A STORY OF SEVEN DEVILS
Frank R. Stockton
The negro church which stood in the pine woods near the little village
of Oxford Cross Roads, in one of the lower counties of Virginia, was
presided over by an elderly individual, known to the community in
general as Uncle Pete; but on Sundays the members of his congregation
addressed him as Brudder Pete. He was an earnest and energetic man,
and, although he could neither read nor write, he had for many years
expounded the Scriptures to the satisfaction of his hearers. His
memory was good, and those portions of the Bible, which from time to
time he had heard read, were used by him, and frequently with powerful
effect, in his sermons. His interpretations of the Scriptures were
generally entirely original, and were made to suit the needs, or what
he supposed to be the needs, of his congregation.
Whether as "Uncle Pete" in the garden and corn-field, or "Brudder
Pete" in the church, he enjoyed the good opinion of everybody
excepting one person, and that was his wife. She was a high-tempered
and somewhat dissatisfied person, who had conceived the idea that her
husband was in the habit of giving too much time to the church, and
too little to the acquisition of corn-bread and pork. On a certain
Saturday she gave him a most tremendous scolding, which so affected
the spirits of the good man that it influenced his decision in regard
to the selection of the subject for his sermon the next day.
His congregation was accustomed to being astonished, and rather liked
it, but never before had their minds received such a shock as when the
preacher announced the subject of his discourse. He did not take any
particular text, for this was not his custom, but he boldly stated
that the Bible declared that every woman in this world was possessed
by seven devils; and the evils which this state of things had brought
upon the world, he showed forth with much warmth and feeling.
Subject-matter, principally from his own experience, crowded in upon
his mind, and he served it out to his audience hot and strong. If
his deductions could have been proved to be correct, all women were
creatures who, by reason of their sevenfold diabolic possession, were
not capable of independent thought or action, and who should in tears
and humility place themselves absolutely under the direction and
authority of the other sex.
When he approached the conclusion of his sermon, Brother Peter closed
with a bang the Bible, which, although he could not read a word of
it, always lay open before him while he preached, and delivered the
concluding exhortation of his sermon.
"Now, my dear brev'ren ob dis congregation," he said, "I want you to
understan' dat dar's nuffin in dis yer sarmon wot you've jus' heerd
ter make you think yousefs angels. By no means, brev'ren; you was all
brung up by women, an' you've got ter lib wid' em, an ef anythin' in
dis yer worl' is ketchin', my dear brev'ren, it's habin debbils, an'
from wot I've seen ob some ob de men ob dis worl' I 'spect dey is
persest ob 'bout all de debbils dey got room fur. But de Bible don'
say nuffin p'intedly on de subjec' ob de number ob debbils in man, an'
I 'spec' dose dat's got 'em—an' we ought ter feel pow'ful thankful,
my dear brev'ren, dat de Bible don' say we all's got 'em—has 'em
'cordin to sarcumstances. But wid de women it's dif'rent; dey's got
jus' sebin, an' bless my soul, brev'ren, I think dat's 'nuff.
