American Folklore

American Folklore: Massachusetts

American Folklore: Massachusetts

Massachusetts is one of the original thirteen colonies, and home to several Native American tribes for thousands of years before the arrival of the English to their shores. Between that and the state’s infamy for the Salem witch trials and high reputation as the birthplace of the America Revolution, it has quite a bit of interesting folklore of its own. Here are some of the highlights of it.

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As one of the original thirteen colonies of England in North America, Massachusetts was the second New England settlement attempted by the English, with the first being the short-lived Popham colony in Maine in 1607. When the Mayflower settlers arrived on the shores of what would become Plymouth, Massachusetts thirteen years later in 1620, English colonization of New England became successful. Of course, there were already English colonies farther south that were well-established by that time, but settling the harsh, cold, and stark New England landscape was a challenge the Pilgrims rose to.

The area was also home to several Native American tribes which had been living there for thousands of years, and some had previous contact with Europeans from scouting and fur trapping visits, so when the Pilgrims arrived, at least one Native in the area knew English and could translate for them. Today, Massachusetts is best known for being the site of the 1692 Salem witch trials, and for being the site of Boston, which is considered the cradle of the American Revolution. Naturally, such an interesting place will have quite a bit of intriguing folklore. These are some of the highlights of it.

Witches Look for Revenge at the Joshua Ward House

A state as well-known for witchcraft as Massachusetts is going to have some folklore associated with it. If you visit Salem today, the entire town is practically run on the witchcraft trade (with history being the secondary industry there). Lots of places in town, and in nearby towns affected by the witchcraft trials, are said to be haunted. Among them is the Joshua Ward House.

Joshua Ward built the house but was not himself associated with the witch trials. However, a later owner, George Corwin, was. He was the sheriff of Salem at the time of the trials and responsible for arresting many of those who were imprisoned and/or executed for suspected witchcraft. He was also an infamous interrogator of those suspected of practicing witchcraft, and notoriously sadistic in his torture methods to get people to confess. He personally oversaw all the witch executions, including the “pressing” to death of Giles Corey when Corey would not confess.

Four years later, Corwin died and was buried in the basement of the house, which was also the location of most of his torture sessions. While his body was later moved, because town officials were concerned people would desecrate it, his ghost, the ghost of Giles Corey, and at least one unidentified female victim of the witch trials are said to haunt the house, causing lights to flicker, doors to slam, and gusts of wind to blow through the house. One ghost, the unidentified woman, was even caught on Polaroid by a realtor once.

The Lizzie Borden House

“Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her father forty whacks… ” So the old rhyme goes. While Lizzie’s guilt was never determined, and she was officially found not guilty by a jury, the people of Falls River, Massachusetts still suspected her of having killed her father and step-mother in their house with an ax. Today, the infamous house is a bed and breakfast, and visitors to it have reported feeling ill while there, feeling like they were being watched, and even seeing ghosts while in the house. The house has been the subject of many televised ghost hunting shows, as well. Though it has been well over a century since the Borden murders, their impact has left a mark on the house, and the town as well.

The Bridgewater Triangle

This two hundred square mile area between Freetown and Fall River (of Lizzie Borden fame) is said to be the most haunted forest in the world. Maybe the weird and spooky things that have happened (and continue to happen) there were the forces that prompted someone (Lizzie or otherwise) to kill Andrew Borden and his wife.

At any rate, the Bridgewater Triangle is notorious for being the site of numerous brutal murders, animal mutilations, UFO abductions, floating orbs of light, suicides, Satanic rituals, and mysterious cloaked figures. Most local residents stay away from the forest, except for those seeking adventure or proof of a haunting. Visiting it is not recommended by the locals.

The Danvers State Mental Hospital

Located right next door to Salem, Danvers used to be called Salem Village and was the home of most of the victims of the witchcraft trials, including the Parris family, whose daughter, niece, and enslaved servant were the ones to get the whole thing started in the first place. Today, the re-named town is home to an 1880’s building so Gothic and spooky in appearance that it inspired author H.P. Lovecraft to use it as the Arkham Sanitarium in some of his stories.

The building was made to house six hundred patients but ended up with more than twenty-three hundred crammed into it. Staff were, unsurprisingly, unable to keep up with everyone, and untold atrocities happened there as a result. It is also the building where the frontal lobotomy procedure was perfected. It is still there today, inviting passersby to examine the horrors of the past experienced inside those creepy Gothic walls.


The Wampanoags were the first Native American tribe the Plymouth settlers encountered in 1620, and they had some folklore of their own. One of their stories was of the Puckwudgies, which were tiny, gray, humanoid-shaped creatures who lived in the swamps in the eastern part of the state.

These creatures are said to look kind of like horrific porcupines when they stand on their hind legs and have oversized noses, ears, and fingers. They can materialize or disappear anywhere they want to go at will, and they love killing people traveling through their area. Their favorite methods of doing away with unwitting passersby including pushing them off cliffs, throwing sand in their eyes so they can’t see the danger they are walking into, and even throwing their own Puckwudgie tiny spears at them. This would have been a story likely told to the Pilgrim settlers from the Mayflower by their new Wampanoag neighbors.



Will founded Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has been assisting researchers for over 25 years to reunite them with their ancestors.