“Maybe this world is another planet’s hell” – Aldous HuxleyIn 1682, the Devil came to New Hampshire. Well, a devil at any rate. Which of course begs certain kinds of questions. Say you’ve lead a rather debaucherous and libertine lifestyle. You come to the rational conclusion that if you’re going to hell anyway, you may as well earn a position of note, because if the afterlife is in any way analogous to mortality, it doesn’t really matter what you excel in as long as you can demonstrate a level of achievement. Sadly, this is probably not the case, per some calculations performed by Matthew Foster at the University of Arkansas (and who would know better about Hell?). Using death statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and some liberal interpretations of Matthew 7:13–14 to calculate what percentage of souls are likely to be eternally damned, Mr. Foster estimates that anywhere from 0.82 to 1.64 souls are being condemned to the Pit per second, with a cumulative total of somewhere around 30 million per year. The Christian Hell has been mucking around the fringes of our conscious for two millennia, and even accounting for population growth, this suggests Hell is pretty much standing room only, unless they’ve cut some savvy real estate deals. In short, you have to be an Olympic level sinner to expect the bosses to notice you. And as bad as you think you’ve been, it’s probably a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of nefarious things.
So maybe you immodestly assume that your earthly wickedness at least qualifies you for a diabolic middle-level management position, and some entertaining infernal machinations. Odds are you are incorrect. The heavy hitters and cool kids of Hell (you know, those major league evil types) are out there breaking the seven seals, tormenting priests during exorcisms, cutting deals with blues musicians at the crossroads, and plotting another war with Heaven. This will not be you. Maybe, if you considered yourself a bad boy, as a token of appreciation, you won’t necessarily be immediately dipped in the Lake of Fire. Really, the best you can hope for is shuffling paperwork in a cubicle in the City of Dis, or handing out nooses in the Forest of Suicides. Let’s face it, there are thousands of extinct pagan gods, genocidal maniacs, and GOP delegates vying for the primo spots in the eternal conflict between the divine and diabolical. Nobody ever sacrificed a child to you or destroyed a civilization in your name. So, while the eternal struggle between good and evil unfolds, rest assured you are probably not invited to the strategic planning meetings. If it’s between you and Reinhard Heydrich, you can bet he’s getting the promotion. So, Hell’s undoubtedly got a lot of spare demons running about that mistakenly imagine they are hard cases (vanity is just a venal sin, I hear) relative to the rest of the condemned souls. This is no doubt a logistical nightmare for the Devil. You’ve got to keep these folks busy or they could get unruly, and frankly you really don’t want morale to be a problem when Armageddon comes.
What do you do with all these spare demons loitering about just looking for trouble? You’ve got to keep them busy or they might get the idea you’ve gone soft. I mean, particularly in the world of Anonymous and WikiLeaks, the Devil has to concern himself with compartmentalization and solid military intelligence. You don’t want your diabolical plans to be published in the New York Times. It ruins the mystique. Father of Lies and all, but in all fairness he probably has a representative bit of social media expertise down there. Thus, we have plenty of cases where demons are credited with rather mundane and trivial tasks, like throwing rocks at people, which is arguably preferable to being tasked with cleaning out the porta-potties in the Ninth Circle, but is clearly just an assignment designed to shut you up. For example, if you’re sent to the Province of New Hampshire in 1682 and told to throw stuff at a house, odds are you don’t have a lot of diabolical street cred. This is apparently a common retribution for jackasses that think they’re tough.
Now, New Hampshire had managed to handily dodge the insanity of the 17th Century Salem, Massachusetts witch trials by taking a much mellower view of the whole matter. This made it a rather unimportant but fruitful field for diabolical intervention. And if you’ve got a few spare demons around, why not send them in to raise a little pointless ruckus. On Sunday night, June 11th, 1682 showers of stones were thrown by a seemingly invisible hand against the house of George Walton of Great Island (now New Castle), New Hampshire, and the peltings continued well into September, receiving the overly dignified name of “Lithobolia”, or “The Stone Throwing Devil”. A 1698 tract printed in London gave a fuller account believed to have been authored by Richard Chamberlain, for a time a guest at the Walton house.
Lithobolia, or the Stone-throwing Devil. Being an Exact and True Account (by way of Journal) of the various actions of infernal Spirits or (Devils Incarnate) Witches or both; and the great Disturbance and Amazement they gave to George Waltons Family at a place called Great Island in the Province of New Hampshire in New England, chiefly in throwing about (by an Invisible hand) Stones, Bricks and Brick-bats of all Sizes, with several other things, as Hammers, Mauls, Iron-Crows, Spits, and other domestic Utensils, as came into their Hellish Minds, and this for the space of a Quarter of a Year. By R. C. Esq., who was a sojourner in the same Family the whole Time, and an Ocular Witness of those Diabolical Inventions. The Contents hereof being manifestly known to the Inhabitants of that Province and persons of other Provinces, and is upon record in his Majesties Council-Court held for that Province. London: Printed and are to be sold by E. Whitlook, near Stationers-Hall, 1698 (Dean, 1889, p1).
