The Whitefield Curse

Mid-18th-century Bath received several visits from George Whitefield, the famous traveling evangelist. During his stopovers in the old colonial port, Whitefield — one of the most passionate evangelists of the Great Awakening — preached openly against the evils of cursing, drinking, and dancing. The controversial minister believed that dancing — more than any other sin — was the vehicle by which the Devil sent frivolous men and women to hell.Reverend George Whitefield

"The damned devils, and damned souls of men in hell, may be supposed to rave and blaspheme in their torments, because they know that the chains wherein they are held, can never be knocked off; but for men that swim in the river of God's goodness, whose mercies are renewed to them every morning, and who are visited with fresh tokens of his infinite unmerited loving-kindness every moment; for these favorite creatures to set their mouths against heaven, and to blaspheme a gracious, patient, all-bountiful God; is a height of sin which exceeds the blackness and impiety of devils and hell itself."

- from The Works of the Reverend George Whitefield. London: E. and C. Dilly, 1771-1772.

The itinerant reverend, who had a far-reaching reputation for preaching to the masses, was not cordially received upon his visits to Bath — especially by the more affluent villagers. Earlier in the century, the bustling little port had felt the corrupting influence of Blackbeard the Pirate. Times were good, Bath was prosperous, and the townspeople looked upon Whitefield with suspicion. They also found him more than a little odd.

The citizens of Bath noted that Whitefield carried his own coffin in his wagon. The preacher, it was said, wanted to have the box near at hand when the inevitable happened. The villagers also found it strange that Whitefield slept in the coffin, so as to avoid the questionable goings-on at the local inn. Thus the preacher, in no uncertain terms, was asked to leave town.

Having failed in his attempts to reform the people of Bath, George Whitefield gave up and left the tiny village for the last time. He climbed aboard his wagon, took off his shoes, and shook them defiantly at his sinful surroundings.

"There's a place in the Bible," the reverend warned as he drove off in his wagon, "that says if a place won't listen to The Word, you shake the dust of the town off your feet, and the town shall be cursed. I have put a curse on this town for a hundred years."

The steady decline of Bath followed soon after. Ships sailed to other ports, prosperous merchants moved away, and few newcomers arrived to take their places in the once thriving village. By the mid-19th-century (a hundred years later), the place was hardly worth being called a "town."

Over the years, Whitefield's curse from heaven became an enduring legend of why Bath did not prosper long as a colonial port and seat of government. The rise of Washington, North Carolina, as a more viable port helped seal the fate of the ancient little village.

Today, Bath remains a sleepy little hamlet, steeped in history but otherwise forgotten — except for a steady stream of tourists looking for a window onto the past.


Adapted From:

Bonner, Lottie Hale. Colonial Bath and Pamlico Section. Aurora, N.C.: n.p., 1939.

Marsh, Blanche. "Preacher Who Put the Curse on Bath." State (Raleigh), XLV (July 1977).

Walser, Richard. North Carolina Legends ("Troubles in Bath Town"). Raleigh: North Carolina Office of Archives and History, 1980.