[Illustration: A Grand Jury Presentment for Witchcraft Reproduced from the original in the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford
May it please yr Honble Court, we the Grand inquest now setting for the County of Fairefeild, being made sensable, not only by Common fame (but by testamonies duly billed to us) that the widow Mary Staple, Mary Harvey ye wife of Josiah Harvey & Hannah Harvey the daughter of the saide Josiah, all of Fairefeild, remain under the susspition of useing witchecraft, which is abomanable both in ye sight of God & man and ought to be witnessed against. we doe therefore (in complyance to our duty, the discharge of our oathes and that trust reposed in us) presente the above mentioned pssons to the Honble Court of Assistants now setting in Fairefeild, that they may be taken in to Custody & proceeded against according to their demerits.
Fairefeild, Fby, 1692 in behalfe of the Grnd Jury JOSEPH BASTARD, foreman]
THE WITCHCRAFT DELUSION IN COLONIAL CONNECTICUT
BY JOHN M. TAYLOR
Author of "Maximilian and Carlotta, a Story of Imperialism," and "Roger Ludlow, the Colonial Lawmaker"
"Connecticut can well afford to let her records go to the world." Blue Laws: True and False (p. 47). J. HAMMOND TRUMBULL.
The true story of witchcraft in old Connecticut has never been told. It has been hidden in the ancient records and in manuscripts in private collections, and those most conversant with the facts have not made them known, for one reason or another. It is herein written from authoritative sources, and should prove of interest and value as a present-day interpretation of that strange delusion, which for a half century darkened the lives of the forefathers and foremothers of the colonial days.
TWO INDICTMENTS FOR WITCHCRAFT
"John Carrington thou art indited by the name of John Carrington of Wethersfield—carpenter—, that not hauing the feare of God before thine eyes thou hast interteined ffamilliarity with Sattan the great enemye of God and mankinde and by his helpe hast done workes aboue the course of nature for wch both according to the lawe of God and the established lawe of this Commonwealth thou deseruest to dye."
Record Particular Court, 2: 17, 1650-51.
"Hugh Crotia, Thou Standest here presented by the name of Hugh Crotia of Stratford in the Colony of Connecticut in New England; for that not haueing the fear of God before thine Eyes, through the Instigation of the Devill, thou hast forsaken thy God & covenanted with the Devill, and by his help hast in a preternaturall way afflicted the bodys of Sundry of his Majesties good Subjects, for which according to the Law of God, and the Law of this Colony, thou deseruest to dye."
Record Court of Assistants, 2: 16, 1693.
A WARRANT FOR THE EXECUTION OF A WITCH[A] AND THE SHERIFF'S RETURN THEREON
To George Corwin Gentlm high Sheriff of the County of Essex Greeting
Whereas Bridgett Bishop als Olliver the wife of Edward Bishop of Salem in the County of Essex Sawyer at a special Court of Oyer and Terminer —— (held at?)[B] Salem this second Day of this instant month of June for the Countyes of Essex Middlesex and Suffolk before William Stoughton Esqe. and his Associates Justices of the said Court was Indicted and arraigned upon five several Indictments for useing practising & exercising on the ——[B] last past and divers others days ——[B] witchcraft in and upon the bodyes of Abigail Williams Ann puttnam Jr Mercy Lewis Mary Walcott and Elizabeth Hubbard of Salem Village single women; whereby their bodyes were hurt afflicted pined consumed wasted & tormented contrary to the forme of the statute in that case made and provided To which Indictmts the said Bridgett Bishop pleaded not guilty and for Tryall thereof put herselfe upon God and her Country ——[B] she was found guilty of the ffelonyes and Witchcrafts whereof she stood Indicted and sentence of death accordingly passed agt her as the Law directs execution whereof yet remaines to be done These are therefore in the name of their Majties William & Mary now King & Queen over England & to will and command you that upon Fryday next being the fourth day of this instant month of June between the hours of Eight and twelve in the aforenoon of the same day you safely conduct the sd Bridgett Bishop als Olliver from their Majties Goale in Salem aforesd to the place of execution and there cause her to be hanged by the neck until she be dead and of your doings herein make returne to the Clerk of the sd Court and precept And hereof you are not to faile at your peril And this shall be sufficient warrant Given under my hand & seal at Boston the Eighth of June in the ffourth year of the reigne of our Sovereigne Lords William & Mary now King & Queen over England Annoque Dm 1692 Wm. Stoughton
[Footnote A: Original in office of Clerk of the Courts at Salem, Massachusetts. Said to be the only one extant in American archives.] [Footnote B: Some of the words in the warrant are illegible.]
June 16 1692
According to the within written precept I have taken the Bodye of the within named Bridgett Bishop out of their Majties Goale in Salem & Safely Conueighd her to the place provided for her Execution & Caused ye sd Bridgett to be hanged by the neck till Shee was dead all which was according to the time within Required & So I make returne by me George Corwin Sheriff
CHAPTER I Perkins' definition—Burr's "Servants of Satan"—The monkish idea—The ancientness of witchcraft—Its universality—Its regulation—What it was—Its oldest record—The Babylonian Stele—Its discovery—King Hammurabi's Code, 2250 B.C.—Its character and importance—Hebraic resemblances—Its witchcraft law—The test of guilt—The water test.
CHAPTER II Opinions of Blackstone and Lecky—Witchcraft nomenclature—Its earlier and later phases—Common superstitions—Monna Sidonia's invocation— Leland's Sea Song—Witchcraft's diverse literature—Its untold history— The modern Satanic idea—Exploitation by the Inquisitors—The chief authorities—The witch belief—Its recognition in drama and romance—The Weird Sisters—Other characters.
CHAPTER III Fundamentals—The scriptural citations—Old and New Testament—Josephus—Ancient and modern witchcraft—The distinction—The arch enemy Satan—Action of the Church—The later definition—The New England indictments—Satan's recognition—Persecutions in Italy, Germany and France—Slow spread to England—Statute of Henry VIII—Cranmer's injunction—Jewell's sermon—Statute James I—His Demonologie—Executions in Eastern England—Witch finder Hopkins—Howell's statement—John Lowes—Witchcraft in Scotland—Commissions—Instruments of torture—Forbes' definition—Colonial beliefs
CHAPTER IV Fiske's view—The forefathers' belief—Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Haven laws—Sporadic cases—The Salem tragedy—Statements of Hawthorne, Fiske, Lowell, Latimer—The victims—Upham's picture—The trial court—Sewall's confession—Cotton Mather—Calef and Upham—Poole—Mather's rules—Ministerial counsel—Longfellow's opinion—Mather's responsibility—His own evidence—Conspectus
CHAPTER V The Epidemic in Connecticut—Palfrey—Trumbulls—Winthrop's Journal—Treatment of witchcraft—Silence and evasion—The true story—How told—Witnesses—Testimony—All classes affected—The courts—Judges and jurors—The best evidence—The record—Grounds for examination of a witch—Jones' summary—Witch marks—What they were—How discovered—Dalton's Country Justice—The searchers—Searchers' report in Disborough and Clawson cases
CHAPTER VI Hamersley's and Morgan's comment—John Allyn's letter—The accusation—Its origin—Its victims—Many witnesses—Record evidence—The witnesses themselves—Memorials of their delusion—Notable depositions—Selected testimonies, and cases—Katherine Harrison—The court—The judge—The indictment—Grand jury's oath—Credulity of the court—Testimony—Its unique character—Bracy—Dickinson—Montague— Graves—Francis—Johnson—Hale—Smith—Verdict and sentence—Court's appeal to the ministers—Their answer—A remarkable document—Katherine's petition—"A Complaint of severall grieuances"—Katherine's reprieve— Dismissal from imprisonment—Removal
CHAPTER VII Mercy Disborough—Cases at Fairfield, 1692—The special court—The indictment—Testimonies—Jesop—Barlow—Dunning—Halliberch—Benit— Grey—Godfree—Search for witch marks—Ordeal by water—Cateran Branch's accusation—Jury disagree—Later verdict of guilty—The governor's sentence—Reference to General Court—Afterthought—John Hale's conclusion—Courts call on the ministers—Their answer—General advice—Reasons for reprieve—Notable papers—Eliot and Woodbridge—Willis—Pitkin—Stanly—The pardon
CHAPTER VIII Hawthorne—Latimer—Additional cases—Curious and vulgar testimony—All illustrative of opinion—Make it understandable—Elizabeth Seager—Witnesses—What they swore to—Garretts—Sterne—Hart—Willard— Pratt—Migat—"Staggerings" of the jury—Contradictions—Verdict— Elizabeth Godman—Governor Goodyear's dilemma—Strange doings—Ball's information—Imprisonment—Discharge—Nathaniel and Rebecca Greensmith— Character, Accusation—Rebecca's confession—Conviction—Double execution at Hartford
