The Devil’s Soldiers in Gloucester

By Jude Seminara

Photo by Marty Luster

During the summer of 1692, while all of Essex County was gripped by the Witchcraft Hysteria, a Gloucester husbandman was plagued by nightly visitations by a spectral raiding party. England and her colonies were involved in King William’s War, the first of the colonial French and Indian Wars.  Brutal attacks on the settlements at the Eastward (Maine) flooded Essex County with traumatized refugees. The Province of Massachusetts Bay had been operating without a charter in a sort of legal ambiguity since the overthrow of the Dominion of New England under the hated Sir Edmund Andros. The new Charter arrived in February of 1692, and the new governor, Sir William Phips arrived in Boston in May.  One of his first acts was to establish a Court of Oyer and Terminer to deal with the increasing number of witchcraft accusations being dealt with by the Essex County courts. 

The Province of Massachusetts Bay contributed men and material to the efforts of England during King William’s War, and the prospect of French and Indian raids were an ever present fear. So when Ebenezer Babson returned to his home at The Farms behind Good Harbor Beach late one evening in early July 1692 and saw two men rushing from his door yard, he rightfully grabbed his gun and gave chase. The intruders fled into Babson’s corn field but not before he heard one remark to the other that, had he not returned, they would have “taken the house.” 

Twenty-five year old Babson hurriedly assembled his household, which included his widowed mother Elinor, and repaired to the local garrison house, two miles distant. The garrison was a fortified house of the type commonly found in 17th century Massachusetts towns as protection against Indian raids. Gloucester had at least one garrison house, located for a time on the site of the rectory of St. Ann’s church on Prospect Street.

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