Today's History Highlights Archive

6 Places With Indian Curses

Curses were a fact of life in early colonial America. With limited scientific knowledge, spiritual beliefs reigned supreme. And many believed that a curse was a real way of getting back at someone who did you wrong. Superstitious European settlers made them, and so did Indians. Here are six places where Indian curses were issued:

The Curse of Charles Island, Milford, Conn.

6 indian curses - Charles islandSilver Sands State Park today has a beautiful ocean beach for a summer getaway on a hot day, and at low tide it’s fun to walk to Charles Island. But the history of the island has not always been so fun.

Europeans first noted the island in 1614. It was a summer destination for Ansantawae, chief of the local Paugussetts (an Algonquian tribe), which historically controlled vast swaths of land in Connecticut.

Charles Deal would eventually purchase the island, giving the land its name. But to the Paugussetts the island had spiritual significance. Local history says that after the European’s elbowed the tribe off the land, the Paugusetts cursed anyone who tried to build on it. And up to today, no structure has survived on the island very long.

The island also received two more curses. One came from the pirate William Kidd, who buried stolen treasure there in 1699. Authorities then dug it up and arrested him. Kidd cursed anyone who took his treasure. And it was cursed once more by a group of five sailors who used the island  to hide gold that they had stolen from Mexican emperor Guatmozin. He cursed the thieves who took his gold and the gold, as well.

Saco Curse, Saco, Maine

6 cursed places saco benjamin champneyFor years, Mainers wouldn’t go near the Saco River because of an old Indian curse.

The Saco, one of Maine’s largest rivers, starts in the White Mountains and empties into the ocean at Biddeford Pool. The Sokokis Indians lived near the mouth of the Saco.

Squando was a great Sokokis sachem. His tribe respected his dignified bearing and believed he had magical powers.

In 1631, English colonists began settling a town called Winter Harbor (later Saco) in the Sokokis territory. Under Squandro’s leadership and diplomacy, the Indians and the colonist lived side by side in peace.

That peaceful coexistence ended in the summer of 1675, according to legend.

The Sokokis were summering on what is now Factory Island in the river. An English ship was anchored in the mouth of the river. Three sailors decided to launch a rowboat and explore the island. There they found Squandro’s wife and infant son in a canoe.

The sailors decided to test a belief that Indian babies were born knowing how to swim. They threw Squandro’s baby into the river.

There are different versions of what happened next. According to one, Squandro’s wife dove in and saved the baby, but he died soon afterward. But according to another, both wife and child drowned. According to a third, Squandro also lost his unborn baby in the tragedy.

Squandro mourned for three days. Then he issued his curse. He commanded the spirits of the river to take the lives of three white men a year until they left the shores of the Saco. He also vowed revenge on the English. Squandro supposedly persuaded the Androscoggin tribe to attack Winter Harbor in an opening blow of King Philip’s War.

For centuries, Mainers wouldn’t go near the river until three people had died that year.

Kate Douglas Wiggin, who grew up along the Saco, wrote about the curse in her book Rose O’ The River in 1905.

In 1947, the Maine Sunday Telegram declared the curse broken when no one drowned in the Saco that year.

Curse of the Bridgewater Triangle, Bridgewater, Mass.

Bridgewater, Massachusetts – home to the Bridgewater State University – is the center of a 200-mile area known as the Bridgewater Triangle.

Students of the paranormal have visited the area for decades looking for UFOs, Bigfoot and other such oddities, and many report unpleasant encounters with spirits.

The Wampanoag tribe, prominent in the area, named the large swamp there Hockomock, which means “place where spirits dwell.” They used it for hunting game and as a base of operations during King Philips War. And they cursed the colonists who took their land.

Colonial settlers, meanwhile, called it “Devil’s Swamp.” One legend holds that a Wampanoag brave lost his wampum belt in the swamp, which caused the cursed nature of the area.

The Curse of Chocorua, Chocorua, N.H.

6 curses Mount_Chocorua_(JJH)Mount Chocorua has a distinctive rocky peak that towers over a picturesque lake. It’s said to be one of the most photographed mountains in the world.

It’s named after Chocorua, a sachem of a small band of Pequawket Indians. They had belonged to the Penobscot tribe, who lived mostly in Maine. When the Europeans began to settle the White Mountains, the Pequawkets joined with the Penacook confederation, who lived in New Hampshire along the Pemigewasset and Merrimack watersheds and near Great Bay.

One version of the legend goes that around 1720 Chocorua grew friendly with a family named Campbell that lived in Tamworth, N.H. Chocorua trusted them so much he left his son in their care when he had to go away. The son mistakenly ate some poison that the father, Cornelius Campbell, had left for predators. When Cornelius was away, Chocorua returned to find his son had died.

Campbell came home to find his wife and children killed. He suspected Chocorua, and pursued him to the top of the mountain. There Campbell wounded Chocorua with a gunshot. Chocorua then climbed to the highest boulder, raised his arms and shouted his curse:

“May the Great Spirit curse you when he speaks in the clouds and his words are fire! Lightning blast your crops! Wind and fire destroy your homes! The Evil One breathe death on your cattle! Panthers howl and wolves fatten on your bones!”

Then he leapt from the summit to his death.

Two years later, the body of Cornelius Campbell was found partially eaten by wolves. A plague destroyed the cattle in the area – said to be the victim of Chocorua’s curse.

Clawson’s Curse, Providence, R.I.

Clawson’s Curse derives its name from events that happened in 1661 near the North Burying Ground in Providence, R.I. in a thicket of barberry bushes.

John Clawson and Benjamin Herendeen were among the original white settlers of Providence, called 25 acre men. In early 1661, a local Indian named Waumaion attacked Clawson. He split open Clawson’s chin and chest with a blow from his ax.

Clawson did not blame the attack on the Indian, but rather was convinced that Herendeen had put the man up to the attack with lies about Clawson.

Clawson would die of his wounds, but not before he supposedly placed an odd curse on the Herendeen clan. He wished that their faces would be marred with cleft chins and their lands overrun by barberry bushes.

Clawson was a hired servant to Roger Williams, and Williams oversaw the disposition of his estate following his death. Herendeen family genealogies, meanwhile, note that for several generations members of the family had pronounced cleft chins.

The Curse of Brunswick Springs, Brunswick Springs, Vt.

6 curses Silver_Lake,_VT;_USARipley’s Believe It or Not in 1984 Called Brunswick Springs the Eighth Wonder of the World. From a single fountainhead gush six separate springs, each with a different mineral: iron, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, bromide and arsenic. The Abenaki Indians believed the springs to be a sacred spot with healing powers.

When a soldier was wounded in the French and Indian War, his Abenaki companions brought him to the springs so they could heal him. He recovered and later returned to the springs to bottle the water and sell it. The Abenakis objected to his profiting from the sacred waters. In the fight that followed, the soldier killed an Abenaki man and his baby. The baby’s mother put a curse on anyone who tried to profit from the spring.

Four enterprising businessmen ignored the curse and built successive hotels near the healthful springs. They built the first in 1860 and expanded it in the 1890s, when it burned to the ground. A second hotel collapsed into the river. A third hotel burned before it was finished, then burned again. In 1931, the land around the springs was used as a camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Today the land is protected from development as an Abenaki sacred site.


This story was updated in 2020.

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