The Witchmaster of the Waxhaws: 1/24 Digital History Seminar at the MHS

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The Witchmaster of the Waxhaws: Joshua Gordon’s "Witch Book"

Authors: Roark Atkinson, Ramapo College of New Jersey;

Douglas Winiarski, University of Richmond

Comment: Kenneth Minkema, Yale University

Tuesday, January 24

5:00 PM

with an in-person reception at 4:30 PM

Free, Hybrid Event - hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society


Among the best known yet least understood occult texts in early America, Joshua Gordon’s “Witchcraft Book” 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. 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.

The Shapiro Digital History Seminar invites you to join the conversation on Tuesday, January 24 at 5:00 PM. The seminar brings together a diverse group of scholars and interested members of the public to discuss the inner workings of in-progress projects that depend on digital methods. This session will revolve around the discussion of a pre-circulated paper. After brief remarks from the author and an assigned commentator, the discussion is opened to the floor. All are encouraged to ask questions, provide feedback on the circulated essay, and discuss the topic at hand. Our sessions are free and open to everyone.

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