illustration of a woman in a black dress with long black hair swimming down through the water toward a smaller human figure

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Elizabeth George Speare

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Sir Edmond Andros
Andros is the new royal governor. He seems professional and has great self-possession, maintaining calm and focus even after the lights go out and the colony’s charter vanishes.

Jonathan Ashby
William’s little brother, Jonathan is one of the students in Mercy and Kit’s class. He is a serious child.

Mistress Ashby
William Ashby’s mother, Mistress Ashby is shown as one of the colonists who has no trouble wearing expensive English fabric or enjoying luxury.

William Ashby
William Ashby is a young man from Wethersfield who becomes smitten with Kit on their first meeting and soon asks for permission to court her. William visits the Wood family home regularly but really has little to say to Kit. He does speak up, though, when Matthew Wood talks politics. Early on, William voices the pragmatic position—that the colony cannot fight the British government because the king is too powerful—but he eventually comes around to Matthew’s position. He is part of the group that steals and hides the colony’s charter to keep it safe from the royal governor (a bold act). Once Kit turns him away as a suitor, William returns to the original object of his desire, Judith Wood, and the two get married.

Reverend Gershom Bulkeley
Reverend Bulkeley is a renowned scholar of both medicine and theology. He is sufficiently well-known for his sermons that John Holbrook moves to Wethersfield to study with him. Politically, Bulkeley is a loyalist, and as a reward for his loyalty, he is to be appointed justice of the peace by the royal governor. Despite his political differences with Matthew Wood, he saves Mercy’s life with his medical treatment and insists on Kit’s fair treatment at her trial for witchcraft.

Timothy Cook
A little boy in Mercy and Kit’s class.

Goodman Cruff
Goodman Cruff is no more than a silent, wincing presence through most of the novel, so browbeaten is he by his wife. However, when Prudence demonstrates that she can read and write at Kit’s trial, he asserts himself, showing support for justice and affection for his daughter.

Goodwife Cruff
A sour, bitter woman, Goodwife Cruff dominates her henpecked husband and is cruel to her children. She decides her daughter Prudence is too stupid to learn to read and write, and she seems to take an immediate dislike to Kit. Goodwife Cruff is the driving force behind the accusations of witchcraft against Kit.

Prudence Cruff
Prudence Cruff catches Kit’s attention when the little girl drops her toy in the Connecticut River on her way to board the Dolphin. When Kit jumps in the river to save Prudence’s toy, she binds their fates together. Prudence later follows Kit to the “dame school,” where the younger children of the community learn to read and write. Kit secretly teaches Prudence. It is Prudence’s name written on Kit’s hornbook that provides the strongest evidence that Kit is a witch, and it is ultimately Prudence’s testimony that forces the community to dismiss the charges of witchcraft.

Captain Eaton
Captain of the Dolphin, Captain Eaton can be gruff but insists on doing his duty … and sometimes even more than his duty, as demonstrated by his insistence on having his son and sailors carry Kit’s luggage to the Woods’ home. That Captain Eaton is an ethical man is demonstrated by his refusal to carry slaves as cargo, which would make him much more money than his current cargo.

Nathanial “Nat” Eaton
Nat Eaton is the son of Captain Eaton, whose ship Kit takes from the West Indies to Connecticut. Nat is a trickster, fond of teasing Kit and others who catch his attention, but he is also giving and helpful. He often brings Hannah Tupper packages from abroad and helps maintain her home by doing chores she cannot, such as chopping wood and thatching the roof. Nat is a free spirit who risks a whipping by returning to help Kit when she is charged with witchcraft. At the novel’s end, he returns to Wethersfield as captain of his own ship, ready to ask Matthew Wood for permission to marry Kit.

John Holbrook
John Holbrook is a young scholar who has come to Wethersfield to study with Dr. Bulkeley, a noted local minister. John comes from a poor family, and he very much wanted to attend Harvard, but lacked the funds, and so came to study with Bulkeley instead, becoming for a while a loyalist through respect for his teacher. He studies theology and medicine with Dr. Bulkeley and loves to read the Bible and other religious writings. He spends many evenings with the Wood family, accidentally becomes betrothed to Judith, and then signs up with the local militia. After being held captive by the Indians, he returns and marries his true love, Mercy Wood.

Charity Hughes
A little girl in Mercy and Kit’s class. Charity has dark eyes.

Mr. Eleazer Kimberley
The firm but fair community schoolmaster, Kimberley reacts with violent anger at the chaos in the school when Kit was teaching, but he is fair enough to reinstate Kit when she explains the situation.