CHAPTER IX Elizabeth Clawson—The indictment—Witnesses—"Kateran" Branch—Garney— Kecham—Abigail and Nathaniel Cross—Bates—Sargent Wescot and Abigail— Finch—Bishop—Holly—Penoir—Slawson—Kateran's Antics—Acquittal. Hugh Crotia—The court—Grand jury—Indictment—Testimony—Confession— Acquittal—Gaol delivery—Elizabeth Garlick—A sick woman's fancies—"A black thing at the bed's featte"—Burning herbs—The sick child—The ox' broken leg—The dead ram and sow—The Tale burning
CHAPTER X Goodwife Knapp—Her character—A notable case—Imprisonment—Harsh treatment—The inquisitors—Their urgency—Knapp's appeal—The postmortem desecration—Prominent people involved—Davenport and Ludlow—Staplies vs. Ludlow—The court—Confidential gossip—Cause of the suit—Testimony— Davenport—Sherwood—Tomson—Gould—Ward—Pell—Brewster—Lockwood—Hull— Brundish—Whitlock—Barlow—Lyon—Mistress Staplies—Her doings aforetime— Tashs' night ride—"A light woman"—Her character—Reparation suit—Her later indictment—Power of the delusion—Pertinent inquiry
CHAPTER XI Present opinions—J. Hammond Trumbull—Annie Eliot Trumbull—Review—Authenticity—Record evidence—Controversialists—Actual cases—Suspicions—Accusations—Acquittals—Flights—Executions—First complete roll—Changes in belief—Contrast—Edwards—Carter—"The Rogerenes"—Conclusion—Hathorne—Mather
THE WITCHCRAFT DELUSION IN COLONIAL CONNECTICUT
"First, because Witchcraft is a rife and common sinne in these our daies, and very many are intangled with it, beeing either practitioners thereof in their owne persons, or at the least, yielding to seeke for helpe and counsell of such as practise it." A Discovrse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, PERKINS, 1610.
"And just as God has his human servants, his church on earth, so also the Devil has his—men and women sworn to his service and true to his bidding. To win such followers he can appear to men in any form he pleases, can deceive them, enter into compact with them, initiate them into his worship, make them his allies for the ruin of their fellows. Now it is these human allies and servants of Satan, thus postulated into existence by the brain of a monkish logician, whom history knows as witches." The Literature of Witchcraft, BURR.
Witchcraft in its generic sense is as old as human history. It has written its name in the oldest of human records. In all ages and among all peoples it has taken firm hold on the fears, convictions and consciences of men. Anchored in credulity and superstition, in the dread and love of mystery, in the hard and fast theologic doctrines and teachings of diabolism, and under the ban of the law from its beginning, it has borne a baleful fruitage in the lives of the learned and the unlearned, the wise and the simple.
King and prophet, prelate and priest, jurist and lawmaker, prince and peasant, scholars and men of affairs have felt and dreaded its subtle power, and sought relief in code and commandment, bull and anathema, decree and statute—entailing even the penalty of death—and all in vain until in the march of the races to a higher civilization, the centuries enthroned faith in the place of fear, wisdom in the place of ignorance, and sanity in the seat of delusion.
In its earlier historic conception witchcraft and its demonstrations centered in the claim of power to produce certain effects, "things beyond the course of nature," from supernatural causes, and under this general term all its occult manifestations were classified with magic and sorcery, until the time came when the Devil was identified and acknowledged both in church and state as the originator and sponsor of the mystery, sin and crime—the sole father of the Satanic compacts with men and women, and the law both canonical and civil took cognizance of his malevolent activities.
In the Acropolis mound at Susa in ancient Elam, in the winter of 1901-2, there was brought to light by the French expedition in charge of the eminent savant, M. de Morgan, one of the most remarkable memorials of early civilization ever recovered from the buried cities of the Orient.
It is a monolith—a stele of black diorite—bearing in bas-relief a likeness of Hammurabi (the Amrephel of the Old Testament; Genesis xiv, 1), and the sixth king of the first Babylonian dynasty, who reigned about 2250 B.C.; and there is also carved upon it, in archaic script in black letter cuneiform—used long after the cursive writing was invented—the longest Babylonian record discovered to this day,—the oldest body of laws in existence and the basis of historical jurisprudence.
It is a remarkable code, quickly made available through translation and transliteration by the Assyrian scholars, and justly named, from its royal compiler, Hammurabi's code. He was an imperialist in purpose and action, and in the last of his reign of fifty-five years he annexed or assimilated the suzerainty of Elam, or Southern Persia, with Assyria to the north, and also Syria and Palestine, to the Mediterranean Sea.
This record in stone originally contained nineteen columns of inscriptions of four thousand three hundred and fourteen lines, arranged in two hundred and eighty sections, covering about two hundred separate decisions or edicts. There is substantial evidence that many of the laws were of greater antiquity than the code itself, which is a thousand years older than the Mosaic code, and there are many striking resemblances and parallels between its provisions, and the law of the covenant, and the deuteronomy laws of the Hebrews.
The code was based on personal responsibility. It protects the sanctity of an oath before God, provides among many other things for written evidence in legal matters, and is wonderfully comprehensive and rich in rules for the conduct of commercial, civic, financial, social, economic, and domestic affairs.
These sections are notably illustrative:
"If a man, in a case (pending judgment), utters threats against the witnesses (or), does not establish the testimony that he has given, if that case be a case involving life, that man shall be put to death.
"If a judge pronounces a judgment, renders a decision, delivers a verdict duly signed and sealed and afterwards alters his judgment, they shall call that judge to account for the alteration of the judgment which he had pronounced, and he shall pay twelvefold the penalty which was in the said judgment, and, in the assembly, they shall expel him from his seat of judgment, and he shall not return, and with the judges in a case he shall not take his seat.
"If a man practices brigandage and is captured, that man shall be put to death.
"If a woman hates her husband, and says: 'thou shalt not have me,' they shall inquire into her antecedents for her defects; and if she has been a careful mistress and is without reproach and her husband has been going about and greatly belittling her, that woman has no blame. She shall receive her presents and shall go to her father's house.
"If she has not been a careful mistress, has gadded about, has neglected her house and has belittled her husband, they shall throw that woman into the water.
"If a physician operates on a man for a severe wound with a bronze lancet and causes the man's death, or opens an abscess (in the eye) of a man with a bronze lancet and destroys the man's eye, they shall cut off his fingers.
"If a builder builds a house for a man and does not make its construction firm and the house, which he has built, collapses and causes the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death."
It is, however, with only one of King Hammurabi's wise laws that this inquiry has to do, and it is this:
"If a man has placed an enchantment upon a man, and has not justified himself, he upon whom the enchantment is placed to the Holy River (Euphrates) shall go; into the Holy River he shall plunge. If the Holy River holds (drowns) him he who enchanted him shall take his house. If on the contrary, the man is safe and thus is innocent, the wizard loses his life, and his house."
Or, as another translation has it:
"If a man ban a man and cast a spell on him—if he cannot justify it he who has banned shall be killed."
"If a man has cast a spell on a man and has not justified it, he on whom the spell has been thrown shall go to the River God, and plunge into the river. If the River God takes him he who has banned him shall be saved. If the River God show him to be innocent, and he be saved, he who banned him shall be killed, and he who plunged into the river shall take the house of him who banned him."
There can be no more convincing evidence of the presence and power of the great witchcraft superstition among the primitive races than this earliest law; and it is to be especially noted that it prescribes one of the very tests of guilt—the proof by water—which was used in another form centuries later, on the continent, in England and New England, at Wurzburg and Bonn, at Rouen, in Suffolk, Essex and Devon, and at Salem and Hartford and Fairfield, when "the Devil starteth himself up in the pulpit, like a meikle black man, and calling the row (roll) everyone answered, Here!"
