The Devil and Tom Walker – Washington Irving

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The Devil and Tom Walker is a short story written by Washington Irving and first appeared in 1824.  Faustian in nature this story involves a more gruesome and modern take of the old tale of the devil and his deals.  It’s a great story and has inspired many television show episodes.  Rembmer; the Devil is always in the details.  

The story starts with the legend of William Kidd the pirate. It is rumored that Kidd had buried a large treasure in a forest in colonial Massachusetts. Kidd made a deal with the devil to protect his money. The devil’s conditions are however…unknown. Kidd died and was never able to reclaim his treasure, but the devil has protected it ever since.

The story continues around 1727. Tom Walker, a greedy, selfish miser of a man, cherishes money along with his shrewish and equally greedy wife. They lived in a tarnished looking house, that had stood alone and had an air of starvation. This is until he takes a walk in the swamp at an old Indian fortress, and starts up a conversation with the Devil incarnate (referred to as “Old Scratch” and “The Black Man” in the story). Old Scratch appears as a lumberjack or a woodsman chopping trees, each with a prominent and wealthy colonialist’s name branded on the trunk. One rotted and soon-to-fall tree has the name of a deacon who grew wealthy “trading” with the Indians. Another fallen trunk has that of a wealthy seaman rumored to be a pirate. Old Scratch strikes a deal with Tom Walker, offering the riches hidden in the swamp by Captain Kidd in exchange for a great price, which is often thought to be his soul. Tom agrees to think about it and returns home.

Burdened with this secret, he tells his wife. While he has no scruples in selling himself to Old Scratch for the treasure, he does not wish to do so for his wife’s sake. She meets Old Scratch herself but tells her husband Old Scratch requires an offering. When Tom is away, she takes all their valuables in and goes to make a deal with Old Scratch. When Tom searches for his wife and property, all he finds is her apron holding her heart and liver, tied to a tree.


The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving, 1824

Play Time:  33 Minutes