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The Devil With Jonathan Moulton

Devil made of money / SeacoastNH.com & Clipart.com

TALES OF HAMPTON

Take a lesson. Gen. Jonathan Moulton was a Revolutionary War hero. But he flaunted his wealth in the poor Puritan town of Hampton, NH. He made too many locals angry when he curried favor with the British and married a second young wife. Townspeople said he was in league with the devil – and the story stuck.

 

 

 SEE: The Moulton House
READ ALSO:  The Stone Throwing Devil

ILlustration from Life of Moulton in Victorian book of New England tales / SeacoastNH.comHave you heard the story of poor Jonathan Moulton? Resourceful and ambitious, Moulton became the wealthiest man in Hampton, some say in the whole state of New Hampshire. No man could get so rich so fast, the townsfolk whispered, unless he had made a deal with the evil. That’s how people talk when a man builds a grand mansion in a poor Puritan town. When Moulton’s house burned down suddenly in 1769, legend claimed, the devil had taken revenge on Moulton. When Gen. John Moulton (1726-1787) rebuilt the mansion and, at 50, married the 36-year old friend of his recently dead wife – tongues truly began to wag. Moulton’s first wife had born him 11 children, they complained, and now he was flaunting his trophy bride. When the General finally died at 61 his body disappeared from the coffin. The devil, people agreed, had spirited him away.

A century later our friend John Greenleaf Whittier picked up the Hampton story. Fascinated by New Hampshire and by the trendy study of spiritualism, Whittier often combined Hampton and the supernatural in his wildly popular ballads. A century after Moulton's death, the poet published "The New Wife and the Old". In the poem Moulton's second wife Sarah Emery wakes on her wedding night to discover the ghost of her former friend Abigail Moulton who had died less than a year before of smallpox. In the poem, Abigail returns to the marriage bed to reclaim her wedding ring which the penurious Mr. Moulton had recycled to his second wife.

It’s a powerful image. A glowing white wife, clatters up the mansion stairs, to reclaim her jewelry after 28 years of marriage. She peels the ring off her best friend's hand while Moulton snores nearby. Then the old wife disappears under the marriage bed filling the new wife with shock and awe.

Equally powerful is the often-told Hampton legend of Moulton and the devil. According to the story, the wealthy Hampton land-owner agrees to give up his soul if Beelzebub will fill the man’s boots with gold doubloons each month. Always the businessman, the fictional Moulton has larger and larger boots custom-made, which he hangs just inside the fireplace. Each month he finds them brimful of gold which the devil has deposited down the chimney. Obsessed with greed, Moulton tricks the devil further by cutting holes in the toes of the boots. The devil, sticking to his bargain, tries to fill them just the same. The coins pour out the bottom of the boots, filling Moulton’s kitchen so deep with gold that the door cannot be opened. It is only when the devil discovers he has been duped that he sets fire to the Moulton home. In reality, Moulton, his family and guests, barely escape the blaze.

The legends serve both literary and social functions. They are macabre and leveling, allowing those citizens who Moulton outstripped to explain away his success. They restore balance. Men who gain too much wealth, love and power will certainly be brought low because cheaters never prosper. This image of justice as a rotating "wheel of fortune", prevalent in Medieval literature, is at the heart of many of Shakespeare’s plays that followed in the Elizabethan era. The Puritans had a powerful sense of justice, a justice often harsh and meted out by men in the name of God. Hampton, a town formed by Puritan settlers, held strongly to the believe that anyone who rocked the boat, was risking an eternity in Hell.

CONTINUE Legends of Jonathan Moulton

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