Note: Below are some reflections on Westborough folktales that I read at the end of the Westborough Reads program on March 31, 2019, where we read several of the folktales that have appeared in this blog series to each other. This post concludes the “Folktale Friday” series of blog posts.
–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library
Many of the stories we have
told her today were compiled and retold by Harriette Merrifield Forbes in The Hundredth Town published in 1889,
right around the time that our country, and Westborough in particular, was
experiencing rapid social change due to the Industrial Revolution. Many writers
and historians gathered similar stories in their regions both in fear that they
would be lost and that they had something important to tell us about ourselves
and our communities.
When we talk about folktales, we are talking about stories that are always already out of date. They are stories that have been passed down, supposedly through generations, but are now out-of-sync with the culture in which we live. This is not to say that they are irrelevant. We continue to tell them because we believe that they hold some value for us.
What is this value? It could be that they possess some kind of lesson or instruction for our lives, sometimes spelled out at the end as a moral, but usually hidden beneath the story’s “surface” so that it requires us to tease out the lesson. Similarly, folktales might tell us something important about our community, and this “something” might also be buried as hidden treasure somewhere within the narrative. The value of folktales could be that the story encapsulates a “forgotten time,” and so it gives us a feeling of experiencing history and a chance to reflect on how our present is different from the past. The stories may also help us to define our community: if you know the story, you become part of an inner-circle that is mindful of our community’s past, and so by definition, your knowledge of the stories is a sign that you are a part of our community.
What does it mean to question
the history of a story that is considered folklore? Does it matter that the
details of the story are true? Or is the “general impression” important, just
as long as there is some element of truth in the story, such as the names of
people who truly existed?
We don’t ordinarily get the chance to compare folktales to “historical records,” as we do with some of the stories here. And when we do get the chance to compare them, the two rarely match up. But the difference between folklore and the historical record might give us clues about the power of the stories and why they continue to be told. Many of the stories we shared today involve criminality, which as a practice threatens the fabric of a community. Ruth Buck was an outsider. We know that she was so poor that she had to be placed on poor rolls, which is probably why she was chased out of Southborough to Westborough. She had a baby out of wedlock, which quite possibly contributed to her poverty. She had to do odd jobs around town to support herself. Talk of a turban that hid her ears because they were cropped “like a pig’s,” is taken as a sign that she was possibly a witch—or perhaps it was really a sign that she had committed burglary and had her ears cropped as punishment at some point in her life. All of these details come together to create a picture of a woman who did not fit into Westborough society and perhaps was perceived as a danger to it, whether she was truly a witch, a criminal, someone with psychiatric problems, or simply someone trying to survive with few resources at her disposal.
In The Hundredth Town, Forbes groups both Ruth Buck and Tom Cook
together as two Westborough residents who were both influenced and perhaps
guided by the Devil. Cook is a criminal, but he leaves town to ply his trade in
other towns around New England, only to return later to live out his days on
the Bowman Poor Farm here in Westborough. Is the fact that he did not live in
Westborough throughout his prime contribute to the development of his
reputation as a Robin Hood figure, so as not to disrupt the reputation of our
modest town? Or was he himself a fabulist by recasting his life as “The
Leveller,” a kind of Robin Hood, so as to protect his own reputation and
perhaps garner some sympathy from those who might hold resentment against the social
By the way, the notion that
Robin Hood “stole from the rich and gave to the poor” is an American invention
and is not rooted in the stories that were told about him back in England. In
other words, Tom Cook could be more of a Robin Hood than Robin Hood! But the
historical record does not indicate that Cook acted in this way. What is the
appeal of this redistribution myth, and why did it develop in the United
States, where the spirit of capitalism and individualism is so strong? We might
find the answer by digging deep into the stories of Robin Hood and Tom Cook,
where their myths are wrapped up in a desire to believe in some sense of divine
justice: that those at the top who abuse their power and position will
eventually fall at the hands of those who seek to uphold and protect moral
right, even if it takes a criminal hero to topple them.
