The Witch Of Blackbird Pond Summary

Elizabeth George Speare

The Witch Of Blackbird Pond

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The Witch Of Blackbird Pond Summary

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Winner of the 1959 Newbery Medal, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare explores themes of religious intolerance and the ways ignorance and the fear of difference lead to violence and mistrust. It begins in 1687, with sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler traveling alone by ship to her aunt and uncle’s home in Connecticut. Along the way, the Cruffs, a Puritan family, join the voyage. When the daughter of the family, Prudence, drops her doll into the sea, Kit immediately dives in to retrieve it. She is closely followed by the captain’s son, Nat, who is worried that she will drown. Nat’s fears are unfounded, as Kit learned to swim while growing up in Barbados. However, far from being grateful, Goodwife Cruff instead says that Kit must be a witch, because only witches can float in water. Later, a fellow passenger named John Holbrook warns Kit that Goodwife Cruff is spreading this rumor among the other passengers. Before he died, Kit’s grandfather was a slaveowner who raised Kit in luxury, teaching her to read and giving her a taste for beauty and pleasure. This upbringing makes it hard for Kit to relate to her fellow passengers who, aside from John Holbrook, are all somber and reserved. Although she likes him, Kit also struggles to relate to Nat when he reveals that he is ardently opposed to the slave trade, which Kit has always accepted.

Kit’s sense of alienation increases when she arrives at her aunt’s home in Wethersfield. She is received coldly by her aunt’s Puritan husband, who finds the amount of luggage she brings with her excessive. She struggles to connect with her cousins, Judith and Mercy, who is disabled. Although pleased to see her, even her aunt is not excited when she learns that Kit is coming to live with them because the overseer of the family plantation embezzled Kit’s grandfather’s money, leaving Kit penniless and destitute. Judith’s former suitor, William Ashby, begins courting Kit, although she finds him as tedious as the strict lifestyle of the Puritans and the dull, grey weather of Connecticut.

Her only reprieve from the tedium of her new life comes from teaching at the school. Kit loves the children and they are similarly enamored with her. However, when she encourages them to act out the tale of the Good Samaritan, the school principal is outraged at what he sees as her trivialization of the Bible. Kit runs away from the school and into the surrounding fields. There she is befriended by an old woman named Hannah Tupper. Hannah has lived outside of the main colony since she was cast out by the Puritans because of her Quaker beliefs. Kit feels a sense of kinship with her because of their shared status as outsiders and visits her regularly, despite her uncle’s efforts to prevent her from doing so. On one visit, she is surprised to find Nat at Hannah’s house, and learns that they have been friends since Hannah found him crying in the meadows when he was a young boy. When William Ashby comes courting Kit, John Holbrook often accompanies him and it is assumed that he is expressing an interest in Judith. However, Kit notices that Mercy seems to be secretly in love with him. Meanwhile, Prudence Cruff asks Kit to teach her to read and write, as her mother will not let her go to school because she believes that she is too slow and stupid. Kit agrees and they begin meeting for lessons at Hannah’s house. To Kit’s distress, Nat is angry and cold with her when he hears a rumor that she and William are to marry. He later gets himself banned from the town after getting up to mischief on All Hallows Eve. Kit is further distressed to learn that John Holbrook has signed up to a militia that intends to fight local Native Americans. Things get even worse when a fever sweeps through the town and the townspeople accuse Hannah of causing the sickness through witchcraft.

Kit manages to warn the old lady, who escapes with her life on Nat’s father’s boat, but the mob still burns down Hannah’s house. Disappointed that Hannah escaped, the townspeople turn on Kit instead and arrest her for witchcraft, accusing her of being in league with Hannah. As proof, they say that they found a book belonging to Kit in Hannah’s house, along with a notebook containing Prudence’s name, which they believe is evidence that Kit and Hannah put a spell on the girl. Kit knows that telling the truth could get Prudence into trouble, so she does not mention their secret lessons even though her silence could cost her her life. However, when Nat arrives with Prudence, the little girl tells the townspeople the truth. Prudence proves her abilities by reading out sections of the Bible and Kit is acquitted. Although she is free, Kit’s life is far from happy. Nat flees straight after the trial as he is still banned from the town, so Kit is left without him or Hannah for company. Furthermore, William Ashby stops courting her when they both accept that they are not right for each other. News then arrives that the militia were defeated by the Native Americans and no one knows what happened to John Holbrook. Judith is upset by this but William comforts her and the two grow closer. However, Mercy, whose love for John was always secret, must keep her grief secret too.

Finally, however, good news comes to Wethersfield. John Holbrook survived the attack and arrives, battered and tired, at the Woods’s house where he embraces Mercy. Later, it is announced that they will marry, as will Judith and William. Kit decides that she will return to Barbados but, having realized that she is in love with Nat, she lingers in the hope of seeing him again. Eventually she does, when he sails into port in a boat of his own, which he has named the Witch after Kit. He asks her to join him and, as the novel ends, they leave together to ask Kit’s uncle for permission to marry.