Monday, October 31, 2011

Mary Hallet- the Witch of Eastham

 I love Halloween. I obviously love Halloween in New England because I can’t think of a more gothic, spooky, mysterious, and haunted place. There are hundreds of great New England ghost stories that come to mind. However, the story of Goody Hallet, the pirate Sam Bellamy, and the wreck of the Whydah is local and its one of my favorites. 

I have not looked fully into this story yet, and I might do a re-post in the future when I take a trip out to Eastham and Wellfleet. So, today, I’ll give you the short and sweet in honor of Halloween. 

Mary (or Maria) “Goody” Hallet lived in Eastham in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. Records are still unclear when she was born and who her family actually was. However, at least the legend states that Mary was a very attractive blond. 

When she was just 15 or 16 she met a local pirate who often frequented Cape waters by the name of “Black Sam” Bellamy. Quickly Sam and Maria seemed to fall in love. For a time, it seemed like a classic love story, the village beauty and the local pirate. 
Sam Bellamy's wax statue at the Pirate Museum
However, as pirates do, Sam soon sailed away. He promised he would return to wed Mary once some business in the Caribbean was taken care of and he had earned his fortune as a treasure hunter. 

In just a couple months it soon became clear that Sam had left Mary with child. Mary concealed the pregnancy, and when she eventually gave birth, it is said she killed the child. When the rest of the villagers of Eastham found this out, they brought Mary to the local meetinghouse to inform her that she was no longer welcome in town. In fact, they forced her leave and move to Wellfleet. 

Mary Hallet became a recluse. She lived in a small shack in the Marconi area of Wellfleet, which still bears the nickname Goody Hallet Meadow. Some say she even sold her soul to the Devil.

At this point, the story spins into a hundred different versions, so I’ll give the one I have heard most often from books and locals. 

Mary Hallet was avoided from this point on. The villagers believed she was a witch. People were even forbidden to speak to her. Some say she was pining away for Sam Bellamy, and some say she was biding her time for revenge. 

In April 1717 Black Sam Bellamy returned to Eastham with his ship the Whydah. Unfortunately, he returned just in time to experience one of those classic Cape storms. His ship was wrecked off the coast of Wellfleet and the entire crew was lost, including Sam. 

The night of the storm the villagers said they saw Mary Hallet standing on the bluffs, waving her hands, and casting a curse into the storm. Apparently she had summoned the storm to kill Sam. 

However, Sam’s body was never recovered from the wreck, so some say the two did escape and live their lives together. Yet, many others say that Mary recovered Sam’s treasure from the wreck of the Whydah and buried it somewhere in Wellfleet, where it remains to this day. 

The legend says that the villagers were so horrified by what they had seen Mary doing that they got their torches and pitchforks and chased Mary into White Cedar Swamp, where she died. Mary Hallet’s ghost is said to still wander the land around Wellfleet known by many different names like Lucifer Land and the Devil’s Pasture. The land is currently part of the National Seashore. 

The pirate ship, the Whydah, was recovered in 1984 off the coast of Cape Cod. A life sized replica and tons more information can be seen at the Whydah Pirate Museum in Provincetown. 

I hope you enjoyed the story. Have a great Halloween. If you are interested in more about Mary Hallet and Sam Bellamy, just take a look at the following video. As I said, there will be further posts of the history behind this story in the future when I have the time to look at it fully.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Birthday Statue of Liberty

Today the Statue of Liberty is 125 years old. It dedicated on October 28, 1886, as a gift from the people of France. Although I find that people often have an anti-French point of view (for no apparent reason), one should remember that it was France who helped us win the American Revolution, so we still probably kinda owe them. The Statue is not really Yankee, but that's all perspective as we know.

In celebration of the Statue's birthday five webcams have been installed on the torch, an area which has been closed to the public since 1916. These pics can be seen at:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Forgotten Grave - North Truro

I just came across this video this afternoon and I thought it was pretty cool. I have been bouncing around cemeteries the last couple of weeks for the Battle of Falmouth articles, but I kinda wish I had to go on a real adventure to find the graves I was looking for. This one sounds awesome. Anyone up for a hike?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Battle of Falmouth- Part 1

The Battle of Falmouth by F.L. Gifford
When one thinks of the sites of significant battles in the history of our country, one does not generally think of Cape Cod. In fact, for most of the extensive history of warfare in this country, Cape Cod has been spared. Certainly the citizens of Cape towns and villages participated and served in combat, but the Cape itself has hardly been touched. This is even true for conflicts like the King Philip’s War and the French and Indian War. The sites of major battles were generally further north and west.

