If I had known that last week would be my final column in Waterford Patch, I would not have written it as a part-one-of-two with a "tune in next time" ending. But alas, Arianna Huffington (or whoever actually makes these decisions) is not concerned with the history of Waterford, and so my column is no more. (The New London version continues.) I wanted to write something somewhere on the topic of that part two, however, because I hate leaving things unfinished and because the newspaper article I planned to write about is just so bizarre.
So, in the 1850s, this correspondent who went by the name of Pequot wrote in the Repository about "Waterford in olden times." Regarding his first installment, see the column linked above. The second, "The Last Bear Hunt," starts out as an almost mythic description of erstwhile Waterford wildlife. "A century and a half ago" - i.e., around 1700 - the area was "infested with various kinds of wild animals...Cedar Swamp and Tyke Swamp were alive with ravenous wolves, and wo to the stray sheep that came in their way..." There were also panthers and wild cats (evidently not the same thing) and the latter "almost within the period of living memory...have been killed in Wigwamps, Swegotchy, Manatuck, and The Mountain." It is the place names, as much as the fauna, that make this old Waterford seem so distant. Even though some of those place names are the same: "That beautiful prairie now called Jordan-Plain and Fog-Plain was a favorite resort of the deer..." But the point of this story is the bears, which remained long after other animals had been hunted from the land.
In the telling of this tale of the last bear, the tone of the article goes from quaintly atmospheric to, well, racist and weird. It centers on the family of Hannah Lester (see last week's column) and takes place in the early 1700s in Magunk (around Great Neck.) "One pleasant Sabbath in Autumn, the whole family, white and black, with a single exception, went to meeting. Dinah a bond-maid, who was quite timorous and superstitious as slaves are apt to be, was left to keep the house." But when the Lesters came home, Dinah was missing. A search was conducted, and she was finally discovered in the attic, hiding in a hogshead full of scraps of flax. Upon threat of being "tipped out and pitched through the scuttle," the woman revealed, "I'ze seed de dibbel!" ("Is the negro crazy?" said Mr. Lester. "I did sure, massa, and I runned and hided in dis yer hogsum.") Obviously she had not seen "his Satanic majesty" but a black bear, as another slave pointed out, mocking Dinah's fear of the "rale dibble, brack all ober, with bobtail, long nose, big years, an' sharp toofs." The family laughed merrily, the bear was eventually killed, possibly at "Swegotchy," and Dinah, we're told, never stopped believing the animal was the devil.
Here Pequot claims to have "another haul of incidents" to relate in further articles, and an editor's note affirms that "The present generation is interested in the records of the past. Our Waterford readers especially, will not likely forget Dinah 'in de hogsum.'" But as far as I can tell, no further "Waterford in olden times" pieces were printed. Perhaps the mid-19th century version of Arianna Huffington didn't want to pay for them, either.