The current issue of the Valley Breeze reports that Jim Vieira and his Search for the Lost Giants traveling circus blew into Cumberland, Rhode Island, to ask for assistance in proving that a giant is buried at the Nine Men’s Misery monument that marks the site of a 1676 Native American ambush that took the lives of nine European colonists. According to the news report, Vieira believes that a man named Benjamin Bucklin, who died on March 26, 1676, was a giant who had two rows of teeth. His body was exhumed and reinterred in 1976, and Vieira is looking for witnesses who might have seen the oversized corpse. Interestingly, the report also confirms that Vieira and his brother Bill have found “no remains” of any giants in their nationwide search.
I guess that counts as a spoiler!
Modern legends accuse the Nine Men’s Misery site of being haunted, and one unsubstantiated tale reported on Wikipedia claims that the site was disturbed in 1790 by medical students searching for a giant with double rows of teeth. I looked into the reports of Bucklin, and I found the origin of the story of Bucklin as a “giant.” It offers some interesting evidence that we aren’t dealing with a Nephilim, Rephaim, or any other “lost race” but rather a bit of textual confusion and a failure to check primary sources.
Writing in the History of Rehoboth (1836), Leonard Bliss, a tubercular Congregationalist convert, reported the following, secondhand (he was largely confined to his home due to his health), to the 265 people who preordered his book. Bear with me. It’s a little long.
NINE MEN’S MISERY. This name is given to a spot in Cumberland, R. I., where nine men were slain by the Indians, on the same day with Pierce’s Fight. This place is in what is called “Camp Swamp,” about half a mile from the house of the late Elisha Waterman, Esq. There are two or three traditions respecting this event; one of which is thus stated by Daggett, [Hist. of Attleborough. p. 52-3.] “A company of nine men were in advance of, or had strayed from, their party for some purpose, when they discovered a number of Indians near this spot, whom they immediately pursued and attacked, but a large number of the enemy rushed out of the swamp and surrounded them. The whiles, placing their backs to a large rock near by, fought with desperation till every one of them was killed on the spot. The rest of their party, who were in hearing of their guns, hastened to their succour, but arrived too late to render them any assistance. Their bodies were buried on the spot, which is now designated by a large pile of stones.” Another tradition says, that these nine men were part of a company that marched from Providence to aid Capt. Pierce, in compliance with a message sent by him to that town, at the commencement of the engagement; but that they did not reach the spot till after the battle; and that these nine, being in advance of the rest of the company, were surprised and slain by the Indians in the manner above related. The third tradition respecting this event, and the one which seems the most probable, and the best supported by circumstances, is, that these nine men were a remnant of Pierce’s brave band, who were taken prisoners by the Indians, and reserved for torture. They were carried to a sort of peninsula of upland, nearly surrounded by “Camp Swamp,” and seated upon a rock in a kind of natural amphitheatre, formed by the elevated ground around it. The savages commenced the war-dance around them, and were preparing to torture them; but, disagreeing about the manner of torture, they fell into a quarrel among themselves, in which some of the Indians despatched the prisoners with the tomahawk. This story is said to have been related to the English by an Indian who was soon after this taken prisoner. The Indians, having scalped them, left their bodies upon the rock where they had slain them, and here they remained unburied till they were discovered by the English some weeks after. They were then buried, all in one grave, on the higher ground, fifteen or twenty rods from the rock on which they were slain. A heap of small stones, in the shape of the earth on a newly made grave, still marks the spot where they lie. Around where they fell, and where they are buried, there is a forest of considerable extent.
Note two important points: The Bucklins of Rehoboth were known for being large—but not Nephilim-size gigantic—and they were also identifiable by their unusual dentition, suggesting that the family suffered from a genetic anomaly of the teeth such as the supernumerary teeth widely reported in the seventeenth century and eighteenth century, such as in Thomas Berdmore’s Treatise on the Disorders and Deformities of the Teeth and Gums (1768). The condition, as I have explained before, was so widespread that it affected King Louis XIII and was listed as a “not uncommon” condition in the notes to Bostock and Riley’s classic translation of Pliny the Elder. In fact, just recently a dentist in India found 202 teeth in one girl’s mouth! Unfortunately, all this analysis relies on us taking Bliss at his word.
