Faded history has a way of remaining the most mysterious. Porous details set against contrasting concrete fact, added to provincial superstition makes for a good story and an even better legend. At first glance this story reads like the set-up to a theistic cautionary tale. It is, however the clouding of faith and the ignorance of cause and effect that cast another dark shadow over the truth and warnings of real events:
In the blistering heat of the summer of 1634, residence of the Bearcove Colony, in what would later become Hingham, Massachusetts, reported seeing large clouds of black smoke rising in the western sky. For three consecutive days the smell of fire and ash pushed towards the ocean, putting the citizens on alert of a possible forest fire. On the evening of the third day, a man, covered from head to toe in soot and blood, stumbled into the village, crying out for help. As many rushed to his aide, the man collapsed in the street, mortally wounded, he made one shocking declaration before he died – The Devil had come to Eckubine.
The colony at Eckubine was established in 1629, some 20 miles northwest of Plymouth and 25 miles southwest of Boston. Settlers more interested in subsisting off the land, than from the sea, made the trek inland. Finding suitable, dark soil, the settlers made a deal with the Wampanoag Indians for a ten-acre tract of land near the Hockomock Swamp. Within four years the settlement established itself as a full fledged farming community, healthfully feeding not only the eighty-nine residence within the town, but also setting up the active trading of produce and livestock with other small colonies in the area. The future of the growing outpost seemed certain, which is why what happened in the summer of 1634, seemed so shocking.
The following account was compiled from personal eyewitness accounts recorded after-the-fact and other written histories of the event.
August 1st, 1634
Jonas Aldridge, owner of the largest lot of livestock in Eckubine witnessed seven of his pigs break through their sty fence. Running wildly through a pasture, the swine seemed to purposefully fling themselves into the dark, muddy water of the Hockomock Swamp. They writhed in pain, squealing loudly as they drowned. The question was asked, why an animal would do such a thing? The dead pigs were pulled from the water and burned by Aldridge on the spot. They strangely emitted a pungent black smoke, not associated with the burning of a pig carcass.
After sundown, a scream echoed from the Aldridge farm. Neighbors investigated, shocked to find the same farmer, Jonas Aldridge, butchering his wife Sarah, with a large knife. As he was restrained, it was as if he awoke from a deep slumber. Confused and distraught, the sight of his murdered wife brought him to tears. Upon hearing it was he who committed the crimes, Aldridge adamantly swore to know nothing of the murder he was witnessed perpetrating. He was taken to the Constable’s quarters. It was the first murder ever to be committed in Eckubine.
August 2nd, 1634
The entire village stunned at Jonas Aldridge’s senseless act, was even more shocked when Jane Fuller, a recent widow and mother to four young children, stumbled from her dwelling, smoke billowing out behind her. She stood in the middle of the road, her clothes covered in blood, watching calmly as flames consumed her house. Bystanders came to her aid, escorting her away from the fire and doing what they could to extinguish the out of control blaze. When asked about what transpired and where her children were, Jane could not remember. The house was reduced to smoldering rubble, but as the ashes cooled, the charred remains of her young children were found. She chillingly denied committing any crime, but the blood on her clothes indicated otherwise.
The bizarre, unexplained and violent happenings continued throughout the day. Each catastrophe caused by the hands of average, everyday citizens, who had no recollection of anything happening. The final act of the evening however, left no doubt as to what force was at work. Daniel Gordon ran down the darkened streets of Eckubine, calling out for the doctor. His young son, Thomas had come down with a fever and was acting strangely. When the Doctor arrived, he witnesses young Thomas thrashing about the floor. As Daniel subdued his son, Thomas attempted to kill him with a dolabra. The minister was immediately called.
August 3rd, 1634
By morning it had been determined that the strange behavior developing in Eckubine was attributed to demonic possession. Concerned citizens flocked to the Meeting House, where they would pray and ask God for guidance. Then, screams began to come from the children who were gathered outside. The whole town watched as from the forest, dozens of demons began to emerge. One stepped forward and spoke, claiming they had been summoned to collect the souls of the citizens of Eckubine in the name of their dark master, Satan. Frightened, people fled to their homes, only to find family members possessed. What ensued was a murderous rampage, that saw people forced to kill their spouses, children their parents and neighbors their friends. Houses were set ablaze, and animals were slaughtered in the streets. As the sun set, the town had killed itself into extinction.
Religion was such a big part of everyday life to the citizens of Eckubine. Their belief in God and the manner in which they chose to worship, is what drove them from their homes to the new world of America. It was their strong devotion that held them together, crossing the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean and surviving the ever-changing elements of their new environment. But not every man, woman and child was honest or complete in their piety, as temptation lie everywhere in this imperfect world. It is this deception in dedication to the Lord, that religious scholars believed to be the cause for the events of 1634. A more modern theory is that it was nothing more than a case of mass hysteria, caused by Ergot poisoning (a similar claim was made to the cause of young girls’ hallucinations that led to the Salem Witch Trials). Whatever the cause, the town of Eckubine was no more. Burnt buildings turned to stone rubble; weeds overtook the roads, whatever horrible things that once happened there have been swallowed up by time. To this day, the area remains untouched, faded into obscurity and steeped in mystery.
An interesting note in the case of Eckubine – In 1676, at the end of King Philip’s War, Wampanoag chief, Metacomet (known to the English as “King Philip”), was tracked to the Miery Swamp near Bristol, Rhode Island. Before he was fatally shot, his last words were “The punishment of Eckubine befall thee”.