Among the best known yet least understood occult texts in early America, Joshua Gordon’s 22-page handwritten manual Witchcraft Book (1784) reveals a stunning culture of Scots-Irish folk medicine, cunning magic, and witch hunting that flourished in the backcountry settlements of the Carolinas at the turn of the nineteenth century.
The Massachusetts Historical Society will host “The Witchmaster of the Waxhaws: Joshua Gordon’s “Witch Book,” a virtual program with Roark Atkinson, Ramapo College of New Jersey and Douglas Winiarski, University of Richmond, with comment by Kenneth Minkema, Yale University, set for Tuesday, January 24th.
Combing through land records and other social history documents, Douglas Winiarski reconstructs Gordon’s family history and the backcountry Carolina community in which his spellbook was created and deployed to create an interactive digital map of Gordon’s plantation near modern-day Charlotte, which he leased from the Catawba Nation.
Roark Atkinson traces Gordon’s spells back to their European antecedents and identifies cross cultural exchanges between Scots-Irish and German settlers and Native Americans. He also recovers a larger cultural context for the manuscript that encompasses the practices of enslaved African sorcerers. Through painstaking querying of various electronic text databases, Atkinson reveals surprising connections between the manuscript and transatlantic print culture.
This program will be held both virtually and in person. The in-person reception will begin at 4:30 pm, with the program starting at 5 pm. For more information or to register, click here.