By Charles W. Brewster
Rock throwing Devils
For a large portion of the century which terminated some thirty years since, witchcraft was regarded as a relic of ancient superstition; but now, in the modern developments of mesmerism, spiritualism, etc. we have again brought up under the auspices of a new science, developments everybody in olden time called witchcraft and charged to Satanic influence. It is science now - it was witchcraft then.
Although belief in witchcraft in late years has not been general, yet at no time has it
been without some who have had a belief in it. There are many stories
given in proof of the agency of evil spirits in conferring superhuman
powers upon those over whom they had an influence.
In the time of the Revolution when our almshouse was kept by Mr. Clement March, there was among the inmates a woman who bore the name of Molly Bridget. She had been notorious as a fortune teller. She was regarded as a witch in those times, and to her was attributed many of the domestic evils of that day. Her fame as a witch was wide spread. Finding her way to Boston, the police gave her warning to leave the city forthwith. "Why?" she asked. "Is not your name Molly Bridget?" "No, sir," she replied -" do you think I am such a despicable creature as Molly?" Although she denied the identity, she took pains to return by the first opportunity. It was in the year 1782, when she was at our almshouse, that there was trouble in the pig stye. The pigs were pronounced bewitched, and the remedy resorted to was to cut off the tips of their tails and ears. The evil spirits however were not cast out. It was then said that those tips must be burned. But nothing could be found of them. Mr. March directed that all the loose chips and leaves in the yard should be scraped up and burned in the several fireplaces in the house. After the fires were kindled, Molly hastened from room to room in a frenzied manner'. She soon went to her own room, and as the flames began to subside her sands of life began to run out, and before the ashes were cold, she was actually a corpse. At the hour fixed for her funeral, arose one of those dreadful storms which are said to occur when witches are buried. These are facts - how far the results were induced by the superstitious feelings of that day, the reader is left to judge. The poor creature might have believed herself a witch, and the expectation expressed that the burning of the pigs' tails would kill the witch, might have so wrought upon her mind as to produce the result.
The principal object of this ramble is to bring up some of the strange developments: which were made in early times in what was once a part of Portsmouth, but afterwards became the town of Newcastle. Cotton Mather, who lived in that area, refers to the Stone-Throwing Devil of Newcastle, and thus notices it:
On June 11, 1682, showers of stones were thrown by an invisible hand Upon the house of George Walton at Portsmouth, (Newcastle.) - Where upon the people going out found the gate wrung off the hinges, and stones flying and falling thick about them, and striking of them seemingly with a great force, but really affecting 'em no more than if a soft touch were given them. The glass windows were broken by stones that came not without, but from within; and other instruments were in like manner hurried about. Nine of the stones they took up, whereof some were as hot as if they came out of the fire, and marking them they laid them on the table; but in a little while they found some of them again flying about. The spit was carried up the chimney, and coming down with the point forward, stuck in the back log, from whence one of the company removing it, it was by an invisible hand thrown out at the window. This disturbance continued from day to day; and sometimes a dismal hollow whistling would be heard, and sometimes the trotting and snorting of a horse, but nothing to be seen. The man went up the Great Bay in his boat onto a farm which he had there; but there the stones found him out, and carrying from the house to the boat a stirrup iron the iron came jingling after him through the woods as far as his house; and at last went away and was heard of no more. The anchor leaped overboard several times and stopped the boat. A cheese was taken out of the press, and crumbled all over the floor; a piece of iron stuck into the wall, and a kettle hung thereon. Several cocks of hay, mowed near the house, were taken up and hung upon the trees, and others made into small whisps, and scattered about the house. A man was much hurt by some of the stones. He was a Quaker, and suspected that a woman, who charged him with injustice in detaining some land from her did, by witchcraft, occasion these preternatural occurrences. However, at last they came to an end." Thus wrote the reliable Cotton Mather, one hundred and sixty-eight years ago. Although he says these things had an end, yet there have been some reliable witnesses to events of a similar nature on the Pest Island, in the vicinity of Newcastle, nearly a century after. When there were but two men on this island, things were mysteriously moved about the pest house, and unaccountable noises heard. Later days have shown as strange things produced by mesmeric powers, since table moving has become an every day occurrence.