However, during the American Revolution, Cape Cod found itself consistently plagued by Great Britain due to its location. Specifically, there were several raids led by the British against Cape and Island farms during the War years of 1776 – 1779. Several times Cape Cod militias and British soldiers engaged in actual combat. Potentially the largest of these engagements occurred in the Vineyard Sound on April 3, 1779. The conflict that would become known as the Battle of Falmouth would place Cape Cod at the front lines of a battle for control of a developing country and culture, and would transform a local man named Joseph Dimmick from an ordinary minuteman into a hero.

Discontent with Great Britain seemed to start early on Cape Cod. In 1686 the British government wanted to gain greater control over rebellious Yankees in New England. Parliament decided to abolish the structure of colonies and colonial governments. In its place they erected the Dominion of New England, a consolidated New England government headed by one Sir Edmund Andros.

Edmund Andros instituted new taxes as a means of keeping New Englanders in hand. According to Jim Coogan and Jack Sheedy in “Cape Odd”, one of the more offensive Cape specific taxes was the crown’s new ownership claim on all “drift whales,” those whales which washed ashore.

These types of offenses and others led the West Barnstable native and later patriot, James Otis Jr., to coin the phrase “Taxation without Representation is Tyranny.” This phrase became a rallying cry for the rebelling colonies.

Cape Patriot James Ois Jr

Like the rest of New England, the Cape contained its fair mix of Tories (loyalist) and rebels. However, Cape Codders still took part in some of the more well known acts of rebellion. Several Cape men even participated in the Tea Party of 1773. In addition, at least one outspoken loyalist was tarred and feathered in the village of Barnstable.

In May of 1774, Parliament created the Massachusetts Government act in a further attempt to control New England. This act stated that members of the Massachusetts Governor’s Council would no longer be elected by the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Instead, they would be appointed and dismissed at the command of King George III.

This royal act was one of the last straws leading to open rebellion. The First Continental Congress, containing 12 of the 13 rebel colonies (Damn you Rhode Island), met in September of 1774. Directly following this, the town of Falmouth started to become directly involved in the resistance.

In an October meeting of the same year, the town decided to form its own Committee of Correspondence. These Committees were being founded throughout all 13 colonies and would act as local and colony wide shadow governments, operating secretly under the official British government. In addition, they would be instrumental in distributing rebel information and propaganda throughout the colonies.

Falmouth seemed to be a leader in the colonial rebel movement, as the Massachusetts Provincial Congress (the Mass rebel government) also met for the first time in October of 1774.

According to “Three Lectures on the Early History of the Town of Falmouth,” by Charles and Edward Jenkins, the town’s Committee of Correspondence decided to secure arms and ammunition for all men from age 16 to 60, which was paid for out of the town’s own budget.

Falmouth had begun to realize how vulnerable it was going to be during a colonial conflict with Great Britain. As the Cape had some of the best harbors at the time and was surrounded by many small islands in the Atlantic, the risk of being blockaded and starved was serious. In fact British warships had already been seen in the Vineyard Sound and had landed on the Elizabethan Islands by 1774.

On April 19, 1775, things began to get really ugly. British troops had engaged Massachusetts militias at the Battle of Lexington/Concord while attempting to capture colonial weapons stores and rebel leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Falmouth received word of the event and immediately began to prepare to protect themselves.

The town raised a company of minutemen under the command of a Major in the local militia named Joseph Dimmick. Major Dimmick was entrusted with training the Falmouth minutemen at least two days a week until they were ready for combat.

According to the “Early History of Naushon Island,” by Amelia Forbes Emerson, that same year the British ship, Faulkland, landed in Tarpaulin Cove on Naushon Island. The Captain of the Faulkland harassed and threatened the inhabitants of the island, specifically one Elisha Nye. The men of the Faulkland confiscated 200 sheep, destroyed a portion of the Naushon’s boats, and did their best to intimidate the islanders into submission.

Tarpaulin Cove, Naushon Island- by Joseph McGurl

Nye petitioned congress for aid and in return congress ordered that a group of able bodied men be made ready to protect the livestock and people of the Elizabethan Islands from further British harassment.

The raids on Naushon continued. The defenders were often left on the Island to fend for themselves against British warships. During the winter of 1776 to 1778 the Island was raided time and again. Finally in spring of 1778, only five defenders remained. The British landed and made a clean sweep of the livestock and provisions of known rebels. The properties of the many Tories on the Island were left untouched or were paid for. The Island was now defenseless and Falmouth was in easy striking distance.

In 1776, according to Charles and Edward Jenkins, Falmouth officially decided to side with the choice of the Continental Congress; they declared independence from Great Britain. To me this seems like a huge decision. Falmouth was already in a vulnerable position, sticking right out into the Atlantic. In addition, there were some entire colonies who refused to side with the Continental Congress. Falmouth was certainly rebellious.

