Date of Award

1956

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English

Department

English

First Advisor

E. Arthur Robinson

Abstract

Although folklore has attracted nation-wide attention in the past forty years, the task of collecting folk material peculiar to Rhode Island has been neglected. Several recently-published volumes have included small portions of Rhode Island folklore, but this amount has been very limited. In the past one hundred years a number of individuals have shown interest in one particular town or section of the state and have gathered material pertinent to their cause. No one in t he past fifty years has made an effort to compile folklore material about the state as a whole and present it in one unified piece. If all types of folklore were included in this investigation, the study would be too lengthy for much consideration on any one topic. Therefore, one of t he most neglected areas in this field was chosen, t hat of supernatural folklore.

The principal purpose behind this thesis is not to solve a problem or draw a conclusion; it is t o help reconstruct a portion of the spiritual, historical, and literary heritage of Rhode Island, not as exemplified by the outstanding works of poets and thinkers, but as represented by the more or less inarticulate voices of t he folk.

The mass of legends and traditions and superstitions loosely grouped together under the heading of supernatural folklore embraces wonders of colonial days when the hand of God displayed itself in marvelous providences, gossip of witches bruited in every town and hamlet, imagined interviews and contracts with Satan inspired respect for the Evil One, and accounts of specters, visions, omens, and prophecies documented the human awe of occultism.

Since only Rhode Island folklore is here involved, just that material which could be definitely attributed to the state is included. Because folklore does not hesitate to cross state boundaries, it is sometimes difficult to ascertain whether a particular tradition or custom or legend was common knowledge in the state at one time. A belief known to be current in Massachusetts might possibly have been accepted in this state as well, but a definite statement to that effect in a reliable source is needed for positive proof. All material which was termed as “current in New England" or “accepted up the coast from New York to Penobscot Bay” was not included in this collection.

In this study direct oral sources of folklore are bypassed, with two exceptions, since the aim has been to locate, a r range, and present folklore material lodged in print. The conclusion does contain a measuring stick for the quality of folk t ales, and stories in this thesis are compared for these fundamental characteristics, but this does not overshadow the major and simpler aim of treasuring the idle tale and fading legend of the past.

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