"While I was a-turnin' ober in my min' de subjec' ob dis sarmon, dere
come ter me a bit ob Scripter wot I heerd at a big preachin' an'
baptizin' at Kyarter's Mills, 'bout ten year' ago. One ob de preachers
was a-tellin' about ole mudder Ebe a-eatin' de apple, and says he: De
sarpint fus' come along wid a red apple, an' says he: 'You gib dis yer
to your husban', an' he think it so mighty good dat when he done eat
it he gib you anything you ax him fur, ef you tell him whar de tree
is.' Ebe, she took one bite, an' den she frew dat apple away. 'Wot you
mean, you triflin' sarpint,' says she, 'a fotchin' me dat apple wot
ain't good fur nuffin but ter make cider wid?' Den de sarpint he go
fotch her a yaller apple, an' she took one bite, an' den says she: 'Go
'long wid ye, you fool sarpint, wot you fotch me dat June apple wot
ain't got no taste to it?' Den de sarpint he think she like sumpin'
sharp, an' he fotch her a green apple. She takes one bite ob it, an'
den she frows it at his head, an' sings out: 'Is you 'spectin' me to
gib dat apple to yer Uncle Adam an' gib him de colic?' Den de debbil
he fotch her a lady-apple, but she say she won't take no sich triflin'
nubbins as dat to her husban', an' she took one bite ob it, an' frew
it away. Den he go fotch her two udder kin' ob apples, one yaller
wid red stripes, an' de udder one red on one side an' green on de
udder—mighty good-lookin' apples, too—de kin' you git two dollars a
bar'l fur at the store. But Ebe, she wouldn't hab neider ob 'em, an'
when she done took one bite out ob each one, she frew it away. Den de
ole debbil-sarpint, he scratch he head, an' he say to hese'f: 'Dis yer
Ebe, she pow'ful 'ticklar 'bout her apples. Reckin I'll have ter wait
till after fros', an' fotch her a real good one,' An' he done wait
till after fros', and then he fotch her a' Albemarle pippin, an' when
she took one bite ob dat, she jus' go 'long an' eat it all up, core,
seeds, an' all. 'Look h'yar, sarpint,' says she, 'hab you got anudder
ob dem apples in your pocket?' An' den he tuk one out, an' gib it to
her. ''Cuse me,' says she, 'I's gwine ter look up Adam, an' ef he don'
want ter know war de tree is wot dese apples grow on, you can hab him
fur a corn-field han'.'
"An' now, my dear brev'ren," said Brother Peter, "while I was
a-turnin' dis subjec' ober in my min', an' wonderin' how de women
come ter hab jus' seben debbils apiece, I done reckerleck dat bit ob
Scripter wot I heerd at Kyarter's Mills, an' I reckon dat 'splains how
de debbils got inter woman. De sarpint he done fotch mudder Ebe seben
apples, an' ebery one she take a bite out of gib her a debbil."
As might have been expected, this sermon produced a great sensation,
and made a deep impression on the congregation. As a rule, the men
were tolerably well satisfied with it; and when the services were over
many of them made it the occasion of shy but very plainly pointed
remarks to their female friends and relatives.
But the women did not like it at all. Some of them became angry, and
talked very forcibly, and feelings of indignation soon spread among
all the sisters of the church. If their minister had seen fit to stay
at home and preach a sermon like this to his own wife (who, it may be
remarked, was not present on this occasion), it would have been well
enough, provided he had made no allusions to outsiders; but to come
there and preach such things to them was entirely too much for their
endurance. Each one of the women knew she had not seven devils, and
only a few of them would admit of the possibility of any of the others
being possessed by quite so many.
Their preacher's explanation of the manner in which every woman came
to be possessed of just so many devils appeared to them of little
importance. What they objected to was the fundamental doctrine of his
sermon, which was based on his assertion that the Bible declared every
woman had seven devils. They were not willing to believe that the
Bible said any such thing. Some of them went so far as to state it was
their opinion that Uncle Pete had got this fool notion from some of
the lawyers at the court-house when he was on a jury a month or so
before. It was quite noticeable that, although Sunday afternoon had
scarcely begun, the majority of the women of the congregation called
their minister Uncle Pete. This was very strong evidence of a sudden
decline in his popularity.
Some of the more vigorous-minded women, not seeing their minister
among the other people in the clearing in front of the log church,
went to look for him, but he was not to be found. His wife had ordered
him to be home early, and soon after the congregation had been
dismissed he departed by a short cut through the woods. That afternoon
an irate committee, composed principally of women, but including also
a few men who had expressed disbelief in the new doctrine, arrived
at the cabin of their preacher, but found there only his wife,
cross-grained old Aunt Rebecca. She informed them that her husband was
not at home.
"He's done 'gaged hisse'f," she said, "ter cut an' haul wood fur
Kunnel Martin ober on Little Mount'n fur de whole ob nex' week. It's
fourteen or thirteen mile' from h'yar, an' ef he'd started ter-morrer
mawnm', he'd los' a'mos' a whole day. 'Sides dat, I done tole him dat
ef he git dar ter-night he'd have his supper frowed in. Wot you all
want wid him? Gwine to pay him fur preachin'?"
Any such intention as this was instantaneously denied, and Aunt
Rebecca was informed of the subject upon which her visitors had come
to have a very plain talk with her husband.