A pamphlet published in London in 1698, gives in quaint style, a detailed account of the strange proceedings by an eye witness. As the whole account would occupy too much space, we make only extracts from the work, which bears every mark of authenticity.
I have a wonder to relate; for such (I take it) is 80 to be termed whatsoever is Preternatural, and not assignable to, or the effect of Natural causes. It is a Lithobolia, or stone throwing , which happened by Witchcraft, (as was supposed,) and maliciously perpetrated by an elderly woman, a neighbor suspected, and (I think) formerly detected for such kind of diabolical tricks and practices; and the wicked instigation did arise Upon the account of some small quantity of land in her field, which she pretended was unjustly taken into the land of the person where the scene of this matter lay, and was her right; she having been often very clamorous about that affair, and heard to say with much bitterness, that her neighbor (innuendo the aforementioned person, his name George Walton) should never quietly enjoy that piece of ground. Which, as it has confirmed myself and others in the opinion that there are such things as Witches, and the effects of Witchcraft, or at least of the mischievous actions of evil spirits.
" Sometime also being in America, (in His then Majesty's service,) I was lodged in the said George Walton's house, a Planter there, and on a Sunday night, about ten o'clock, many stones were heard by myself and the rest of the family, to be thrown and (with noise) hit against the top and all sides of the house, after he said Walton had been at his fence-gate, which was between him and his neighbor one John Amazeen an Italian, to view it; for it was again (as formerly) wrung off the hinges, and cast upon the ground; and in his being there, and return home with several persons of (and frequenting) his family and house, about a slight shot distance from the gate, they were all assaulted with a peal of stones, (taken we conceive, from the rocks hard by the House,) and this by unseen hands or agents. For by this time I was come down to them, having risen out of my bed at this strange alarm of all that were in the house, and do know that they all looked out as narrowly as I did, or any person could, (it being a bright moon-lightnight) but could make no discovery. There upon, and because there came many stones, and those pretty great ones, some as big as my fist, into the entry or porch of the House, we withdrew into the next room to the Porch, no person having received any hurt, (Praised be Almighty Providence, for certainly the infernal agent, constant enemy to mankind, had he not been over-ruled, intended no less than death or maim) save only that two youths were hit, one on the leg the other on the thigh, notwithstanding the stones 'came so thick and so forcibly against the sides of so narrow a room. Whilst we stood amazed at this accident, one of the maidens imagined she saw them come from the Hall next to that we were in, where searching, (and in the cellar down out of the Hall, and finding nobody, another and myself observed two little stones in a short space successively to fall on the floor, coming as from the Ceiling close by us, and we concluded it must necessarily be done by means extraordinary and preternatural. Coming again into the room where we first were, (next the Porch) we had many of these lapidary salutations! but unfriendly ones; for shutting the door, it was no small surprise to me to have a good big stone come with force and noise (just by my head against the door on the inside; and then shutting the other door, next the Hall, to have the like accident; so going out again, to have another very near my body clattering against the board wall of the House; but it was a much greater, to be so near the danger of having my head broke with a mall, or great hammer brushing along the top of roof of the room from the other end, as I was walking in it, and lighting down by me; but it fell so, that my landlord had the greatest damage, his windows (especially those of the first mentioned room) being with many stones miserably and strangely battered, most of the stones giving the blow on the inside, and forcing the bars, lead and hasps of the casements outward, and yet falling back (sometimes a yard or two into the room; only one little stone we took out of the glass of the window, there it lodged itself in the breaking it, in a hole exactly fit for the stone, The pewter and brass were frequently pelted, and sometimes thrown down upon the ground: for the evil spirit seemed then to effect variety of mischief, and diverted himself at this end after he had done so much execution at the other. So were two candlesticks, after many hittings, at last struck off the table where they stood, and likewise a large pewter pot, with the force of these stones. Some of them were taken up hot, (and it seems) coming out of the fire; and some (which is not unremarkable) having been laid by me upon the table along by couples, and numbered, were found missing; that is, two of them, and we returned immediately to the table, having turned our backs only to visit and view some new stone-charge or window breach, and this experiment was four or five times repeated, and I still found one or two missing of the number, which we all marked, when I did but' just remove the light from off the table, and step to the door and back again.