In 1779, things finally came to blows in Falmouth. For months British ships had been running low on supplies. They often used Naushon Island’s Tarpaulin Cove as a staging ground for raids on Cape farms and livestock. However, the people were not necessarily defenseless. In return for these raids, Joseph Dimmick often led counter raids on British ships. He and his men were often successful in regaining stolen Falmouth property. When they weren’t, they were successful in aggravating the British.

As Dimmick was establishing a reputation for piracy of sorts, the British were becoming more and more annoyed by the resistance of Falmouth’s militia. Yet, it was one final incident that seemed to push the sentiment from annoyed to violent.

The British had once again run short of supplies. Seeing an opportunity, they landed a small group of soldiers at Little Harbor in Woods Hole on the evening of April 1, 1779. Although there had been a night watch in Falmouth posted during the war years, the British were able to avoid being seen. Using a local guide, they raided the farm of Ephraim and Manassah Swift, rounded up twelve head of cattle, and drove them back to their boats at Little Harbor, where they killed them. This is the modern location of the Steamship Authority and the Coast Guard in Woods Hole.

The British Raid at Little Harbor- by F.L. Gifford

Charles and Edward Jenkins relate an interesting tale, which they state can not be verified as history. As they tell it, Manassah Swift’s wife was well known for making delicious cheese. Apparently, the local guide informed the soldiers of the quality cheese, and the soldiers wanted to steal some. While most of the British were busy driving the cattle back to the beach, two soldiers entered the Swift home.

Manassah’s wife was home alone with the children. She appealed to the soldiers, saying that her house was undefended, and gentlemen soldiers should not wish to take advantage of a helpless women (yeah right). The soldiers asked for the cheese, and Mrs. Swift informed them that there was not enough for her own family. The soldiers actually offered to purchase the cheese. Mrs. Swift informed them that they would not leave with a crumb. The soldiers, now annoyed, stabbed two wheels of cheese with the end of their bayonets and walked out the door. However, Mrs. Manassah was not a Yankee to be messed with. According to the authors:
"This dastardly act raised the good woman’s wrath. She stationed herself at the door and as they retreated she grasped the cheese and . . commenced with her tongue such a well directed fire as completely to subdue them. She called them a valiant set indeed – fitted for just two things, to rob hen roosts and make hen-pecked husbands."
As the story goes, Mrs. Swift drove off the soldiers with insults and actually kept her wheels of cheese. I don’t know if this story is fact, but it does illustrate a reality. The British soldiers were not often out for blood when it came to the colonists of New England. Certainly they stole from them, but they often purchased just as much. They did kill colonists, but often only did so in combat or when attacked. Mrs. Swift might have been lucky in that regard.

As the rest of the soldiers were busy killing the stolen cattle on the beach back at Little Harbor, they were ambushed by a group of minutemen led by Joseph Dimmick. The local militia harassed them so badly that the British were forced to abandon their stolen provisions and return to their ships hungry.

Little Harbor Oct 2011
Site of the British Raid 1779

Litte Harbor Oct 2011
You can see Naushon Island in the distance
The British had apparently had enough. They were annoyed by the incident in Woods Hole and fed up with the resistant locals. On their return to their fleet, they decided to burn the town of Falmouth to the ground on April 3.

As this article became too long, I will post it in two parts. Hope you enjoyed it!!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What Kind of American English Do You Speak?

I thought this little quiz was amusing, and I guess I agree with the results. I don't have much of a regional accent. I don't find Cape Codders to have the same type of Massachusetts accent that can be found in most of the eastern part of the state. Its definitely not even close to the Boston accent so many actors try to imitate on those "I'm wicked  tough because I'm from Boston" type of movies.

My fiancé does have more of the classic Boston accent. She does drop her R's, but she'll  also often say something like, "I was having lunch with Linder and she . . ."

Linder? What's that? Is that one of Santa's reindeer?

I still don't understand the rules regarding when she adds the "R" onto a word that ends with "A." It seems to be when the "A" ending word is directly followed by a vowel sound. Is that typical of a Boston accent?

Her accent is not quite as strong as this young lady's though.

In my life I've never actually heard anyone speak with that classic New England twang. I've been to Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, but no one there seems to talk like I imagine the classic Yankee accent. I know I already posted a speech showcasing Quint from Jaws, but his monologue about the USS Indianapolis is a perfect example of the accent I'm loking for, plus the speech is awesome.

