July 18, 2010

More on the Haunted Mill, with a Cross-Dressing Canadian



Surprisingly, I just found another story about Somerville's haunted mill. But before I get to the legend, here's a very short relevant North American history lesson.

Way back in the early 1600s, the part of Canada now called Nova Scotia was colonized by the French, who named it Acadia. (The name is probably derived from Arcadia, with an "r", which was an idyllic wilderness region in ancient Greece.) These colonists, or Acadians, were the dominant social group in eastern Canada until the early 1700's, when Britain wrested control of the area from France.

Say goodbye to Acadia and hello to Somerville! Image from here.

At first the British tolerated the Acadians, but gradually becames suspicious of these French-speaking Catholics and in 1755 they deported thousands of Acadians. The exiles ended up all over the New World, including Louisiana (where they became the Cajuns) and Massachusetts.

What does this have to do with Somerville? Well, according to Edward Samuel and Henry Kimball's Somerville Past and Present (1897), in the mid-1700s a young Acadian woman was given to a Somerville farmer as a servant. He was a cruel master, so she decided to escape.

Hoping to avoid detection, she disguised herself as a man and ran from the farm. On her way out of town she sought refuge with a friendly mill owner, who said she could stay overnight in the mill's upstairs room.

Unfortunately for her, her cruel master discovered her escape and tracked her to the mill. He tricked the miller into unlocking the mill, and crept quietly through the darkness towards the ladder leading upstairs. But unfortunately (for him), he slipped in the darkness and fell off the ladder. He grabbed a rope to break his fall, the mill went into motion, and he was crushed by the millstone. His ghost now haunts the building.

There are some interesting parallels between this story and the version from last week. In both, a young woman is hiding upstairs, and is chased by an evil man who gets crushed and returns as a ghost. This version from Somerville Past and Present doesn't include any romance, but instead has cross-dressing and roots the story in a specific historic moment. It also doesn't mention the ghost swearing and appearing as a ball of blue sparks.

The two versions were written down within a year of each other, so I'm a little puzzled by the discrepancies. I guess the people of Somerville all agreed that the mill was haunted, they just didn't know why. The ghost is a given, but the reason is a mystery.

I found the reference about Somerville Past and Present in Richard Dorson's 1946 book Jonathan Draws the Longbow. And, in the interest of full disclosure, one of my ancestors was an Acadian deported to my Massachusetts in the 1700s!

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