|The one book that tells the truth on the Curse
|that has forever darkened Colonel Jonathan Buck's Good Name!
I have been asked over the years what my personal view of the famed Witch's Curse
was. Always the diplomat, I answer the question with a question: "Do you believe in witchcraft? Do you believe witches
were hung in Bucksport? Do you know that there are 2 other relatives buried between Buck and his monument?" The more
questions I ask, the less they seem to want an answer.
To be fare and balanced I include this next article to
balance out all those afterward that shed true light on the subject. Please take into account that this was written by a bored
newspaper reporter, waiting for new news in the Sarah Ware Murder case, in 1899. J.O. Whittemore had moved to town for that
reason and soon after a year began to look elsewhere for newsworthy stories. When he ran this it was picked up by the Associated
Press and spread across the country, thus a myth was born that would last generations. Let me state up front Imprecation means
curse, I had to look it up:
THE WITCH'S CURSE.
Gloomy Old Legend of the Town of Bucksport, ME.
The Imprecations and Prophecy of the Condemned
Women on the Scaffold Recalled by a strange blemish on Colonel Buck's Tombstone.
by the country road on the outskirts of the sleepy old seaport town of Bucksport, on the Penobscot, down in Maine, is a small
family cemetery. Within the enclosure, with the its high iron fence, in the quiet and almost gloomy shade, sleep the Bucks,
the blueblooded and aristocratic clan of which first settled the town and bequeathed it their name--and a legend.
Of the many moss grave tablets and monuments the largest and most conspicuous is a tall granite shaft in plain
sight of the highway. On one is the inscription:
COL. JOHN BUCK.
Founder of Bucksport
A. D. 1762
Born in Haverhill,
Died March 18, 1795
On the other side is
the single word, "Buck," and also something not wrought by the marble worker. On the smooth surface of the pedestal
is a curious outline, irregular and describing that which can easily be imagined as the form of a foot of normal size. Some
people say that it is a foot, but those are of the superstitious town folk who believe the legend which has been choice stock
in Bucksport for many years.
They that might delight in perpetuating this story say that
Colonel Jonathan Buck was a very stern and harsh man and the leading spirit of his day and generation. His word was law in
the community. He was the highest in civil authority and his decision as immovable as the granite hills that loom up in the
haze of the northern horizon.
He was most Puritanical, and to him witchcraft was the incarnation
of blasphemy. Thus, so the story goes, when a certain woman was accused of witchcraft at the first clamorings of the populace
Colonel Buck ordered her to be imprisoned, and later, after a more form of a hearing, she was sentenced to be executed as
a witch. She pleaded to Buck for her life, but as to a heart of stone.
The day of the
execution came and the condemned woman went to the gallows cursing the judge with such terrible imprecations that the people
shuddered, but the magistrate stood unmoved and made a sign to the officers to hasten the arrangements. All was ready and
the hangman was about to perform his gruesome women turned to Colonel Buck and raising one hand to heaven as if to direct
her last words on earth pronounced this astounding prophecy:
"Jonathan Buck, listen
to these words, the last my tongue shall utter. It is the spirit of the only true and living God which bids me speak them
to you. You will soon die. Over your grave they will erect a stone, that all may know where your bones are crumbling to dust.
But listen! Upon that stone the imprint of my feet will appear, and for all time, long after accursed race has perished from
t he face of the earth, will the people from far and near know that you murdered a woman. Remember well, Jonathan Buck, remember
Then she turned to the executioners and another act, one of the forever ineffaceable
blots, was made a part of American colonial history.
The "witch's curse,"
as it was called, and is to this day, was almost forgotten until many years afterward, when the monument was erected by the
memory of Bucksport's fonder. It had been in position hardly a month when a faint outline was discovered upon it. This
gradually grew more and more distinct until some one made the startling discovery that it was the outline of a foot, which
some supernatural draftsman had traced on granite. The old legend was revived and the Buck Cemetery was for years the Mecca
of the superstitious and curious for miles around.
Witch's Curse had been fulfilled, they said. A attempt was make to remove the stain, but all efforts tended only to bring
the outline out in bolder relief. The stain or whatever it was seemed to penetrate to the very center of the stone.
