New England and witches go hand in hand. Some were arrested for their “powers” while others were revered. Many of these so-called minions of the devil were feared or respected well into the 19th century, and in some cases, the 20th century. In York and Wells, Maine, there are two famous yet true stories of witches.
Witch Trot Road would be a weird name for a thoroughfare in anywhere but New England. Reverend George Burroughs of Wells, who was accused of witchcraft during the height of the Salem Witch Trials. Burroughs pleaded his innocence and agreed to prove it in front of the Magistrate in Danvers. The Reverend suggested a shortcut that would bring them to Danvers much quicker. The men later believed that the witch enchanted them, then brought them to a dark forest bedeviled with evil throes of nature. When they came to a strange, high ridge, the sky grew dark and thunderclouds rumbled ominously above them.
The three lawmen became frightened out of their wits for they believed the man had summoned the powers of the devil against them. Lightning struck on all sides and the horses flew in fear, yet the shadow of Burroughs in the flashing light remained calm and steady in his journey. The party hurried through the hilly terrain as the storm grew worse. Their doom loomed in the hands of the accused witch as they hurried along what would later be called Witch Trot Road. Soon the storm subsided and Reverend Burroughs remained undaunted in his trek to Salem. Burroughs, who was arrested on April 30, 1692, was executed for witchcraft on August 19th of that same year.
The next account may be more familiar with readers of witchery and ghosts in New England.
Mary Nasson was a noted and respected herbalist in the community. It was because of her knowledge in healing with plants that she became known as the “White Witch.” Mary, born in 1745, grew up in the York Village where she met and married Samuel Nasson. They had six children: Peter, William, Susannah, Samuel, George, and Mary.
She was also a skilled exorcist who rid many houses of demons and infliction in her time. Her time was rather short though as Mary died on August 18, 1774 at the age of twenty-nine, less than a year after having their youngest child.
It is quite obvious she loved children as her ghost not only roams the burial ground, but the playground across the street as well. Many mothers have sworn seeing their children being pushed on the swings in the playground near the cemetery by an unseen force. When asked, the children say it is a nice young lady named Mary who is playing with them. Any local will tell you there is nothing to fear in the spirit of Mary Nasson.
Not only does her portrait adorn the top of her gravestone, there is a great granite slab between the headstone and foot stone. Legend has it that the townsfolk put it there after she died to keep the “White Witch” from rising out of her grave. There is speculation that all of the graves in the burial ground were covered with a large granite slab due to the fact that wandering livestock tended to dig up the interred. Some time later, a wall was erected to keep the animals out and the great slabs were taken from the graves and used to line the top of the wall. Hers was the only one left with a stone in far corner of the small graveyard. After her death, her husband moved to Sanford, Maine. Each family was in charge of the upkeep of their graves, but being so far away, he would not have been able to care for Mary’s grave, so the townsfolk left the stone there to keep the livestock from uprooting her remains. It is presently the only grave in New England of such nature.
By Thomas D'Agostino
In August 1923, Howard PHillips Lovecraft and his best friend, Clifford Martin Eddy took a stage from their hometown of Providence to the center of Chepachet, a small but thriving village in Glocester. It was their intention to discover the exact whereabouts of a hideous creature the locals knew only by the name of “IT.”
The monster lived in an area about halfway between the village and the Putnam Connecticut border in a place called Dark Swamp. According to legend, the sun’s warming rays never reached the ground of this murky piece of land. The trees, with their coarse, gnarly limbs, intermingled with each other creating a vast web of twisted branches making entrance or egress almost impossible. It was there that IT made its home, emerging from the swamp whenever it sought to feed. No other living creatures dared venture close to the habitat of IT instinctively knowing that doom awaited them there. The people of the area were careful to chop their wood, hunt and fish far from the boundaries of the swamp for fear they may be seen by IT and never live to tell of the ordeal.
Lovecraft and his traveling companion inquired about the creature with little result, save for some of the old timers who knew the legend from previous generations. The two trekked down Route 44, past Cady’s Tavern to where Elbow Rock Road and Route 94 sits. A few folks there knew some stories and were glad to share them. Unfortunately, Lovecraft and Mr. Eddy never found the lair or signs of the monster, but the trip did serve the two well. They would later use the legend and their experience in several of their stories.
How did they come to know of this creature in the first place? Perhaps it was the account by local pirate Albert Hicks, or a later account by Neil Hopkins that sparked their curiosity.
Albert Hicks was born in Foster, Rhode Island in 1820. His father was a farmer and it seemed he was to follow the same course but unfortunately for him, his wild and reckless demeanor steered him clear of any honest livelihood. At a young age, he turned to robbery, piracy and murder. While still working on his father’s farm, Hicks heard about some treasure Captain Kidd may have hidden near the Paine Farm. Some years later, Hicks and a few of his cronies returned to claim the ill-gained booty.
One moonless night, John Jepp, Ben Cobb, Ben Saunders, all of Glocester, and Hicks crept into the far field of the farm and began digging for the loot. Suddenly they were accosted by a terrible being Hicks later described as a large beast with eyes of fire the size of pewter bowls. When it breathed, flames came out of its mouth and nostrils scorching the brush as it passed. It was as large as a cow with dark wings on each side and spiral horns like a ram protruding from its head. Its feet were much like a ducks but measured a foot and a half across. The body was covered with scales the size of clam shells that rattled as the beast moved along. The “thing” had light emanating from its sides like that of a lantern. Even before they saw the beast, they felt its presence near them as their olfactories became consumed with the smell of burning wool. The beast came out of nowhere and stood before them. All four men dropped their picks and shovels and ran in fright, never to return. Albert Hicks was later convicted of murder and piracy in New York and hanged for the crime, being one of the last New England pirates to be executed for such vocation.
The next account appeared in The Evening Hour, January 15, 1896. Neil Hopkins of Glocester, RI was walking home from his work in Putnam, Connecticut when in the darkest portion of the road, a strange beast appeared in front of him. As Hopkins took flight, the beast began to chase him. He could not discern exactly what the creature was, but confirmed that it was some supernatural beast that lives in the forest near Dark Swamp where the chase originated.
Hopkins later told neighbors that the monster was as large as an elephant but with no tail and, “seemed to be all a-fire and had a hot breath.” The creature also gave off a metallic sound as it ran described as “steel against steel.”
The strange beast chased Hopkins for a short distance before bounding back into the woods. Mr. Hopkins could here it breaking branches and crunching twigs as it lumbered off into the void. The people of the village were sure it was the same creature that scared Hicks and his men a half century before. Is the beast called IT still lurking in the woods of West Glocester? There are some who still believe that something eternally resides in the area of Dark Swamp, waiting for an unwary traveler to enter its domain.