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1678, August 1~21: Mowing Devil of Hartfordshire

Cover of The Mowing-DevilOn August 22, 1678, a pamphlet was released in England entitled THE MOWING-DEVIL or, Strange NEWS out of Hartfordshire. And strange news it was, too.

        Sometime that August (earlier than the 22nd, of course), a "rich industrious farmer" in Hartfordshire decided his acre and a half of oats was ready to be cut and gathered; so he contacted a "poor neighbour" who was commonly employed in the Summer doing harvest labor to hire him to "mow" [cut] the oats. The poor mower asked for a rate somewhat higher than average, hoping for good pay; the farmer, "taking some exceptions at" the price requested by the mower, came back with an offer far below the usual rate... lower by the same amount, in fact, that the mower had estimated over the average. Sharp words were exchanged between the two, and the farmer stated he wouldn't discuss it further, and turned to leave. The mower, realizing he stood to lose all other work the farmer would normally offer him, relented and ran after the farmer and told him that he would do the job at whatever rate the farmer felt was reasonable, and immediately offered the farmer a rate lower than he had done mowing for at any point in the year previous. But there was no way of calming or pleasing the farmer, who looked sternly at the poor mower and told him "That the Devil himself should mow his oats before he [the Mower] should have any thing to do with them." Having uttered this rude and disrespectful statement, the farmer left.

        That same night many people passing the farmer's field saw that it appeared to be on fire, and the apparent fire lasted for a long time "to the great consternation of those that beheld it." The farmer was only told of this the following morning and, in fear that his crops had been burnt to ashes, he rushed to the field. Instead he found that the crop of oats had been fully cut... but it had been cut "in round circles," rather than in the normal fashion, and "plac't every straw with that exactness that it would have taken up above an age, for any man to perform."

        The pamphlet is clear about how this happened: quite simply, the Devil himself took the farmer at his word, and cut the crops. And the pamphlet also tells us that the farmer was too afraid to actually go and gather the cut oats, so they may well have been left to spoil due to the strange circumstance of the situation.