Oh, but I can do better—and better than Jim Vieira and the History Channel.
Really, would you expect anything less?
Bliss refers to John Daggett’s History of Attleborough (1834, but composed in 1830), from which he borrowed the above story. When we turn back the pages of history to Daggett’s account, we suddenly find that the giant with double rows of teeth disappears into little more than Bliss’s paraphrasing error:
… Their bodies were buried on the spot, which is now designated by a large pile of stones.
Suddenly Benjamin Bucklin is no longer a giant, and his double rows of teeth are reduced to two supernumerary front teeth, a not uncommon dental malformation well known in that era. Note, too, that Bliss places the date of disturbance in the 1770s or 1780s, while Daggett places it in the early 1800s.
Both the neighboring towns of Attleborough, Mass., and Rehoboth, Mass., are reasonably close to Cumberland, R.I., so it’s difficult to determine which author to privilege in terms of accuracy on that count, but since Bliss is explicitly basing his account on Daggett, it seems that Daggett ought to be our preferred source. Oddly enough, in a later printing of Daggett’s book in 1894, the subsequent editor—his daughter Amelia Maxcy Daggett Sheffield—added in the “double row” of teeth alongside Daggett’s original double front teeth. Her update drew its language directly from Bliss (as in a direct quotation), and added that one of the surviving physicians testified in 1834 (before Bliss wrote) that Daggett’s original account was “substantially correct,” thus contradicting Bliss on the toothy point even though Daggett’s daughter seemed to think this firsthand evidence thus confirmed it.
On the strength of Bliss’s account and the updated version of Daggett’s book, the legend of a “giant” with “double rows of teeth all around” was widely repeated in New England literature of the 1880s-1900s. Sidney Smith Rider, writing in The Lands of Rhode Island (1904), attributes to Daggett the false claim that “The teeth filled the jaws; there were no ‘single’ teeth.” He obviously got it from the 1894 edition. William Jones Miller included the story, directly from Bliss, in King Philip and the Wampanoags of Rhode Island (1885 second ed.). Interestingly enough, the competing version—the double front teeth—was just as widespread among authors taking their material directly from the 1834 edition of Daggett, including the New England Magazine, The Bay State Monthly, and other publications. Bliss’s version even ended up in Eric B. Schultz and Michael J. Tougias’s King Philip’s War (1999).
So, the bottom line is that Benjamin Bucklin may have been large—but no one ever described him as a giant. He may have had double front teeth—but the rest of them seem to have been added in exaggeration.
But I can’t leave it at that. We have to find out where the Wikipedia story about the 1790 medical students came from. Fortunately, the answer is clear to that, too. It comes from a bit of folklore reported in the Providence Journal on January 20, 1886:
....a strange incident occurred in relation to the nine men’s grave. It was either during, or shortly after the Revolutionary War. Some Providence gentlemen, led, it is said, by Dr. Bowen, went up to the place and dug open the grave. They had already stretched three of the skeletons upon the ground ere they were discovered. When the Cumberland people found out what was going on, a hue and cry being raised, and the farmers assembling from all the region round, the cessation of the robbery was compelled, the disinterment being regarded as a first-class outrage. It is not said whether the affair took place at night, by the light of lanterns in the windy forests, but the story is true as it is told, and well illustrates the peculiar place the tradition has in the minds of the Cumberland people. One fact was settled by the disinterment, and that was the identity of the men themselves who were buried. One of the skeletons dug up was of extraordinary size, and by the fact of it's having a double set of teeth, was recognized as that of Benjamin Bucklin (Buckland), of Rehoboth. It is assured thus that the men were from other colonies than that of Providence.