Has anyone ever heard this accent from a real person who is not actually an English actor faking a New England accent? Maybe it just doesn't really exist.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Devil's Footprint - Norton, Ma

The Devil's Footprint

I think its safe to say that New Englanders have always had a weird love hate relationship with Lucifer. Seriously, even John Adams, who could probably be considered the prototype Yankee, had a dog named Satan. I’ve always wondered what that was all about. To old school New Englanders the Devil was not simply some theoretical evil being. Like Medieval Europeans, colonial Yankees believed God and Satan were forces that acted on their daily lives. This belief was so ingrained in the culture that people died and were killed for it. If these Yankees were to be believed, Satan showed up all over the place in colonial New England. Settlers even incorporated some pre-Columbian Native traditions into their Christian perspective, labeling Native American spirits like Hockomock as Lucifer. Hey look, they’d say, Satan was even here before we were.

Apparently, Satan not only hung around in New England frequently, but he is supposed to have left his footprints here too. In fact, he appears to have left quite a lot of them. Sites bearing the name “The Devil’s Footprint” appear in Ipswich, Easton, Seekonk, Holliston, and Rochester to name just a few. There are even a couple footprints in Maine and more well outside of New England. However, the most well known in my area is the Devil’s Footprint in Norton, Ma.

I was lucky that my fiancé was going to pick up her wedding dress in North Attleboro last weekend, so I tagged along with her (don’t worry, I didn’t see the dress) and she agreed to stop by the site where Lucifer left his mark in Norton. This site and the legend that goes along with it are fascinating. One of the reasons why I wanted to explore this legend is because a lot of the history actually checks out. Not only that, but it’s a great example of the Yankee/Satan romance.

According to Weird Massachusetts, this particular story about Satan begins with the prominent Leonard family of Taunton and Norton, Ma. As the tale is told, the Leonards were nobility in England and Wales. When the originator of the line, Thomas Leonard, arrived in colonial Massachusetts sometime around 1660, he was apparently focused on gaining the status of nobility in New England as well. He, in turn, passed this need onto his own sons, who also sought fame, fortune, and power. His third son, George Leonard, took this quest very seriously.
The Honorable Major George Leonard
As the legend goes, George was born in Massachusetts in 1671, when he was a young man it is said that he was riding in the forests of New England when he met a tall man in black. The stranger had a proposition for George. If George would be willing to part with ownership of his soul, he would make George rich and powerful for as long as he lived. The stranger said he would come again to collect his due upon George’s death. Apparently George agreed to this deal, which seems like a terrible idea. Folklore tells us that George Leonard mysteriously and suddenly became one of the most powerful and influential men in the area. He became a judge, a major in the local militia, he married the beautiful Anna Tisdale, and built the famous Leonard Mansion in Norton. Clearly the tall, dark, man in black was Satan.
George Leonard Mansion circa 1960

The folklorist, Daniel Boudillion, and numerous other sources on this legend make it clear that this deal had one little snag. Satan and George never agreed on how long he would actually live for. George died in 1716, at the age of 45.

George’s body was laid out in an upstairs room of the Leonard Mansion. During the night a horrible noise was heard from the bedroom containing George’s body. Anna ran into the room to find she was suddenly and unexpectedly entertaining a famous guest, Satan. Lucifer snatched up George’s body under his arm and launched himself out the nearest window. The Devil and his burden landed on a large rock nearby the mansion, planting his feet so hard they left his footprints embedded on the rock's surface. They can be seen even today. Satan and George disappeared into the New England night and at least George was never heard from again.

Anna and the Leonard family still continued with the funeral, as quickly as possible it seems. As the body was missing, they filled George’s coffin with an oak log. Some sources indicate that George’s original contract, signed in blood of course, was left behind in the empty bedroom. These sources say that Anna quickly destroyed it. So I obviously never found a digital copy of that particular document.
The Devil's own footprint.
I guess I expected a hoof
If you were interested, these footprints can be seen on a large rock near the parking lot of the JC Solmonese Elementary school in Norton. The school has an entrance off North Worcester Street. The area on which George’s original mansion sat is now called Chartley Corner Plaza. It sits on the north corner of West Main Street and North Worcester Street. The jump between the rock containing the footprint and the area of the former mansion is substantial. Google Earth shows a distance of 132 yards. This would be an impossible human jump, but if you already survived a fall from Heaven, its probably no big deal.
The former Leonard Mansion
How the mighty have fallen.

As I said, some of this history actually checks out. The New England Historical and Genealogical Society (NEHGS) and several other genealogical resources have a good deal of information on the Leonard family, which was a prominent and powerful family in Taunton and Norton between the 16th and 18th centuries.

