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 desire to 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.