The Witch of Blackbird Pond

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The Witch of Blackbird Pond
1958 first edition
Author(s) Elizabeth George Speare
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Children's novel, Historical novel
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Publication date December 1, 1958
Media type Hardcover
Pages 249 pages
ISBN NA & reissue ISBN 0-395-07114-3

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a children's historical novel by American author Elizabeth George Speare, published in 1958. The story takes place in late-17th century New England. It won the Newbery Medal in 1959.



[edit] Plot summary

In April 1687,[1] 16-year-old Katherine Tyler (known throughout the story as Kit Tyler) leaves her home in Barbados after her grandfather's death and goes to Wethersfield, Connecticut to live with her Aunt Rachel and Uncle Matthew in their Puritan community.

On the way to her new home, there is a brief stop in Saybrook, a small town just down river from Wethersfield, and four new passengers board the Dolphin, the ship on which Kit is traveling. As the small rowboat returns to the ship, a small girl named Prudence accidentally drops her doll in the water and begs her mother to get it back for her. Her mother, Goodwife Cruff, harshly strikes Prudence and tells her not to be foolish. Impulsively, Kit jumps into the water and retrieves the doll. When she returns to the rowboat, she is met with astonished suspicion as few people in Connecticut could swim so well. Goodwife Cruff is the most cynical of them all, believing Kit is a witch, saying, "No respectable woman could stay afloat like that." But Kit knew how to swim because she lived in the islands. On the slow trip upriver, Kit befriends John Holbrook, another passenger coming to Wethersfield to study with Reverend Gershom Bulkeley. After the Dolphin reaches Wethersfield, Kit admits to the captain of the ship that neither her aunt nor uncle know she is coming. She says that they would welcome her because she is family.

When she arrives in Wethersfield, Kit finds Connecticut very different from Barbados. In her previous home, she had servants but here is expected to work along with the rest of the family. There is none of the luxury to which she was accustomed, and even the weather is miserably cold. She has two cousins, Mercy and Judith. She is required to attend meeting (church) services twice each Sunday, which she finds long and dull. She meets the rich, 19-year old William Ashby, who begins courting her, though she does not care for him; originally, herchurch, Kit cousin Judith had hoped to marry William, but soon sets her sights on John Holbrook, a divinity student studying with local minister Gershom Bulkeley.

Kit's life improves when she and Mercy begin teaching the 'dame school' for the young children of Wethersfield who are preparing for the traditional school. Everything goes well until one day, bored with the normal lessons, Kit decides the children will act out a part from the Bible--the tale of the Good Samaritan. Mr. Eleazer Kimberly, the head of the school, enters the house just as things get out of hand. He is outraged at Kit for having the audacity to act out something from the Bible and shuts down the school. Heartbroken, Kit flees to the meadows where she meets and befriends the kind, elderly woman named Hannah Tupper, who was outlawed from the Massachusetts colony because she is a Quaker, and does not attend Meeting. As outcasts, Kit and Hannah develop a deep relationship, and even after her uncle forbids Kit to continue the friendship, Kit keeps visiting Hannah. During one of her visits, she once again meets the handsome Nathaniel "Nat" Eaton, son of the captain of the Dolphin. Without realizing it, she falls in love with him, and though he doesn't say so, Nat loves her as well. Unfortunately, Nat is banished from Wethersfield after setting lighted jack-o-lanterns in the windows of William Ashby's unfinished home with two of his shipmates-he will get 30 lashes if he returns to Wethersfield. Kit also begins secretly teaching Prudence to read and write; Goodwife Cruff claims the child is a halfwit and refuses to allow her to attend the dame school.

When a deadly illness sweeps through Wethersfield, a mob gathers to kill Hannah by burning her house, since everyone believes she is a witch who has cursed the town. Kit risks her life to warn Hannah, and the two women escape to the river just as the Dolphin appears from the early morning mist. Kit flags it down, and she explains to Nat the events of the night. Hannah refuses to leave without her cat, so Nat bravely gets it for her. After taking Hannah aboard, he then invites Kit to come with them. She refuses, explaining how Mercy is gravely ill, though Nat believes Kit fears risking her engagement to William Ashby.

