Lithobolia of New Hampshire, The A strange case of Lithoboly, or stone-peltings, occurred in the late 1600s in the colony of New Hampshire and was attributed to witchcraft. The exact date of the incident is not known, but it was recorded in Increase Mather’s Providences in 1684 and in an eyewitness account published in 1698.
The stone-peltings took place over a period of several months at the home of George Walton, a wealthy landowner. The suspected source of the trouble was an elderly woman who was a neighbor of Walton’s and was believed to be a witch. She and Walton had a dispute over a piece of land, which Walton claimed belonged to him and which he succeeded in appropriating from her. The bitter woman was overhead to remark that Walton would “never quietly enjoy that piece of ground.” Her Curse apparently came true.
One Sunday night in may at about 10 o’clock, Walton and his family, servants and guests were surprised by the clatter of a great number of stones against the roof and all sides of the house. Walton and several persons ran outside to investigate but could see nothing despite the bright moonlight. Walton found his fence gate torn off its hinges. Before he and the others returned inside, they were pelted by a rain of stones.
They ran back inside the house, where everyone was in an uproar. Stones began flying into the house. Everyone withdrew from the outer rooms, yet stones, some of them as large as fists, continued to fly at them and drop from the ceiling. Stones battered the windows from the inside, punching holes in the leaded glass and forcing out the bars, lead and hasps before ricocheting back into the room. Some of the stones seemed to fly out of the fire and were hot. Stones pelted the brass and pewter ware that was out, sending pots and candlesticks crashing to the floor.
By some miracle, no one was seriously injured by the stones. The occupants of the house immediately assumed preternatural causes. For four hours, stones continued to fly about the house and rain down the chimney. One of the guests grew weary and went back to bed, only to awaken when an eight-pound stone crashed through his chamber door.
The next day, Walton’s domestics discovered that various household objects were missing. Some turned up in the yard and other odd places, while others abruptly sailed down the chimney or fell into rooms as though dropped from the ceiling. The men who went to work in the fields found the land littered with stones. A black cat was seen in the orchard and was shot at, but got away (see Cats).
That evening, one of the guests began to play a musical instrument. A “good big Stone” came rumbling in the room, followed by an avalanche of more stones. A hand was seen thrusting out from a hall window, tossing more stones upon the porch, at a time when no one was in the hall.
The stone-throwing and the disappearance of household objects went on for weeks, sometimes stopping for a day or two, then renewing with more force. The stones got larger; two stones weighing more than 30 pounds apiece thundered against one of the guest-room doors. The men at work outside continued to be plagued by stones that rained down and then disappeared from the ground, only to rain down on them again.
On Monday, June 28, came one of the worst stone attacks. members of the household were eating supper in
the kitchen when stones hurled down and broke the table into pieces. r. C. Esq. writes in his account, Lithobolia: or, the Stone-throwing Devil, etc. (1698):
. . . many Stones (some great ones) came thick and threefold among us, and an old howing Iron, from a room hard by, where such Utensils lay. Then, as if I had been the designed Object for that time, most of the Stones that came (the smaller I mean) hit me, (sometimes pretty hard), to the number of above 20, near 30 . . . and whether I moved, sit, or walk’d, I had them, and great ones sometimes lighting gently on me. . . . Then was a room over the kitchen infested, that had not been so before, and many Stones greater than usual lumbering there over our Heads, not only to ours, but to the great Disturbance and Affrightment of some Children that lay there.
Walton continued to work in the fields with his men, though they were repeatedly pelted by stones. One day Walton said he was struck by more than 40 of them, which injured him so that he suffered chronic pain for the rest of his life. The corn planted in the fields was mysteriously cut off at the roots or uprooted. No agent of the damage was ever seen by anyone. The men said they heard at times an eerie “snorting and whistling” while they worked.
Other strange things continued to happen. A maid was hit on the head by a falling porringer. Hay baled one day was found strewn about the ground the next, with some of it tossed into the trees. One night, a “violent shock of Stones and Brickbats” crashed through a window, toppled books off a case and ripped a foot-long hole in a picture.
Finally, on August 1, Walton had had enough and decided to fight witchcraft with witchcraft. On the advice of someone who claimed to know about such matters, he attempted to cast a spell to punish the witch responsible for the harassment. A pot containing urIne and crooked pIns was set on the fire. As it boiled, it was supposed to remove the bewitchment and make the witch suffer. But as the urine began to heat, a stone fell into it and spilled it. The Waltons refilled the pot with more urine and crooked pins. Another stone fell in the pot and spilled the contents again. Then the handles fell off the pot, and the pot split into pieces. The Waltons gave up.
The hails of stones went on. Now more than 100 stones fell on the field while Walton and his men worked. Walton found his tools broken and his fences pulled down.
Walton at last complained to the council in Portsmouth, which summoned both him and the elderly woman for interrogation. En route, Walton was struck by three fist-sized stones, one of which “broke his head,” a wound that he showed to the president of the council.
The outcome of the affair is not recorded. most likely, the stone-throwing stopped after the Portsmouth Council became involved. Walton remained on his land, but his health was ruined.
- Mather, Increase. An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences. Introduction by James A. Levernier. 1684. reprint, Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars’ Facsimiles and reprints, 1977.
- R. C. Esq. Lithobolia: or, the Stone-throwing Devil, etc. London: 1698.