I pulled some of the stories we told today from twentieth-century newspapers. Are they folktales? If not, will they eventually become folktales? I included them in this program, because I had come across references to them in other parts of the archive’s collections—so they were stories that generated more interest than most that appear in newspapers—AND because of their themes of witches and criminality that appear in the other tales. It’s possible that if I hadn’t used these stories in our program today (or at some other point in the future), they could have “disappeared.” Who else would have found them and thought to retell them as folktales? Will our use of these stories in this program elevate them to the level of “Westborough folktales”? Will some of the stories that you told today be elevated as well? Perhaps time will tell.
these stories tell us about Westborough? What is their significance? And is it
important for us to continue to tell them, since they all seem to be “out of
sync” with the lives we live today? The Encyclopedia of Local History says that contemporary folk research sees folk “as representing
a communicative process used by people acting in groups. In this view, folk is
not a level of society [that is, it is not primitive or comes out of a lower
class of people], but a type of learning and expression used by all people; it
can be useful to reveal social needs and identities enacted in different
settings.” It goes on to say that folklore
speaks to “the significance of traditions and the role of community in
passing and adapting those traditions.”
We gathered here today to tell stories to each other. And the stories we told are special, because they are stories that people in Westborough have told to each other for generations. The fact that we are all together here today telling familiar stories to each other in a community setting makes all of these stories special, because they work towards uniting us together as a community. In telling these stories to each other, we reaffirm our identities as Westborough residents and as a bonus are entertained by their intriguing plots and characters in the process.
Lake Hoccomocco was one of the places used by early Native Americans for hunting, fishing, and making tools. According to Indian legend, the Evil Spirit or Hobomoc, hides beneath the dark surface of Lake Hoccomocco. The legend starts with the story of the beautiful maiden Iano.
Many young Indians wanted to marry the beautiful Iano. She chose the young chief, Sassacus. One brave, Wequoash, was angry at not being chosen. He wanted to get revenge. On the eve of the wedding, Wequoash went off into the woods to go hunting for a mountain lion. He found a mountain lion and killed it.
On his way back to the village, Wequoash saw Iano out in a canoe on the lake. He swam underwater to her canoe. As she leaned over the side, he grabbed her hair and pulled her into the water. He used a rock to sink the canoe and Iano’s body to the bottom of the lake.
Sassacus and his men were searching for Iano by moonlight when the chief saw his bride and her canoe disappear mysteriously into the dark waters. He was convinced that the Evil Spirit Hobomoc had killed her.
When Wequoash returned a few days later with the mountain lion, he was praised by Chief Sassacus for his bravery. That was not enough for the greedy Wequoash! He wanted to be the chief. He secretly poisoned Sassacus and killed him.
On a night one year later Wequoash
saw a blue flame in the middle of the lake. Then a mysterious canoe floated
across the lake. Wequoash got into the canoe. The canoe took him to the flame
that turned into Iano’s face!
Another year passed. Wequoash again saw the blue flame. The mysterious canoe came towards him again. He boarded the canoe and traveled to the spot of Iano’s murder. This time the spirit whispered, “Only once more.”
Wequoash became sad during the next year. He gathered his tribe about him on the shores of the lake. He finally confessed to the murders of Iano and Sassacus. When the ghostly canoe came this time, it took Wequoash to the middle of the lake again. Now he saw the face of Sassacus in the blue flame. Wequoash was frightened. He wrapped his cloak about himself and disappeared forever.
From that time on, every time the Indians crossed Lake Hoccomocco, they dropped a rock at the spot Iano was drowned. They wanted to please the Evil Spirit. A pile of rocks was built up in the middle of the lake. Years later, fishermen would often run into it. If you stand at the side of the lake, look very hard out into the middle. See if you can make out a rock pile marking Iano’s resting place.
* * *
From “A Look at Westborough’s Historic Past,” The Community Advocate, June 27, 1997.
According to Jacqueline Tidman (former historical
It was said that this pond [Hoccomocco] was where a
beautiful Indian maiden was drowned by a spurned lover, and her body and canoe
were secreted in its depths. The man went on to poison her soon-to-be
bridegroom, and assumed a position of leadership amongst their tribe.
On the anniversary of her death, the maiden’s spirit
returned, beckoning the traitorous warrior back to the pond. On the second
anniversary of her death, her spirit returned once again, drawing him to paddle
out to the spot where he had drowned her.