After the Dolphin sails away, Kit returns home to find that Mercy's fever has broken. In the middle of the same night, the townspeople come for Kit — Adam Cruff, Goodwife Cruff's husband, had accused Kit of being a witch. The next day, after a night in a freezing shed, she is asked to explain the presence of her hornbook in Hannah's house and a copybook with Prudence's name written throughout, as the townspeople fear that she and Hannah had been casting a spell over the girl. Kit refuses to explain that it is Prudence herself who wrote her name in the book, as she does not wish Prudence to get in trouble with her parents. Then, just as the case seemed to be decided, Nat appears with Prudence who testifies that she herself wrote her own name in the hornbook, not Kit. To demonstrate her literacy, Prudence reads a Bible passage and writes her name, thus convincing her father both that she is intelligent and that no witchcraft could be involved, as he points out the devil would be foolish to allow a child to be taught to use the Bible against himself.

Judith becomes engaged to William Ashby, who had been courting Kit, and Mercy to John Holbrook, and Kit decides to return to Barbados. However, she soon realizes that she is in love with Nat, and she waits for him to return. Nat returns to Wethersfield with his own ship, the Witch, named for Kit. Nat asks her to come on board the Witch "for keeps".

[edit] Characters

Many of the Puritans' names are qualities such as "Mercy", "Thankful", and "Grace", because the parents wanted these character traits to influence their children.

  • Katherine Tyler: Better known as "Kit", she is the protagonist, an independent, rebellious,strong willed, kind girl from Barbados who lived with her grandfather before he died and struggles to find a new identity in Wethersfield. She ends up marrying Nat Eaton.
  • Hannah Tupper: A Quaker and outcast who is often mistaken for a witch
  • Nathaniel Eaton: Called "Nat" by most, Captain Eaton's son, he ends up marrying Kit
  • Rachel Wood: Kit's gentle aunt, timid wife of Matthew Wood
  • Matthew Wood: Kit's strict Anti-Royalist uncle, husband of Rachel Wood
  • Mercy Wood: Kit's compassionate and patient cousin, sister of Judith, daughter of Matthew and Rachel Wood, a cripple. Marries John Holbrook
  • Judith Wood: Kit's haughty cousin, sister of Mercy, daughter of Matthew and Rachel Wood, marries William Ashby
  • William Ashby: Kit's rich suitor, ends up marrying Judith
  • John Holbrook: Student of Dr. Gershom Bulkely, who teaches him about theology, religion, and medicine who is absorbed in learning and considers his teacher the highest of them all. Marries Mercy
  • Dr. Gershom Bulkeley: Royalist minister (historical figure[2]), teacher of John Holbrook
  • Goodwife Cruff: Narrow-minded local woman who is mother of Prudence Cruff who accuses Kit of being a witch.
  • Goodman Adam Cruff: Goodwife Cruff's meek husband and father of Prudence Cruff
  • Prudence Cruff: Cruff's young, mistreated daughter who befriends Kit
  • Captain Eaton: Captain of the Dolphin and Nat's father
  • Mistress Eaton: Captain Eaton's wife
  • Eleazer Kimberly: Puritan schoolmaster (historical figure[2])
  • Governor Edmund Andros: Governor of the Dominion of New England, including Connecticut; an officer of the King's Dragoons; and a knight[3] (historical figure[2])
  • Captain Samuel Talcott, Magistrate (historical figure[2])

[edit] Allusions to local geography

There are many places in the novel that are actual places in Old Wethersfield, Connecticut. They include:

  • Blackbird Pond (has since dried up)
  • The Great Meadows
  • The Congregational Church on Main Street
  • The Buttolph-Williams House is considered to be the house Kit lived in.

[edit] References

  1. ^ "The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth Speare". Retrieved 2010-12-12.
  2. ^ a b c d Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pond. New York, Bantam Doubleday Dell Books, 1993. p. 224.
  3. ^ Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pond. New York, Bantam Doubleday Dell Books, 1993. p. 144.
Preceded by
Rifles for Watie
Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by
Onion John
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