Thaumaturgical Prodigies in the New England Canaan

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If any are scandalized that New England, a place of as serious piety as any I know of should be troubled so much by witches, they should ask themselves this question: Where would the Devil most wish to make his inroads but in that place where he is hated the most?” — Rev. Ward Phillips, 1788.

This book was written in 1788 by the Reverend Ward Phillips of the Baptist Church of Arkham, Massachusetts. The treatise describes the blasphemous activities of witches, warlocks, Indian shamans, and other evil-doers in colonial New England. Terrible magicks, monstrous births, and dire Indian legends are all described. Phillips pays particular attention to the events that supposedly took place in and around Billington’s Woods, near Arkham, in the late 17th century.

Two Editions

The first edition was crudely published in 1789. A small print run in imitation black letter riddled with typographical errors, it bore the original title Thaumaturgical Prodigies in the New-England Canaan. A second, vastly improved edition was published in Boston in 1801, with an amended title. The second version is quite common and can be found in libraries and historical societies all over New England. The earlier version, despite its crude printing, commands collector prices; one autographed specimen sold for $35 in the 1920s. Aside from printing and proofing quality, both versions are identical.

The Annotated Copy

One particularly interesting specimen of the Reverend’s book was believed to have been part of the library of a descendant: Providence, Rhode Island, businessman Whipple Phillips. This copy contained annotations and corrections made by the author indicating that what he once thought mainly legend and lore was instead frighteningly real. Descriptions of certain rites, written on the book’s flyleaves, contain several spells.


Only the annotated specimen contains spells, written in the reverend’s spidery hand.