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The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Elizabeth George Speare
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What is the Husking Bee? Who gets the red corn and what was their reaction?

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The husking bee is usually a community event. It begins with work (the husking of corn) and is then followed by a time of feasting, merry-making, and dancing.

In the novel, the young people attend a husking bee. Judith, in her element, believes that John has just asked to court her. It never enters her mind that John had actually meant to ask for Mercy.

Meanwhile, caught unawares, John does not correct Judith. He understands that Mercy's practice is to defer to Judith in all things. Deep in his heart, John knows that Mercy will always sacrifice her own happiness for Judith's sake. All in all, blindsided by Judith's arrogant assumptions and Mercy's timid nature, John plays along.

In the story, the husking bee is held at a brightly lit barn. During the event, Judith gets the ear of red corn. According to tradition, anyone who gets the red ear of corn can ask for a kiss from his/her beloved. Since Judith thinks that she already has John locked down, she tosses the ear of red corn to William, who comes forward to claim his kiss from Kit. For his part, William reacts purposefully. He strides forward to claim his kiss without even the slightest hint of doubt. William's reaction shows how determined he is to make Kit his bride.

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The husking bee was a work party. It was a way to make jobs that were potentially tedious into fun. Farm people around the world have such parties; you might have heard of a quilting bee. It's the same sort of thing.

In this case, there were special traditions or rituals. If you got a red ear of corn, you could claim a "forfeit" (a prize) of a kiss from the person of your choice. It was a party game, and a socially regulated way of letting young people get together a little bit, but not in a way that would get out of hand.

Judith got the red ear of corn, but since she thought she was already getting married, she didn't need it. She gave it to William, who came forward towards Kit to claim his forfeit. (The chapter ends there, but we can assume he kissed her.)

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