On the third anniversary, he could contain his secret no
longer, and confessed his crime. With the entire village watching, he paddled
out to meet the maiden’s spirit. But, instead of the maiden, the spirit of his
rival appeared, and amidst thunder and smoke the spirit and the murderer
It is said that, even into the nineteenth century, people avoided the environs of the haunted pond—especially at night.
From The Hundredth Town by Harriette
Merrifield Forbes, 1889, pp. 137-146.
There were two persons supposed to be in league with the Evil One living here part of the time contemporaneously, whose names are very familiar to most of the older people now in town, — Tom Cook and Ruth Buck. The former was well known in all the towns of Massachusetts, and more or less throughout New England. He lived in the house afterwards occupied by Dr. Hawes [Ed. note: the former blue “plaster house” near the corner of Lyman and East Main Street, which was torn down and replaced with another blue house] . . .
Here, October 6, 1738, Tom Cook first opened his innocent baby
eyes on the world, whose wrongs, in his own eccentric way, he was to endeavor
to right. Here he lived, developing his own personality, and by his sweet baby
prattle, every day forcing his way further into his mother’s heart. When about
three years old, he was taken very ill. Mrs. Cook doubtless received the
deacons and listened to their prayers over her sick darling, but it was
whispered among the women at the next Sunday’s service that the little boy was
getting better, in answer to his mother’s wicked prayer, “Only spare his life ;
only spare his life, and I care not what he becomes!”
After reading the paper he was asked if he had anything to say
upon it, and he told the church that “he doubted whether he was in a state of
Grace at the time of his taking sd oath and was in doubt whether he ought to
take it; but insisted that he was not guilty of taking it in the Manner the
church had understood, it was in no Passion &c. but as well as he could in
the fear of God, even act of worship; but as all his prayers, public attendance
&c. were then profane, so was this also, and he could not judge it any
otherwise, &c.” After some debate, the Church decided that this confession
was unsatisfactory, and it was a year and a half before he succeeded in making
one which was sufficient to restore him to fellowship.
When Tom was about fifteen, his brothers, Robert and Stephen, were
imprisoned and tried for killing an Indian at Stockbridge.
The Cook family moved to Wrentham, and in 1770 Mrs. Cook was living
in Douglass, but was still helped by the Westborough church.
That the Evil One sometimes appeared, was a common belief, and
on the Brigham farm, on Brigham hill, Grafton, can still be seen what was once
supposed to be the print of his foot in a rock behind the barn. Tradition does
not say how, or where, or when, Tom entered into a compact with the devil; but
in some way, possibly by his mother, at the time of his illness, he was pledged
to serve that individual for a number of years, receiving abundant help in
The last year rolled away, and found Tom still clinging to this
life, and unwilling to enter upon any other. The devil came for him one
morning, when he was dressing for another active day, and his head was full of
plans for work. Tom had learned by that time to live upon his wits.
“Wait, wait, wait, can’t you?” he said to his visitor, “until I
get my galluses on.” And as soon as the latter had signified his willingness to
wait, he threw the suspenders into the fire and never wore them again. He lived
many years after this.
Mr. Parkman, forty-one years after he had baptized Eunice Cook’s new baby, in the old Wessonville church, still keeps an interest in him, and writes in his journal under date of August 27, 1779: “The notorious Thom. Cook came in (he says) on Purpose to see me. I gave him wt admon” Instruction and Caution I could — I beseech God to give it Force! He leaves me with fair Words — thankf. and Promising.”
So he parted from the old minister, leaving him to admonish,
instruct, and caution, while he, in his own way, straightened out the
injustices of the world.
Cook was called a very attractive man; “of medium size, remarkably
agile and well formed, — his face and head betokened unusual intelligence. His
eyes were his most striking feature,” described by one who had seen him as “of
deep blue, the most piercing and, at the same time, the most kindly eyes that
he ever saw.” Before his long life closed he bore the scars of many an
encounter; on one hand, every finger had been broken, and if set at all,
generally in a very un-scientific manner. In some way the various bones grew
together, and Tom’s body at length resembled some knotted, gnarled old tree.
With children he was a great favorite. His pockets were always filled with
toys, which he had stolen for their amusement, and nothing pleased him more
than to relate his adventures to their wondering ears.