"To deny the possibility, nay actual evidence of witchcraft and sorcery, is at once to flatly contradict the revealed word of God in various passages both of the Old and New Testaments." Blackstone's Commentaries (Vol. 4, ch. 4, p. 60).
"It was simply the natural result of Puritanical teaching acting on the mind, predisposing men to see Satanic influence in life, and consequently eliciting the phenomena of witchcraft." LECKY's Rationalism in Europe (Vol. I, p. 123).
Witchcraft's reign in many lands and among many peoples is also attested in its remarkable nomenclature. Consider its range in ancient, medieval and modern thought as shown in some of its definitions: Magic, sorcery, soothsaying, necromancy, astrology, wizardry, mysticism, occultism, and conjuring, of the early and middle ages; compacts with Satan, consorting with evil spirits, and familiarity with the Devil, of later times; all at last ripening into an epidemic demonopathy with its countless victims of fanaticism and error, malevolence and terror, of persecution and ruthless sacrifices.
It is still most potent in its evil, grotesque, and barbaric forms, in Fetichism, Voodooism, Bundooism, Obeahism, and Kahunaism, in the devil and animal ghost worship of the black races, completely exemplified in the arts of the Fetich wizard on the Congo; in the "Uchawi" of the Wasequhha mentioned by Stanley; in the marriage customs of the Soudan devil worshipers; in the practices of the Obeah men and women in the Caribbees—notably their power in matters of love and business, religion and war—in Jamaica; in the incantations of the kahuna in Hawaii; and in the devices of the voodoo or conjure doctor in the southern states; in the fiendish rites and ceremonies of the red men,—the Hoch-e-ayum of the Plains Indians, the medicine dances of the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, the fire dance of the Navajos, the snake dance of the Moquis, the sun dance of the Sioux, in the myths and tales of the Cherokees; and it rings in many tribal chants and songs of the East and West.
It lives as well, and thrives luxuriantly, ripe for the full vintage, in the minds of many people to whom this or that trivial incident or accident of life is an omen of good or evil fortune with a mysterious parentage. Its roots strike deep in that strange element in human nature which dreads whatsoever is weird and uncanny in common experiences, and sees strange portents and dire chimeras in all that is unexplainable to the senses. It is made most virile in the desire for knowledge of the invisible and intangible, that must ever elude the keenest inquiry, a phase of thought always to be reckoned with when imagination runs riot, and potent in its effect, though evanescent as a vision the brain sometimes retains of a dream, and as senseless in the cold light of reason as Monna Sidonia's invocation at the Witches' Sabbath: (Romance of Leonardo da Vinci, p. 97, MEREJKOWSKI.)
"Emen Hetan, Emen Hetan, Palu, Baalberi, Astaroth help us Agora, Agora, Patrisa, Come and help us."
"Garr-r: Garr-r, up: Don't knock Your head: We fly: We fly:"
And who may count himself altogether free from the subtle power of the old mystery with its fantastic imageries, when the spirit of unrest is abroad? Who is not moved by it in the awesome stillness of night on the plains, or in the silence of the mountains or of the somber forest aisles; in wild winter nights when old tales are told; in fireside visions as tender memories come and go? And who, when listening to the echoes of the chambers of the restless sea when deep calleth unto deep, does not hear amid them some weird and haunting refrain like Leland's sea song?
"I saw three witches as the wind blew cold In a red light to the lee; Bold they were and overbold As they sailed over the sea; Calling for One Two Three; Calling for One Two Three; And I think I can hear It a ringing in my ear, A-calling for the One, Two, Three."
Above all, in its literature does witchcraft exhibit the conclusive proof of its age, its hydra-headed forms, and its influence in the intellectual and spiritual development of the races of men.
What of this literature? Count in it all the works that treat of the subject in its many phases, and its correlatives, and it is limitless, a literature of all times and all lands.
Christian and pagan gave it place in their religions, dogmas, and articles of faith and discipline, and in their codes of law; and for four hundred years, from the appeal of Pope John XXII, in 1320, to extirpate the Devil-worshipers, to the repeal of the statute of James I in 1715, the delusion gave point and force to treatises, sermons, romances, and folk-lore, and invited, nay, compelled, recognition at the hands of the scientist and legist, the historian, the poet and the dramatist, the theologian and philosopher.
But the monographic literature of witchcraft, as it is here considered, is limited, in the opinion of a scholar versed in its lore, to fifteen hundred titles. There is a mass of unpublished materials in libraries and archives at home and abroad, and of information as to witchcraft and the witch trials, accessible in court records, depositions, and current accounts in public and private collections, all awaiting the coming of some master hand to transform them into an exhaustive history of the most grievous of human superstitions.
To this day, there has been no thorough investigation or complete analysis of the history of the witch persecutions. The true story has been distorted by partisanship and ignorance, and left to exploitation by the romancer, the empiric, and the sciolist.
"Of the origin and nature of the delusion we know perhaps enough; but of the causes and paths of its spread, of the extent of its ravages, of its exact bearing upon the intellectual and religious freedom of its times, of the soul-stirring details of the costly struggle by which it was overborne we are lamentably ill informed." (The Literature of Witchcraft, p. 66, BURR.)
It must serve in this brief narrative to merely note, within the centuries which marked the climax of the mania, some of the most authoritative and influential works in giving strength to its evil purpose and the modes of accusation, trial, and punishment.
Modern scholarship holds that witchcraft, with the Devil as the arch enemy of mankind for its cornerstone, was first exploited by the Dominicans of the Inquisition. They blazed the tortuous way for the scholastic theology which in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries gave new recognition to Satan and his satellites as the sworn enemies of God and his church, and the Holy Inquisition with its massive enginery, open and secret, turned its attention to the exposure and extirpation of the heretics and sinners who were enlisted in the Devil's service.
Take for adequate illustration these standard authorities in the early periods of the widespread and virulent epidemic:
Those of the Inquisitor General, Eymeric, in 1359, entitled Tractatus contra daemonum; the Formicarius or Ant Hill of the German Dominican Nider, 1337; the De calcatione daemonum, 1452; the Flagellum haereticorum fascinariorum of the French Inquisitor Jaquier in 1458; and the Fortalitium fidei of the Spanish Franciscan Alonso de Spina, in 1459; the famous and infamous manual of arguments and rules of procedure for the detection and punishment of witches, compiled by the German Inquisitors Kraemer and Sprenger (Institor) in 1489, buttressed on the bull of Pope Innocent VIII; (this was the celebrated Witch Hammer, bearing on its title page the significant legend, "Not to believe in witchcraft is the greatest of heresies"); the Canon Episcopi; the bulls of Popes John XXII, 1330, Innocent VIII, 1484, Alexander VI, 1494, Leo X, 1521, and Adrian VI, 1522; the Decretals of the canon law; the exorcisms of the Roman and Greek churches, all hinged on scriptural precedents; the Roman law, the Twelve Tables, and the Justinian Code, the last three imposing upon the crimes of conjuring, exorcising, magical arts, offering sacrifices to the injury of one's neighbors, sorcery, and witchcraft, the penalties of death by torture, fire, or crucifixion.
Add to these classics some of the later authorities: the Daemonologie of the royal inquisitor James I of England and Scotland, 1597; Mores' Antidote to Atheism; Fuller's Holy and Profane State; Granvil's Sadducismus Triumphatus, 1681; Tryal of Witches at the Assizes for the County of Suffolk before Sir Matthew Hale, March, 1664 (London, 1682); Baxter's Certainty of the World of Spirits, 1691; Cotton Mather's A Discourse on Witchcraft, 1689, his Late Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions, 1684, and his Wonders of the Invisible World, 1692; and enough references have been made to this literature of delusion, to the precedents that seared the consciences of courts and juries in their sentences of men, women, and children to death by the rack, the wheel, the stake, and the gallows.
Where in history are the horrors of the curse more graphically told than in the words of Canon Linden, an eye witness of the demonic deeds at Trier (Treves) in 1589?
