Spectral leaguers, Gloucester MA

The Spectre Leaguers, July 1692

This story of apparitions was told by so many sources that it suggests that the colony was suffering from mass superstitions. The following was written by Thomas Franklin Waters:

“In the midst of witchcraft accusations in 1692, a new and unique outburst of Satanic rage revealed itself. Gloucester was invaded by a spectral company of Indians and French. Coming out of the swamps, or cornfields, sometimes singly, again in a group, they approached the garrison. Usually the guns of the soldiers missed fire, but when the guns were discharged the bullets had no effect. Their speech was in an unknown tongue. They carried guns and real bullets shot from them were dug out of the trees. The alarm became so great that Major Samuel Appleton of Ipswich sent about sixty men on the 18th of July ”for the Townes Assistance under these inexplicable Alarms, which they had suffered night and day for about a Fortnight together.”

Rev. John Emerson wrote to Cotton Mather, at his request, a brief account of these appearances. He says, “I hope the Substance of what is Written will be enough to satisfy all Rational Persons, that Gloucester was not Alarmed last Summer for above a Fortnight together by real French and Indians, but that the Devil and his Agents were the cause of all the Molestation which at this time befell the Town; in the name of whose Inhabitants I would take upon me to Entreat your Earnest Prayers to the Father of Mercies, that those Apparitions may not prove the sad Omens of some future and more horrible Molestations to them.”

Mather himself appends to Mr. Emerson’s narrative, ”I know the most considerate Gentlemen in the Neighborhood, unto this Day (1702) believe this whole matter to have been a Prodigious Piece of the Strange Descent from the Invisible World, then made upon other Parts of the Country.”

From New England Legends and Folk-lore by Samuel Adams Drake

It is gravely told in the “Magnalia Christi ” of Cotton Mather, and on the authority of the Reverend John Emerson of Gloucester, how a number of rollicking apparitions dressed like gentlemen, in white waistcoats and breeches, kept Gloucester and the neighboring towns in a state of feverish excitement and alarm for a whole fortnight together.

In the midsummer time, in the year 1692, Ebenezer Babson, a sturdy yeoman of Cape Ann, with the rest of his family, almost every night heard noises as if some persons were walking or running hither and thither about the house. He being out late one night, when returning home saw two men come out of his own door, and then at sight of him run swiftly from the end of the house into the adjoining cornfield. Going in, he immediately questioned his family concerning these strange visitors. They promptly replied that no one at all had been there during his absence.

Staggered by this denial, but being a very resolute, stout-hearted man, Babson seized his gun and went out in pursuit of the intruders. When he had gone a little way from the house, he saw the same men suddenly start up from behind a log and run into a swamp that was nearby. He also overheard one say to the other, ” The man of the house is now come, else we might have taken the house.” Then he lost sight of them.

Upon this, expecting an immediate attack, the whole family rose in consternation, and went with all haste to the nearest garrison, which was only a short distance off. They had only just entered it when they heard heavy footfalls, as if a number of men were trampling on the ground around it. Then Babson again took his gun and ran out, and he again saw the two men running away down the hill into the swamp. By this time no one doubted that they were threatened with an Indian foray, that these men were the enemy’s scouts, and that the danger was imminent.

1637"First Muster"
Puritan muster

The next night but one, Babson, for the third time, saw two men, who he thought looked like Frenchmen, one of them having a bright gun, such as the French Canadians used, slung on his back. Both of them started towards him at the top of their speed; but Babson, taking to his heels, made good his escape into the garrison, and so eluded them. When he had got safely in, the noise of men moving about on the outside was again distinctly heard. Not long after these strange things had taken place, Babson, with another man, named John Brown, saw three men whom they tried hard to get a shot at, but did not, owing to the strangers’ dodging about in so lively a manner that they could not take aim.

For two or three nights these men, or devils in the form of men, continued to appear in the same mysterious way, for the purpose of drawing the Cape men out into a wild goose chase after them. On July 14, Babson, Brown, and all the garrison saw within gunshot of them half a dozen men, whom they supposed to be reconnoitering, or trying to decoy them into an ambush. The brave garrison at once sallied out in hot pursuit. Babson, who seems to have ever sought the forefront of battle, presently overtook two of the skulking vagabonds, took good aim, and pulled the trigger ; but his trusty gun missed fire, and they got away and hid themselves among the bushes.

He then called out to his comrades, who immediately answered, ” Here they are! Here they are!” and Babson, running to meet them, saw three men stealing out of the swamp side by side. Bringing his gun to his shoulder, with sure aim this time he fired; when all three fell as if shot. Almost beside himself, Babson cried out to his companions that he had killed three. But when he was come nearly up to the supposed dead men, they all rose up and ran away, apparently without hurt or wound of any kind. Indeed one of them gave Babson a shot in return for his own, the bullet narrowly missing him, and burying itself in a tree, from which it was afterward dug out, and preserved as a trophy of the combat.


