The Devil and Tom Walker Summary

The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving


The short story "The Devil and Tom Walker" by Washington Irving takes place near Boston in 1727. It features a miserly man named Tom Walker and his wife who was equally selfish. They would hide food and money from one another. One day Tom took a shortcut home through the woods. He came upon a skull, which he kicked to get the dirt off it. Then a large black man, who was neither African American nor Indian, appeared from nowhere and told him to leave the skull alone. He wanted to know what Tom was doing on his land. Tom proclaimed that this land belonged to Deacon Peabody. The strange man pointed to a dilapidated tree that had Deacon Peabody's name on it then noticed that many of the trees held names of men from town. The man insisted that the land belonged to him long before it went to Deacon Peabody. He said he was "the wild huntsman," "the black miner," and "the black woodsman." Tom said he thought he knew him as "Old Scratch," which the man, who seemed to be the devil, agreed was another one of his nicknames. After a long conversation with the devil, Tom returned home.


Their conversation involved the mention of buried treasure which the devil could reveal the location of to Tom in exchange for some conditions, which Tom needed to think about. The devil touched Tom's head to bind the deal before seemingly disappearing down into the earth. When Tom reached home, he found that no amount of washing could take away the fingerprint on his forehead.


His wife told him news of the death of Absalom Crowninshield, whose name Tom had seen on a tree in the forest. Tom decided to tell his wife about what he had seen, and her greedy nature urged him to accept the deal. Tom did consider selling himself to the devil, but he didn't want to do it because his wife told him to. Finally, the wife decided she would find the devil herself and make a deal, so she set off. When she came back she said that she found him, but he wanted an offering from her, which she would not reveal. The next evening she went out again with her apron full of something. Tom waited for her to return, but she was never seen again. Rumors circulated about a black man with an ax who was carrying around a bundle tied up in a checkered apron. Tom eventually found that apron tied up in a tree, but when he opened it, he found only a liver and heart inside. He figured the devil must have had a difficult time in ending her life because he knew how stubborn she was and saw signs of an altercation, such as footprints and hair about the woods. He almost felt as though the devil had done him a favor.


Later he met the devil again, and they began to haggle about the terms of their deal. The devil wanted Tom to become a slave trader, which he refused to do. Instead he agreed to become a money lender along with another condition that went without saying. They shook hands on it.


Tom opened a countinghouse in Boston. As hard times came, Tom appeared to be a friend to the needy, lending a seemingly endless supply of money to those who needed it. As the years went by, he became nervous about what awaited him after death, so he became a devoted churchgoer and always carried a Bible with him.


One day a man came in asking for money, but Tom grew annoyed and refused. The man complained that Tom had made a great deal of money off of this man over the years, and Tom replied that the devil could take him if he'd made a farthing. At that point a knock came at the door, and the black man declared that Tom's time had come. He put Tom on a horse saddle and galloped away with him. Tom was never seen again. When men went into his shop to settle his affairs, they found that all his documents had burned to ashes and all his gold turned to wood chips. His horses were mere skeletons, and his home burned to the ground. The story became a proverb to griping money lenders about what happened between the devil and Tom Walker.




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