"After this had continued in all parts and sides of the first room (and down the chimney) for above four hours, I weary of the noise, and sleepy, went to bed.
"In the morning (Monday morning) I was informed by several of the domestics of more of the same kind of trouble; among which the most signal was, the vanishing of the spit which stood in the chimney corner, and the sudden coming of it again down the chimney, sticking it in a log that lay in the fire place or hearth and then, being by one of the family set by on the other side of the chimney, presently cast out of the window into the back-side. Also a pressing iron lying on the ledge of the chimney back, was conveyed invisibly into the yard. I should think it (too) not unworthy the relation, that, discoursing them with some of the families and others, about what had past, I said, I thought it necessary to take and keep the great stone, as a proof and evidence, for they had taken it down from my chambers; so I carried it up and laid it on my table in my chamber, and locked my door, and going out upon occasions, and soon returning, I was told by my landlady that it was, a little while after my going forth, removed again, with a noise which they all below heard, and was thrown into the ante-chamber, and there I found it lying in the middle of it; there upon I the second time carried it up, and laid it on the table, and had it in my custody for a long time to show, for the satisfaction of the curious.
"August 1. On Wednesday the window in my ante-chamber was broken again, and many stones were plaid about, abroad and in the house, in the daytime, and at night. The same day in the morning they tried this experiment; they did set on the fire a pot with animal fluid and crooked pins in it, with design to have it boil, and by that means to give punishment to the witch or wizard, (that might be the wicked procurer or contriver of this stone affliction) and take off their own; as they had been advised. This was the effect of it: is the liquor began to grow hot, a stone came and broke the top or mouth of it, and threw it down, and spilt what was in it; which being made good again, another stone, as the pot grew hot again, broke the handle off; and being recruited and filled a third time, was then with a third stone quite broke to pieces and split, and so the operation became frustrate and fruitless.
"Friday after, I was present, being newly come in with Mr. Walton from his middle field (as he called it) There his servants had been mowing and had six or seven of his old troublesome companions and I had one falling down by me there, and another thin flat stone hit me on the thigh with the flat side of it, so as to make me just feel, and smart a little. In the same day's evening as I was walking out in the lane by the field aforementioned, a great stone made a rustling noise in the stone fence between the field and the lane, which seemed to me (as it caused me to cast my eye that way by the noise) to come out of the fence, as it were pulled out from among the stones loose, but orderly laid close together, as the manner of such fences in that country is, and so fell down upon the ground.
"Some persons of note being then in the field (whose names are here under written) to visit Mr. Walton there, are substantial witnesses of the same stonery, both in the field, and afterwards in the house that night, viz: one Mr. Huzzy, son of a Counselor there. He took up one that having first alighted on the ground with rebound from thence hit him upon the heel; and he keep it to show. And Captain Barefoot, mentioned above, has that which (among other stones) flew into the Hall a little before supper; which myself also saw first came in at the upper part of the door into the middle of the room; and then (though' a good flat stone, yet,) was seen to roll over and over, as if trundled, under a bed in the same room. In short these persons being wondrously affected with the strangeness of there passages, offered themselves (desiring me to take them) as testimonies; I did so, and made a memorandum by way of record thereof, to this effect, viz:
"These persons underwritten do hereby attest the truth of their being eye witnesses of at least half a score stones that evening thrown invisibly into the field, and into the entry of the house, hall, and one of the chambers of George Walton's, viz:
Samuel Jennings, Esq. Governor of West Jersey.
In reply to some inquiries made by us of Rev. Mr. Alden of Newcastle, we have received the following letter, giving some interesting historical memoranda.