"And so, from court to court throughout the towns and villages of all the diocese, scurried special accusers, inquisitors, notaries, jurors, judges, constables, dragging to trial and torture human beings of both sexes and burning them in great numbers. Scarcely any of those who were accused escaped punishment. Nor were there spared even the leading men in the city of Trier. For the Judge, with two Burgomasters, several Councilors and Associate Judges, canons of sundry collegiate churches, parish-priests, rural deans, were swept away in this ruin. So far, at length, did the madness of the furious populace and of the courts go in this thirst for blood and booty that there was scarcely anybody who was not smirched by some suspicion of this crime.
"Meanwhile notaries, copyists, and innkeepers grew rich. The executioner rode a blooded horse, like a noble of the court, and went clad in gold and silver; his wife vied with noble dames in the richness of her array. The children of those convicted and punished were sent into exile; their goods were confiscated; plowman and vintner failed." (The Witch Persecutions, pp. 13-14, BURR.)
Fanaticism did not rule and ruin without hindrance and remonstrance. Men of great learning and exalted position struck mighty blows at the root of the evil. They could not turn the tide but they stemmed it, and their attacks upon the whole theory of Satanic power and the methods of persecution were potent in the reaction to humanity and a reign of reason.
Always to be remembered among these men of power are Johann Wier, Friedrich Spee, and notably Reginald Scot, who in his Discovery of Witchcraft, in 1584, undertook to prove that "the contracts and compacts of witches with devils and all infernal spirits and familiars, are but erroneous novelties and erroneous conceptions."
"After all it is setting a high value on our conjectures to roast a man alive on account of them." (MONTAIGNE.)
Who may measure in romance and the drama the presence, the cogent and undeniable power of those same abiding elements of mysticism and mystery, which underlie all human experience, and repeated in myriad forms find their classic expression in the queries of the "Weird Sisters," "those elemental avengers without sex or kin"?
"When shall we three meet again, In thunder, lightning or in rain? When the hurly burly's done, When the battle's lost and won."
Are not the mummeries of the witches about the cauldron in Macbeth, and Talbot's threat pour la Pucelle,
"Blood will I draw on thee, thou art a witch,"
uttered so long ago, echoed in the wailing cry of La Meffraye in the forests of Machecoul, in the maledictions of Grio, and of the Saga of the Burning Fields?
Their vitality is also clearly shown in their constant use and exemplification by the romance and novel writers who appeal with certainty and success to the popular taste in the tales of spectral terrors. Witness: Farjeon's The Turn of the Screw; Bierce's The Damned Thing; Bulwer's A Strange Story; Cranford's Witch of Prague; Howells' The Shadow of a Dream; Winthrop's Cecil Dreeme; Grusot's Night Side of Nature; Crockett's Black Douglas; and The Red Axe, Francis' Lychgate Hall; Caine's The Shadow of a Crime; and countless other stories, traditions, tales, and legends, written and unwritten, that invite and receive a gracious hospitality on every hand.
"A belief in witchcraft had always existed; it was entertained by Coke, Bacon, Hale and even Blackstone. It was a misdemeanor at English common law and made a felony without benefit of clergy by 33 Henry VIII, c. 8, and 5 Eliz., c. 16, and the more severe statute of I Jas. 1, ch. 12." Connecticut—Origin of her Courts and Laws (N.E. States, Vol I, p. 487-488), HAMERSLEY.
"Selden took up a somewhat peculiar and characteristic position. He maintained that the law condemning women to death for witchcraft was perfectly just, but that it was quite unnecessary to ascertain whether witchcraft was a possibility. A woman might not be able to destroy the life of her neighbor by her incantations; but if she intended to do so, it was right that she should be hung." Rationalism in Europe (Vol. 1, p. 123) LECKY.
The fundamental authority for legislation, for the decrees of courts and councils as to witchcraft, from the days of the Witch of Endor to those of Mercy Disborough of Fairfield, and Giles Corey of Salem Farms, was the code of the Hebrews and its recognition in the Gospel dispensations. Thereon rest most of the historic precedents, legislative, ecclesiastical, and judicial.
"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Exodus xxii, 18.
What law embalmed in ancientry and honored as of divine origin has been more fruitful of sacrifice and suffering? Through the Scriptures, gathering potency as it goes, runs the same grim decree, with widening definitions.
"And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits and after wizards ... I will even set my face against that soul and will cut him off from among his people." Deuteronomy xviii, 10-11.
"There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer." Deuteronomy xviii, 10-11.
"Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards out of the land." Samuel i, 3.
"Now Saul the king of the Hebrews, had cast out of the country the fortune tellers, and the necromancers, and all such as exercised the like arts, excepting the prophets.... Yet did he bid his servants to inquire out for him some woman that was a necromancer, and called up the souls of the dead, that so he might know whether his affairs would succeed to his mind; for this sort of necromantic women that bring up the souls of the dead, do by them foretell future events." Josephus, Book 6, ch. 14.
"For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft." Samuel i, 15-23.
"And I will cut off witchcraft out of the land." Micah v. 12.
"Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together and burned them." Acts xix, 19.
"But there was a certain man called Simon which beforetime in the same city used sorcery and bewitched the people of Samaria." Acts viii, 9.
"If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered, and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."[C] John xv, 6.
[Footnote C: In the opinion of the eminent Italian jurist Bartolo, witches were burned alive in early times on this authority.]
These citations make clear the scriptural recognition of witchcraft as a heinous sin and crime. It is, however, necessary to draw a broad line of demarcation between the ancient forms and manifestations which have been brought into view for an illustrative purpose, and that delusion or mania which centered in the theologic belief and teaching that Satan was the arch enemy of mankind, and clothed with such power over the souls of men as to make compacts with them, and to hold supremacy over them in the warfare between good and evil.
The church from its earliest history looked upon witchcraft as a deadly sin, and disbelief in it as a heresy, and set its machinery in motion for its extirpation. Its authority was the word of God and the civil law, and it claimed jurisdiction through the ecclesiastical courts, the secular courts, however, acting as the executive of their decrees and sentences.
Such was the cardinal principle which governed in the merciless attempts to suppress the epidemic in spreading from the continent to England and Scotland, and at last to the Puritan colonies in America, where the last chapter of its history was written.
There can be no better, no more comprehensive modern definition of the crime once a heresy, or of the popular conception of it, than the one set forth in the New England indictments, to wit: "interteining familiarity with Satan the enemy of mankind, and by his help doing works above the course of nature."
In few words Henry Charles Lea, in his History of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages, analyzes the development of the Satanic doctrine from a superstition into its acceptance as a dogma of Christian belief.
"As Satan's principal object in his warfare with God was to seduce human souls from their divine allegiance, he was ever ready with whatever temptation seemed most likely to effect his purpose. Some were to be won by physical indulgence; others by conferring on them powers enabling them apparently to forecast the future, to discover hidden things, to gratify enmity, and to acquire wealth, whether through forbidden arts or by the services of a familiar demon subject to their orders. As the neophyte in receiving baptism renounced the devil, his pomps and his angels, it was necessary for the Christian who desired the aid of Satan to renounce God. Moreover, as Satan when he tempted Christ offered him the kingdoms of the earth in return for adoration—'If thou therefore wilt worship me all shall be thine' (Luke iv, 7)—there naturally arose the idea that to obtain this aid it was necessary to render allegiance to the prince of hell. Thence came the idea, so fruitful in the development of sorcery, of compacts with Satan by which sorcerers became his slaves, binding themselves to do all the evil they could to follow their example. Thus the sorcerer or witch was an enemy of all the human race as well as of God, the most efficient agent of hell in its sempiternal conflict with heaven. His destruction, by any method, was therefore the plainest duty of man.
"This was the perfected theory of sorcery and witchcraft by which the gentle superstitions inherited and adopted from all sides were fitted into the Christian dispensation and formed part of its accepted creed." (History of Inquisition in the Middle Ages, 3, 385, LEA.)
Once the widespread superstition became adapted to the forms of religious faith and discipline, and "the prince of the power of the air" was clothed with new energies, the Devil was taken broader account of by Christianity itself; the sorcery of the ancients was embodied in the Christian conception of witchcraft; and the church undertook to deal with it as a heresy; the door was opened wide to the sweep of the epidemic in some of the continental lands.
