October 13, 2015 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)
It is fascinating to watch the gradual evolution of various odd and curious tales from the past be repurosed by succeeding generations of occultist, paranormal theorists, conspiracy theorists, etc. If we imagine a story, a bit of Fortean matter if you will, as distinctive items of evidence, how and to what extent some item might realigned and adjusted to better serve the wider cultural phenomena which has absorbed, but not wholly digested, it then becomes a useful tool for exploring these phenomena and beliefs. In other words, if we watch how a belief digests a story, we know more about the belief, even if the story is utter nonsense.
With that in mind, today we present a strange case of spectral Frenchmen and Indians which appeared in and around Gloucester (MA) in the summer of 1692. For Mather and his contemporaries, this was clearly a demonic attack at the height of a supernatural campaign against the God-fearing people of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. To 20th century UFOlogist, this was potentially a misinterpreted Close Encounter, a Colonial Hopkinsville. To modern eyes, this is a case of mass hysteria.
While most references to this event go by the account given in Charles Skinner’s Myths and Legends in Our Own Lands (1896) or Samuel Adams Drake’s New England Legends and Folklore (1883), I decided to go back to Cotton Mather and Rev. Emerson’s letter describing these events which Mather provides in his Magnalia Christin Americana (1702). I will humbly point out that these events occurred in the days leading up to Midsummer… so I’m not saying its fairies, but…
A FAITHFUL ACCOUNT OF MANY WONDERFUL AND SURPRISING THINGS,
Which happened in the town of Gloucester in the year 1692.
Ebenezer Babson, about midsummer, in the year 1692, with the rest of his family, almost every night heard a noise, as if persons were going and running about his house. But one night being abroad late, at his return home, he saw two men come out of his door, and run from the end of the house into the corn. But those of the family told him there had been no person at all there: whereupon he got his gun, and went out in pursuit after them, and coming a little distance from the house, he saw the two men start up from behind a log, and run into a little swamp, saying to each other, “The man of the house is come now, else we might have taken the house.” So he heard nor saw no more of them.
Upon this, the whole family got up, and went with all speed to a garrison near by; and being just got into the garrison, they heard men stamping round the garrison: Whereupon Babson took his gun and ran out, and saw two men again running down an hill into a swamp. The next night but one, the said Babson going toward a fresh meadow, saw two men which looked like Frenchmen, one of them having a bright gun upon his back, and both running a great pace towards him, which caused him to make the best of his way to the garrison; where being come, several heard a noise, as if men were stamping and running not far from the garrison. Within a night or two after this, the persons in the garrison heard a noise, as if men were throwing stones against the
barn. Not long after this, Babson, with John Brown, saw three men, about a gun-shot off the garrison, which they endeavoured to shoot at, but were disappointed by their running to and fro from the corn into the bushes. They were seen two or three nights together: but though the above said strove to shoot at them, they could never attain it. On July 14, Babson and Brown, with the rest of the men in the garrison, saw, within gun-shot, half a dozen men; whereupon all the men but one made haste out of the garrison, marching towards them. Babson presently overtook two of them, which run out of the bushes, and coming close to them, he presented his gun at them, and his gun missing fire, the two men returned into the bushes. Babson then called unto the other persons, which were on the other side of the swamp, and upon his call they made answer, “Here they are! here they are!” Babson then running to meet them, saw three men walk softly out of the swamp by each others side; the middlemost having on a white waistcoat. So being within two or three rod of them, he shot, and as soon as his gun was off, they all fell down. Babson then running to his supposed prey, cried out unto his companions, whom he heard on the other side of the swamp, and said, “he had kill’d three! he had kill’d three!” But coming almost unto them, they all rose up, and one of them shot at him, and hearing the bullet whist by him, he ran behind a tree, and loaded his gun, and seeing them lye behind a log, he crept toward them again, telling his companions, “they were here!” So his companions came up to him, and they all ran directly to the log, with all speed; but before they got thither, they saw them start up, and run every man his way; one of them run into the corn, whom they pursued, and hemm’d in; and Babson seeing him coming toward himself, shot at him as he was getting over the fence, and saw him fall off the fence on the ground, but when he came to the spot he could not find him. So they all searched the corn; and as they were search- ing, they heard a great discoursing in the swamp, but could not understand what they said; for they spoke in an unknown tongue. Afterwards, looking out from the garrison, they saw several men skulking among the corn and bushes, but could not get a shot at them.