First, George Leonard of Norton was absolutely a real person. According to the NEHGS and Taunton Vital Records, he was born in Raynham, Ma in April of 1671. He was certainly a prominent and influential businessman. I would argue that his actual life and the lives of his family are just as interesting as the legend of his supposed deal with the Devil.  In addition, his meteoric rise to wealth and power is not much of a mystery. In fact the power of the entire family had less to do with Satan and more to do with old fashioned Yankee work ethic, entrepreneurial foresight, and business savvy.

The Leonard family line (at least in New England) seems to actually start with James Leonard, who was born in England or Wales in 1620. He arrived sometime before 1650 with his son Thomas to the area of Providence, Rhode Island. Like his decedents would, James became involved in the budding and profitable iron industry in New England. He would later be called the “Ironmaster of Taunton.” 

Though they labored originally at the Iron works in Saugus, James was soon invited to the Taunton Ironworks to become master workmen, a position which James held for the rest of his life. James erected several hearths and forges in the Taunton area, which he passed on to his sons, one of which was Thomas Leonard.

James was such a prominent citizen of the area that he actually befriended the Wampanoag Sachem Massasoit and his young son Metacom, the man who would later be called King Philip by the English colonists. I swear, when it comes to New England history and folklore, it always comes back to Massasoit and Metacom. Its like Six Degrees to Kevin Bacon with these gentlemen. When relations turned ugly between the Natives and the colonists during the King Philip’s War of 1675 and 1676, Metacom ordered that his men were never to harm a Leonard of Taunton because of the friendship James and his father shared. Its interesting that Taunton, Ma was largely spared during the King Philip’s War. Some guess that this could have had something to do with the Leonards and their Wampanoag friendships. Certainly, Metacom, having grown up with the English his entire life, had many close friendships among the colonists.

James Leonard had nine children. The first son, Thomas, was born in 1641. Thomas Leonard seems to have inherited his understanding of business from his father. According to genealogist and descendent, Elisha Clark Leonard:

"It is evident from the habits displayed in the various offices he held and the conditions under which he had to perform the duties connected with the same that he was a man of rare judgment, of great ability, and of untiring industry."

Thomas was a self educated man, and through the guidance of his father from an early age, he also became influential in the iron industry of Taunton. In fact, he became skilled enough in the refining business that his father allowed him to manage the iron forges in Taunton at the age of 25. In 1696, along with his brother James, Thomas purchased land and began building forges in the “North Purchase,” the land which would eventually be incorporated into the town of Norton, or as it was originally called, “North Taunton.”

Like his father, Thomas became a very influential man and powerful businessman. He became a Captain in the Taunton Militia, a selectman of Taunton, a Deputy to the Plymouth court, and a Representative to the General Court in Boston. On top of all this, according to Elisha Clark Leonard, he studied medicine, solemnized marriages in Taunton, and also ran a large farm. This guy knew how to work.

Thomas Leonard had eleven children, the fourth of whom was the subject of our legend, George Leonard. According to the Vital Records of Taunton, George was born April 18, 1871. Like his father, and his grandfather, before him, George began his training as an iron refiner at a very early age. According to Elisha Clark Leonard:

"The Hon. Goege, Leonard, the third son of Judge Thomas, inherited from his father and from the Watson family, untiring industry, ability, and sound common sense, which carried him successfully through his undertaking."
George, at least in this description, sounds a lot like his father. Through the tutelage of his father, he gained skill in business and refining.

Like the legendary George, the actual George Leonard was married to Anna Tisdale. According to Massachusetts Vital Records, the two wed in Taunton on July 4, 1695. Elisha Clark Leonard mentions this as being about the same time that his father Thomas and his uncle James were beginning to open forges in the North Purchase. They both invited George and his young wife to move to the North Purchase and supervise the construction of the ironworks.

Elisha Clark Leonard goes on to state that over the next six years, while working as the manager of his father’s ironworks George began to buy lands and rights in the North Purchase for himself. In October of 1707, he actually purchased his uncle’s shares in the North Purchase ironworks as well.

Though the original legend does not give an exact date for his alleged meet up with Satan, I suppose his later accusers would look at this time period of rapid advancement between 1695 and 1707 as being suspicious. To me, it seems like he was simply following the family tradition. Sure, he might have received a helping hand from Dad and Uncle James, but that’s not really sinister.

Still, it wasn’t just a family leg up that bought George’s success in life. Elisha’ Leonard’s manuscript points out that George purchased land all over Massachusetts during this time. He bought 100 acres in Cedar Swamp, 25 acres in Attenborough, and even 5 acres Rehoboth. According to Elisha Clark, "With lands he already had, he must now have had some 500 Acres."