In Bamburg and Wurzburg, Geneva and Como, Toulouse and Lorraine, and in many other places in Italy, Germany, and France, thousands were sacrificed in the names of religion, justice, and law, with bigotry for their advocate, ignorance for their judge, and fanaticism for their executioner. The storm of demonism raged through three centuries, and was stayed only by the mighty barriers of protest, of inquiry, of remonstrance, and the forces that crystallize and mold public opinion, which guides the destinies of men in their march to a higher civilization.
The flames burning so long and so fiercely on the continent at first spread slowly in England and Scotland. Sorcery in some of its guises had obtained therein ever since the Conquest, and victims had been burned under the king's writ after sentence in the ecclesiastical courts; but witchcraft as a compact with Satan was not made a felony until 1541, by a statute of Henry VIII. Cranmer, in his Articles of Visitation in 1549, enjoined the clergy to inquire as to any craft invented by the Devil; and Bishop Jewell, preaching before the queen in 1558, said:
"It may please your Grace to understand that witches and sorcerers within these last few years are marvelously increased within your Grace's realm, Your Grace's subjects pine away even unto the death, their colour fadeth, their flesh rotteth, their speech is benumbed, their senses are bereft."
The act of 1541 was amended in Queen Elizabeth's reign, in 1562, but at the accession of James I—himself a fanatic and bigot in religious matters, and the author of the famous Daemonologie—a new law was enacted with exact definition of the crime, which remained in force more than a hundred years. Its chief provision was this:
"If any person or persons use, practice or exercise any invocation or conjuration of any evil and wicked spirit, or shall consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed or reward any evil and wicked spirit to or for any intent or purpose, or take up any dead man, woman, or child out of his, her or their grave, or any other place where the dead body resteth or the skin, bone, or any part of any dead person, to be employed or used in any manner of witchcraft, sorcery, charm, or enchantment, or shall use, practise, or exercise any witchcraft, enchantment, charm, or sorcery, whereby any person shall be killed, destroyed, wasted, consumed, pined or lamed in his or her body or any part thereof: every such offender is a felon without benefit of clergy."
Under this law, and the methods of its administration, witchcraft so called increased; persecutions multiplied, especially under the Commonwealth, and notably in the eastern counties of England, whence so many of all estates, all sorts and conditions of men, had fled over seas to set up the standard of independence in the Puritan colonies.
Many executions occurred in Lancashire, in Suffolk, Essex, and Huntingdonshire, where the infamous scoundrel "Witch-finder-General" Matthew Hopkins, under the sanction of the courts, was "pricking," "waking," "watching," and "testing" persons suspected or accused of witchcraft, with fiendish ingenuity of indignity and torture. Says James Howell in his Familiar Letters, in 1646:
"We have multitudes of witches among us; for in Essex and Suffolk there were above two hundred indicted within these two years, and above the half of them executed."
"Within the compass of two years (1645-7), near upon three hundred witches were arraigned, and the major part of them executed in Essex and Suffolk only. Scotland swarms with them more and more, and persons of good quality are executed daily."
Scotland set its seal on witchcraft as a crime by an act of its parliament so early as 1563, amended in 1649. The ministers were the inquisitors and persecutors. They heard the confessions, and inflicted the tortures, and their cruelties were commensurate with the hard and fast theology that froze the blood of mercy in their veins.
The trials were often held by special commissions issued by the privy council, on the petition of a presbytery or general assembly. It was here that those terrible instruments of torture, the caschielawis, the lang irnis, the boot and the pilliewinkis, were used to wring confessions from the wretched victims. It is all a strange and gruesome story of horrors told in detail in the state trial records, and elsewhere, from the execution of Janet Douglas—Lady Glammis—to that of the poor old woman at Dornoch who warmed herself at the fire set for her burning. So firmly seated in the Scotch mind was the belief in witchcraft as a sin and crime, that when the laws against it were repealed in 1736, Scotchmen in the highest stations of church and state remonstrated against the repeal as contrary to the law of God; and William Forbes, in his "Institutes of the Law of Scotland," calls witchcraft "that black art whereby strange and wonderful things are wrought by a power derived from the devil."
This glance at what transpired on the continent and in England and Scotland is of value, in the light it throws on the beliefs and convictions of both Pilgrim and Puritan—Englishmen all—in their new domain, their implicit reliance on established precedents, their credulity in witchcraft matters, and their absolute trust in scriptural and secular authority for their judicial procedure, and the execution of the grim sentences of the courts, until the revolting work of the accuser and the searcher, and the delusion of the ministers and magistrates aflame with mistaken zeal vanished in the sober afterthought, the reaction of the public mind and conscience, which at last crushed the machinations of the Devil and his votaries in high places.
"Hence among all the superstitions that have 'stood over' from primeval ages, the belief in witchcraft has been the most deeply rooted and the most tenacious of life. In all times and places until quite lately, among the most advanced communities, the reality of witchcraft has been accepted without question, and scarcely any human belief is supported by so vast a quantity of recorded testimony."
"Considering the fact that the exodus of Puritans to New England occurred during the reign of Charles I, while the persecutions for witchcraft were increasing toward a maximum in the mother country, it is rather strange that so few cases occurred in the New World." New France and New England (pp. 136-144), FISKE.
The forefathers believed in witchcraft—entering into compacts with the Devil—and in all its diabolical subtleties. They had cogent reasons for their belief in example and experience. They set it down in their codes as a capital offense. They found, as has been shown abundant authority in the Bible and in the English precedents. They anchored their criminal codes as they did their theology in the wide and deep haven of the Old Testament decrees and prophecies and maledictions, and doubted not that "the Scriptures do hold forth a perfect rule for the direction and government of all men in all duties which they are to perform to God and men."
Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven, early in their history enacted these capital laws:
In Massachusetts (1641):
"Witchcraft which is fellowship by covenant with a familiar spirit to be punished with death."
"Consulters with witches not to be tolerated, but either to be cut off by death or banishment or other suitable punishment." (Abstract New England Laws, 1655.)
In Connecticut (1642):
"If any man or woman be a witch—that is, hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit—they shall be put to death." Exodus xxii, 18; Leviticus xx, 27; Deuteronomy xviii, 10, 11. (Colonial Records of Connecticut, Vol. I, p. 77).
In New Haven (1655):
"If any person be a witch, he or she shall be put to death according to" Exodus xxii, 18; Leviticus xx, 27; Deuteronomy xviii, 10, 11. (New Haven Colonial Records, Vol. II, p. 576, Cod. 1655).
These laws were authoritative until the epidemic had ceased.
Witches were tried, condemned, and executed with no question as to due legal power, in the minds of juries, counsel, and courts, until the hour of reaction came, hastened by doubts and criticisms of the sources and character of evidence, and the magistrates and clergy halted in their prosecutions and denunciations of an alleged crime born of delusion, and nurtured by a theology run rampant.
"They had not been taught to question the wisdom or the humanity of English criminal law." (Blue Laws—True and False, p. 15, TRUMBULL.)
Here and there in New England, following the great immigration from Old England, from 1630-40, during the Commonwealth, and to the Restoration, several cases of witchcraft occurred, but the mania did not set its seal on the minds of men, and inspire them to run amuck in their frenzy, until the days of the swift onset in Massachusetts and Connecticut in 1692, when the zenith of Satan's reign was reached in the Puritan colonies.
A few words about the tragedy at Salem are relevant and essential. They are written because it was the last outbreak of epidemic demonopathy among the civilized peoples; it has been exploited by writers abroad, who have left the dreadful record of the treatment of the delusion in their own countries in the background; it was accompanied in some degree by like manifestations and methods of suppression in sister colonies; it was fanned into flames by men in high station who reveled in its merciless extirpation as a religious duty, and eased their consciences afterwards by contrition, confession and remorse, for their valiant service in the army of the theological devil; and especially for the contrasts it presents to the more cautious and saner methods of procedure that obtained in the governments of Connecticut and New Haven at the apogee of the delusion.
What say the historians and scholars, some of whose ancestors witnessed or participated in the tragedies, and whose acquaintance with the facts defies all challenge?
"It is on the whole the most gruesome episode in American history, and it sheds back a lurid light upon the long tale of witchcraft in the past." (Fiske's New France and New England, 195.)
"The sainted minister in the church; the woman of the scarlet letter in the market place! What imagination would have been irreverent enough to surmise that the same scorching stigma was on them both." (Scarlet Letter, HAWTHORNE.)