The next morning, just at day-break, they saw one man come out of the swamp not far from the garrison, and stand close up against the fence, within gun-shot. Whereupon Isaac Prince, with a long gun, shot at him with swan-shot, and in a moment he was gone out of sight; they saw him no more. Upon this, Babson went to carry news to the harbour; and being about half a mile in his way thither, he heard a gun go off, and heard a bullet whiss close by his ear, which cut off a pine bush just by him, and the bullet lodg’d in an hemlock- tree. Then looking about he saw four men running towards him, one with a gun in his hand, and the other with guns on their shoulder. So he ran into the bushes, and turning about, shot at them, and then ran away and saw them no more. About six men returned from the harbour with him, searching the woods as they went; and they saw where the bullet had cut off the pine-bush, and where it was lodg’d in the hemlock-tree, and they took the bullet out, which is still to be seen. When they were come to the garrison, they went to look for the tracks of the strange men that had been seen, and saw several tracks; and whilst they were looking on them, they saw one which look’d like an Indian, having on a blue coat, and his hair ty’d up behind, standing by a tree, and looking on them. But as soon as they spake to each other, he ran into a swamp, and they after him, and one of them shot at him, but to no purpose. One of them also saw another, which look’d like a Frenchman, but they quickly lost the sight of him.
July 15. Ezekiel Day being in company with several others, who were ordered to scout the woods, when they came to a certain fresh meadow, two miles from any house, at some distance from the said meadow, he saw a man which he apprehended to be an Indian, cloathed in blue; and as soon as he saw him start up and run away, he shot at him; whereupon he saw another rise up a little way off, who also run with speed; which, together with the former, were quickly out of sight; and though himself, together with his companions, diligently sought after them, they could not find them. The same day John Hammond, with several other persons, scouting in the woods, saw another of these “strange men,” having on a blue shirt and white breeches, and something about his head; but could not overtake him.
July 17. Three or four of these “unaccountable troublers” came near the garrison; but they could not get a shot at them. Richard Dolliver also, and Benjamin Ellary, creeping down an hill upon discovery, saw several men come out of an orchard, walking backward and forward, and striking with a stick upon John Row’s deserted house, (the noise of which was heard by others at a considerable distance;) Ellary counting them to be eleven in all; Dolliver shot at the midst of them, where they stood thickest, and immediately they dispersed themselves, and were quickly gone out of sight.
July 18. Which was the time that Major Appleton sent about sixty men from Ipswich, for the town’s assistance under these inexplicable alarms which they had suffered night and day, for about a fortnight together; John Day testifies, that he went in company with Ipswich and Gloucester forces to a garrison about two miles and a half from the town; and news being brought in that guns went off in a swamp not far from the garrison, some of the men, with himself, ran to discover what they could; and when he came to the head of the swamp, he saw a man with a blue shirt and bushy black hair run out of the swamp, and into the woods; he ran after him with all speed, and came several times within shot of him : but the woods being thick, he could not obtain his design of shooting him; at length he was at once gone out of sight; and when afterwards he went to look for his track, he could find none, though it were a low miry place that he ran over.
About July 25, Babson went into the woods after his cattel, and saw three men stand upon a point of rocks which look’d toward the sea. So he crept among the bushes till he came within forty yards of them: and then presented his gun at them, and snapt, but his gun miss’d fire, and so it did above a dozen times, till they all three came up towards him, walking a slow pace, one of them having a gun upon his back. Nor did they take any more notice of him, than just to give him a look; though he snapt his gun at them all the while they walked toward, him, and by him: neither did they quicken their pace at all, but went into a parcel of bushes, and he saw them no more. When he came home he snapt his gun several times, sometimes with but a few corns of powder, and yet it did not once miss fire. After this, there occurred several strange things; but now, concluding they were but spectres, they took little further notice of them.
[Several other testimonies, all of the same effect with the foregoing, my friend had added, which for brevity I omit: and only add, the most considerable of these passages were afterward sworn before one of their majesties’ council.]
Reverend and truly honoured sir: According to your request, I have collected a brief account of the occurrences remark’d in our town the last year. Some of them are very admirable things, and yet no less true than strange, if we may believe the assertions of credible persons. Tho’ because of great haste it is a rough draught, yet there is nothing written but what the persons mentioned would, if duly called, confirm the truth of by oath.
I might have given you a larger account; only several who saw and heard some of the most remarkable things, are now beyond sea. However, I hope the substance of what is written will be enough to satisfie all rational persons that Glocester was not alarumed last summer for above a fortnight together by real French and Indians, but that the devil and his agents were the cause of all the molestation which at this time befel the town; in the name of whose inhabitants I would take upon me to entreat your earnest prayers to the Father of mercies, that those apparitions may not prove the sad omens of some future and more horrible molestations to them.
Sir, your very humble servant, [Rev.] J[ohn]. E[merson].
May 19, 1697/8