In the 18th century 500 acres would make you a major landowner. I think in the 21st century 500 acres would still make you at least a substantial landowner. Considering I (really the bank) own .55 acres, I am now hanging my head in shame.

I also have to give credit to Anna Tisdale for her helping hand in making a profit for the family as well. According to the papers of Thomas Leonard, Anna sold him several articles of clothing she must have made herself.

One can still examine the business records of George and Thomas’ “Chartley Iron Works” for the years in which George managed the company. The records are neat, succinct, and very organized. They detail George’s hard work and business know-how during this time period, rather than his satanic handouts. According to his business records, George split the profits of the North Purchase Ironworks with his father in 1710, yet still earned about $350 that year. According to Elisha Leonard, this was substantial in a time when land cost about 50 cents an acre. He further states that this income was earned for five or six months of work. The rest of the year George involved himself in farming and other projects to continue making a family profit.

In March 1710 the area of the North Purchase officially became part of North Taunton (Norton) and George was elected selectman. In addition, in 1715, he was appointed the Judge of the Court of Common Pleas as well as holding the position of Major in the militia. Like his father, George was a busy guy.

However, as too often happens in life, George passed away seemingly in his prime. According to Massachusetts Vital Records, George died on September 5, 1716. His father, Thomas, had only died three years earlier. The cause of death is not listed, but Elisha Leonard states he died as a result of fever. There were, of course no antibiotics at the time, or any fever reducers, so this seems pretty likely.

Elisha Leonard does mention George’s alleged connection to Satan in his late 19th century manuscript. He states:

"His great success had been a marvel to his townsmen, and they attributed it to un-natural causes. The story was told that George Leonard had made a league with the Devil to acquire great wealth. In 1716, while he was sick with the fever of which he died the Devil came and claimed his body and carried it off."
So, this story was at least well known by his decedents in the 19th century and was included in a manuscript that was primarily genealogy and history. Elisha Leonard goes on to say that the family claimed that George’s body was not fit to be seen at the funeral. He seems to say that townspeople included the story of his coffin being filled with an oak log. At the very least, he does not state this detail as fact. George was buried in “The Central Buying Ground” with his wife Anna.

As stated in the legend, Anna did re-marry to a Nathaniel Thomas of Plymouth, Ma in 1730 according to Plymouth Vital Records. Anna died three years later, according to Elisha Leonard and Massachusetts Vital Records. Not too long for a second marriage, but that's colonial New England for you.

George and Anna had 11 children, many of whom went on to increase the fame and wealth of the family, or at least to do as well as George, Thomas, and James had. There are many decedents of George Leonard in New England still, as can be seen by the amount of genealogical research that has been completed on this family.

When I began researching the Devil’s Footprint in Norton, I thought the legend would be story enough, but the deeper I got into the story and the characters, I was honestly more focused on the history. It seems to me George did not deserve his reputation as a demonic collaborator. He did not sell his soul for wealth; he earned it the hard way.

I really began to wonder what earned him this reputation. Honestly, I think the origin of the legend had more to do with the historical context of the time, and with George himself.

In Salem and Danvers, Ma, during the winter of 1692 – 1693 over 150 people were arrested and accused of witchcraft, and by the end of that winter 19 men and women were executed. Many were actually convicted in courts, which allowed the use of “spectral evidence,” which could include visions, premonitions, or the dreams of the supposed victims of witchcraft.

In addition, many of the people who were accused of witchcraft were up and coming citizens of Danvers and Salem, who had become wealthy in recent years by participating in the growing trade between the colonies and Europe. These citizens had the audacity to begin buying things that were not only functional, but perhaps slightly indulgent. They might have purchased things that were not needed on a daily basis. They actually began to resemble what would become middle class citizens, which was quite offensive to some early Yankee Protestants.

This event would obviously be in the recent memory of many in 1716. Plus, there are a few similarities between these two cases. George Leonard was certainly exceptional in the amount of land and wealth he had amassed. He built one of the first “mansions” in the area. In addition, he was also a judge in the court of common pleas. He could have definitely made some enemies in that position. As in Salem, this could have made him a target.

The times were, of course, different. If I were to say that “Snooki” Polizzi (puke) had made a deal with the Devil to ensure that people would be entertained by her vacuous personality, I might be right, but no one would believe me. In 1716, religious Yanks would probably think I was serious and she might then be in danger. Add to that a stone outside her back window in Satan-leaping distance with cool marks on it, and she might be marched through the streets like Mussolini.