The hinges of the bit gate have creaked for the last time to admit a Buck. The last of the race, had been
laid to rest beneath the oaks and maples, and the setting sun throws the shadow of the once mighty Colonel Jonathan Buck's
monument athwart the double row of mossy mounds, as if still exerting his authority, and the same rays of light that mysterious
tracing held up to view all that pass and re-pass along the dusty turnpike.
of a foot is a fact, and is there as plain as ever. The legend of the "Witch's curse." may or may not be fact.
The fanciful defend the legend, but the practical point out the apparent discrepancy between the dates of the era of witchcraft
persecution and the regime of Colonel Buck. They say that the stain is simply an accidental fault in the granite, and that
the legend was made to fit the foot and not the foot the legend. But the foot is there.
History of the Curse in Print
A Textbook account of the true Revolutionary Hero, and
ship builder. A better tribute to be remembered by, written by a well known local historian of the times Rev. A.G. Hempstead,
Pastor of the local Franklin Street Methodist Church:
The true story of Jonathan
Buck's purposeful life is an integral part of the history of Penobscot
region of Maine during his lifetime. It is particularly ironical that his personal history should have become distorted by
the trivial circumstances of a flaw in a stone because, as a pioneer, Buck himself did much to document the founding and developing
He was born on February 20,
1719-long after the era of witch burning had passed-in Woburn, Massachusetts, although the inscription on his monument is
erroneously states he was born in Haverhill. In 1723, he moved with his father to Haverhill, where, before coming to the province
of Maine, he was a surveyor and a builder of ships.
Jonathan Buck was a meticulous keeper of brief but accurate accounts, which include his Memorandum Book, a highly
prized historical document. It was made of imported Italian paper, which cost a shilling a sheet-and which might help to explain
its brevity-and its records, among other things, Buck's first trip of exploration to Maine in the sloop Sally.
sloops, with sixty men aboard them, sailed from Haverhill in June 1762 and met off Fort Point, not many miles down the opposite
shore from what would later be Buckstown. The next day they sailed to Naskeag, where lots were drawn to determine which sections
of land each of the different groups should inspect and survey. The group led by Jonathan Buck drew the six townships to the
west on Mount Desert River (Union River, Ellsworth). Township No. 1 was what is now Bucksport, and what became Orland was
Township No. 2. The numbers served as names for many years.
expedition was back in Haverhill in August, 1762. The following year the Sally made another trip, this time the township lines
were settled, and lots were laid out. In 1764 the settlement was begun with the building of a sawmill, on the stream just
above Verona Bridge. In all of this Jonathan Buck was the moving spirit.
As soon as he was equipped to do so in the new settlement, Buck naturally turned to shipbuilding.
In 1771, he launched the sloop Hannah, the first ship built on the Penobscot River, which Captain Abner Lowell took to the
West Indies that same year.
An industrious pioneer,
Buck was resentful of British rule and became the outstanding rebel on Penobscot Bay, where the settlement had largely been
loyalist. Commissioned a Colonel by the General Court of Massachusetts, Jonathan Buck raised his own troops and in 1779 led
them to a so called storming of the British at Castine. They met with defeat and fled back home, followed by the British in
the ship the Nautilus. Colonel Buck sent his family to stay with friends in Brewer until they could join him, while he proceeded
to Haverhill on foot. The British spared the property of the Loyalists, but destroyed by fire everything in Bucksport belonging
to Buck and his followers.
After the Revolutionary
War Buck and others returned to Maine in 1784 to make a new start. Buck rebuilt his house, which is now incorporated in the
ell of the house at the corner of Main and Mill streets. He also rebuilt his sawmill. Sloops kept bringing new settlers to
township No. 1 until in 1792, the population was sufficient to warrant incorporation. The settlers took the name of Buckstown,
which was changed in 1817 to Bucksport.