"We are made partners in parish and village feuds. We share in the chimney corner gossip, and learn for the first time how many mean and merely human motives, whether consciously or unconsciously, gave impulse and intensity to the passions of the actors in that memorable tragedy which dealt the death blow in this country to the belief in Satanic compacts." (Among my Books—Witchcraft, p. 142, LOWELL.)
"The tragedy was at an end. It lasted about six months, from the first accusations in March until the last executions in September.... It was an epidemic of mad superstitious fear, bitterly to be regretted, and a stain upon the high civilization of the Bay Colony." (Historic Towns of New England, Salem, p. 148, LATIMER.)
What was done at Salem, when the tempest of unreason broke loose? Who were the chief actors in it? This was done. From the first accusation in March, 1692, to the last execution in September, 1692, nineteen persons were hanged and one man was pressed to death[D] (no witch was ever burned in New England), hundreds of innocent men and women were imprisoned, or fled into exile or hiding places, their homes were broken up, their estates were ruined, and their families and friends were left in sorrow, anxiety, and desolation; and all this terrorism was wrought at the instance of the chief men in the communities, the magistrates, and the ministers.
[Footnote D: Fifty-five persons suffered torture, and twenty were executed before the delusion ended. Ency. Americana (Vol. 16, "Witchcraft").]
Upham in his Salem Witchcraft (Vol. II. pp. 249-250) thus pictures the situation.
"The prisons in Salem, Ipswich, Boston, and Cambridge, were crowded. All the securities of society were dissolved. Every man's life was at the mercy of every man. Fear sat on every countenance, terror and distress were in all hearts, silence pervaded the streets; all who could, quit the country; business was at a stand; a conviction sunk into the minds of men, that a dark and infernal confederacy had got foot-hold in the land, threatening to overthrow and extirpate religion and morality, and establish the kingdom of the Prince of darkness in a country which had been dedicated, by the prayers and tears and sufferings of its pious fathers, to the Church of Christ and the service and worship of the true God. The feeling, dismal and horrible indeed, became general, that the providence of God was removed from them; that Satan was let loose, and he and his confederates had free and unrestrained power to go to and fro, torturing and destroying whomever he willed."
The trials were held by a Special Court, consisting of William Stoughton, Peter Sergeant, Nath. Saltonstall, Wait Winthrop, Bartho' Gedney, John Richards, Saml. Sewall, John Hathorne, Tho. Newton, and Jonathan Corwin,—not one of them a lawyer.
Whatever his associates may have thought of their ways of doing God's service, after the tragedy was over, Sewall, one of the most zealous of the justices, made a public confession of his errors before the congregation of the Old South Church, January 14, 1697. Were the agonizing groans of poor old Giles Corey, pressed to death under planks weighted with stones, or the prayers of the saintly Burroughs ringing in his ears?
"The conduct of Judge Sewall claims our particular admiration. He observed annually in private a day of humiliation and prayer, during the remainder of his life, to keep fresh in his mind a sense of repentance and sorrow for the part he bore in the trials. On the day of the general fast, he arose in the place where he was accustomed to worship, the old South, in Boston, and in the presence of the great assembly, handed up to the pulpit a written confession, acknowledging the error into which he had been led, praying for the forgiveness of God and his people, and concluding with a request, to all the congregation to unite with him in devout supplication, that it might not bring down the displeasure of the Most High upon his country, his family, or himself. He remained standing during the public reading of the paper. This was an act of true manliness and dignity of soul." (Upham's Salem Witchcraft, Vol. II, p. 441).
Grim, stern, narrow as he was, this man in his self-judgment commands the respect of all true men.
The ministers stood with the magistrates in their delusion and intemperate zeal. Two hundred and sixteen years after the last witch was hung in Massachusetts a clearer light falls on one of the striking personalities of the time—Cotton Mather—who to a recent date has been credited with the chief responsibility for the Salem prosecutions.
Did he deserve it?
Robert Calef, in his More Wonders of the Invisible World, Bancroft in his History of the United States, and Charles W. Upham in his Salem Witchcraft, are the chief writers who have placed Mather in the foreground of those dreadful scenes, as the leading minister of the time, an active personal participant in the trials and executions, and a zealot in the maintenance of the ministerial dignity and domination.
On the other hand, the learned scholar, the late William Frederick Poole, first in the North American Review, in 1869, and again in his paper Witchcraft in Boston, in 1882, in the Memorial History of Boston, calls Calef an immature youth, and says that his obvious intent, and that of the several unknown contributors who aided him, was to malign the Boston ministers and to make a sensation.
And the late John Fiske, in his New France and New England (p. 155), holds that:
"Mather's rules (of evidence) would not have allowed a verdict of guilty simply upon the drivelling testimony of the afflicted persons, and if this wholesome caution had been observed, not a witch would ever have been hung in Salem."
What were those rules of evidence and of procedure attributed to Mather? Through the Special Court appointed to hold the witch trials, and early in its sittings, the opinions of twelve ministers of Boston and vicinity were asked as to witchcraft. Cotton Mather wrote and his associates signed an answer June 15, 1692, entitled, The Return of Several Ministers Consulted by his Excellency and the Honorable Council upon the Present Witchcrafts in Salem Village. This was the opinion of the ministers, and it is most important to note what is said in it of spectral evidence,[E] as it was upon such evidence that many convictions were had:
"1. The afflicted state of our poor neighbors that are now suffering by molestations from the Invisible World we apprehend so deplorable, that we think their condition calls for the utmost help of all persons in their several capacities.
"2. We cannot but with all thankfulness acknowledge the success which the merciful God has given unto the sedulous and assiduous endeavors of our honorable rulers to detect the abominable witchcrafts which have been committed in the country; humbly praying that the discovery of these mysterious and mischievous wickednesses may be perfected.
"3. We judge that, in the prosecution of these and all such witchcrafts there is need of a very critical and exquisite caution, lest by too much credulity for things received only upon the devil's authority, there be a door opened for a long train of miserable consequences, and Satan get an advantage over us; for we should not be ignorant of his devices.
"4. As in complaints upon witchcraft there may be matters of inquiry which do not amount unto matters of presumption, and there may be matters of presumption which yet may not be matters of conviction, so it is necessary that all proceedings thereabout be managed with an exceeding tenderness toward those that may be complained of, especially if they have been persons formerly of an unblemished reputation.
"5. When the first inquiry is made into the circumstances of such as may lie under the just suspicion of witchcrafts, we could wish that there may be admitted as little as possible of such noise, company and openness as may too hastily expose them that are examined, and that there may be nothing used as a test for the trial of the suspected, the lawfulness whereof may be doubted by the people of God, but that the directions given by such judicious writers as Perkins and Barnard may be observed.
"6. Presumptions whereupon persons may be committed, and much more, convictions whereupon persons may be condemned as guilty of witchcrafts, ought certainly to be more considerable than barely the accused persons being represented by a spectre unto the afflicted, inasmuch as it is an undoubted and notorious thing that a demon may by God's permission appear even to ill purposes, in the shape of an innocent, yea, and a virtuous man. Nor can we esteem alterations made in the sufferers, by a look or touch of the accused, to be an infallible evidence of guilt, but frequently liable to be abused by the devil's legerdemains.
"7. We know not whether some remarkable affronts given the devils, by our disbelieving these testimonies whose whole force and strength is from them alone, may not put a period unto the progress of the dreadful calamity begun upon us, in the accusation of so many persons whereof some, we hope, are yet clear from the great transgression laid to their charge.
"8. Nevertheless, we cannot but humbly recommend unto the government, the speedy and vigorous prosecutions of such as have rendered themselves obnoxious, according to the directions given in the laws of God and the wholesome statutes of the English nation for the detection of witchcrafts."
[Footnote E: An illustration: The child Ann Putnam, in her testimony against the Rev. Mr. Burroughs, said that one evening the apparition of a minister came to her and asked her to write her name in the devil's book. Then came the forms of two women in winding sheets, and looked angrily upon the minister and scolded him until he was fain to vanish away. Then the women told Ann that they were the ghosts of Mr. Burroughs' first and second wives whom he had murdered.]
Did Longfellow, after a critical study of the original evidence and records, truly interpret Mather's views, in his dialogue with Hathorne?
MATHER: "Remember this, That as a sparrow falls not to the ground Without the will of God, so not a Devil Can come down from the air without his leave. We must inquire."