Among the large class who did not believe in his league with the
devil, there were many who admired his shrewdness and skill, and, in a certain
sense, were his friends. He was called a thief; now he is usually spoken of as “the
honest thief;” his own name for himself was “the leveller.” He spent most of
his time wandering about the country, stealing in one place with such skill and
boldness that he was rarely detected, and bestowing his booty in another with
an equal delicacy and kindliness. He was familiar with the simple habits of the
people, and knew at what hour it was best to slip into the well-to-do farmer’s kitchen,
to quietly abstract the pudding from the ‘”boiled pot,” and, carrying it in its
steaming bag to the next house, where the man was poorer and the family larger,
to drop it noiselessly in their less highly favored kettle.
He did not always do his work in so unobtrusive a manner. Many
of his acts were unpremeditated and done in full sight. One day he was walking
along the country road, and saw some children crying because they were hungry.
Just that moment there passed a man on his way home from the corn-mill, with a
load of bags of grain. Tom took one from the back of the wagon, and quickening
his pace, walked ahead of the man, and gave the grain to the children’s mother.
The man saw him, but did not think of its being one of his meal-bags, until he
reached home and took an account of stock.
Another time he went into a house, and upstairs. His object this
time was to procure a feather-bed for some poor invalid whose slender purse
forbade the purchase of such luxuries. He selected the best the house afforded,
tied it closely in a sheet, took it downstairs, and knocked loudly at the front
“Can I leave this bundle here, till I call for it in a few days?”
he asked, politely.
The woman recognized him, but not the bundle, and preferred to
have him carry it elsewhere. So he took it up again with an easy conscience,
and trudged on.
The farmers bore his oft-repeated thefts, with but few attempts
to bring him to justice. Some of the more wealthy, who naturally would have
been his chief victims, paid him annually a sum, which exempted them from his
depredations, and probably nearly equaled in value what Tom would have expected
in the practice of his profession to wrest from them.
He did not confine his depredations to houses, but patronized
stores as well. One time, after he had broken into a shop in Woonsocket, and
was travelling along the highway, he heard sleigh-bells behind him, which he
rightfully guessed belonged to the officers sent in his pursuit. He jumped a
wall, went to a haystack, and commenced pull-ing hay for the cattle. The
officers drove up and stopped.
“Hullo,” they shouted; “seen a man running past here?”
“Just went by,” answered Tom; “you’ll overtake him in a minute.”
As soon as they were out of sight, he took off his shoes, and in
true Indian fashion tied them on with the toes at the heels, and tramped over
the snow to a neighboring swamp. The officers finally returned, and saw where
the man had come from, but could not find where he had gone.
Another time he was less successful, and was captured by the
officers, and mounted on the horse behind one of them, and carried along towards
the jail. By using his hands skillfully he managed to tie the man, unknown to
him, fast to his horse. He then complained that he was tired of the horse’s
hard gait, and asked permission to get down and ride on the other. This was
granted him, and once seated behind the second officer, he proceeded quietly to
tie him to his horse. This accomplished, he jumped down and disappeared in the
woods, probably leaving the officers in firm belief that their missing prisoner
was in league with the Evil One, who had sent unseen hands to help his ally in
In the course of his long life he was often arrested. At one
time he selected a meeting-house in one of the towns in this vicinity for a
place where he could retire after a successful raid, and, undisturbed, look
over his booty, and develop his philanthropic plans. It was mistrusted that all
was not right, and a watch was set. One night, Tom appeared through the window,
seated himself in one of the capacious square pews, with his bag by his side,
and commenced hauling out his plunder. Each article he laid aside, after deciding
on whom it should be bestowed. Then came a bottle of cider, and he put it down
with a smack of satisfaction, — “Ah, this is good for old Tom.” — “Yes,” cried
the officer, springing from his place of concealment, “and this is good for old Tom.” And he arrested him, and carried him to the
But a time came when more imminent danger threatened Tom, when
he was actually brought into court, and heard the awful words of the judge: “And
I therefore sentence you to be hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead,
But under these trying circumstances his courage did not fail.
“I shall not be there that day, day, day,” he answered.
And when the day for his execution came, he had managed in some
way to break through bolt and bar, and the wondering authorities thought “best
not to look him up.”
