Book Review:

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

by H.P. Lovecraft

New York: Ballantine Books, 1941, 1971.

When Jon Concannon (, Webmaster of the Gaspee Virtual Archives (, contacted me about The Case of Charles Dexter Ward in December 2000, I ordered a copy from As I read the book, I was pleasantly surprised to find it a first-rate "bone-chilling tale of horror and the macabre." (Later, I was again surprised to find that Lovecraft is a Whipple descendant!)

Charles Dexter Ward (probably a fictitious person) was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1902. When he was about sixteen years old, he became very interested in his roots. What began as innocent genealogical research in and around Providence led Charles to his third great grandfather, Joseph Curwen. The ancestor had moved to Providence from Salem, Massachusetts, in March 1692, during the period when it wasn't safe to be a witch in Salem.

The book begins and ends in the twentieth century, but many of the intervening chapters take place in the eighteenth century. They paint Rhode Island during the period before the burning of H.M.S. Gaspee in June 1772--preceding the formal outbreak of the Revolutionary War. The reader watches as the residents of Providence become suspicious of Curwen's clandestine activities at night and in cemeteries, and wonder how he can appear so young, when records indicate that he is more than 100 years old. Even tolerant Rhode Islanders can't stomach what seems to be going on at Joseph Curwen's place in Pawtuxet. A hundred or so of them--most of them leaders in the community--take the law into their own hands and eliminate (or so it appears) Curwen and his compatriots. (You'll have to read to the very end of the 127-page book to understand what actually happens to Curwen.)

Although the book is fiction, it includes many historical characters. Participants in the raid include notable Rhode Islanders--many of them Whipple descendants. They appoint Captain Abraham Whipple as their leader. Other raiders include Captain James Mathewsen, Dr. Benjamin West, Reverend James Manning ("President of the College"), ex-governor Stephen Hopkins, his brother Esek (consistently spelled Eseh throughout the book), John Carter (publisher of the Gazette), and all four Brown Brothers--John, Joseph, Nicholas and Moses.

Whipples and Whipple researchers will enjoy Lovecraft's descriptions of Abraham Whipple:

Captain Abraham Whipple [was] a privateersman of phenomenal boldness and energy who could be counted on to lead in any active measures needed. (p. 32)

Later on the same page:

Something very like fear seized the whole assemblage before the meeting was over, though there ran through that fear a grim determination which Captain Whipple's bluff and resonant profanity best expressed.

At the end of the chapter--after the raid on Curwen--Captain Whipple has the following to say about Curwen:

Pox on that ----, but he had no business to laugh while he screamed. 'Twas as though the damned ---- had summat up his sleeve. For half a crown I'd burn his ---- house. (p. 44)

If you're interests include Whipples, colonial Rhode Island and Massachusetts, or the Salem witch trials, you'll probably enjoy this book. Perhaps your relatives are mentioned in the book!

-- Weldon Whipple, December 27, 2000.

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