HATHORNE: "Dear sir, we have inquired; Sifted the matter thoroughly through and through, And then resifted it."
MATHER: "If God permits These evil spirits from the unseen regions To visit us with surprising informations, We must inquire what cause there is for this, But not receive the testimony borne By spectres as conclusive proof of guilt In the accused."
HATHORNE: "Upon such evidence We do not rest our case. The ways are many In which the guilty do betray themselves."
MATHER: "Be careful, carry the knife with such exactness That on one side no innocent blood be shed By too excessive zeal, and on the other No shelter given to any work of darkness."
New England Tragedies (4, 725), LONGFELLOW.
Whatever Mather's caution to the court may have been, or his leadership in learning, or his ambition and his clerical zeal, there is thus far no evidence, in all his personal participation in the tragedies, that he lifted his hand to stay the storm of terrorism once begun, or cried halt to the magistrates in their relentless work. On the contrary, after six victims had been executed, August 4, 1692, in A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World, Mather wrote this in deliberate, cool afterthought:
"They—the judges—have used as judges have heretofore done, the spectral evidences, to introduce their farther inquiries into the lives of the persons accused; and they have thereupon, by the wonderful Providence of God, been so strengthened with other evidences that some of the witch-gang have been fairly executed."
And a year later, in the light of all his personal experience and investigation, Mather solemnly declared:
"If in the midst of the many dissatisfactions among us, the publication of these trials may promote such a pious thankfulness unto God for justice being so far executed among us, I shall rejoice that God is glorified."
Wherever the responsibility at Salem may have rested, the truth is that in the general fear and panic there was potent in the minds, both of the clergy and the laity, the spirit of fanaticism and malevolence in some instances, such as misled the pastor of the First Church to point to the corpses of Giles Corey's devoted and saintly wife and others swinging to and fro, and say "What a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there."
This conspectus of witchcraft, old and new, of its development from the sorcery and magic of the ancients into the mediaeval theological dogma of the power of Satan, of its gradual ripening into an epidemic demonopathy, of its slow growth in the American colonies, of its volcanic outburst in the close of the seventeenth century, is relevant and appropriate to this account of the delusion in Connecticut, its rise and suppression, its firm hold on the minds and consciences of the colonial leaders for threescore years after the settlement of the towns, a chapter in Connecticut history written in the presence of the actual facts now made known and available, and with a purpose of historic accuracy.
"It was not to be expected of the colonists of New England that they should be the first to see through a delusion which befooled the whole civilized world, and the gravest and most knowing persons in it. The colonists in Connecticut and New Haven, as well as in Massachusetts, like all other Christian people at that time—at least with extremely rare individual exceptions—believed in the reality of a hideous crime called witchcraft." PALFREY'S New England (Vol. IV, pp. 96-127).
"The truth is that it [witchcraft] pervaded the whole Christian Church. The law makers and the ministers of New England were under its influences as—and no more than—were the law makers and ministers of Old England." Blue Laws—True and False (p. 23), TRUMBULL.
"One —— of Windsor Arraigned and Executed at Hartford for a Witch." WINTHROP'S Journal (2: 374, Savage Ed., 1853).
Here beginneth the first chapter of the story of the delusion in Connecticut. It is an entry made by John Winthrop, Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in his famous journal, without specific date, but probably in the spring of 1647.
It is of little consequence save as much has been made of it by some writers as fixing the relative date of the earliest execution for witchcraft in New England, and locating it in one of the three original Connecticut towns.
What matters it at this day whether Mary Johnson as tradition runs, or Alse Youngs as truth has it, was put to death for witchcraft in Windsor, Connecticut, in 1647, or Martha Jones of Charlestown, Massachusetts, was hung for the same crime at Boston in 1648, as also set down in Winthrop's Journal?
"It may possibly be thought a great neglect, or matter of partiality, that no account is given of witchcraft in Connecticut. The only reason is, that after the most careful researches, no indictment of any person for that crime, nor any process relative to that affair can be found." (History of Connecticut, 1799, Preface, BENJAMIN TRUMBULL, D.D.)
"A few words should be said regarding the author's mention of the subject of witchcraft in Connecticut.... It is, I believe, strictly true, as he says 'that no indictment of any person for that crime nor any process relative to that affair can be found.'
"It must be confessed, however, that a careful study of the official colonial records of Connecticut and New Haven leaves no doubt that Goodwife Bassett was convicted and hung at Stratford for witchcraft in 1651, and Goodwife Knapp at Fairfield in 1653. It is also recorded in Winthrop's Journal that 'One —— of Windsor was arraigned and executed at Hartford for a witch' in March, 1646-47, which if it actually occurred, forms the first instance of an execution for witchcraft in New England. The quotation here given is the only known authority for the statement, and opens the question whether something probably recorded as hearsay in a journal, may be taken as authoritative evidence of an occurrence.... The fact however remains, that the official records are as our author says, silent regarding the actual proceedings, and it is only by inference that it may be found from these records that the executions took place." (Introduction to Reprint of Trumbull's History of Connecticut, 1898, JONATHAN TRUMBULL.)
The searcher for inerrant information about witchcraft in Connecticut may easily be led into a maze of contradictions, and the statement last above quoted is an apt illustration, with record evidence to the contrary on every hand. Tradition, hearsay, rumor, misstatements, errors, all colored by ignorance or half knowledge, or a local jealousy or pride, have been woven into a woof of precedent and acceptance, and called history.
As has been already stated, the general writers from Trumbull to Johnston have nothing of value to say on the subject; the open official records and the latest history—Connecticut as a Colony and a State—cover only certain cases, and nowhere from the beginning to this day has the story of witchcraft been fully told.
Connecticut can lose nothing in name or fame or honor, if, more than two centuries after the last witch was executed within her borders, the facts as to her share in the strange superstition be certified from the current records of the events.
How may this story best be told? Clearly, so far as may be, in the very words of the actors in those tragic scenes, in the words of the minister and magistrate, the justice and the juryman, the accuser and the accused, and the searcher. Into this court of inquiry come all these personalities to witness the sorrowful march of the victims to the scaffold or to exile, or to acquittal and deliverance with the after life of suspicion and social ostracism.
The spectres of terror did not sit alone at the firesides of the poor and lowly: they stalked in high places, and were known of men and women of the first rank in education and the social virtues, and of greatest influence in church and state.
Of this fact there is complete demonstration in a glance at the dignitaries who presided at one of the earliest witchcraft trials—men of notable ancestry, of learning, of achievements, leaders in colonial affairs, whose memories are honored to this day.
These were the magistrates at a session entitled "A particular courte in Hartford upon the tryall of John Carrington and his wife 20th Feb., 1662" (See Rec. P.C., 2: 17): Edw. Hopkins Esqr., Gournor John Haynes Esqr. Deputy, Mr. Wells, Mr. Woolcott, Mr. Webster, Mr. Cullick, Mr. Clarke.
This court had jurisdiction over misdemeanors, and was "aided by a jury," as a close student of colonial history, the late Sherman W. Adams, quaintly says in one of his historical papers. These were the jurymen:
Mr. Phelps John White John More Mr. Tailecoat Will Leawis Edw. Griswold Mr. Hollister Sam. Smith Steph. Harte Daniel Milton John Pratt Theo. Judd
Before this tribunal—representative of the others doing like service later—made up of the foremost citizens, and of men in the ordinary walks of life, endowed with hard common sense and presumably inspired with a spirit of justice and fair play, came John Carrington and his wife Joan of Wethersfield, against whom the jury brought in a verdict of guilty.
It must be clearly borne in mind that all these men, in this as in all the other witchcraft trials in Connecticut, illustrious or commonplace—as are many of their descendants whose names are written on the rolls of the patriotic societies in these days of ancestral discovery and exploitation—were absolute believers in the powers of Satan and his machinations through witchcraft and the evidence then adduced to prove them, and trained to such credulity by their education and experience, by their theological doctrines, and by the law of the land in Old England, but still clothed upon with that righteousness which as it proved in the end made them skeptical as to certain alleged evidences of guilt, and swift to respond to the calls of reason and of mercy when the appeals were made to their calm judgment and second thought as to the sins of their fellowmen.
