The Devil and Tom Walker

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"The Devil and Tom Walker"
Author Washington Irving
Country United States/England
Published in Tales of a Traveller
Publisher John Murray (UK)
Carey & Lea (USA)
Media type Print
Publication date 1824

"The Devil and Tom Walker" is a short story by Washington Irving that first appeared in his 1824 collection of stories titled Tales of a Traveller,[1] as part of the "Money-Diggers" section. The story is very similar to that of the ancient German legend of Faust.

Stephen Vincent Benét drew much of his inspiration for "The Devil and Daniel Webster" from this tale.


The story starts with the legend of William Kidd the Pirate. It is rumored that Kidd had a large treasure that he buried in a forest in colonial Massachusetts to keep it safe. Kidd made a deal with the devil in return for protection of his money. The devil's conditions are unknown. Kidd died and was never able to return to his money and the devil has protected it ever since.

The short story then continues at around the year of 1727. Tom Walker is a greedy and selfish miser of a man who cherishes money along with his shrewish and equally greedy wife. They lived in a tarnished looking house, that had stood alone and had an air of starvation. This is until he takes a walk in the swamp at an old Indian fortress {a relic of King Philip's War of 1675/1678} and starts up a conversation with the Devil incarnate (referred to as "Old Scratch" in the story). "Scratch" is shown as a lumberjack or a woodsman chopping down trees, each with a prominent and wealthy colonialist name branded on the tree trunk. One rotted and soon to fall tree has the name of a deacon who grew wealthy "trading" with the Indians. Another fallen trunk has that of a wealthy seaman rumored to be a pirate. Old Scratch strikes up a deal with Tom Walker: he offers the riches hidden in the swamp by Captain Kidd in exchange for Tom's soul. Tom agrees to think about it, and returns home.

Burdened with this secret, he mentions it to his wife. While he has no scruples in selling himself to "Old Scratch" for the treasure, he does not wish to do so for his wife's sake. She goes out to meet with Old Scratch herself and only replies to her husband that "Old Scratch" requires an "offering". When he is not there, Tom's wife takes all the valuables in the house and goes to make a deal with Old Scratch. When Tom goes in search of his wife and property, all he can find of her is her heart and liver in her apron tied to a tree.

Tom Walker then agrees to the deal with Old Scratch, as his wife had been abusive towards him, and he considered her death at the hand of Old Scratch a good thing-although Old Scratch did not come out unscathed with Mrs Walker. Because he can only use the treasure in "Old Scratch"s "service", Tom agrees to become a "usurer" (a person that loans money at an extremely high interest rate, commonly called today a loan shark), although Tom has "scruples" in becoming a slave trader.

During the Governorship of Jonathan Belcher{1730-1741}, speculation runs rampant and Walker's "business" flourishes. Becoming a member of the local stock exchange Tom buys a big house and a coach but never furnishes either even though he has the money to do so {he is so miserly he even contrives to half starve his coach horses rather than spend money to feed them!}. Tom never tires of swindling people out of money, until he suddenly becomes fearful about the afterlife. He then starts to become fiercely and loudly dedicated to God, always keeping two Bibles at hand-thinking that any sin on his neighbors "account" is a "Credit" to his own. He even has his best ridding horse saddled and buried upside down so that he might flee from "Old Scratch" who comes to collect his "due" from Tom.

When, one day, a ruined stock jobber {Speculator} who had borrowed money from him and is asking for clemency annoys Tom who says, "The Devil take me if I have made but a farthing!" (the smallest currency of the time. 1/4 of a penny) At this time, there are three loud knocks at the door. Tom is drawn towards the black-cloaked figure and realizes, in horror, that he has left his Bibles at his desk.

Tom Walker is then tossed by "Old Scratch" on the back of a black horse which rides toward the old fortress and disappears in lightning. Tom is never seen again. All his assets become worthless-his coach horses become skeletons and the gold and silver Tom hoarded has made turned into wood chips and shavings {because it was useless} while his mortgages and deeds are turned into cinders and his great house burns to the ground. His ghost haunts the site of the old fortress since that day. His only legacy is a New England saying "The Devil and Tom Walker".


  1. ^ Irving, Washington (1824). "The Devil and Tom Walker". Tales of a Traveller. ISBN 9780805785159.