Thankful Peabody
Thankful gets married the winter after Kit’s trial. Her marriage is notable mainly for the jealousy it produces in Judith over the food served (seven different kinds of cake) and because at the reception the Woods get the news that John Holbrook has been captured by Indians, causing Judith to faint.

Captain Samuel Talcott
Talcott is the Wethersfield citizen who leads—and calms—the crowd going to see Governor Andros. He also presides over Kit’s witchcraft trial with a firm hand but deals with Kit herself sympathetically.

Hannah Tupper
Hannah Tupper is a kind-hearted old Quaker woman who lives alone in a house her late husband, Thomas, built at the edge of Blackbird Pond. Gentle and welcoming, Hannah provides Kit with a much-needed shoulder to cry on, and the two become close friends. Kit returns the favor by rescuing Hannah when an angry mob comes for her, thinking she is a witch.

Thomas Tupper
Hannah Tupper’s deceased husband. He was also a Quaker and originally from Kent, England. The impression given through Hannah’s frequent reminiscences regarding Thomas is that he was a loving husband and a good craftsman.

Sir Frances Tyler
Kit’s grandfather, Frances Tyler was knighted by King Charles for his loyal service. Frances is dead when the novel opens, but he raised Kit from a young age (age two or three) when her parents were killed. Frances Tyler kept a plantation in Barbados and was considered a rich man until his overseer stole from him, running him into debt and breaking his spirit. Tyler had a great love of learning and beauty, and communicated both of these to Kit, who often remembers him fondly.

Katherine “Kit” Tyler
Kit Tyler is the main character in The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and most of the novel is told from a third-person point of view that closely follows Kit. When the novel opens, Kit is sixteen years old. She is an orphan who was raised by her grandfather until he died. Kit lost her parents when they drowned on a pleasure cruise they took after having been married only three years. Kit is intelligent and full of life, creativity, and spontaneous compassion. Bold and headstrong at times—she moved to Connecticut Colony without telling her aunt and uncle—Kit seems very modern compared to most of the inhabitants of Wethersfield. Kit loves reading, especially poetry (Shakespeare, Anne Bradstreet), and is fond of the bright colors and warm climate of her childhood home in Barbados. However, she is also somewhat spoiled and does not seem to realize that her childhood leisure rested on slave labor; she also does not really think through what her arrival in Wethersfield might cost her aunt and uncle. In the end, though, The Witch of Blackbird Pond is the story of Kit finding her way in the world and finding love.

Judith Wood
Judith is Kit’s cousin and the beauty of the Wood family. At sixteen, Judith is as headstrong as Kit, but since she was raised in Wethersfield, she is much better at negotiating its limits. Before Kit arrives, William Ashby had been interested in Judith, but when William falls for Kit, Judith switches her affections to John Holbrook. When John turns out to be in love with Judith’s sister, Mercy, Judith switches her affections back to William, whom she marries at the novel’s end.

Matthew Wood
Matthew Wood is Kit’s uncle. A farmer, Matthew is a living example of the Puritan ideal. He is moved by duty, by his love for his family, by his sense of what is right, and his deep and intense Puritan faith—there is little room in his world for anything else. He is a good man, but austere, and forever seeks to eliminate waste and vanities from his life. Concerned with protecting the colony’s rights under its royal charter, Matthew is ready to argue politics at a moment’s notice. His two soft spots are his gentle love for his crippled daughter, Mercy, and his wordless love for the land of his farm.

Mercy Wood
Mercy is Kit’s other cousin and the heart of the Wood family. Crippled by the childhood illness that killed her older brother, Mercy is a living example of the Puritan female ideal. She is good, patient, and kind, and she accepts her limits and all that fate throws at her without complaint. She is even willing to stay silent while the man she loves marries her sister, but fortunately, the man (John Holbrook) eventually corrected the misperception, and they marry at the novel’s end.

Rachel Wood
Rachel is Kit’s aunt (Kit’s mother’s sister), and life in the colonies has faded her once impressive beauty. Rachel is caring but relatively passive. She often shows that she knows more about what is going on than others might have thought, and that she has a good heart, as when she gives Kit a bit of apple tart to sneak to Hannah Tupper.

Themes and Characters

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The granddaughter of Sir Francis Tyler, sixteen-year-old Katherine (Kit) Tyler is the novel's protagonist. Her encounter with Hannah Tupper, the title character, helps Kit to understand her own outcast position in this Puritan society, where she is torn between rebellion and conformity. Through her meetings with Hannah, Kit becomes more understanding, partly because Hannah functions as a surrogate mother. As a Quaker, Hannah is an outcast in the Wethersfield community. She appears different from others because she lives in the meadows near Blackbird Pond and practices a religion the others do not understand. Unlike the rigid Puritans of the town, she is genuinely kind and demonstrates a capacity for love, but the townspeople consider her a witch because she keeps cats. In the past, Hannah was branded on the forehead when she and her now-deceased husband were banished from Massachusetts and forced to seek religious freedom in Connecticut.

