding. ‘This is my hour,’ it said. Wequoash drew his robe closer about him, and folded his arms in token of resignation. A black cloud hovered over him; a vivid flash, a stunning thunder-peal, a few big rain-drops, — all was over; thick darkness succeeded; the chieftain was seen no more.

“The season was afterwards celebrated by the tribe for many generations, and a song was composed, which the maidens sung at their marriage festivals, — a mournful thing, descriptive of the character and fortunes of the rival chiefs and the too-much-loved lano. Whenever they crossed the Hobomak, they each carried a stone and sunk it at the fatal spot, till at length the pile rose above the water. It has since fallen away by the action of the waves, but even now it may be seen when the surface is perfectly tranquil. A mysterious dread still attaches to it, and if the fisherman chance to strike it with his oar, he hurries away as from a place to be avoided.”

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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.