Arts and Leisure

New Hampshire’s Sarah Whitcher Meets a Bear in 1783

One day in June of 1783, four-year-old Sarah Whitcher of Warren, N.H., begged her parents to let her go along with them when they visited her uncle at the top of the tall hill behind their house.

What followed was a remarkable story that lived on for centuries as both a charming historical tale and a favorite bit of New Hampshire folklore.

Sarah Whitcher

John Whitcher and his wife told little Sarah she could not come on their short visit and left her in the care of her older siblings. But when they returned late in the day it was clear they had miscommunicated. Why, her siblings asked their parents, had they not brought Sarah back with them from their visit?

sarah whitcher bearWhen they sorted the stories out, the Whitchers realized no one had been minding Sarah and she had wandered off. The Whitchers assembled a search party, and as word spread more and more people descended on Warren.

On the second day of the search, an ominous report came back to the Whitchers. Searchers had found Sarah’s tracks. And behind them they saw the tracks of a bear. She was surely dead, they feared.

Finally an expert woodsman from Plymouth, N.H., arrived in Warren four days after Sarah’s disappearance. He set out to aid in the search. Hours later, the town rejoiced as the townspeople heard three shots from a gun – the agreed-upon signal that Sarah had been found safe.

The stranger from Plymouth returned to Warren with the little girl in his arms, and she told a remarkable story. She had wandered away to gather flowers, and while walking, her feet had been cut and were bleeding.

She was startled to find that a bear had emerged from the woods and was puzzled by her. The bear gave Sarah a lick and lay down, affording her a warm place to snuggle up and sleep. The bear watched over the little girl, disappearing into the woods only as her rescuers arrived.

Warren Lore

The story of Sarah Whitcher became part of Warren, N.H., lore for generations. Over time, it was imbued with religious overtones and made more miraculous in its depiction. The man from Plymouth had been following a vision, in one retelling. In others, the prayers of the town brought the little girl back.

William Little documented the story through eyewitness accounts in his History of Warren, A Mountain Hamlet Located Among the White Hills of New Hampshire. He became convinced of its essential facts because so many people knew of it.

Later two children’s books featured the story: Sarah Whitcher’s Story, by Elizabeth Yates, and The Bear That Heard Crying, by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock and Helen Kinsey.

Sarah Whitcher herself went on to marry and have a family, and her story entertained young children for centuries.

This story about Sarah Whitcher was updated in 2019. 

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Janet Smith

    May 24, 2016 at 7:56 am

    My Grandmother was Elizabeth Sarah Whitcher. Her family was from Warren and Wentworth NH. I wonder if this was an oral tradition or just a story. I would love opinions/facts that might be a link to a real family story.

    • Laura Leone

      May 24, 2016 at 9:21 am

      You can try out Ancestry.com for free for 30 days! You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to trace your ancestors. In 30 days, I traced one line back to 75 AD!

    • Dave Proulx

      May 30, 2016 at 8:11 am

      Better yet, join FamilySearch.org.

      It’s always free – not just for 30 days! And it’s got fabulous resources, being operated by the LDS Church (Mormons).

    • Patrick

      January 26, 2019 at 8:30 am

      Sounds like the same thing just happened to a 3 yr old boy who was missing in the woods in North Carolina. Reading those comments is how I heard about this story.

  2. Judith A. Orth

    May 24, 2016 at 11:00 am

    Great story

  3. Mick Collins

    May 24, 2016 at 11:59 am

    I’m confused- was it in Warner or in Warren?

    • June McLaren

      May 24, 2016 at 10:15 pm

      According to Elizabeth Yates, it’s Warren.

  4. Peter Lothian

    May 24, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    Warren is the correct town. It is well up into the White Mountains. Warner is in the foot hills to the south. The title of the old history book given in the article is correct. On a family trip through the area a couple years ago, we stopped to admire Warren’s ballistic missile. Didn’t know the Whitcher story at the time.

  5. Debbie DuBrucq

    November 9, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    I am fascinated with the story. I am intrigued a bit in the spelling of the surname “Whitcher” as I am of the “Witcher’s” of Virginia. Could this truly be one in the same families but of different lines? I would love to correspond ([email protected]) with others who are truly researching the family lines and not just relying upon what is found on ancestry and the old fashion copy and pasting. I have been a member of ancestry of years and much of what is found there is not well researched. Debbie

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