Turn your cloak
For fairy folks
Live in old oaks
It's an instruction and a warning. Fairies are mischievous, if not sometimes maevolent, and often inhabit large, old oak trees. Turning your cloak inside out will prevent them from enchanting you as you pass by their home. I'm not 100% sure why wearing something inside out will protect you, but I think the belief is that the fairies are just so puzzled by this weird behavior that they don't know what to do.
Not a lot of European fairy lore made it to New England, so I was surprised to read the following in Caroline Howard King's When I Lived in Salem 1822 - 1866:
Judge Story used to tell with great delight, that when he was a boy living in Marblehead, his mother always warned him, when he went to the pasture, to drive home the cows, to turn his jacket inside out for fear of the pixies.
It seems likely that King is talking about Joseph Story, a famous North Shore lawyer who became a Supreme Court Justice. Justice Story was a child in Marblehead during the Revolutionary War and left in 1795 to attend Harvard. The warning against pixies would have been delivered to him by his mother Mehitable Story (maiden name Pedrick).
|Joseph Story, 1779 - 1845|
The New World landscape certainly had an abundance of interesting features, but without the weight of oral tradition the fairies didn't become associated with them. Fairies didn't just live in any old tree, but specific trees back in England that had been left behind. In New England, mothers didn't tell their children about fairies living in the oak behind their house here and so the traditions mostly faded away.
New England does have a lot of natural features associated with the Devil, and I wonder if the Devil took the place of the fairies in local folklore. After all, he's not limited to one particular hill or tree, so it was easier for beliefs about the Devil to travel to North America. The various rocks, ponds, etc. named after the Devil aren't so much his home, but have instead been altered by him as he traveled across the region.
The belief about wearing things inside out did persist into the nineteenth century in New England, but without any fairies being associated with it. You were supposed to wear a dress or shirt inside out simply to bring good luck, not to avoid being enchanted by pixies. The practice survived but the fairy association disappeared.