Upon Kit's arrival in Wethersfield, she meets for the first time her uncle, Matthew Wood, a dour New Englander and the stern master of Kit's new home. Despite his forbidding nature, he and Kit finally gain a mutual respect, and he shows great courage during the witchcraft trial by defending his niece. Matthew's wife, Rachel, is the thin, gray-haired sister of Kit's mother, Margaret. Rachel and Matthew have two daughters, Judith and Mercy. A blue eyed beauty, sixteen-year-old Judith is eager to get married, although Kit causes her to change her initial plans. Judith's younger sister, Mercy, is the most important member of the Wood family, the "pivot about whom the whole family moves." Mercy, whose extraordinary gray eyes are "filled with light," is crippled and must use crutches. It is from Mercy that Kit learns patience and endurance.

The Cruff family also plays an important role in the novel. Kit first encounters the family on the ship from Saybrook to Wethersfield, earning Goodwife Cruff's enmity by saving young Prudence Cruff's doll. Goodwife Cruff considers Kit an upstart and ends up accusing her of being a witch. Yet Kit is able to teach the neglected Prudence to read and write, something that neither of the girl's parents can do.

Three other significant characters are Nathaniel (Nat) Eaton, William Ashby, and John Holbrook. Nat is a friend of Hannah's and one of the first Yankees that Kit meets. The son of the captain of the Dolphin, the ship that brought Kit to Connecticut from Barbados, Nat is also an outsider in Wethersfield. On the other hand, Ashby at age nineteen seems to be an up-and-coming member of the Wethersfield community. He builds a new house and is appointed viewer of fences, a position similar to a town surveyor. The quiet Ashby has a romantic interest in Kit. Holbrook, a character who matures in the course of the novel, has come to Wethersfield to study theology with the Reverend Dr. Gersholm Bulkeley, a real historical personage. During the story Speare shows Bulkeley acting in his capacity as a physician as well as a theologian.

Other "real people [who] walk through the imaginary story" include Eleazer Kimberley, the schoolmaster who oversees the Bible class that Mercy teaches; Sir Edmond Andros, the Royalist governor; and Captain Samuel Talcott, the magistrate at Kit's trial.

Kit matures through her interactions with the novel's various characters. At first she is impatient and impulsive. When Prudence's doll falls overboard, Kit jumps into the water to retrieve it. On Kit's first meeting her Uncle Matthew, he asks if "just on an impulse" she left her "rightful home and sailed halfway across the world." For the easygoing Kit of the West Indies, patience seems to be an unattainable virtue. Because she must stifle her natural reactions, she is frequently angry. With the quiet influence of Mercy, she does learn to be more patient, although she is not entirely tamed by her year in a new country.

Interlaced with Kit's lack of patience is her pride in being the granddaughter of Sir Francis Tyler. Her family's prominence gives Kit an undue sense of superiority. Kit has done nothing to earn respect from others; she believes it is owed to her. But during the long New England winter, she learns a different sense of pride: self-respect and dignity for a job she herself has done well. After Kit has kept the household together during sickness, and after it is proved in court that she has taught Prudence to read, her achievements are evident. She has earned the right to feel an honest sense of accomplishment. When it comes time for her cousins to be married, she can offer gifts of her dresses "with love instead of pride." This change shows how much Kit has matured in the course of a year.

With a bound she was over the side and had set foot on America. She stood taking deep breaths of the salt, fish-tainted air, and looked about for someone to share her excitement.
An important theme in the novel is Kit's painful lesson regarding loyalties. At first she cares little for the Woods; she thinks of Uncle Matthew as a tyrant who bullies her Aunt Rachel, and she notices that her cousin Judith is as proud as she herself is. Yet Mercy, the linchpin of the family, teaches Kit patience, then endurance, and finally loyalty. Furthermore, Uncle Matthew and Aunt Rachel demonstrate loyalty to Kit when they support her during her imprisonment and trial.

Upon first meeting Hannah, Kit gives unquestioning loyalty to the Quaker woman because Hannah demands nothing of her. But Kit proves that she has the capacity for true loyalty when she protects Hannah from the threat of mob violence. Learning the importance of mutual trust from her relatives and from Hannah encourages Kit to consider staying in New England. In the course of the book, she has discovered that people can be loyal whether or not they agree with one another.

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