Babson, thinking this warm work, took refuge behind a tree and reloaded. Then, his comrades having joined him, they all charged together upon the spot where the fugitives lay concealed. Again the spectres started up before their eyes and ran, “every man his way.” One, however, they surrounded and hemmed in, and Babson, getting a fair shot at him, saw him drop. But when search was made, the dead body had vanished.

After a fruitless hunt, during which the stout-hearted Colonists heard a loud talking going on in the swamp, in some outlandish jargon they could not understand a word of, they returned, crestfallen and half dead with fatigue, to the garrison, in order to report their ill success. But no sooner were they back there, than they saw more men skulking among the bushes, who prudently kept out of gunshot. What could it all mean?

In the course of a few days more, two of the garrison went out upon a scout, who saw several men come out of an orchard, in which they seemed to be performing some strange incantations. They counted eleven of them. Richard Dolliver raised his gun and fired into the midst of them, where they stood the thickest,but of course without other effect than to make them scatter as before.

It now being clear that the strange visitors bore a charmed life, and that the Cape was in great peril from this diabolical invasion, the end of which no man could foresee, the aid of the surrounding towns was invoked in this truly alarming crisis. A reinforcement of sixty men from Ipswich, led by Captain Appleton, coming promptly to the rescue, gave the garrison much encouragement, beleaguered round as they were by the Powers of Darkness, against which lead and steel were of no more effect than snowballs or rushes would have been.


For a fortnight they had been kept in continual alarm, night and day. The infernal visitants showed themselves first in one place and then in another, to draw out and harass them, until a foeman seemed lurking in every bush. Though repeatedly shot at, none could be killed. They threw stones, beat upon barns with clubs, and otherwise acted more in the spirit of diabolical revelry than as if actuated by any deadlier purpose. They moved about the swamps without leaving any tracks, like ordinary beings. In short, it was evident that such adversaries as these were, must be fought with other weapons besides matchlocks and broadswords; consequently a strange fear fell upon the Cape.

Finally they became still more insolently bold, and so far from showing the same cowardly disposition to take to their heels whenever they were chased, they now treated their pursuers with open contempt. For instance, seeing three of the unknown approaching him one morning, walking slowly and apparently unmindful of any danger, Babson ensconced himself behind some bushes to lie in wait for them. He held his fire until they were come within a stone’s throw before he pulled the trigger. But to his unspeakable dismay his gun flashed in the pan, though he repeatedly snapped it at the phantoms, who took no other notice of him than to give him a disdainful look as they walked by.

It being settled that these insults proceeded from spectres, and not from beings who were vulnerable to weapons of mortal make, the unequal contest was abandoned. When this was done, the demons’ occupation being gone, they too disappeared.

Magnalia Christi in America by Cotton Mather
Magnalia Christi in America by Cotton Mather

Neither of the reverend persons named seems to have entertained a doubt that these unaccountable molestations were caused by the Devil and his agents in propria persona, who took the human form for the better execution of their deep design. It is not very clear what that design was. The spectres, if such they were, — and as it would be unpardonable in us to doubt, appear to have been a harmless sort of folk enough, for they did no injury either to the persons or the property of the inhabitants, thus laying their natural propensities under a commendable restraint.

But the fact that they were spirits, and no ordinary spirits at that, being so confidently vouched for, and by such high authority on such matters as Dr. Cotton Mather, would seem to dispose of all doubt upon the subject. Should any, however, remain in the reader’s mind after perusing the following account, he is reminded that what he has read is the sworn evidence of men who actually fought with, and on more than one occasion disgracefully routed and drove the invading demons before them into dark swamps and thickets. These witnesses are all persons of character and credibility. Moreover, their testimony remains unshaken by any subsequent revelations to this day. The reader may therefore depend upon the authoritative character of the narrative.


Charles M. Skinner in his book, “Myths and Legends of our own Land” Vol. 1, tells the end of the story:

“One night, a dark and hostile throng emerged from the wood and moved toward the blockhouse, where 20 musketeers were keeping guard. “If you be ghosts or devils I will foil you,” cried the captain, and tearing a silver button from his doublet he rammed it into his gun and fired on the advancing host. Even as the smoke of his musket was blown on the wind, so did the beleaguering army vanish, the silver bullet proving that they were not of human kind. The night was wearing on when a cry went out that the devils were coming again. Arms were laid aside this time, and the watchers sank to their knees in prayer. Directly after the name of God was uttered, the marching ceased and heaven rang with the howls of the angry fiends. Never again were leaguers seen in Gloucester.”

Source: Magnalia Christi Americana by Cotton Mather

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