Strange to say, the announcement of the new and startling dogma had
apparently no disturbing effect upon Aunt Rebecca. On the contrary,
the old woman seemed rather to enjoy the news.
"Reckin he oughter know all 'bout dat," she said. "He's done had three
wives, an' he ain't got rid o' dis one yit."
Judging from her chuckles and waggings of the head when she made this
remark, it might be imagined that Aunt Rebecca was rather proud of the
fact that her husband thought her capable of exhibiting a different
kind of diabolism every day in the week.
The leader of the indignant church-members was Susan Henry; a mulatto
woman of a very independent turn of mind. She prided herself that she
never worked in anybody's house but her own, and this immunity from
outside service gave her a certain pre-eminence among her sisters. Not
only did Susan share the general resentment with which the startling
statement of old Peter had been received, but she felt that its
promulgation had affected her position in the community. If every
woman was possessed by seven devils, then, in this respect, she was no
better nor worse than any of the others; and at this her proud heart
rebelled. If the preacher had said some women had eight devils and
others six, it would have been better. She might then have made a
mental arrangement in regard to her relative position which would have
somewhat consoled her. But now there was no chance for that. The words
of the preacher had equally debased all women.
A meeting of the disaffected church-members was held the next night at
Susan Henry's cabin, or rather in the little yard about it, for the
house was not large enough to hold the people who attended it. The
meeting was not regularly organized, but everybody said what he or she
had to say, and the result was a great deal of clamor, and a general
increase of indignation against Uncle Pete.
"Look h'yar!" cried Susan, at the end of some energetic remarks, "is
dar enny pusson h'yar who kin count up figgers?"
Inquiries on the subject ran through the crowd, and in a few moments
a black boy, about fourteen, was pushed forward as an expert in
"Now, you Jim," said Susan, "you's been, to school, an' you kin count
up figgers. 'Cordin' ter de chu'ch books dar's forty-seben women
b'longin' to our meetin', an' ef each one ob dem dar has got seben
debbils in her, I jus' wants you ter tell me how many debbils come to
chu'ch ebery clear Sunday ter hear dat ole Uncle Pete preach."
This view of the case created a sensation, and much interest was shown
in the result of Jim's calculations, which were made by the aid of a
back of an old letter and a piece of pencil furnished by Susan. The
result was at last announced as three hundred and nineteen, which,
although not precisely correct, was near enough to satisfy the
"Now, you jus' turn dat ober in you all's minds," said Susan. "More'n
free hundred debbils in chu'ch ebery Sunday, an' we women fotchin 'em.
Does anybody s'pose I's gwine ter b'lieve dat fool talk?"
A middle-aged man now lifted up his voice and said: "I's been thinkin'
ober dis h'yar matter and I's 'cluded dat p'r'aps de words ob de
preacher was used in a figgeratous form o' sense. P'r'aps de seben
debbils meant chillun."
These remarks were received with no favor by the assemblage.
"Oh, you git out!" cried Susan. "Your ole woman's got seben chillun,
shore 'nuf, an' I s'pec' dey's all debbils. But dem sent'ments don't
apply ter all de udder women h'yar, 'tic'larly ter dem dar young uns
wot ain't married yit."
This was good logic, but the feeling on the subject proved to be even
stronger, for the mothers in the company became so angry at their
children being considered devils that for a time there seemed to be
danger of an Amazonian attack on the unfortunate speaker. This was
averted, but a great deal of uproar now ensued, and it was the general
feeling that something ought to be done to show the deep-seated
resentment with which the horrible charge against the mothers and
sisters of the congregation had been met. Many violent propositions
were made, some of the younger men going so far as to offer to burn
down the church. It was finally agreed, quite unanimously, that old
Peter should be unceremoniously ousted from his place in the pulpit
which he had filled so many years.
As the week passed on, some of the older men of the congregation who
had friendly feelings toward their old companion and preacher talked
the matter over among themselves, and afterward, with many of their
fellow-members, succeeded at last in gaining the general consent that
Uncle Pete should be allowed a chance to explain himself, and give
his grounds and reasons for his astounding statement in regard to
womankind. If he could show biblical authority for this, of course
nothing more could be said. But if he could not, then he must get down
from the pulpit, and sit for the rest of his life on a back seat of
the church. This proposition met with the more favor, because even
those who were most indignant had an earnest curiosity to know what
the old man would say for himself.
