The Mowing Devil and the Crop Circle

Could this seventeenth century pamphlet be the first published account of a crop circle?

Pamphlet from 1678 located in the British Library. Source

The above image is of a small seventeenth-century pamphlet held in the British Library. The following transcription might be a bit easier to read than the image (my notes are in parentheses):

Being a true relation of a farmer, (It’s a true story) who bargaining with a poor mower, about the cutting down three half acres of oats; upon the mower’s asking too much, the farmer swore, that the Devil should mow it, rather than he. And so it fell out, (so it went) that that very night, the crop of oats shew’d (appeared) as if it had been all of a flame; but next morning appear’d so neatly mow’d by the Devil, or some infernal spirit, that no mortal man was able to do the like. (No human could do anything like it.) Also how the said oats ly now in the field, and the owner has not power to fetch them away. (The farmer is afraid to move them.)

Licensed, August 22th 1679.

The pamphlet was also published in a book entitled Strange Signes from Heaven: Seene and Heard in Cambridge, Suffolke, and Norfolke, in and Upon the 21 Day of May, 1648. Miraculous Wonders Seen at Barnstable, Kirkham, Cornwall and Little Britain, in London. – Published by Forcet on Dec 31, 1678.

On these pages we can read the whole story. In the 17th century, events that couldn’t be explained were often referred to as the work of God or of the Devil. This tale of the Devil, while purported several times to be true, is used as a moral tale. You can read the transcription below the pages starting with page 1 (as the cover page is the same as above.)

The above book can be seen at Google Books


Men may dally with heaven, and criticize on hell, as wittily as they please, but that there are really such places, the wise dispensations of Almighty Providence, does not cease continually to evince. For if by those accumulated circumstances which generally induce us to the belief of anything beyond our senses, we may reasonably gather that there are certainly such things as devils, we must necessarily conclude, that these devils have a hell; and as


as there is a hell, there must be a heaven, and consequently a God; and so all the duties of Christian religion as indispensable subsequents necessarily follow.

The first of which propositions, this ensuing narrative does not a little help to confirm.

For no longer ago, than within the compass of the present month of August, there hapned so unusual an accident in Hartfordshire as is not only the general discourse, and admiration of the whole country; but may for its rarity challenge any other event, which has for these many years been produc’t in any other county whatsoever. The story thus.

In the said county lives a rich industrious farmer, who perceiving a small crop of his (of about three half-acres of land which he had sowed with oats) to be ripe and fit for gathering, sent to a poor neighbour whom he knew worked commonly in the summer-time at harvest labour to agree with him about mowing or cutting the said oats down; The poor man as it behoov’d him, endeavour’d to sell the sweat of his brows and marrow of his bones at as dear a rate as reasonably he might, and therefore askt a good round price for his labour, which the farmer taking some exception at, bid him much more under the usual rate than the poor man askt above it; so that some sharp words had past, when the farmer told


told him he would discourse with him no more about it. Whereupon the honest mower recollecting with himself, that if he undertook not that little spot of work, he might thereby lose much more business which the farmer had to imploy him in beside, ran after him, and told him, that, rather than displease him, he would do it at what rate in reason he pleas’d: and as an instance of his willingness to serve him, proposed to him a lower price, than he had mowed for any time this year before. The irretated farmer with a stem look, and hasty gesture, told the poor man, that the Devil himself should mow his oats before he should have anything to do with them, and upon this went his way, and left the sorrowful yeoman, not a little troubled that he had disoblig’d one in whose power it lay to do him many kindnesses.

But, however, in the happy series of an interrupted prosperity, we may strut and plume ourselves over the miserable indingencies of our necessitated neighbours; yet there is a just God above, who weighs us not by our bags, nor measures us by our coffers; but looks upon all men indifferently, as the common sons of Adam; so that he who carefully officiates that rank or station wherein the Almighty has plac’t him, tho but a mean one, is truly more worthy the estimation of all men, than he who is prefer’d to superior dignities, and abuses them: And what greater abuse, than the contempt of men below him: the relief of whose common necessities is none of the least conditions whereby he holds all his good things; which when that


that tenure is forfeited by his default, he may justly expect some judgement to ensue: or else that those riches whereby he prizes himself so extravagantly may shortly be taken from him.

We will not attempt to fathom the cause, or reason of preternatural events, but certain we are, as the most credible and general relation can inform us, that same night this poor mower, and farmer parted, his field of oats was publickly beheld by several passengers, to be all on a flame, and so continued for some space, to the great consternation of those that beheld it.

Which strange news being by several carried to the farmer next morning, could not but give him a great curiosity to go and see what was become of his crop of oats, which he could not imagine, but was totally devour’d by those ravenous flames which were observed to be so long resident on his acre and half of ground.

Certainly a reflection on his suddain and indiscreet expression (that the Devil should mowe his oats before the poor man should have anything to do with them) could not but on this occasion come into his memory. For if we will but allow our selves so much leisure, to consider how many hits of providence go to the production of one crop of corn, such as the aptitude of the soyl, the seasonableness of showers, nourishing solstices and salubreous winds, etc., we should rather welcome maturity


maturity with devout acknowledgements than prevent our gathering of it by our profuse wishes.

But not to keep the curious reader any longer in suspense, the inquisitive farmer no sooner arriv’d at the place where his oats grew, but to his admiration he found the crop was cut down ready to his hands; and as if the Devil had a mind to shew his dexterity in the art of husbandry, and scorn’d to mow them after the usual manner, he cut them in round circles, and plac’t every straw with that exactness that it would have taken up above an age for any man to perform what he did that one night: And the man that ows (owns) them is as yet afraid to remove them.


See my article: Crop Circles: Their Mystery and History

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