Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Tonight's Halloween Tale is a poem by distant cousin John Greenleaf Whittier
and concerns a story written about by Cotton Mather. Apparently a garrison on
Cape Ann in Massachusetts was the target of nightly attacks by warriors who
could not be killed. These continued for several weeks until they ceased as
suddenly as they began. On the other hand, perhaps the soldiers defending the
stockade were just poor marksmen?


John Greenleaf  Whittier

Where the sea-waves back anil forward, hoarse with rolling pebbles,
The garrison-house stood watching on the gray rocks of Cape Ann;
On its windy site uplifting gabled roof and palisade,
And rough walls of unhewn timber with the moonlight overlaid.

Before the deep-mouthed chimney, dimly lit by dying brands,
Twenty soldiers sat and waited, with their muskets in their hands;
On the rough-hewn oaken table the venison haunch was shared,
And the pewter tankard circled slowly round from beard to beard.

But their voices sank yet lower, sank to husky tones of fear,
As they spake of present tokens of the powers of evil near;
Of a spectral host, defying stroke of steel and aim of gun;
Never yet was ball to slay them in the mould of mortals run!

Midnight came; from out the forest moved a dusky mass that soon
Grew to warriors, plumed and painted, grimly marching in the moon.
"Ghosts or witches," said the captain, "thus I foil the Evil One I"
And he rammed a silver button, from his doublet, down his gun.

"God preserve us!" said the captain; "never mortal foes were there
They have vanished with their leader, Prince and Power of the air!
Lay aside your useless weapons; skill and prowess naught avail;
They who do the Devil's service wear their master's coat of mail!"

So the night grew near to cock-crow, when again a warning call
Roused the score of weary soldiers watching round the dusky hall;
And they looked to flint and priming, and they longed for break of
But the captain closed his Bible: "Let us cease from man, and

To the men who went before us, all the unseen powers seemed near,
And their steadfast strength of courage struck its roots in holy fear.
Every hand forsook the musket, every head was bowed and bare,
Every stout knee pressed the flagstones, as the captain led in prayer.

Ceased thereat the mystic marching of the spectres round the wall,
But a sound abhorred, unearthly, smote the ears and hearts of all, —
Howls of rage and shrieks of anguish! Never after mortal man
Saw the ghostly leaguers marching round the blockhouse of Cape


Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

I wonder where this garrison was located. It doesn't name a town. Do you know?

Bill West said...

I believe it's Gloucester, Heather.