A Real Puritan Story of “The Big Bad Wolf”

A very kind reader gave me this story. I tried to find out if it was ever published, and I couldn’t find any source.  Wolves were a scourge upon the villages in New England during Puritan times and the settlers could nail a wolf’s head to the Meeting House Door to claim a bounty.

I rewrote the story and also am posting the original.  Writers back then (1700-1800’s) tended to write in sentences with MANY clauses. I tried to stay true to the original.

The original author was Reverend Ezenezer Hill (Harvard graduate born in 1776). Deacon Nathan Hall (1715-1807) and his wife Mary Chapman Hall (1723-1810) lived in Mason, Hillsboro, New Hampshire at the time this story took place. Mason was referred to as Township Number One in the early days.

Enjoy!

Wolves at the Door (retold by Donna Gawell, originally told by Reverend Ebenezer Hill)

In the early days of the village of Mason, when the land in New Hampshire was just raw wilderness, wolves regularly terrorized the settlers. The creatures would come down at night from the surrounding hills in a desperate search for food. They were especially ravenous in the autumn and winter. The wolves were so numerous and their howling was so loud and constant it disturbed the sleep of the people who lived in houses scattered about the township.

The presence of these nighttime terrors made it dangerous to be out at night or to remain outside as the sun set. Mothers, as soon as dusk began to fall, became increasingly concerned about their children. They would call them in and count each one to make sure none of their precious children, who were as hungry as the wolves, were missing. Counting was necessary in those times as the families were large.

Life was difficult in those times. The settlers spent years working with their axe, hoe, and plough to prepare the fields for raising grain in this wilderness.  Even when they did manage to harvest a small crop, there were no nearby mills to grind the grain into flour or meal. So, for years the grain had to be carried, sometimes many miles to older settlements to be milled. At times, meal had to be purchased along with other staples provisions the family needed. Such was the plight of the settlers in early Mason, which at that time was Township Number One, where there were no shops, stores or mills.

North of the first Meeting House on Meeting House Hill lived one of the earliest settlers, Deacon Nathaniel Hall and his wife, Mary. They had eight children at the time of this story, but the ninth followed soon after.

Laboring all day on his farm was not sufficient to provide all his family needed. In order to keep his family fed, Deacon Hall would often travel to Pepperell on foot in the evening. Making his way through the forest by lantern-light, he followed marked trees and returned home at dawn with a big bag of meal for his hungry children. Deacon Hall would then labor as usual all the next day.

One night, Deacon Hall departed on a new expedition for food after he shouldered his gun and took the lantern. The children were all tucked into bed, and Mary Hall rocked fretful baby Elizabeth in her cradle. Suddenly, the family could hear a blood-curdling howl, and a moment later they heard another. It was evident that several wolves were in the vicinity and were approaching the house.

Mary moved with the agility of a trained juggler and the strength of ten women. She made fast the “shuts” at the windows, drew in the latch string, secured the bolt, moved the heavy pine chest over against the door and braced it with the logs of firewood behind the settle.

Baby Elizabeth began to cry which made the wolves outside the door howl even more. Soon, the determined creatures were scratching, pawing and throwing their weight against the doors. Mary Hall held the baby in her arms in and attempted to calm her.

The other children were shivering with fear and got out of bed. At their mother’s instruction, they helped her pile everything in sight in front of the inside of the door: chairs, iron kettles, pots, benches, and the heavy crock of the soft soap. The frightened family huddled by the fire and are remained wide awake through that horrible night.

At dawn, the wolves glided away like phantoms. Mary Hall and the children dismantled the barricade, and little Mehitable Hall put out the latch string. Just then, Nathan Hall returned from Pepperell and gave the string a pull and stepped inside to greet his family. To his surprise, he was immediately surrounded by his excited, hungry and tired children.

Nathan put his gun in its place above the door and set the big sack of meal on the hearth. He kissed his white-faced and exhausted wife and took the baby from her arms. She then made a great pot of good, hot porridge. It tasted better to the family of Deacon Nathan Hall than any porridge ever made, before or after!

Wolves at the Door (original)

A Story from Early New England as told by Reverend Ebenezer Hill

In the early days of Township Number One (which later became Mason) wolves were so numerous that their howling−when they came down at night from the surrounding hills in search of food, especially in the autumn and winter−was so loud and constant it disturbed the sleep of the people in the scattered house who had toiled all day. It was dangerous to go out at night or to remain outside after dark. Mother, as soon as dusk began to fall, became increasingly concerned about their children, called them in, counting each one to make sure. Families were large in those days, and the children were almost as hungry as the wolves.

I took years, working with axe, hoe and simple plough, to prepare fields for raising grain in the wilderness; and even then they did manage, at least, to harvest a small crop, there were no mills to grind the grain into flour or meal. For years grain had to be carried, sometimes many miles, to older settlements to be milled, or meal had to be purchased, together with whatever other staple provisions were needs, and carried back to Number One, where thee was neither a shop nor a store.

North of the Frist Meeting House on Meeting House Hill lived one of the earliest settler here, Deacon Nathan Hall, with his wife, Mary, and their eight children (the ninth had not yet been born). In order to keep his family fed Deacon Hall, after laboring all day on his farm, would often travel to Pepperell on foot, making his way through the forest by lantern-light, following marked trees, returning at dawn with a big bag of meal for his hungry children. Then he would labor as usual all the next day.

One night, after the Deacon had shouldered his gun, taken a lantern and departed on such an expedition, the children were all tucked into bed, Mrs. Hall, rocking the fretful baby, Elizabeth in her cradle, heard a blood curdling how. In a moment, she heard another and soon she knew by the sound that not only were several wolves in the vicinity, but they were approaching the house. She got up from beside the cradle and, moving with the agility of a trained juggler while using the strength of ten women, she made fast the “shuts” at the windows, drew in the latch string, secured the bolt, moved the heavy pine chest over against the door, bracing it with logs of firewood from behind the settle. The baby began to cry, which made the wolves outside howl the more. Soon they were scratching, pawing, and throwing their weight against the door. Mrs. Hall took the baby from the cradle, quieting it in her arms. The children, shivering with fear, got out of bed and busied themselves, at their mother’s suggestion, piling everything in sight on the inside of the door: chairs, iron kettles, pots, benches, the heavy crock of soft soap…then huddled by the fire, the frightened family watched, wide awake, all through that horrible night.

At dawn, the wolves glided away like phantoms. Mrs. Hall and the children dismantled the barricade, and little Mehitable Hall put out the latch-strong again, just in time for their father, back from Pepperell, to give it a pull and step in, where he was immediately surrounded by his excited, hungry, tired children. He put his gun in its place above the door, set the big sack of meal he had brought, on the hearth, kissed his white-faced wife and took the baby from her, to free her hand for the making of a great pot of good hot porridge which, when it was ready, tasted better to the family of Deacon Nathan Hall than any porridge ever made, before, of after.

Ebenezer Hill was born in Colbrook, New Hampshire on Jan 31, 1776. He was a Harvard Graduate and was the pastor in Mason, New Hampshire for over 64 years. He is the original author of this story.

Nathan Hall (1715-1807) and his wife Mary Chapman Hall (1723-1810) lived in Mason, Hillsborough, New Hampshire.

The story took place in Mason, New Hampshire.  Pepperell would have been about a four and half hour trek by foot.