‘Caged man of Buckland’ subject of history talk

  • The Rev. Josiah Spaulding Sr.’s home in Buckland. Contributed photo

  • The Rev. Josiah Spaulding, father of the man who was kept in a cage for 57 years. Contributed photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/24/2017 9:24:43 PM

BUCKLAND — An 18th-century Buckland man who spent 57 years locked in a wooden cage by his family — and how his story impacted the care of the mentally ill — is the subject of the Buckland Historical Society’s annual talk and pie social on Friday, June 2.

The talk will be in the Public Hall on Upper Street.

Kathy Lytle of Buckland has researched the life of Josiah Spaulding Jr. and, through family letters, she has been able to illuminate the religious and social mores of that period.

“Her presentation gives us a glimpse into this early history of Buckland and causes us to see parallels in today’s society,” said Polly Anderson of the Historical Society.

Josiah “Si” Spaulding Jr. was the son and namesake of Buckland’s first Congregational Church minister. Born in Uxbridge in 1786, the minister’s son had a mischievous streak that vexed his doting, pious father, who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps.

Although a good student, and proficient in Latin, Spaulding Jr. threw spitballs at other students, made faces behind the teacher’s back and even put a dead snake in his sister’s bed, according to a 1966 account written by former Recorder Associate Editor Neil L. Perry.

After he was turned down for admission to Williams College and was dismissed from a teaching position in Ashfield, his father became more convinced of his son’s onset of insanity. And so he chained him to the floor of his bedroom. At age 24, Spaulding’s rants and rage became worse. One night, he was captured after breaking the chain and trying to flee his parents’ home. Thereafter, he was kept in a wooden cage in the bedroom, where he spent the next 57 years.

His father, continuing with his parish, never mentioned his son to anyone again. After the death of his parents, Si and his cage went to live in the home of his married sister. His niece, Mary Williams Howes, went on to become a mental health reformer when she grew up.

Spaulding’s life ended in 1867, in the Buckland poor farm, where he was still caged and treated like an animal.

“As the years passed, a once rational human being turned into what the townspeople described as a ‘horrid and revolting wreck,’” Perry wrote.

The program starts at 7 p.m. and will be followed by the pie social. General admission is $6; or $3 for students ages 12 and under.


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