Newcastle, N. E., Jan. 1, 1862.
Dear Sir: Agreeably to your suggestion, I would communicate the following in regard to an article in the Historical Magazine for November last, purporting to be the reprint of a tract, entitled "Lithobolia," by R. C. Esq., and published in London in the year 1698. The writer states that he had been in America, at Great Island (now Newcastle, N. E.) was employed in His Majesty's service and lodged in the house of Mr. George Walton.
It is an inquiry of some interest to the antiquary whether this curious and unique treatise will be found to be genuine and authentic, on an application of the proper tests in similar cases used. In the instance before us, we are furnished with a specification of the names of persons and of places. An examination shows the authenticity of the writer in there respects.
Prominent among, the names is that of George Walton. Adam's, in his annals states that in the year 1661, George Walton claimed the land at Fort Point, on Great Island, and commenced building on it. He subsequently says that one of that name here was a long time President of the Provincial Council.
" John Amazeen, an ltalian." He is well known to have been an emigrant from Europe, to have settled here at an early period. His posterity is numerous in Newcastle."
"Mr. Randolph," in 1680, was appointed by the King, Collector of Customs for New England, and in 1683, he was Attorney General for the Province of New Hampshire.
" Captain Walter Barefoot," was Deputy Collector under Randolph, and subsequently captain of the fort, a judge, and President of the Council.
"Mr. Jaffrey's, a merchant." George Jaffrey was a prominent citizen in this place in 1684. His ancient mansion built nearly 200 years ago is still standing, and this review is being written in one of its chambers.
" One Mrs. Clark." None of this name now reside here, but tradition says that there was once a family of that name, the proprietors of Clark's Island, now so called, and that they resided at a little distance from the Walton estate.
The localities specified. The traditions of many aged persons concurrently testify that the estate of the Walton family was situated about one-quarter of a mile from Newcastle Bridge, on the north side of the road leading to Fort Constitution and now owned by the Locke family. Some of the inhabitants of advanced age recollect the mansion house, which was spacious - of two stories and with a gambrel roof; the exact spot is known from the remains of the cellar.
"The fence gate between him and his neighbor John Amazeen." The Walton estate adjoins that of Amazeen; the latter having been entailed, remains essentially as it was at that period, and is now owned by Capt. John Amazeen of the sixth generation from John the Italian.
"A Cove by his house." There is now a small and beautiful cove a few rods south of the ancient cellar of the Walton mansion.
"Great Bay" is a well known sheet of water, and a very prominent locality in Rockingham county.
"The Stone Fence between the Field and the lane." No road passed through the Walton estate till the Newcastle Bridge was built, about the year 1821. Previously the only passage way to Amazeen's and Walton's was a lane as is well remembered by the present inhabitants.
As regards authenticity of the narration, it may be readily allowed, in so far as relates to the unquestionable fact of a popular delusion concerning Witchcraft, which at that period extensively prevailed. All who are familiar with the history of New England in the 17th century, need not be informed of this fact. The occurrences detailed in this treatise, as absurd and ridiculous as they are, and, if allowed to be real, must be classed with the miraculous, yet are not more marvelous than those relating to the same subject as recorded in Bancroft's History of the United States, Felt's History of Salem, Barber's historical Notes on Andover, Mass., and Adams' Annals of this Settlement, under date 1656. It is well known that Rev. Joshua Moody, minister here at that period, stood almost alone in opposing this pernicious delusion, and was the means of saving the lives of some persons of eminence, accused of Witchcraft. And there are now among the older citizens here traditions of this "Lithobolia, or Stone-Throwing Demon " And it is said, that at a later period, gravel on the beach has been thrown at some persons, as was supposed, by invisible hands.
As regards the definite object of the writer and publisher of this Treatise, it may be no easy matter to decide. On supposition that the production is spurious, and got up by some wag as a hoax for the antiquary, it may be said of the author, he has outdone his own hero, "Lithobolia," the Stone-Throwing Demon himself.
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