Tom never acquired wealth for himself, and, when a severe
accident to his leg, together with advancing old age, took away his agility,
his means of a livelihood were gone, and he settled down in Westborough. One of
the last years of his life he spent on the farm of Mr. Levi Bowman, who boarded
the town’s poor. His house was the last on the old Upton road, before reaching
the poor-farm. Tom spent his winters contentedly under shelter, but in summer
he wandered about, and finally, when nearly ninety years of age, he ran away
from his home in the poor-house, and died near Boston. He was brought back here
for burial, and at an expense of forty dollars was finally laid to rest.
He left no successor to go on with his cherished work. He had at
one time, after the manner of the Jew Fagin, taken a young apprentice to teach
him his trade. One evening he gave him a package of valuables to hide. The boy
went away with them, and, soon returning, told Tom that he had put them under a
certain large stone. When he fell asleep, Tom stole out and removed the goods.
The next morning he sent the boy for them, who, coming back, sadly reported
that they were gone.
‘”You must have been telling some one where you put them,”
said Tom. But the apprentice honestly declared he had told no one.
“But you did,” said Tom; “you told me. That is no way to do business. Keep it to yourself.”
* * *
Note: In 1984, Jacqueline Dembar Greene published The Leveller, a young adult novel about Tom Cook. The book is available at the Westborough Public Library in the Westborough Center for History and Culture.
Many years ago in the village
of Westborough there lived a woman named Ruth Buck. Ruth Buck was stout and
always wore a plaid kerchief on her head. She wandered from house to house
plying her trade as a seamstress. She had a very sharp tongue and the children
were frightened at the sight of her.
Many farmers and their wives
were very superstitious and looked on Ruth with suspicion. You see many in the
town believed she was a witch. Whenever the cows did not give milk or the sheep
got sick everyone would blame Ruth Buck.
One day a prosperous farmer
named John Belknap was loading his wagon with eggs. He was going to travel up
the turnpike to Boston and sell them at a handsome profit. John and his hired
hand, Eli, loaded the wagon until it was completely full. They carefully placed
a board across the back to make sure the eggs would not fall.
John and Eli were working so
hard that they did not see Ruth Buck walking up the hill. Ruth called to them,
“Good day, Squire Belknap, and where might you be going? Your wagon is loaded
particularly full. Would you be so kind as to give me a few eggs, you have so
many a few will hardly be missed.”
John Belknap was not glad to
see Ruth. He was anxious to get started on his long journey and did not want to
be bothered. “I have not time for you, Ruth,” he said. “I must get started for
Boston if I am to arrive there by nightfall. I will not tive you any of my
eggs. They are packed and ready to be sold.
Eli looked at his master with
surprise. “Mr. Belknap, what are you doing? Don’t anger Ruth Buck for you know
what they say about her, she is a witch,” he said. John Belknap knew what the
townfolk said about Ruth, but he was a sober man who did not consider such
things. “Eli, I do not believe in old farmer’s wives tales.”
Ruth grew angry. “I ask you
again, Squire Belknap, will you give me some of those eggs?” “No, I must be
going so be off with you,” replied John. Ruth looked at him with cold, beady
eyes and said, “Squire Belknap, you will never get those eggs to market. I
promise you that all the eggs will be broken before you reach Boston, and you
will never receive a penny for them.” She walked off leaving an angry John and
a scared Eli.
John and Eli clicked the
reigns and the horses pulled the wagon through the village of Westborough. The
sun was shining and the day was warm. They soon forgot about Ruth Buck. They
traveled down the Boston Turnpike through Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, and
Newton. The sun was beginning to set as they started to climb Chestnut Hill.
Midway up the hill the horses stopped and nothing could persuade them to go
John Belknap grew impatient
and handed the reigns to Eli. “I will pull them you hold tight,” he said. He
grabbed the bridles and pulled the horses until they reluctantly moved forward.
The horses stopped again and all of a sudden there was a crash. The board on
the back of the wagon fell to the ground and all the eggs tumbled out. Eli and
John ran to the back of the wagon and found ALL of the eggs were broken.
All they could do was look at each other and think of what Ruth Buck had said. She was right, none of the eggs had reached Boston. John Belknap had to turn his wagon around and go home. He made no handsome profit selling his eggs at the market that day.
From The Hundredth Town by Harriette
Merrifield Forbes, 1889, pp. 32-35.