This story is quite clearly a folk tale or historical fiction, composed 100 years after the fact. Although the nut of the story—the outrage at the disinterment by “resurrectionists” in an era rife with grave robbing—comes directly from Daggett, all the other elements of the story seem to be drawn very closely from Bliss’s account, particularly since each detail parallels Bliss’s sentence in grammar, structure, and organization—and repeats Bliss’s mistake that the event occurred during the Revolution rather than in the early 1800s as his source, Daggett, and the actual participants in the exhumation asserted. If I had to guess, I would say the Journal reporter probably read a secondhand summary that drew on both Daggett and Bliss in creating his colorful but conflated account. Note, too, that at last the large man has become extraordinary, growing ever larger in the telling, until finally, more than 200 years after his death, he became a giant.
11/21/2014 06:26:03 am
I really like this. Great job, Jason. It makes me wonder, after you discount the newspaper reports that were hoaxes and sensationalist pieces, how many might be based on local folklore or later editions of books containing the revisions, paraphrasing errors or conflation of material you found.
11/21/2014 07:58:38 am
This is why the people of the far future are going to debate whether Sherlock Holmes and Beowulf are the same character :)
11/24/2014 06:24:32 am
The author of Jaws contended that the monster in Beowulf, Grindl, was a Neanderthal remnant in Denmark.
11/24/2014 07:06:52 am
11/21/2014 10:45:25 am
So they're looking for Nephilim amongst (relatively) modern people?
11/21/2014 11:03:54 am
Technically, they never actually call them Nephilim. It's just implied by their working relationship with Nephilim theorists and tendency to pepper their "research" with references to Bible stories.
11/21/2014 11:18:10 am
Jason, your question actually touches upon a whole cluster of unbelievably difficult philosophical questions concerning how terms acquire meaning and change it over time.
11/21/2014 01:55:36 pm
Given the trend of American exceptionalism in fringe history, I'd guess about 1776.
11/21/2014 02:08:01 pm
But in this case, we're talking about the whole double-teeth business.
11/21/2014 02:23:01 pm
I really hope you watch (if you haven't already) Glenn Beck's Tesla clip (I linked it in yesterday's thread).
11/24/2014 06:22:47 am
The boundary of Rhode Island and Massachusetts (Plymouth Colony in 1676) was long in dispute. Mass claimed the east bank of the Blackstone River (called by other names in Pawtucket and Providence) and the east side of Narragansett Bay which would have put Cumberland in Mass/Plymouth territory. It also explains why there is now a Bristol County in both Mass and RI but the city of Bristol is in RI and Bristol County, RI, is only two towns. RI won almost every border dispute, because the British crown hated the Puritan colonies (they'd killed the king's father) [New Hampshire was allowed to beocme a separate oclony for the same reason]. Therefore a lot of places in eastern RI now were in Plymouth or Mass originally. Rehoboth was formerly a much larger town and included Attleboro (and its spin off N. Attleboro) until 1694. Attleboro itself included most of what is now Cumberland until 1747 when Mass lost another border dispute with RI before the Crown. That is why the stuff about Cumberland is included in both town histories.
11/26/2014 08:26:18 am
Appreciate the above history by John. As a native of Pawtucket, RI; early life in South Attleboro; and relatives in both Cumberland and Attleboro, I sort of knew some of this. While I did know that Charles II did reverse one of of his earlier decisions on Connecticut's charter to take over the area of "Rogue's Island" because of his hatred of Puritans. However I didn't know about the later border disputes. I finally understand why Bristol is now in RI and not in MA like all of our local history books taught.
12/10/2014 07:04:31 am
Dude, you are such a tool. Jim and Bill have showed us plenty of evidence through historical writings, pictures, eye witnesses and experts. You need to take a closer look at everything. And why are you bashing their show so much? If you don't like it, don't watch it. It's that simple. What you have just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I've ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent rant were you even close to having anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone is now dumber having read it.
12/22/2014 09:55:08 am
I award you no points and may god have mercy on your soul
12/22/2014 01:32:03 am
I think the explanation here is pretty simple. Note the presence of the specific phrase "double teeth all around" in the 1836 account. As I have elaborated on here
12/22/2014 11:11:49 pm
LMFAO at Mike
1/26/2015 04:35:48 pm
I don't think anybody is suggesting Benjamin Bucklin was a Nephalim. Goliath was not a Nephalim. A Nephalim is a first-generation hybrid, a half angel half human giant. But, apparently, they could reproduce, and their offspring were successively smaller and more human. There were apparently tribes and colonies of these offspring living in various places throughout the world post-Flood. There were a limited number of first-gen hybrids after the Flood. Their descendants lived in ancient Israel, which was the primary reason the Israelites were instructed to kill everything there. There were also giant tribes in Georgia (Russia), England, Ireland, Patagonia, and both eastern and western US, ie the mound builders and the giants of Catalina Island, the red haired giants in Lovelock, etc.