During all this time of angry discussion, good old Peter was quietly
and calmly cutting and hauling wood on the Little Mountain. His mind
was in a condition of great comfort and peace, for not only had he
been able to rid himself, in his last sermon, of many of the hard
thoughts concerning women that had been gathering themselves together
for years, but his absence from home had given him a holiday from
the harassments of Aunt Rebecca's tongue, so that no new notions of
woman's culpability had risen within him. He had dismissed the subject
altogether, and had been thinking over a sermon regarding baptism,
which he thought he could make convincing to certain of the younger
members of his congregation.
He arrived at home very late on Saturday night, and retired to his
simple couch without knowing anything of the terrible storm which had
been gathering through the week, and which was to burst upon him on
the morrow. But the next morning, long before church time, he
received warning enough of what was going to happen. Individuals and
deputations gathered in and about his cabin—some to tell him all that
had been said and done; some to inform him what was expected of him;
some to stand about and look at him; some to scold; some to denounce;
but, alas! not one to encourage; nor one to call him "Brudder Pete,"
that Sunday appellation dear to his ears. But the old man possessed a
stubborn soul, not easily to be frightened.
"Wot I says in de pulpit," he remarked, "I'll 'splain in de pulpit,
an' you all ud better git 'long to de chu'ch, an' when de time fur de
sarvice come, I'll be dar."
This advice was not promptly acted upon, but in the course of half an
hour nearly all the villagers and loungers had gone off to the church
in the woods; and when Uncle Peter had put on his high black hat,
somewhat battered, but still sufficiently clerical looking for that
congregation, and had given something of a polish to his cowhide
shoes, he betook himself by the accustomed path to the log building
where he had so often held forth to his people. As soon as he entered
the church he was formally instructed by a committee of the leading
members that before he began to open the services, he must make it
plain to the congregation that what he had said on the preceding
Sunday about every woman being possessed by seven devils was Scripture
truth, and not mere wicked nonsense out of his own brain. If he could
not do that, they wanted no more praying or preaching from him.
Uncle Peter made no answer, but, ascending the little pulpit, he put
his hat on the bench behind him where it was used to repose, took out
his red cotton handkerchief and blew his nose in his accustomed way,
and looked about him. The house was crowded. Even Aunt Rebecca was
After a deliberate survey of his audience, the preacher spoke:
"Brev'eren an' sisters, I see afore me Brudder Bill Hines, who kin
read de Bible, an' has got one. Ain't dat so, Brudder?"
Bill Hines having nodded and modestly grunted assent, the preacher
continued. "An' dars' Ann' Priscilla's boy, Jake, who ain't a brudder
yit, though he's plenty old 'nuf, min', I tell ye; an' he kin read de
Bible, fus' rate, an' has read it ter me ober an' ober ag'in. Ain't
dat so, Jake?"
Jake grinned, nodded, and hung his head, very uncomfortable at being
thus publicly pointed out.
"An' dar's good ole Aun' Patty, who knows more Scripter dan ennybuddy
h'yar, havin' been teached by de little gals from Kunnel Jasper's an'
by dere mudders afore 'em. I reckin she know' de hull Bible straight
froo, from de Garden of Eden to de New Jerus'lum. An' dar are udders
h'yar who knows de Scripters, some one part an' some anudder. Now I
axes ebery one ob you all wot know de Scripters ef he don' 'member
how de Bible tells how our Lor' when he was on dis yearth cas' seben
debbils out o' Mary Magdalum?"
A murmur of assent came from the congregation, Most of them remembered
"But did enny ob you ebber read, or hab read to you, dat he ebber cas'
'em out o' enny udder woman?"
Negative grunts and shakes of the head signified that nobody had ever
heard of this.
"Well, den," said the preacher, gazing blandly around, "all de udder
women got 'em yit."
A deep silence fell upon the assembly, and in a few moments an elderly
member arose. "Brudder Pete," he said, "I reckin you mought as well
gib out de hyme."