One of the stories that the old people a hundred years ago told
to their grandchildren was about Edmund Rice’s capture by Graylock, an old
Indian living in the forests around Westborough, who occasionally made raids on
the settlers. The women during the day were clustered together in the garrison-houses,
while the men, with their guns near by, cleared their farms.
Edmund Rice was a young man, fitted by nature and circumstances
to be a pioneer in a new country. He was bold and fearless, convinced that,
whatever trouble might come upon others, he would live to make for himself a
name in the annals of the new town. He would like to see the Indians attempt to
capture him! Let Graylock come, — he might get the worst of it!
One morning Rice was swinging his scythe through the tall grass,
with no suspicion of the dusky form creeping stealthily towards him.
With one quick, agile spring, Graylock was between him and his
gun. He himself was armed, and all that Rice could do was to take in silence
the trail pointed out to him, his captor following with levelled gun.
So they went for some distance, Rice, on the way, picking up a
stout stick, upon which he leaned more heavily as they advanced on their
There was but one chance of escape for him, and with his usual
boldness and intrepidity he took it. Turning around quickly, when he saw that for
a moment Graylock was looking in another direction, he felled him to the ground
with his heavy stick. Leaving him dead, he ran back lightly over the fresh
trail, and went on with his morning’s work.
This was probably before 1704, when the Indians revenged the
death of Graylock by killing one of Mr. Rice’s sons and capturing two others. This
massacre occurred near the garrison-house of his brother, Thomas Rice, which
was situated on the Christopher Whitney estate, on Main street, then the “old Connecticut way.”
The account of this raid was written by Rev. Peter Whitney, the
old Northborough minister and friend of Mr. Parkman. The latter doubtless heard
the full particulars of the story from Timothy Rice, one of the boys. He
“On August 8, 1704, as several persons were busy in spreading
flax on a plain about eighty rods from the house of Mr. Thomas Rice (the first
settler in Westborough, and several years representative of the town of
Marlborough in the General Court), and a number of boys with them, seven, some
say ten, Indians suddenly rushed down a wooded hill near by, and knocking the
least of the boys on the head (Nahor, about five years old, son of Mr. Edmund
Rice, and the first person ever buried in Westborough), they seized two,
Asher and Adonijah, — sons of Mr. Thomas Rice, — the oldest about ten, and the
other about eight years of age, and two others, Silas and Timothy, sons of Mr.
Edmund Rice, above-named, of about nine and seven years of age, and carried
them away to Canada.”
In about four years Asher was redeemed. Adonijah married and
settled in Canada, while Silas and Timothy mixed with the Indians, had Indian
wives and children, and lost all knowledge of the English language. Timothy
became one of their chiefs. They called him Oughtsorongoughton. In September, 1
740, he returned to Westborough and made a short visit. Mr. Parkman writes:
“They viewed the house where Mr. Rice dwelt, and the place from whence the children
were captivated, of both which he retained a clear remembrance, as he did likewise
of several elderly persons who were then living, though he had forgot our
language.” They then visited Governor Belcher. Timothy, as chief of the
Cagnawagas, was quite prominent in the history of the time, and influential in
keeping the Indians from joining the English during the Revolution. The
Cagnawagas were the principal tribe of the Canadian Six Nations. They
“peremptorily refused” to join the king’s troops in Boston, saying, that if
they are obliged to take up arms on either side, “that they shall take part on
the side of their brethren, the English in New England.” Both brothers were
living in 1790.
* * *
Note: In 2016, Jillian Hensley published In This Strange Soil, a novel about the capture of the Rice brothers. The book is available at the Westborough Public Library both in the Local Author collection and in the Westborough Center for History and Culture.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
“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.
From The Hundredth Town by Harriette Merrifield Forbes, 1889, pp. 146-153.
Of Ruth Buck’s ancestry we know nothing, nor was she associated
with any particular locality. The Town Records mention her first in 1763, about
seventy-one years before her death. In the warrant for the town-meeting, May 9,
1763, one article was, “To see what ye Town will do with respect to Ruth Buck,
which ye Selectmen of this Town have sent to Southboro’, for ye Selectmen of
Southboro’ refuse to take y’e sd Ruth Buck as their proper charge.” They “voted
not to stand Toyal (trial) with Southboro’ with respect to Ruth Buck.” In
October of the same year, Mr. Samuel Allen prayed “that ye Town would Relieve
Him someway or other with respect to Ruth Buck and her child.” They afterwards
appropriated money for her support, and so in the early days of her unfortunate
motherhood she became a town charge.