2/9/2015 03:10:41 am
Excellent job Jason. Although I would love to find real proof of something.... I greatly appreciate when exaggerated claims are disproved
7/10/2015 08:12:28 am
Well, I am certain that Jason and all his "colavites" are proud of themselves of solving the enduring mystery of this big colonist. The use of third hand commentary in a book by a house bound recluse where he misspells the name Bucklin and then Buckland in the same paragraph is most impressive indeed. The fact that you can dismiss hundreds of New York times articles and authentic historical discourses found in a host of early American literature is disconcerting to say the least. But skeptics are typically stubborn and found lacking in their ability to objectively assess information.
9/8/2015 11:34:19 pm
First class research, my good man.
1/16/2016 03:15:37 pm
What about acromegaly? Andre the Giant, a famous wrestler who recently passed, had it. The condition, caused by an overactive pituitary gland, can cause extreme height, large hands and fingers, elongated and large jaws and who knows what else. Extra teeth have been known to show up in adulthood in unlikely places other than just the mouth cavity. Just a thought.
1/25/2016 05:58:33 pm
A Dr. Bowen of Providence is named as disinterring the Nine about 1790. The Bowen family of Providence, Rhode Island, contained many physicians. The resurrectionist may have been William Bowen (1746-1832) or his brother and medical pupil Pardon Bowen (1757-1826). William attended Harvard and Yale and had several students in his career (Drs. Wheaton, Carpenter, and Fisk as examples) and would have been in need of anatomical “material”. Pardon was the more adventurous of the two, having been surgeon on a privateer and a prisoner of war during the Revolution. Medical students were often the grave robbers. REPRESENTATIVE MEN AND OLD FAMILIES OF RHODE ISLAND Vol II p 1011 Beers, Chicago 1993. The Bucklin skull was said to have been donated to the Rhode Island Historical Society but "lost" in the 20th century.
2/14/2016 02:09:11 pm
Thank You for clearing that up for folks. I have this Rehoboth Bowen in my family tree. He is not a direct line, as my direct Bowen relative was a farmer line and recently in business and such. Funny, we also have Buck's in my line via Easton, MA and before that Rehoboth. It's the line of my grandmother, a very short woman, and all with normal teeth. But the men were very tall, a couple of them about 7' or just over. But of course, no one was over 8' or 9' tall, just regular tall, big men. Of course this burial is 9 men's misery's gravesite, as you stated and Bowen was not from a "alien nor anthropologic nor biblical race of 1/2 giants 1/2 humans." lol We are quite normal, and I have been to a recent family reunion, where the rest of the distant family is also quite normal. I wish our history were THAT interesting! lol ....I watched this show with my daughters and we found it Entertaining. This show did succeed in that, as well as made us go back and look up my family tree in Ancestry and the 9 Men's Misery site on the grounds of the old Monastery. It was fun to see a local spot, that we have visited (they have a nice playground in the shade with an outdoor wooden stage that the kids enjoyed playing on, and lots of walking/hiking trails, and the most beautiful library!). For a historical show to be successful, it only needs to get one interested in history, archaeology, anthropology, biology, etc... and it did "succeed" in that. :)
12/6/2018 07:35:03 pm
I have briefly read the account that you have published on this page and I am extremely displeased with your accounts of what you are reporting transpired at the "GREAT SWAMP MASSACRE." Please get your facts straight on how Pierce and his band of murderers met their demise. If you possessed any journalistic integrity, you sir, would feel ashamed of the nonsense that you have conveyed on this page. My colleague and I have done a fairly extensive documentary on the homogenized version of Pierce's senseless murder of women, children and elderly Native Americans at the swamp camp. I guess it's true. "The winners write the history."
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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