While researching at the Massachusetts Historical Society this week, I have been reading the “Simeon Crowell commonplace-book.” The document is not so much a proper commonplace book as a collection of Crowell’s poems and a few poems by other people, two lengthy narratives of his life, and some copies of letters. Included among these other materials is a “receipt,” or recipe, for the cure of asthma, which involved mixing various food and non-food substances together. Also included are these more curious “receipts”:1
A Receipt for Stoping Blod.
Jesus was born in gallilee of the virgin
Mary on Friday, December 25th if this
Be true Blood stand Still as a Stone
A Receipt for Curing a Burn
Burn stand still neither Blue nor
too yellow in the Name of the Father the Son
And the holy gost and in three Days you will
Be well in the Name of the Lord God. Amen.
There are a few things to note about these recipes.
First, these receipts are included next to poems that date to 1801, though the poems are not all in chronological order. The poems are typical statements of Protestant heart religion. The receipts thus probably originated before Crowell’s July 1808 awakening and baptism into the membership of the First Baptist Church of Barnstable, Massachusetts. Crowell’s father had been a Quaker, but died in his infancy; before his conversion Crowell attended Quaker meetings, if he went to church. Crowell’s mother had him sprinkled as a small child, perhaps as a Congregationalist. Before his conversion, Crowell was only occasionally interested in religion, and he records his life of sin as a sailor. His wife, Charlotte Clark Crowell, became a Baptist in July 1800, about three months after they were married.
Second, though the poems date from before his conversion, Crowell included them in his book after conversion. The book was put together with some care. Crowell mentions several times that the first narrative was written in 1818, and he cites pages numbers to refer back to the poems. Crowell thus thought the materials were worth including after his conversion, and indeed, after he became a Baptist minister. Crowell often addresses his children or other readers with practical advice, such as a warning not to cross thin ice in winter, or to jump overboard a ship. Perhaps these receipts were intended for their benefit.
Third, the receipts use Christian language and mention God. Yes they do not have the form of an invocation, speaking to God directly, but of an incantation, addressing the burn or blood.2 The burn and blood are natural calamities, rather than preternatural tempters like Satan, whom Crowell once defeated in a youthful dream by invoking the name of Jesus:
On a certain Night I Dreamed of Walking in a well known and frequented path in the woods which led from the top of a Hill to a pond below. While proceeding in this path which was enveloped in Darkness—met a Woman that I knew but soon found that it was the Devil of whom I was most horribly afraid.— my hair stood erect a cold chill sized my body—but at length addressed him thus:
“Satan avoid hence out of hand
In the name of Jesus I command.”
at which he instantly disappeared—the darkness fled away before the braking day of a pleasant morning.
Jon Butler has written about the persistence of folk magic among New Englanders, and Catherine Albanese has written about metaphysical religion. This seems to me to be an example of folk magic or folk medicine, but it’s not the kind of thing I’ve encountered much in the sources.