What became of the little one whose babyhood was so overshadowed
with trouble and want we do not know. The fact of his existence faded from the
minds of most. In 1778 Ruth appeared before the church, confessed her sin, and was
“admitted into full communion.” Of the next years of her life we know nothing;
perhaps they were the best years, spent in the care of her boy.
Full communion with the church did not mean full social
fellowship with the good people of the town. It is not long before we find her
regarded with distrust, though still going from house to house, following her
profession of tailoress, looked upon with fear by the little children, and by
many of their elders as a social outcast and witch.
What she herself thought has come down to us in a very negative
way. Old David Fay, a rough, eccentric man, called out to her one morning as
she was passing his house: —
“Well, Ruth, they say you are a witch.”
“If I’m a witch,” she answered, as she trudged on, “you are the
She is remembered as a very stout woman, with large, strong
features. Her temper was uncertain, and many a sharp retort came from her lips.
It was a bad thing to arouse her opposition, and feel the sting of her venomous
She always wore a cap or handkerchief on her head, sometimes of
white material, more commonly of plaid. Below it was seen a bit of the lobe of
each ear, with a little gold knob fastened into it. She was never seen without
this covering, and it was said and believed that she had a very good reason for
wearing it. One day she had asked a farmer to do some ploughing for her. His
refusal displeased her, and she angrily said, “You will have trouble with your
oxen to-day.” The farmer found she was right; the usually docile beasts refused
to move. At last, feeling sure that they were bewitched, he resorted to the
usual method of letting out the evil spirit, and cut off the tops of their
ears. From that time dates Ruth’s wearing of the head covering, and it was
generally understood that the few who, in some unguarded moment, had obtained a
glimpse beneath it had seen that her ears were cropped.
Across her throat she had a long purple mark, which she covered
with a handkerchief crossed in front. There was a farmer living in Grafton
whose sheep one day showed the familiar and unmistakable signs of being
bewitched, not onlv by their erratic actions, but even more by the blindness
which had suddenly come upon the whole flock. At last he resorted to the “sharp
medicine” of the knife, cutting the throat of the worst one. He had no more
trouble with them; but, until her death, Ruth was marked with a livid line just
where the farmer’s knife had cut the bewitched sheep.
She seems to have oftener used her uncanny influence over inanimate
things. One day she met Mr. Joseph Belknap, soon after he had started from his
farm at Rocklawn, to “go below,” as was the phrase commonly used of a trip to
Boston, with a large number of eggs for the market. She asked for some; but he
refused to sell them, as his box was even, full, and closely packed. “Well, as
you please,” she answered; “but you will never get those eggs safe to the market.”
In some unaccountable way, near the end of his long drive, the
board in the back of his wagon came out, and the box of eggs slid to the
ground. Every one was broken.
Another time, a farmer, against whom she had previously vowed
vengeance, passed her as he was carrying a load of wood to the school-house,
now known as No. 2, near the H. A. Gilmore farm. She told him he would never
reach there safely with his load. She passed on, but the oxen refused to move;
he took off part of the load, but, after a short distance, they stopped again.
This was repeated, until, just before reaching his destination, he threw off
the last stick, and the oxen, starting on a dead run, rushed by the
There were innumerable slight annoyances to which the good woman
of the house was subjected, against whom Ruth Buck had a spite. When she
lighted her candles, she found that all below the rim of the old-fashioned
candlestick was gone; only the wick was left. These candlesticks were made with
a long socket, which held more than half the candle; a small slide raised or
lowered at will made it possible to burn them almost the entire length. She
believed the witch had come in an invisible shape and eaten the candles.
Mrs. Samuel Grout was one of the ladies most annoyed by Ruth’s
pranks: her bread wouldn’t rise; it refused to bake, no matter how hot the oven
might be; the butter wouldn’t come, and many other things went wrong in her
work. One day, after churning for a long time, she tried, on a large scale, the
remedy mentioned by Whittier in his New England Legend, —
“The goodwife’s churn no more refuses
Its wonted culinary
Until with heated
The witch has to her place
and dropped a hot brick into the offending cream. The butter
soon came, but not long afterwards a neighbor ran in saying that Ruth Buck had
been dreadfully burned.
