American Folklore: Rhode Island

American Folklore: Rhode Island

Rhode Island was an original British colony in North America, and the last colony to ratify the new US Constitution, making it the thirteenth official state. It may be the smallest state in size, but it more than makes up for that in its wealth of interesting and even intriguing local folklore. Here are some of the highlights of it.

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One of the original thirteen British colonies in America, Rhode Island was the last of the colonies to ratify the new US Constitution, making it the thirteenth official state. It ratified the Constitution in 1790, several years after most of the other colonies had already done so. Prior to becoming a state, Rhode Island was referred to among the New England colonists as “Rogue Island,” because of its carefree, relatively rule-free lifestyle and the willingness of officials and residents to accept anyone who wanted to live there, regardless of religious beliefs, criminal background, or other factors that would have disqualified them from living in other colonies at that time.

“Rhode Island” is a shortened version of the state’s official name, which is “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” (a name state residents voted overwhelmingly to keep in its entirety when the subject came up in 2010). The area where Rhode Island is located was purchased in the 1630s from local Native Americans by Roger Williams, a colonist who was kicked out of Massachusetts for having dissenting religious views from the Puritans. Prior to Williams’s purchase, the area had long been the home of the Wampanoag, Narragansett, and Niantic Native American tribes.

Not surprisingly, a place as wild as Rhode Island has some interesting folklore associated with it. Here are some of the highlights of that folklore.

Ever See the Movie, The Conjuring? It’s Based on Something Real that Happened in Rhode Island

Once upon a time, a family by the name of Perron innocently purchased a house in Harrisville, Rhode Island, unaware that it had been previously owned by eight generations of the same family with a violent history. The previous owners had experienced murders, suicides, rapes, a few bizarre deaths by freezing in the house over the centuries, and these events left their impression on the house. In fact, the seller of the house told the Perrons to leave the lights on in there at night.

While the Perron family has only publicly discussed a small bit of what actually happened to them in the house, they did have to call in experts to deal with the ghosts. Some of the ghosts they described were sweet and protective, watching over the Perron children as they slept. Others, though, were more sinister, such as one that they implied may have been molesting their five daughters. The spirit of an alleged witch named Bathsheba Sherma, who lived in the house in the 1800s and hanged herself behind the house, also made appearances.

The Perrons called in Ed and Lorraine Warren, a famous husband and wife ghost-busting team of psychics, to deal with the situation, but the haunting only got worse after they came. The Conjuring movie deals with what the Warrens recorded about their experiences in the house. As for the Perron family, they had to wait a decade before their finances allowed them to move out of the house, and they dealt with the hauntings the whole time they were there.

Yes, Rhode Island has a Vampire (or so They Say)

In the late 1800s, there was a woman named Mercy Brown who lived in Exeter, Rhode Island. She was apparently a normal girl from a normal family… that is until she died at nineteen years old of consumption (tuberculosis). After that, she became somewhat of a local legend. People of the town of Exeter believe Mercy was responsible for the deaths of two members of her own family who died of consumption before she did (perhaps not realizing that it is highly contagious, and those family members likely were the ones who gave it to Mercy).

Regardless, the townsfolk insisted on an exhumation for Mercy, to find out if the rumors were true, though how they planned to discern that is a mystery. When Mercy’s father, with the help of a doctor, exhumed her, they found that young Mercy still had “fresh blood” in her heart, and that was all the townsfolk needed to declare her a vampire. Steps were taken to make sure she did not rise from her grave at night to wreak more havoc on the town, but her ghost still seems to be around. Those who visit her grave, which has a headstone to make it easily identifiable, report feeling a chill when they stand near it. Her ghost has also sometimes been reported being seen walking through the cemetery at night when the moonlight is bright.

The Devil’s Footprints are in Rhode Island, Too

This tale goes back to colonial times when Native Americans still lived in the area in large numbers. There are a set of footprints in the woods that are unique in that one is a goat’s print and the other a human footprint, indicating the being that left them was part goat and part human. They are located at the aptly named Devil’s Foot Rock.

The story goes that a young Native American woman killed a white settler near Wickford, Massachusetts, and fled the scene. In Rhode Island, an Englishman with a stern appearance captured her. When she cried out for her god, Hobomoko, to save her, the gentleman claimed to be Hobomoko, but soon dropped the act and revealed himself to be the devil instead. He then stamped the ground, leaving the footprints, and flew away with the woman to a nearby chasm and threw her into the churning waters at the bottom of it.

The Rune Stone of Narragansett

There is a large rock with some un-interpreted runes on it that was found in a river in 2012. No one knows where it came from, though some believe Vikings visiting in the 1200s left it as their calling card. Others believe a couple of local teens who were fascinated with history and Viking lore made the runes in an attempt to copy a Viking relic in the 1960s. Ultimately, the town decided to let the mystery stand, hoping to give themselves some historic bragging rights to counter neighboring Massachusetts’s Plymouth Rock. The rock was returned to the river from which it was found in 2014, and the mystery of its meaning and origins still stands.