The Curse of Jonathan Buck

Is an honored Maine pioneer and patriot marked by a witch's curse to this very day? 

As a child in Eastern Maine you become pretty familiar with the story of Jonathan Buck, the founder of the town of Bucksport, and the legends surrounding the markings on his monument, clearly visible even today from the road as you pass by.

Buck's MonumentThe story usually goes something like this; Buck, a colonel in the colonial militia and the leader of the settlers in Bucksport, condemns a woman to die as a witch. As her execution is carried out she curses Buck and states that her mark will adorn his grave. Some of the many different versions of the story involve her death by hanging or burning, and some the more graphic versions include a son who carries off her leg following the burning. The story continues that when Buck died the "boot" appears on his monument. According to the legend, even after the monument is scrubbed and replaced, the mark reappears. The final evidence, for those adolescent doubters in the audience is the boot on the stone.

That mark has given the Buck legend a kind of immortality in Maine folklore. Versions appear and re-appear in print every so often. Written accounts go back at least a hundred years. According to "Jonathan Buck of Bucksport – The Man and the Myth" a pamphlet written by Blakely B. Babcock, published by the Ellsworth American and available at tourist locations around Bucksport, the story was written about in the Haverill, Massachusetts Gazette in 1899 and New England Magazine in 1902. The story has been told and retold around many a Maine campfire.

When dealing with this kind of legend, the truth can be a little difficult to come by. The truth of Jonathan Buck's life is that he was born in Massachusetts in 1719 to a family of modest means. He was the first settler in what is now Bucksport on the Penobscot River. He owned a sawmill, some boats and engaged in a number of enterprises there. He was a leading citizen, probably the first justice of the peace on the Penobscot. During the Revolution he was an ardent patriot and was the colonel in charge of the local militia company. Buck participated in the battle at Castine in 1779, the worst defeat ever for the US Navy up until Pearl Harbor, though Buck bore no blame for the fiasco. The British destroyed his property in Bucksport. After the war he rebuilt and went on with his life. He died in 1789, so well respected that the townspeople renamed the town in his honor in 1792.

The bootSome sixty years later some of Buck's grandchildren decided to erect a larger monument for the founder of the town. Sometime later the mark appeared. Was it the curse? Historians have looked into the Buck story and find it wanting in credibility. The first point against the theory is that the witchcraft hysteria in Salem took place decades before Buck ever arrived in Bucksport. In fact the events in Salem predate Buck's birth by nearly a generation. No record exists of Buck ever having been a judge and as a mere Justice of the Peace he would not have had the authority to order an execution. Additionally, no record exists of any witch ever being executed in Maine.

Stories of efforts to replace the monument are false. The monument has never been replaced. The mark is probably due to a flaw in the granite, undetected at the time it was cut. Today a sign next to the Buck monument debunks the legend. The sign isn't visible as you pass by in your car. You have to get out and get close to the monument to read it, and the evidence of the boot on the stone easily captures the imagination.

As long as kids gather around campfires on spooky nights in Maine, the Curse of Jonathan Buck will probably live on.

by Chad Gilley
September 10, 2001