In Episode 335 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore a section of Easton, Massachusetts, that was home to a sawmill back in the 18th century. The mill was owned by Nathan Selee, a local wizard who (according to the town sign) employed satanic imps to run his mill in the dead of night.
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JEFF: Okay, we’ll make a right here onto Mill Street.
RAY: Okay… Got it.
JEFF: And our destination is coming up on the left.
RAY: Okay, I see an old Colonial stone wall on our right. A few houses up ahead. There’s lots of forest on our left…
JEFF: There it is! See that brown sign on the side of the road?
RAY: Yeah. But that’s it. Just a sign.
JEFF: There’s just enough room to pull over right before that sign.
[DOORS OPEN AND CLOSE]
JEFF: This is why we’re here Ray.
RAY: Okay, it’s one of those brown wooden signs you see at town and state parks around Massachusetts. It says, “Mill Pond.”
JEFF: Right. There used to be a Mill Pond on this Easton, Massachusetts, property owned by John Selee. They say John left the mill to his son, Nathan, who was a wizard who used to run the mill at night using satanic imps.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger, and welcome to Episode 335 of the New England Legends podcast.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. If it’s haunted, cursed, or just weird, we want to know about it. Did you know most of our story leads come from you? This one did. Thanks to Bill Dowd who wrote to use and said, “I came across this sign as it’s around the corner from me. I had to ask if you knew anything about it.” Bill, we’re on it.
JEFF: If you’ve got a strange story you think we should check out, contact us anytime through our Web site. Our Web site is also the place you can find dates for my ongoing story tour, dates to see Ray’s band The Pub Kings, and a link to our charity Zombie Prom coming up Saturday, February 17 in Milford, Massachusetts.
RAY: We’ll go searching for satanic imps right after this word from our sponsor.
JEFF: I feel like Satanic Imps is a pretty good name for a Heavy Metal band.
RAY: It’s not bad. But really?! Satanic Imps? Where in the world would people get THAT story?
JEFF: Go ahead and read this official Easton town sign.
RAY: Okay, it says, “Mill Pond. Site of the sawmill built by John Selee in the 18th century and continued by his son, Nathan, a wizard who purportedly used satanic imps to run the mill at night. Easton Conservation Commission. 6.6 Acres. Acquired in 1999.” Wow!
JEFF: Yup. Satanic imps right there in painted engraved letters.
RAY: And Nathan Selee was a wizard?!
JEFF: That’s what the sign says.
RAY: Okay, so here’s a little more about the town of Easton, Massachusetts. There’s been human activity here for many centuries. This used to be a boarder area for the Wampanoag people. Evidence of camps and artifacts have been discovered in town. It was also burial grounds. It looks like this region was used for camps in the summer months especially along the three main streams in town. After King Philip’s War ended in 1676, the land that would go on to be Easton, most of Mansfield, and part of Norton was purchased. The first English settlers came to this part of town in 1694. By the year 1713, 69 families had settled in Easton, and they hired their first minister.
JEFF: These early New England inland towns grew slowly. This was still pretty wild, untamed land. To find out how the mill and the Satanic imps got here, let’s head back to 1755.
RAY: It’s the Spring of 1755. Easton is growing in part thanks to Bay Road that cuts through town. Bay Road is the main route between Narraganset Bay and Massachusetts Bay. This is a tough town. A frugal town too. Back in the 1740s the town decided to pay the fine for not having any schools because the fines were cheaper than construction and salaries.
JEFF: But the population is slowly growing. Construction is happening. The town needs a saw mill.
RAY: Local resident John Selee sees a business opportunity. So he buys some land along the Poquanticut Stream…
[SAWING AND HAMMERING]
RAY: And builds a water-powered saw mill.
JEFF: Pretty soon, business is booming for Selee.
[WATER / STREAM RUNNING]
[SLOW SAWING SOUNDS IN BACKGROUND]
JEFF: Lumber is cut into planks at the saw mill, and sold for local construction. If the saw is spinning, Selee is making money.
RAY: It’s a money-making machine. John brings his son, Nathan, to the mill often, telling his boy that this is the family business, and he should be ready to take over some day.
JEFF: But Nathan doesn’t seem all that interested in mill work. He’s a dark, brooding young man who likes to wander off and be alone.
RAY: Still, John insists that his son is going to work here and take over the mill. Though Nathan would rather pursue some other line of work, or better yet, just live off the profits of the mill, he eventually agrees to run the business. But soon rumors swirl that Nathan has some unnatural help…
[SLOW BUILD OF NIGHT SOUNDS/CRICKET AND RUNNING WATER]
JEFF: It’s late one summer night when Easton local Tam O’Shanter is walking down the road near the mill. He hears a strange noise.
[SLOW SAWING / MILL SOUNDS]
JEFF: It’s the saw mill! It’s running. At night in the dark!
[RUNNING FOOTSTEPS FADE OUT]
RAY: O’Shanter sprints off for home petrified by what he’s heard and believes he’s seen. No one runs a saw mill at night. Especially in the dark. It’s too dangerous. That’s when locals begin to whisper around town.
RAY: Some are suggesting that young Nathan Selee is a wizard. That he’s in league with the devil and practicing dark arts.
JEFF: I heard someone else suggest that imps from Satan must be running the mill at their master’s bidding. That’s how it’s running at night so Nathan can go off and do what he wants while still earning money. Some suggest the boy sold his soul to the devil to make it happen.
RAY: While the Saw Mill mostly runs during the day, every now and then someone will hear what they believe is the mill running at night which starts the … uhhh… rumor mill going once again.
JEFF: The mill closes down for good around 1792 and begins to slowly rot back into the woods. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: Okay, we have one more place to visit. It’s only about 500 feet away down Mill Street.
[CAR DOORS CLOSE]
[CAR DRIVES OFF]
JEFF: We can pull over here.
RAY: Okay, we just parked in front of a small cemetery. It looks well maintained. It’s surrounded by stone walls on all sides. I can see maybe 100 or so headstones.
JEFF: This is John Selee Cemetery. Which is ironic because patriarch John Selee isn’t buried here. But if we walk over here by the wall.
JEFF: We can see this headstone.
RAY: It says erected in memory of Mr. Nathan Selee, who died August 24, 1815. Age 82 years. So he lived to a ripe old age!
JEFF: He did.
RAY: But if people truly believed Nathan Selee was in league with the devil…
RAY: They wouldn’t have buried him here.
RAY: Because this is consecrated ground.
RAY: Which begs the question: how the story got started to the point where it’s printed on a town sign.
JEFF: I found this book called History of the town of Easton, Massachusetts. It was published in 1837 and written by William L. Chaffin. In the book is a couple of paragraphs mentioning the rumor, and that the mill had shut down some 50 years earlier though you could still see the remnants at the time the book came out. You can read the passage here.
RAY: [MUMBLING FAST READING] Okay, at the end of the paragraph it says, and I quote, “It is wiser to acquit Mr. Selee of any such questionable partnership, and to think that the rolling and buzzing of wheel and saw, which the belated passers-by supposed they heard, were all in their own brains, and might easily be accounted for by the strength and quantity of hard cider or New England rum they had taken.”
JEFF: When in doubt, blame the witness and the booze.
RAY: Still, the story persisted to the point that in 1999 they painted the story on the town sign just up the road.
JEFF: They did! And the guy who was allegedly in league with the devil and his imps is buried right here at our toes just a few hundred feet from the site of the old mill.
RAY: It kind of makes me want to come back and walk by at night to see if we can still hear a saw mill running in the forest…
JEFF: And we never back down from a dare. And that takes us to After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into this week’s story and often drift off course.
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