The Devil of Great Island: Witchcraft and Conflict in Early New England [NOOK Book]

Overview


In 1682, ten years before the infamous Salem witch trials, the town of Great Island, New Hampshire, was plagued by mysterious events: strange, demonic noises; unexplainable movement of objects; and hundreds of stones that rained upon a local tavern and appeared at random inside its walls. Town residents blamed what they called "Lithobolia" or "the stone-throwing devil." In this lively account, Emerson Baker shows how witchcraft hysteria overtook one town and spawned copycat incidents elsewhere in New England, ...
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The Devil of Great Island: Witchcraft and Conflict in Early New England

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Overview


In 1682, ten years before the infamous Salem witch trials, the town of Great Island, New Hampshire, was plagued by mysterious events: strange, demonic noises; unexplainable movement of objects; and hundreds of stones that rained upon a local tavern and appeared at random inside its walls. Town residents blamed what they called "Lithobolia" or "the stone-throwing devil." In this lively account, Emerson Baker shows how witchcraft hysteria overtook one town and spawned copycat incidents elsewhere in New England, prefiguring the horrors of Salem. In the process, he illuminates a cross-section of colonial society and overturns many popular assumptions about witchcraft in the seventeenth century.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Baker, who teaches history at Salem State College, examines a witchcraft accusation made a decade before the more famous Salem outbreak. In June 1682, someone showered stones at a Great Island, N.H., tavern owned by a Quaker named George Walton. When the stone-throwing continued through the summer, Walton accused his neighbor, widow Hannah Jones, of witchcraft. The neighbor, in turn, charged that Walton was a wizard. Baker helpfully connects the Great Island event to other stone-throwing episodes in early New England, and he uncovers some of the social factors-including town politics, a property dispute, and struggles between Walton and his servants-that lurked underneath the Great Island drama. His examination of anti-Quaker sentiment is especially nuanced. Baker is widely read in the academic literature on witchcraft; in fact, his analysis is mostly derivative, leaning heavily on works by John Demos, Carol Karlsen, Mary Beth Norton and others. Baker's use of anachronistic analogies like "the witchcraft accusation... might be seen as the seventeenth-century equivalent of 'playing the race card' " do more to obscure than illuminate. Still, colonial history buffs will appreciate this account of the strange happenings in Great Island. Maps. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A weird early-17th-century occurrence of "lithobolia, or the stone-throwing devil" in a religiously fraught area of coastal New Hampshire ten years before Massachusetts was gripped by witchcraft panic. Baker (History/Salem State Coll.), who has done his research almost too thoroughly, frequently gets overwhelmed by an abundance of material as he surveys the many instances of alleged witchcraft that erupted in colonial America. Faced with such strange events as showers of stones coming out of nowhere, people pointed accusing fingers at suspicious neighbors, usually widows or women without men to protect them. In the case of Great Island, N.H., the tavern of prosperous Quaker landowner George Walton was considerably damaged by unexplained barrages of stones over the course of several months in 1682. Litigious Walton promptly accused his elderly neighbor Hannah Jones, with whom he had been involved in a bitter 30-year property dispute. He called her a witch, while she in turn dubbed him a wizard. Long-simmering tensions emerged. Walton ran an unruly tavern and attracted riffraff on the small island, where land was at a premium and owners guarded their plots jealously. He treated his servants badly. He had joined the Quakers, a radical minority excoriated by other Protestant sects, and even held meetings at his tavern. Walton had close ties to the royalist Mason family, which aimed to wrest control of New Hampshire from the colonists' control. Worst of all, he was against the town's desire to form a parish separate from Portsmouth and hire its own minister. "This led some devout Great Islanders to take out their frustration on the Waltons, the family whose presence seemed to mock their desireto maintain a godly community," Baker asserts. He studies copycat cases in the surrounding regions and overall does a fine job of bringing to life a little-known aspect of the tumultuous Puritan era, even if all the detail occasionally makes it a somewhat bewildering. Dark, heavy-going and minutely researched-not for everyone, but history buffs will enjoy it.
From the Publisher
"Does a fine job of bringing to life a little-known aspect of the tumultuous Puritan era."

Kirkus Reviews

"Enthralling . . . Baker's welcome account throws a strong light on an American witchcraft episode that has not hitherto received the attention it clearly deserves."

The Historian

"With deft insights, Tad Baker illuminates a supernatural mystery from seventeenth-century New England. Thoroughly researched and clearly written, The Devil of Great Island leaves no stone unturned, revealing a popular culture of marvels and wonders. And it offers a gripping tale well told."

—Alan Taylor, author of American Colonies

"Thoroughly fascinating and fascinatingly thorough, Baker's lively narrative of a witchcraft episode in early New Hampshire exposes the many reasons why a 'stone-throwing devil' attacked George Walton and his tavern. In learning about life on Great Island, at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, readers also learn much about a part of New England that does not fit our standard Puritan stereotypes and thus about a diverse aspect of our collective past that will now become better known."

—Mary Beth Norton, author of In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692

"The witch trials of seventeenth-century New England have been extensively worked over by historians, and yet, as this fascinating book shows, there are new insights to be gained by moving the focus beyond Massachusetts and the Puritans. In this meticulously researched case study, Emerson W. Baker not only makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of supernatural beliefs in colonial North America, but also weaves an enjoyable and accessible story that leads the reader up to the events at Salem."

—Dr. Owen Davies, author of Popular Magic: Cunning-Folk in English History

"Emerson Baker combines his talents as historian of early New England and historical archaeologist to untangle the web of personal conflicts, property disputes, and tensions political and religious that underlay the events on Great Island. The Devil of Great Island will surely take its place among the must-read books on witchcraft in seventeenth-century New England."

—James Leamon, author of Revolution Downeast: The War for American Independence in Maine

"In Baker’s expert hands, this long ignored witchcraft episode yields important insight into the bizarre imagination and rich social diversity of late 17th century northern New England. Here we encounter the contrasting beliefs of Quakers, Puritans, Baptists, Antinomians, and Godless fishermen as well as the clashing political interests of Native Americans, Europeans, Puritans, and Royalists. This masterful narrative of religious and social pluralism in early New England helps to refocus our vision of the foundations of America and also puts other New England witchcraft events into useful perspective."

—Benjamin C. Ray, Director, Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive (http://etext.virginia.edu/salem/witchcraft), University of Virginia

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230606838
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/2/2007
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.93 (d)
  • File size: 868 KB

Meet the Author


Emerson W. Baker teaches history at Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts. He lives in York, Maine.
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Table of Contents

The First Stone Is Cast

• Evil Things

• The Waltons

• The Neighbors from Hell

• Fences and Neighbors

• Neighbors and Witches

• Great Island’s Great Matter

• The Mason Family Stake their Claim

• The Spread of Lithobolia

• To Salem

• Beyond Salem

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