Buck was described in the Bangor Historical Magazine by William D. Williamson, author of a History of the State of Maine,
published in 1832: "He was a man of strong mind, retentive memory, and steadfast purpose. In his person he was well proportioned,
not large; his complexion was dark; his countenance sedate and expressive of sense, and his manner commanding. He was distinguished
for his piety, and much respected for the excellent qualities that give character to the righteous man."
righteous men who have made and honored place in the regional history of their times have been dealt with so unfairly by succeeding
generations. But as long as the Buck monument stands, the leg which defaces it will catch the eyes of passerby; and undoubtedly
the legends have been built around it will be told and retold for generations to come. A few may feel, as Mrs. Swazey did
so vehemently, that the reputation of a good man was sold for the price of a magazine article. But more will remember only
a fantasy of a witch's curse.
First written account:
1852 the great grandchildren of Jonathan Buck, feeling that his gravestone was too inconspicuous for the founder of the town
erected a sizeable granite monument to his memory. He is in fact buried some distance (avoiding the term feet) behind the
current stone. A "fault" appeared in the stone. This marking might resemble anything, according to the imagination
of the beholder. One day after someone had seen it as a stocking or a leg, stories and explanations started and grew, based
upon fancy not on fact.
In the September 1902 issue
of "The New England Magazine", was printed, "The Witch's Curse, a Legend of an Old Maine Town", by
J.O. Whittemore. According to the Whittemore version of the legend, Colonel Buck was Judge and condemned a witch to be hanged.
She pronounced a curse and prophesied that her foot would appear on his gravestone. Mr. Whittemore's article closed with
the paragraph (which should always be attached to the legend, but almost never is): "More Practical and matter of fact
persons discredit the story and call attention to the historical discrepancy between the date of the witchcraft era and that
of Colonel Buck's era. They say that the tracing is entirely accidental, a fault in the granite which was either hidden
by the makers, or developed after the monument was in place, and that the legend was made to fit the foot and not the foot
to fit the witch's curse."
His gravestone should read 1719 - 1795
Ester E. Wood
Kenneth Roberts wrote, "Local
tradition spits on the truth and tramples the gown of common sense." It could well be said. "Local tradition feeds
upon lies and flies far and fast on wings of nonsense."
best known piece of local tradition in eastern Maine is the story of Jonathan Buck of old "Buckstown" and his tombstone.
This is the tale as told by local tradition: Jonathan once condemned to death a woman found guilty of being a witch. Before
the hanging the woman put a curse on Buck. After the death and burial of Buck the outline of a woman's foot and leg appeared
on the granite monument over his grave, the curse of the witch.
These are the facts: The witchcraft scare came in the late 17th Century long before Buck was born. Buck was
not a judge. No person living in Maine was put to death on the charge of being a witch. Sometimes a granite monument will
have a hairline crack that is invisible. In time the cracks will fill with dirt and widen due to the frost and rain and cold.
Then the cracks will be visible and may well make a pattern. I have seen old grave stones bearing the mark of an arrow or
a cross or breaking waves. The cracks on the buck monument outline a leg.
A few slight corrections: First, the discoloration was formed when the granite was in its molten
state, and is through the stone. Granite is comprised of several differing minerals all of differing colors. When super heated
and mixed unevenly, swirling patterns of different shapes and colors are formed. If you took a stone saw, and cut the face
of the stone in half, you would have the same image of the leg for as far as the mineral ran through the stone. After the
granite is quarried, the rough part is sanded off, thus temporarily hiding the flaw. Not to point blame on the stone cutter
himself, the flaw might not have been readily apparent. But once the cut was opened to time, oxygen, and the elements, it
would almost seem to appear or materialize on the stone like invisible ink held to a flame. Second, the author states, there
was never any witches executed in Maine. Statement of fact, unless you take into account, that Maine was part of Massachusetts
at the time of the Salem Witch burnings, trials, and therefore could be counted as having actually participated in the executions.
Some of the executed were captured in the wilderness of Maine, and hauled back to Salem in leg irons to face Mr. Mather. IIncluding
a prominent Reverend George Burroughs, who was a hero of Casco Bay, and Wells, later to become Portland. I nice write up on
him can be found here "Reverend George Burroughs, Confederate of the Devil." including a tale of when he was captured and brought back
to Salem on the way, he supposedly summoned a lightning storm and ball lightning surrounded him with a blue glow.