Running with the Devil
To conclude this piece, If I were George Leonard taking stock of my reputation from the Great Beyond, I would actually be a little miffed. If George actually cut a deal with Lucifer, it seems like the Devil could have made it a little easier for the guy. George’s wealth, his influence, and his success were really a product of three generations of business minded, die hard colonists, each encouraging and training the next generation in the family business. Yes, George might have been a little lucky, but he also had the foresight to purchase land when it was available and turn that land into more profit. This legend certainly has New England written all over it, but I have gotta say, George and the Ironmaster Leonards . . They were wicked Yankee! Look, I used it again.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Can't Complete the Corn Maze? Call 911!!

The Fall tradition of the Corn maze is still popular in many New England towns. A quick search tells me that this tradition actually began in Europe, but it still seems pretty Yankee to me. However, as this family in Danvers found, this tradition can be more challenging than one might expect.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I have a friend who used to work as a 911 operator and she would often tell me that people would call to see if it was raining outside or to get directions to where they were going. Some people are obviously confused about the definition of emergency. At least being lost in a corn maze almost counts . .kinda. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What is a Yankee?

Only occasionally in my life have I ever been called a Yankee or a Yank by people or relatives from the south of the United States or from outside of the US. Every time the slang word was used in a derogatory (though a mostly joking) type of way. I was never particularly insulted by its use in my direction. In fact, I was far more insulted by a European relative referring to modern New England as “the colonies.” Hello, Declaration of Independence!! In truth, I sometimes wish I were a little more Yankee. I picture those tough as nails New Englanders as being somewhat like Quint from Jaws. Man, I wish I were more like Quint. However, whenever I heard the term I wondered, what did Yankee actually mean and was I actually a Yankee? As it turns out, like with most things in history, the answers to these questions are not absolutely clear and they largely depend on perspective and context.

First, the origin of the word Yankee is remarkably unclear for such a heavily used term. Today, most people understand that the word refers to someone from either the United States or more accurately New England. Traditionally, it specifically refers to the old stock white, English, Protestant settlers of the New England area. The classic W.A.S.P.s if you will. However, this was not always the case. The word seems to appear in writing as early as the 1680’s. Although it eventually came to represent Americans or New Englanders, when it first appeared it seems to have represented neither. In the Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series the term is used several times between 1680 and 1687 as a nickname for individual people who were not necessarily American colonists. Nor were these people necessarily white. In 1775, the name Yankee is even recorded in the inventory of a Carolina slave owner as being the name of one of his slaves.

However, all these early references are pretty far removed from the current use of Yankee. The historic record does not show the use of the word Yankee in reference to an American or New Englander until at least 1758. During this time the New England colonies were deeply involved in the French and Indian War. Apparently a British General named James Wolfe wrote about the New Englanders under his command during the war. He used the term Yankees to refer to them. Wolfe is quoted as writing:
"My posts are now so fortified that I can afford you two companies of Yankees, and the more because they are better for ranging and scouting than either work or vigilance."
 Though I searched, I could find no trace of this letter, at least digitally. However, James Wolfe was absolutely a real General during the French and Indian War. He is most well known for leading the army which captured Quebec from the French, although he was killed in the battle. In addition, the sentiment he expresses about his New England soldiers was probably true. The New Englanders under the command of professional British soldiers would have seemed to have had very little formal military training. Each colony did keep a militia, but each militia drilled and trained in their own fashion, if they drilled and trained at all. If General Wolfe did observe this about his Yankee troops, he was probably seeing the same thing many British would come to see during the Revolution; farmers more used to shooting rabbits than people, and men more used to slopping through marsh and wood than lining up on the battlefield.

A second quote using the term Yankee to refer to New Englanders appears in the 1765 poem Oppression, a Poem by and American. This section of poetry reads:

“From meanness first this Portsmouth Yankey rose.
And still to meanness, all his conduct flows”
In addition, the author notes,
'"Portsmouth Yankey,” It seems, our hero being a New-Englander by birth, has a right to the epithet of Yankey; a name of derision, I have been informed, given by the Southern people on the Continent, to those of New-England: what meaning there is in the word, I never could learn.'
So, at least as early as 1765, the term Yankee was used in reference to a New Englander. At that time, as now, it was generally meant to be an insult. To the British, Yankees were provincial country hicks who apparently would stick a feather in their cap and think it was the height of fashion. However, Americans would later claim the term as their own during the Revolution, using the formally insulting song, “Yankee Doodle” to inspire a sorely needed sense of nationalism. Yet, to Southerners, Northern Yankees may have seemed like urbanite, over educated, common sense lacking, know-it-alls in comparison to the more agricultural Southerners. 

Still, the exact origin of the word Yankee is unclear. Yes, it was a nickname, but this does not answer the question of what it actually means or even where it originally came from. It seems there are many theories as to the origins of Yankee, though some are more plausible than others.