Chamberlain went on to make detailed accounts of all the instances of objects hurled about, providing comprehensive listings of witnesses to the phenomena (including the Governor of West-Jersey, the Deputy Governor of Rhode Island, a number of New England merchants, clergyman, servants, soldiers, and other notables), resulting in a remarkable description of all the events involving objects hurled by an unseen hand between June and September. Dude was a little obsessive-compulsive, but he left a great record, an excerpt of which I have included below (he has dozens of additional accounts, listing what was thrown, witnesses, and other salient information).
Some time ago being in America (in His then Majesty’s Service) I was lodged in the said George Walton’s House, a Planter there, and on a Sunday Night, about Ten a Clock, many Stones were heard by myself, and the rest of the Family, to be thrown, and (with Noise) hit against the top and all sides of the House, after he the said Walton had been at his Fence-Gate, which was between him and his Neighbour one John Amazeen an Italian, to view it; for it was again, as formerly it had been (the manner how being unknown) wrung off the Hinges, and cast upon the Ground; and in his being there, and return home with several Persons of (and frequenting) his family and House, about a flight shot distant from the Gate, they were all assaulted with a peal of Stones, (taken, we conceive, from the Rocks hard by the House) and this by unseen Hands or Agents. For by this time I was come down to them, having risen out of my Bed at this strange Alarm of all that were in the House, and do know that they all looked out as narrowly as I did, or any Person could (it being a bright Moon-light Night), but cou’d make no Discovery. There upon, and because there came many Stones, and those pretty great ones, some as big as my Fist, into the Entry or Porch of the House, we withdrew into the next Room to the Porch no Person having receiv’d any Hurt, (praised be Almighty Providence, for certainly the infernal Agent, constant Enemy to Mankind, had he not been over-ruled, intended no less than Death or Maim) save only that two Youths were lightly hit, one on the Leg, the other on the Thigh, notwithstanding the Stones came so thick, and so forcibly against the sides of so narrow a Room. Whilst we stood amazed at this Accident, one of the Maidens imagined she saw them come from the Hall, next to that we were in, where searching, (and in the Cellar, down out of the Hall,) and finding no Body, another and my self observed two little Stones in a short space successively to fall on the Floor, coming as from the Ceiling close by us, and we concluded it must necessarily be done by means extraordinary and praeternatural. Coming again into the Room where we first were (next the Porch), we had many of these lapidary Salutations, but unfriendly ones; for, shutting the Door, it was no small Surprise to me to have a good big Stone come with great force and noise (just by my Head) against the Door on the inside; and then shutting the other Door, next the Hall, to have the like Accident; so going out again, upon a necessary Occasion, to have another very near my Body, clattering against the Board-wall of the House; but it was a much greater, to be so near the danger of having my Head broke with a Mall, or great Hammer brushing along the top or roof of the Room from the other end, as I was walking in it, and lighting down by me; but it fell so, that my Landlord had the greatest damage, his Windows (especially those of the first mention’d Room) being with many Stones miserably and strangely batter’d, most of the Stones giving the Blow on the inside, and forcing the Bars, Lead, and hasps of the Casements outwards, and yet falling back (sometimes a Yard or two) into the Room; only one little Stone we took out of the glass of the Window, where it lodg’d its self in the breaking it, in a Hole exactly fit for the Stone. The Pewter and Brass were frequently pelted, and sometimes thrown down upon the Ground; for the Evil Spirit seemed then to affect variety of Mischief, and diverted himself at this end after he had done so much Execution at the other. So were two Candlesticks, after many hittings, at last struck off the Table where they stood, and likewise a large Pewter Pot, with the force of these Stones. Some of them were taken up hot, and (it seems) immediately coming out of the Fire; and some (which is not unremarkable) having been laid by me upon the Table along by couples, and numbered, were found missing; that is, two of them, as we return’d immediately to the Table, having turn’d our backs only to visit and view some new Stone-charge or Window-breach; and this Experiment was four or five times repeated, and I still found one or two missing of the Number, which we all mark’d, when I did but just remove the Light from off the Table, and step to the Door, and back again. After this had continued in all the parts and sides of the first Room (and down the Chimney) for above four hours, I, weary of the Noise, and sleepy, went to Bed, and was no sooner fallen asleep, but was awakened with the unwelcome disturbance of another Battery of a different sort, it issuing with so prodigious a Noise against the thin Board-wall of my Chamber (which was within another) that I could not imagine it less than the fracture and downfall of great part of the Chamber, or at least of the Shelves, Books, Pictures, and other things, placed on that side, and on the Partition-Wall between the Anti-Chamber and the Door of mine. But the Noise immediately bringing up the Company below, they assured me no Mischief of that nature was done, and shewed me the biggest Stone that had as yet been made use of in this unaccountable Accident, weighing eight pound and an half, that had burst open my Chamber Door with a rebound from the Floor, as by the Dent and Bruise in it near the Door I found next Morning, done, probably, to make the greater Noise, and give the more Astonishment, which would sooner be effected by three Motions, and consequently three several Sounds, viz. one on the Ground, the next to and on the Door, and the last from it again to the Floor, then if it had been one single Blow upon the Door only; which (’tis probable) wou’d have split the Door, which was not permitted, nor so much as a square of the Glass-Window broken or crack’d (at that time) in all the Chamber. Glad thereof, and desiring them to leave me, and the Door shut, as it was before, I endeavoured once more to take my Rest, and was once more prevented by the like passage, with another like offensive Weapon, it being a whole Brick that lay in the anti-Chamber Chimney, and used again to the same malicious purpose as before, and in the same manner too, as by the mark in the Floor, whereon was some of the dust of the Brick, broken a little at the end, apparent next Morning, the Brick itself lying just at the Door (Burr, 1914, p62-65).
