Vintage Views: Our very own witches

  • The Old Hopkinton Cemetery where many that witnessed the Witches of Hopkinton now peacefully reside.

Vintage Views
Published: 10/29/2020 10:49:08 AM

Now that summer has concluded and the scent of fall is in the air, our thoughts turn again to another season. A season steeped with traditions, folklore and tales. A storied past that has simply been handed from one generation to the next, not based upon fact in most cases but certainly very believed by our ancestors centuries old. There are stories about ghosts and goblins, hauntings and thoughts that visit us on those lonely nights when sleep eludes us. Those nights when the wind is howling and there are noises that you choose to ignore.

All of us are very familiar with the sad tale of the Salem Witch Trials. During a period starting in February 1692, our neighbors to the south in Salem, Massachusetts, were subjected to genuine fear and it did last until the trials were halted in May, 1693. During this period of time there were many accusations made, people pointed their fingers at people and accused them of witchcraft.

History tells us about the Salem Witch Trials and we view this sad tale as both interesting and entertaining today. We read books and watch television shows that glorify this period, but in reality, it is truly a traumatic piece of history that we must live with. As you delve into this history you find story after story of village-wide hysteria resulting in many ruined lives, reputations and deaths. As a young child growing up in Concord, I often wondered if my little town had any similar experiences. We have all heard the ghost stories and folklore about places we should not be, especially on All Hallowed Eve, yet we still possess the adolescent desire to visit time and time again. We grow into mature and respectable adults but our minds do wander back to the early years when we sought and desired fear. Some things we can now understand while other experiences remain unexplainable.

It was eight or nine decades after the fear of Salem Witches concluded that there was still talk within the small New England villages. People did understand but they still feared the witch. The good Rev. Elijah Fletcher over in our neighboring Hopkinton, N.H., was concerned with some activity within his community and made every attempt to resolve it on his own. It did in fact involve the occult, in particular two witches. The reverend was not able to contain his local flock and the fear and hysteria started to grow as thoughts once again returned to Salem, Massachusetts. Rev. Fletcher needed some help with the matter so he sent a message to his dear friend in Concord, Rev. Timothy Walker. Rev. Fletcher requested assistance from Rev. Walker for there was fear within the little town of Hopkinton, fear that needed to be contained so that it did not fester.

It seems that the town of Hopkinton contained citizens that had in fact documented four forms of sorcery. As the beautiful foliage fell from the laden oaks and maples and the farmers finished the last of their harvest, there were idle minds observing daily life. As the people spoke in the town square the conclusion seemed quite obvious, there were witches in Hopkinton and the good Rev. Fletcher needed to resolve this. The people had documented four distinct episodes as proof of the occult; influences over the beasts in the field, hidden danger about the path of the unwary traveler, a specter appearing to those sleeping and a ghost appearing in a favored location.

Further, the beast in the field was suddenly not producing milk, a prominent local woman, an unwary traveler of sorts encountered an old woman begging along a path in the woods. Some of the locals dreamed of spirits as they slept in the night and the lower cemetery in Hopkinton was known to be haunted.

Our Hopkinton ancestors knew of places locally that were spiritual and avoided when traveling. There was a forest on Putney Hill known as the Lookout and it was revered to be a spiritual place now as well as in the past when the Native Americans walked the land. It was said the Lookout was a place specially identified with manifestation of occult phenomena. There were two women in town, simply referred to as  Witch Webber and Witch Burbank, who were accused of practicing in the occult, with Witch Webber feely telling all that would listen that she was indeed a witch. Perhaps Witch Webber was simply being mischievous and exaggerated her power with the occult, but the fear shown by the people in this little New England town was indeed real.

Rev. Walker over in Concord simply observed the Hopkinton activity for a period of time. He felt it would die a slow death on its own and perhaps become a small piece of local folklore. As the days to turned to weeks and the weeks to months, Rev. Walker scheduled a visit with his good friend Rev. Fletcher in Hopkinton. The people were called together, for Rev. Walker was known as a practical man from Concord and he wished to speak to the people about witchcraft on the next day of Sabbath.

As Rev. Walker gathered his great coat, the good book and his thoughts early Sunday morning, he went to his stable and boarded his black coach drawn by a single black horse. The early morning streets of Concord were still quiet as people slept; the only sound was the hoof on cobblestone as Rev. Walker left town with his destiny Hopkinton. Alone in his thoughts he reflected on his sermon that he was soon to present to the people of Hopkinton, his sermon about the occult and his sermon about witchcraft. His hope and desire were to bring a swift conclusion before the fear traveled further and visited other rural villages in New Hampshire.

Rev. Walker joined his good friend Rev. Fletcher at the front of the church. The community members did gather together to listen in hopes of support and comfort from the witches of Hopkinton. Rev. Fletcher welcomed the people and introduced Rev. Walker from Concord. Walker was well known and respected in these parts and further introduction was not needed. He stood at the pulpit eying the people; men, woman and children who possessed real fear, fear of witches and simply fear of the unknown.

Rev. Walker told the people that the most they had to fear from the Hopkinton witches was the fear of speaking about them. He asked the gathered people to simply stop talking about the occult and stop talking about the witches. He further stated that once discussion of the occult ceased, the sorcery would conclude. The people were feeding on this fear and without further discussion, this would end.

So it was, with the wisdom bestowed upon the good people of Hopkinton by Rev. Timothy Walker from Concord, the witches were no more.

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