Many of the origins of the word seem to stem from the former Dutch colony of New Netherland, which would have included modern New York and Western Connecticut. In the mid to late 17th century, there was a good deal of interaction between the colonial Dutch, native groups of the North East, and the colonial English in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Apparently the Dutch first names of Jan and Kees were very common in the area at the time. Sometimes these names were combined into a single name, Jan-Kees. The word Yankee would then have become a variation of Jan-Kees and might have later referred to English colonists who dealt with the Dutch or had close ties to the Dutch. There are other theories relating to the Dutch colonists in New Netherland. According to Michael Quinion and Patrick Hanks, Yankee might originate from the Dutch nickname Janneke or Johnny. Since the Dutch letter “J” sounds like the English letter “Y,” both these theories are at least plausible.

In addition to the Dutch connection, there is also a possible native connection to the word Yankee. In 1819, John Heckewelder stated within History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations that he believed the term Yankee or Yengee came from Native American attempts to pronounce the word “English.” According to Heckewlder:
“Yengees. This name they now exclusively applied to the people of New England, who, indeed, appeared to have adopted it, and were, as they still are, generally through the country called Yankees, which is evidently the same name with a trifling alteration.”

The author, James Fennimore Cooper seems to agree with Heckewelder. In both Deerslayer (1841) and Last of the Mohicans (1826), Cooper uses the term “Yengee” to refer to English settlers. On a side note, I always noticed this pronunciation in the movie Last of the Mohicans, which is honestly a completely different story, but nonetheless awesome!! It should also be noted that James Fennimore Cooper was not well known for the historical accuracy of his novels. Go ask the Mohicans.

There are, of course, several more supposed origins for the term Yankee. Some have stated that it is a Cherokee word meaning coward, some have stated that it was an actual native tribe of the New England area, and at least one source claims that “Yankee” was used in Massachusetts during colonial times to mean excellent. However, the theories presented in the above paragraphs seem the most plausible.            

As I stated previously, who is and who is not currently a Yankee is still a matter of perspective and context. I would venture to say that most of the people who live in my area of Massachusetts do not regularly identify themselves as Yankees. In fact the term inspires a little bit of agitation in most people here because of the New York Yankees rivalry with the Boston Red Sox. However, when my fiancé and I drove back to Massachusetts from Florida, we were instantly identified as Yankees, particularly in one unfriendly IHOP in Georgia. I believe this distinction was best summarized in a quote by E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Webb. White is supposed to have stated:

"To Foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
To Americans, a Yankee is a Northerner.
To Northerners, a Yankee is an Easterner.
To Easterners, a Yankee is a New Englander.
To New Englanders, a Yankee is a Vermonter.
And in Vermont, a Yankee is somebody who eats pie for breakfast."

This quote sums up pretty well how Yankees is really a contextual phrase. Certainly Americans have been called Yankees or Yanks outside of the United States, even more so since both World Wars. Within the United States, I would say that most Southerners would view Yankees as being someone who lives north of the Mason-Dixon. In the Mid-Atlantic States a Yankee might be a New Englander. Being from New England, I never considered those Green Mountain Vermonters to be more Yankee than others, but perhaps that was true in the past.

So, like I said, being a Yankee is an odd indistinct honorific type of insult. It is hard to nail down exactly where the term originated, and we will probably never know for sure which origin is accurate. Am I a Yankee? Well, I’m not Protestant, not English so far as I know, and sadly I am not much like Quint from Jaws. However, some people would definitely call me a Yankee because I was born and raised in New England and both sides of my family have been here for over a century. I figure, if I eat a few more pieces of pie for breakfast, this will push me right over the line.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Wicked Yankee

Hi and welcome to Wicked Yankee, a blog which will detail bits and pieces of often obscure New England history and occasionally even history from outside classic Yankee territory. I chose the name because it seems like a good mesh of old stock New England and modern New England, much like we are today in this area. As many people who live in or visit this region have come to realize, New England can be quite an odd place. Therefore, it should be no surprise when one marches back through New England history only to find more of this Yankee-style weirdness.

Our Yankee forefathers left an undeniable mark, not just in our area, but throughout the entire country because of their oftentimes odd behavior. They hunted witches, fought empires, clashed with or befriended natives, communed with spirits, started rebellions, brutally murdered each other, searched for treasure, challenged Satan himself, and literally changed the course of an entire country and culture. Wow, Yankees were busy. As we begin to explore the actions and lives of these old school New Englanders, it will become clear, though they came from varied backgrounds, achieved or failed at achieving various honors, were famous, infamous, or both, it can be agreed that they were all Wicked Yankee. I know that was cheesy, but let’s roll with it.