The case piqued the attention of Cotton Mather, who noted it in his Magnalia Christi Americana as a prime example of the molestations of evil spirits in the new colonies, where he maintained that previously the devils had the free run of the place.
On June 11, 1682, showers of stones were thrown by an invisible hand upon the house of George Walton at Portsmouth. Whereupon the people going out, found the gate wrung off the hinges, and stones flying and falling thick about them, and striking of them seemingly with a great force; but really affecting ’em no more than if a soft touch were given them. The glass windows were broken to pieces by stones that came not from without, but from within; and other instruments were in like manner hurl’d about. Nine of the stones they took up, whereof some were as hot as if they came out of the fire; and, marking them, they laid them on the table; but in a little while they found some of them again flying about. The spit was carry’d up the chimney; and coming down with the point forward, stuck in the back-log; from whence one of the company removing it, it was by an invisible hand thrown out at the window. This disturbance continu’d from day to day; and sometimes a dismal hollow whistling would be heard, and sometimes the trotting and snorting of an horse, but nothing to be seen. The man went up the great bay in a boat unto a farm he had there: but there the stones found him out; and carrying from the house to the boat a stirrup-iron, the iron came jingling after him through the woods as far as his house; and at last went away, and was heard of no more. The anchor leap’d overboard several times and stopt the boat. A cheese was taken out of the press, and crumbl’d all over the floor: a piece of iron stuck into the wall, and a kettle hung thereupon. Several cocks of hay, mow’d near the house, were taken up and hung upon trees, and others made into small whisps, and scattered about the house. The man was much hurt by some of the stones: he was a Quaker, and suspected that a woman, who charg’d him with injustice in detaining some land from her, did by witchcraft occasion these preternatural occurrences. However, at last, they came unto an end (Mather, 1853, p457).
The dispute Mather references was with a long-standing squabble over real estate with Walton’s neighbor Hannah Jones that more or less resulted in everybody accusing everyone else of infernal associations and witchcraft. “As early as 1660, Walton was carrying on a dispute with Hannah Jones, wife of Alexander Jones and daughter of Thomas Walford, over the ownership of a small field to which both parties claimed ownership. Walton’s gates and fences were pulled down and recriminations exchanged, Walton calling Goody Jones a witch, and she retaliating with the accusation that he was a wizard and ‘an old rogue and so he would be hanged’” (Davis, 1924, p83). Hannah Jones’ mother Jane Walford had been tried for witchcraft in 1656, but cleared, and successfully went after another accuser in 1669 with a slander counter-suit. Hannah Jones was never charged or prosecuted. It seems New Hampshire historically does take that whole “Live Free or Die” state motto seriously.
Getting involved in real estate disputes doesn’t seem especially diabolical, nor does hurling random objects around without seriously hurting anyone. You need to have at least a modicum of sympathy for the poor imp that got assigned this task. It had to be a real blow to their ego, and in the grand scheme of things amounted to a whole lot of nothing. All the cool demons were out tempting saints. Then again, maybe we’re not giving Satan enough credit. Perhaps he’s figured out how to effectively and eternally torment underachievers with big egos. He hands them the crap jobs, or as Gian Carlo Menotti said, “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do”.
Burr, George Lincoln, 1857-1938. Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1914.
Davis, Walter Goodwin, 1885-1966. The Ancestry of Lydia Harmon, 1755-1836: Wife of Joseph Waterhouse of Standish, Maine. Boston: Stanhope Press, 1924.
Dean, John Ward, 1815-1902. Lithobolia. Boston, 1889.
Mather, Cotton, 1663-1728. Magnalia Christi Americana. Hartford: S. Andrus & son, 1853.