Mrs. Grout, seeing Ruth soon after with her hand in a poultice,
asked her what the matter was.
“You know what is the matter,” was her answer, “and you’ll find
yourself well paid.”
The same day, one of. Mr. Grout’s cows was found with a broken
leg, with no apparent reason for the accident.
This was not the only burn that Ruth received. One day Mrs.
Beeman was very much troubled with the behavior of her spinning-wheel. It
refused to turn, the thread broke, and the good-woman’s patience was well-nigh
exhausted. She took an old horseshoe, heated it red-hot, and laid it on the
wheel. Everything went smoothly after that, but Ruth bore the scar for many a
This woman, so the farmers’ wives thought, had the power of
knowing when she was talked about, and hearing what was said. Perhaps the low
tones thcy thought necessary to use when telling each other about the
afflictions she had brought upon them, may account in part for the lasting
impression of curiosity and awe which her character left on the little children
of the day, now most of them past their eightieth year.
One day she was trudging up a long hill in Upton, when a girl
named Lackey looked out from one of the windows of a house on top of the hill,
and saw her coming. “Oh dear,” she said to her mother,” here comes Ruth Buck. I
hope she isn’t coming to stay.”
Ruth came on, made a pleasant call, but refused all their
invitations to lay aside her wraps. When she stepped over the threshold after
bidding them good-by, her expression changed. Looking sharply at her late
hostesses, she said: “Oh dear, here comes Ruth Buck. I hope she isn’t coming to
stay. Won’t you take off your things? I don’t want you to stay.”
She went off repeating these words to herself.
The last years of her life she was obliged, to a great extent,
to give up her wandering habits. After the manner of dealing with paupers in
the early part of this century, she was knocked down at auction to the person
offering to board her for the least sum, and so fell to the thrifty hospitality
of John Fay, who lived about two miles from the station, on the North Grafton
She finally, in 1834, at the age of ninety-two, ended her days
in the poor-house.
Since her day there has been no one in town invested with her
* * *
From More Old Houses in Westborough, Mass. and Their Occupants, Westborough Historical Society, 1908.
At this house [Morse
Homestead] Ruth Buck came to make the boys’ clothes and Patty was so afraid to
sleep alone that she willingly ran the risk of being bewitched by her bed
fellow. But grandmother said though she watched closely, Ruth never removed her
turban either night or day in her presence. Patty was dying of curiosity to see
for herself whether Ruth’s ear-tips were gone, cut off, as tradition said, when
she was a pig.
Written by Grace W. Bates,
* * *
References to Ruth Buck in Historical Records
1778 July 30
(Thursday). Ruth Buck desires to be propounded in
Order to her Humiliation and joining with the
Church, is Examined.
1778 August 2 (Sunday).
Ruth Buck was propounded.
1778 August 3
(Monday). Mrs. [Jemima Hardy?] was here with Objections
against Ruth Buck. I [advised?] Mrs. Hardy to go to her,
and discourse with her. [illegible] She said she had Seen and
spoke with her. [But to?] little [effect?].
1778 August 11
(Tuesday). Capt. Morse here in Defence of Ruth
Buck against Mrs. Hardy; and insists on her (the
latter) being distracted.
1778 August 12
(Wednesday). [I then went?], and Mr. Elijah Hardy with
me, to Mr. Isaac Parker’s where dwells the widow Jemima
Hardy, that I might direct her with respect to Ruth Buck.
But I found her much out of her Head, and incapable of any regular
Conversation. Dr. Stimson has been here, is soon going
to settle at Great Barrington.
1778 August 15
(Saturday). Miss Ruth Buck came with her Confession
and Relation; and it proved a yet greater Interruption, as I was obliged to new
methodize and wholly transcribe her writings for the public Reading of
them. But there is no material Objection against her.
1778 August 16
(Sunday). At noon Miss Ruth Buck was here, and I read and
She signed the Address she is about to make to the Church.
* * *
Blake’s Worcester County, Massachusetts, Warnings
1763 May 10. Buck, Ruth, from Southborough. March 16, ’63.
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.
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.
Hundredth Town by Harriette Merrifield Forbes, 1889, pp. 12
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.”