May 06, 2012

Mr. Foxwell and the Vanishing Dancers

Last week I posted a merman story from John Josselyn's 1674 book An Account of Two Voyages to New England.

Josselyn heard that story in Maine on June 26, 1639 when a group of his neighbors came over to welcome him to New England. After Mr. Mittin's story about the merman, another neighbor chimed in with his own strange tale:

The next story was told by Mr. Foxwell, now living in the province of Maine, who having been to the Eastward in a Shallop (a small sailboat) as far as Cape-Ann ... in his return was overtaken by the night, and fearing to land upon the barbarous shore, he put off a little further to Sea.

About midnight they were wakened with a loud voice from the shore, calling upon "Foxwell, Foxwell come a shore," two or three times. Upon the Sands they saw a great fire, and Men and Women hand in hand dancing round about it in a ring, after an hour or two they vanished. And as soon as the day appeared, Foxwell puts into a small Cove ... and traces along the shore, where he found the footing (footprints) of Men, Women and Children shod with shoes ; and an infinite number of brands-ends thrown up by the water, but neither Indian nor English could he meet with on the shore, nor in the woods.

These with many other stories they told me, the credit whereof I will neither impeach nor enforce, but shall satisfy my self, and I hope the Reader hereof, with the saying of a wife: "Learned and honorable Knight, that there are many stranger things in the world, than are to be seen between London and Stanes (a town on the Thames River)."

I read somewhere online that this may be the first ghost story written in the New World. I'm not sure if that's accurate, but I do like it quite a bit. Mr. Foxwell doesn't give any reason for what happened, and for me that obliqueness makes it creepier than you average ghost story.



Who were the dancers? If they were solid enough to leave footprints, how could they vanish? How did they know his name? And, the big question, what would have happened if he had joined them around their fire?

Mr Foxwell's tale reminds me of stories that kids still tell at night to spook each other, but it also really imparts to me how the early English settlers must have felt living at the edge of an unknown continent full of unexplained wonders and terrors.

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