Stone-throwing Devils

There is an odd recurrence among American legends of tales relating to

assaults of people or their houses by imps of darkness. The shadowy

leaguers of Gloucester, Massachusetts, kept the garrison of that place in

a state of fright until they were expelled from the neighborhood by a

silver bullet and a chaplain's prayers. Witchcraft was sometimes

manifested in Salem by the hurling of missiles from unseen hands. The

stone-throwing devil of Portsmouth is the subject of a tradition more

than two centuries of age, but, as the stone-thrower appears rather as an

avenger than as a gratuitously malignant spirit, he is ill treated in

having the name of devil applied to him. In this New Hampshire port lived

a widow who had a cabin and a bit of land of her own. George Walton, a

neighbor, wanted her land, for its situation pleased him, and as the old

woman had neither money nor influential friends he charged her with

witchcraft, and, whether by legal chicanery or mere force is not

recorded, he got his hands upon her property.

The charge of witchcraft was not pressed, because the man had obtained

what he wanted, but the poor, houseless creature laid a ban on the place

and told the thief that he would never have pleasure nor profit out of

it. Walton laughed at her, bade her go her way, and moved his family into

the widow's house. It was Sunday night, and the family had gone to bed,

when at ten o'clock there came a fierce shock of stones against the roof

and doors. All were awake in a moment. A first thought was that Indians

were making an assault, but when the occupants peered cautiously into the

moonlight the fields were seen to be deserted. Yet, even as they looked,

a gate was lifted from its hinges and thrown through the air.

Walton ventured out, but a volley of stones, seemingly from a hundred

hands, was delivered at his head, and he ran back to shelter. Doors and

windows were barred and shuttered, but it made no difference. Stones, too

hot to hold a hand upon, were hurled through glass and down the chimney,

objects in the rooms themselves were picked up and flung at Walton,

candles were blown out, a hand without a body tapped at the window, locks

and bars and keys were bent as if by hammer-blows, a cheese-press was

smashed against the wall and the cheese spoiled, hay-stacks in the field

were broken up and the hay tossed into branches of trees. For a long time

Walton could not go out at night without being assailed with stones.

Bell, book, candle, and witch-broth availed nothing, and it was many a

day before peace came to the Walton household.

In 1802 an epidemic of assault went through the Berkshire Hills. The

performance began in a tailor's shop in Salisbury, Connecticut, at eleven

of the clock on the night of November 2, when a stick and lumps of stone,

charcoal, and mortar were flung through a window. The moon was up, but

nothing could be seen, and the bombardment was continued until after

daylight. After doing some damage here the assailants went to the house

of Ezekiel Landon and rapped away there for a week. Persons were struck

by the missiles, and quantities of glass were destroyed. Nothing could be

seen coming toward the windows until the glass broke, and it was seldom

that anything passed far into a room. No matter how hard it was thrown,

it dropped softly and surely on the sill, inside, as if a hand had put it

there. Windows were broken on both sides of buildings at the same time,

and many sticks and stones came through the same holes in the panes, as

if aimed carefully by a gunner.

A hamlet that stood in Sage's ravine, on the east side of the Dome of the

Taconics, was assailed in the same way after nightfall. One house was

considerably injured. No causes for the performance were ever discovered,

and nobody in the place was known to have an enemy--at least, a malicious


At Whitmire Hill, Georgia, the spot where two murders were committed

before the war, is a headless phantom that comes thundering down on the

wayfarer on the back of a giant horse and vanishes at the moment when the

heart of his prospective victim is bumping against his palate. At times,

however, this spook prefers to remain invisible, and then it is a little

worse, for it showers stones and sods on the pedestrian until his legs

have carried him well beyond the phantom's jurisdiction.

The legends of buried treasure, instanced in another place, frequently

include assaults by the ghosts of pirates and misers on the daring ones

who try to resurrect their wealth.

Forty-seven years ago, in the township of St. Mary's, Illinois, two lads

named Groves and a companion named Kirk were pelted with snowballs while

on their way home from a barn where they had been to care for the stock

for the night. The evening had shut in dark, and the accuracy of the

thrower's aim was the more remarkable because it was hardly possible to

see more than a rod away. The snowballs were packed so tightly that they

did not break on striking, though they were thrown with force, and Kirk

was considerably bruised by them. Mr. Groves went out with a lantern, but

its rays lit up a field of untrodden snow, and there was no sound except

that made by the wind as it whistled past the barn and fences. Toward

dawn another inspection was made, and in the dim light the snowballs were

seen rising from the middle of a field that had not a footprint on it,

and flying toward the spectators like bullets. They ran into the field

and laid about them with pitchforks, but nothing came of that, and not

until the sun arose was the pelting stopped. Young Kirk, who was badly

hurt, died within a year.

The men of Sharon, Connecticut, having wheedled their town-site from the

Indians in 1754, were plagued thereafter by whoops and whistlings and the

throwing of stones. Men were seen in the starlight and were fired upon,

but without effect, and the disturbances were not ended until the Indians

had received a sum of money.

Without presuming to doubt the veracity of tradition in these matters, an

incident from the writer's boyhood in New England may be instanced. The

house of an unpopular gentleman was assailed--not in the ostentatious

manner just described, yet in a way that gave him a good deal of trouble.

Dead cats appeared mysteriously in his neighborhood; weird noises arose

under his windows; he tried to pick up letters from his doorstep that

became mere chalk-marks at his touch, so that he took up only splinters

under his nails. One night, as a seance was about beginning in his yard,

he emerged from a clump of bushes, flew in the direction of the

disturbance, laid violent hands on the writer's collar, and bumped his

nose on a paving-stone. Then the manifestations were discontinued, for

several nights, for repairs.

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