The Witch of Blackbird Pond
1958 first edition
|Author||Elizabeth George Speare|
|Genre||Children's novel, Historical novel, Realistic Fiction|
|December 1, 1958|
|Preceded by||Calico Captive|
|Followed by||The Bronze Bow|
The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a children's 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.
In April 1687, 16 year-old Katherine Tyler (known throughout the story as Kit Tyler) leaves her home in Barbados after her grandfather dies and a 50-year-old man tries to marry her. She goes to Wethersfield, Connecticut to live with her Aunt Rachel, Uncle Matthew, and her 2 cousins, Judith and Mercy, in their Puritan community.
In Connecticut, there is a brief stop in Saybrook, a small town just downriver from Wethersfield, where 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. She nearly freezes in the frigid water because she was used to the pleasantly warm water in Barbados. 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." 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 knows she is coming. She says that they would welcome her because she is family.
When she arrives in Wethersfield, Kit finds Wethersfield very different from Barbados. At her previous home, Kit's family owned slaves, but here she is expected to work along with the rest of the family. She has two cousins, Mercy (who has a lame leg and is on crutches) and Judith. She is required to attend church meeting services twice each Sunday, which she finds long and dull. She meets the rich, 25-year-old William Ashby, who begins courting her, though she does not care for him; originally, her cousin Judith had hoped to marry William, but soon sets her sights on John Holbrook, now 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 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 Hannah Tupper, who was outlawed from the Massachusetts colony because she is a Quaker, and does not attend Meeting. As fellow outcasts, Kit and Hannah develop a deep bond, and even after her uncle forbids Kit to continue the friendship, Kit keeps visiting Hannah. During one of her visits, she 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 reciprocates. Unfortunately, Nat is banished from Wethersfield after setting lit jack-o-lanterns in the windows of William Ashby's unfinished home; he is threatened with 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 "stupid" and refuses to allow her to attend the dame school. She claims the child is too "old" to learn.
When a deadly illness sweeps through Wethersfield, a mob gathers to kill Hannah by burning her house. 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 courageously dashes ashore, risking trouble with the town council for stepping foot in Wethersfield. After taking Hannah aboard, Nat 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; Goodwife Cruff's husband has accused Kit of being a witch. The next day, after a night in the sheriff's 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 seems to be decided, Nat appears with Prudence, who testifies that she herself wrote her name in the hornbook. 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 the devil would be foolish to allow a child to be taught to use the Bible against himself. While Nat is initially in trouble for returning and evades capture, Matthew Wood intervenes on his behalf and gets the sentence remitted because Nat came back to see justice done, not to cause further mayhem.
Soon after, two engagements are announced: Mercy to John Holbrook and Judith to William Ashby. Kit decides to return to Barbados. However, she soon realizes that she is truly in love with Nat, and she waits for him to return. Nat returns to Wethersfield with his new ship, the Witch, named after Kit. Kit asks to come on board the Witch but Nat says no, not until he gets Uncle Matthew's permission to get married, and they leave to visit Uncle Matthew.
- Katherine Tyler: Better known as "Kit," she is the protagonist, an independent, rebellious, and kind girl from rich family in Barbados who lived with her grandfather before he died and struggles to find a new identity in Wethersfield as she lives with her Puritan aunt, Rachel, in the colony.
- Sir Francis Tyler: Kit's grandfather (deceased).
- Hannah Tupper: A Quaker and outcast who is often rumored to be a witch.
- Nathaniel Eaton: Called "Nat" by most. He is Captain Eaton's son, and also Kit Tyler's true love and eventual husband.
- Rachel Wood: Kit's gentle aunt, the timid wife of Matthew Wood.
- Matthew Wood: Kit's strict Anti-Royalist uncle, an independent man. 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 Bulkeley, who teaches him about theology, religion, and medicine, who is absorbed in learning, considers his teacher the highest of them all, and often doesn't think for himself. Ends up marrying Mercy.
- Dr. Gershom Bulkeley: Royalist minister (historical figure), teacher of John Holbrook.
- Goodwife Cruff: Narrow-minded local woman who accuses Kit of being a witch. Mother of Prudence Cruff.
- Goodman Adam Cruff: Goodwife Cruff 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).
- Governor Edmund Andros: Governor of the Dominion of New England (including Connecticut), an officer of the King's Dragoons, and a knight (historical figure).
- Captain Samuel Talcott: Magistrate (historical figure).
Allusions to local geography
Many places in the novel are actual locations in Old Wethersfield, Connecticut. They include:
- Blackbird Pond (later renamed Wethersfield Cove)
- Great Meadows
- Congregational church on Main Street
- Buttolph-Williams House is considered to be the house Kit lived in.
At the time of the book's publication, Kirkus Reviews said: "Kit's vindication, her gradual integration into the community and the positive effect she has on those about her, combine here in a well documented novel to rival the author's first work, Calico Captive, which received wide acclaim as a work of 'superior historical fiction'." In a retrospective essay about the Newbery Medal-winning books from 1956 to 1965, librarian Carolyn Horovitz wrote of The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, Rifles for Watie and The Bronze Bow: "All have value, all are told skilfully. If they lack the qualities of greatness, it is largely because their style has a commercial sameness."
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. Random House. Retrieved December 8, 2013.
- Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pond. New York, Bantam Doubleday Dell Books, 1993. p. 224.
- Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pond. New York, Bantam Doubleday Dell Books, 1993. p. 144.
- Great Meadows Conservation Trust, Wethersfield, Rocky Hill and Glastonbury CT
- "THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND by Elizabeth George Speare". Kirkus Reviews. September 1, 1961. Retrieved December 7, 2019.
- Horovitz, Carolyn (1965). "Only the Best". In Kingman, Lee (ed.). Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books: 1956-1965. Boston: The Horn Book, Incorporated. p. 160. LCCN 65-26759.
Rifles for Watie
| Newbery Medal recipient