In no way can the truth be so clearly set forth, the real character of the evidence be so justly appreciated upon which the convictions were had, as from the depositions and the oral testimony of the witnesses themselves. They are lasting memorials to the credulity and superstition, and the religious insanity which clouded the senses of the wisest men for a time, and to the malevolence and satanic ingenuity of the people who, possessed of the devil accused their friends and neighbors of a crime punishable by death.
Nor is this dark chapter in colonial history without its flashes of humor and ridiculousness, as one follows the absurd and unbridled testimonies which have been chosen as completely illustrative of the whole series in the years of the witchcraft nightmare. They are in part cited here, for the sake of authenticity and exactness, as written out in the various court records and depositions, published and unpublished, in the ancient style of spelling, and are worthy the closest study for many reasons.
It will, however, clear the way to a better understanding of the unique testimonies of the witch witnesses, if there be first presented the authoritative reasons for the examination of a witch, coupled with a summary of the lawful tests of innocence or guilt. They are in the handwriting of William Jones, a Deputy Governor of Connecticut and a member of the court at some of the trials.
GROUNDS FOR EXAMINATION OF A WITCH
"1. Notorious defamacon by ye common report of the people a ground of suspicion.
"2. Second ground for strict examinacon is if a fellow witch gave testimony on his examinacon or death yt such a pson is a witch, but this is not sufficient for conviccon or condemnacon.
"3. If after cursing, there follow death or at least mischiefe to ye party.
"4. If after quarrelling or threatening a prsent mischiefe doth follow for ptye's devilishly disposed after cursing doe use threatnings, & yt alsoe is a grt prsumcon agt y.
"5. If ye pty suspected be ye son or daughter, the serv't or familiar friend, neer neighbors or old companion of a knowne or convicted witch this alsoe is a prsumcon, for witchcraft is an art yt may be larned & covayd from man to man & oft it falleth out yt a witch dying leaveth som of ye aforesd heires of her witchcraft.
"6. If ye pty suspected have ye devills mark for t'is thought wn ye devill maketh his covent with y he alwayess leaves his mark behind him to know y for his owne yt is, if noe evident reason in can be given for such mark.
"7. Lastly if ye pty examined be unconstant & contrary to himselfe in his answers.
"Thus much for examinacon wch usually is by Q. & some tymes by torture upon strong & grt presumcon.
"For conviccon it must be grounded on just and sufficient proofes. The proofes for conviccon of 2 sorts, 1, Some be less sufficient, some more sufficient.
"Less sufficient used in formr ages by red hot iron and scalding water. ye pty to put in his hand in one or take up ye othr, if not hurt ye pty cleered, if hurt convicted for a witch, but this was utterly condemned. In som countryes anothr proofe justified by some of ye learned by casting ye pty bound into water, if she sanck counted inocent, if she sunk not yn guilty, but all those tryalls the author counts supstitious and unwarrantable and worse. Although casting into ye water is by some justified for ye witch having made a ct wth ye devill she hath renounced her baptm & hence ye antipathy between her & water, but this he makes nothing off. Anothr insufficient testimoy of a witch is ye testimony of a wizard, who prtends to show ye face of ye witch to ye party afflicted in a glass, but this he counts diabolicall & dangerous, ye devill may reprsent a pson inocent. Nay if after curses & threats mischiefe follow or if a sick pson like to dy take it on his death such a one has bewitched him, there are strong grounds of suspicon for strict examinacon but not sufficient for conviccon.
"But ye truer proofes sufficient for conviccon are ye voluntary confession of ye pty suspected adjudged sufficient proofe by both divines & lawyers. Or 2 the testimony of 2 witnesses of good and honest report avouching things in theire knowledge before ye magistrat 1 wither yt ye party accused hath made a league wth ye devill or 2d or hath ben some knowne practices of witchcraft. Argumts to prove either must be as 1 if they can pve ye pty hath invocated ye devill for his help this pt of yt ye devill binds withes to.
"Or 2 if ye pty hath entertained a familiar spt in any forme mouse cat or othr visible creature.
"Or 3 if they affirm upon oath ye pty hath done any accon or work wch inferreth a ct wth ye devill, as to shew ye face of a man in a glass, or used inchantmts or such feates, divineing of things to come, raising tempests, or causing ye forme of a dead man to appeare or ye like it sufficiently pves a witch.
"But altho those are difficult things to prove yet yr are wayes to come to ye knowledg of y, for tis usuall wth Satan to pmise anything till ye league be ratified, & then he nothing ye discovery of y, for wtever witches intend the devill intends nothing but theire utter confusion, therefore in ye just judgmt of God it soe oft falls out yt some witches shall by confession discour ys, or by true testimonies be convicted.
"And ye reasons why ye devill would discover y is 1 his malice towards all men 2 his insatiable desire to have ye witches not sure enough of y till yn.
"And ye authors warne jurors, &c not to condemne suspected psons on bare prsumtions wthout good & sufficient proofes.
"But if convicted of yt horrid crime to be put to death, for God hath said thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."
The accuser and the prosecutor were aided in their work in a peculiar way. It was the theory and belief that every witch was marked—very privately marked—by the Devil, and the marks could only be discovered by a personal examination. And thus there came into the service of the courts a servant known as a "searcher," usually a woman, as most of the unfortunates who were accused were women.
The location and identification of the witch marks involved revolting details, some of the reports being unprintable. It is, however, indispensable to a right understanding of the delusion and the popular opinions which made it possible, that these incidents, abhorrent and nauseating as they are, be given within proper limitations to meet inquiry—not curiosity—and because they may be noted in various records.
A standard authority in legal procedure in England, recognized in witchcraft prosecutions in the New England colonies, was Dalton's Country Justice, first published in 1619 in England, and in its last edition in 1746.
In its chapter on Witchcraft are these directions as to the witch marks:
"These witches have ordinarily a familiar, or spirit which appeareth to them, sometimes in one shape and sometimes in another; as in the shape of a man, woman, boy, dog, cat, foal, hare, rat, toad, etc. And to these their spirits, they give names, and they meet together to christen them (as they speak).... And besides their sucking the Devil leaveth other marks upon their body, sometimes like a blue or red spot, like a flea-biting, sometimes the flesh sunk in and hollow. And these Devil's marks be insensible, and being pricked will not bleed, and be often in their secretest parts, and therefore require diligent and careful search. These first two are main points to discover and convict those witches."
These methods were adopted in the proceedings against witches in Connecticut, and it will suffice to cite one of the reports of a committee—Sarah Burr, Abigail Burr, Abigail Howard, Sarah Wakeman, and Hannah Wilson,—"apointed (by the court) to make sarch upon ye bodis of Marcy Disbrough and Goodwif Clauson," at Fairfield, in September and October 1692, sworn to before Jonathan Bell, Commissioner, and John Allyn, Secretary.
"Wee Sarah bur and abigall bur and Abigail howard and Sarah wakman all of fayrfeild with hanna wilson being by order of authority apointed to make sarch upon ye bodis of marcy disbrough and goodwif Clauson to see what they Could find on ye bodies of ether & both of them; and wee retor as followeth and doe testify as to goodwif Clauson forementioned wee found on her secret parts Just within ye lips of ye same growing within sid sumewhat as broad and reach without ye lips of ye same about on Inch and half long lik in shape to a dogs eare which wee apprehend to be vnvsuall to women.
"and as to marcy wee find on marcy foresayd on her secret parts growing within ye lep of ye same a los pees of skin and when puld it is near an Inch long somewhat in form of ye fingar of a glove flatted
"that lose skin wee Judge more than common to women."
"Octob. 29 1692 The above sworn by the above-named as attests
"JOHN ALLYN Secry"
"Remembering all this, it is not surprising that witches were tried, convicted and put to death in New England; and the manner in which the waning superstition was dealt with by Connecticut lawyers and ministers is the more significant of that robust common sense, rejection of superstition, political and religious, and fearless acceptance of the ethical mandates of the great Law-giver, which influenced the growth of their jurisprudence and stamped it with an unmistakable individuality." Connecticut; Origin of her Courts and Laws (N.E. States, 1: 487-488), HAMERSLEY.
"They made witch-hunting a branch of their social police, and desire for social solidarity. That this was wrong and mischievous is granted; but it is ordinary human conduct now as then. It was a most illogical, capricious, and dangerous form of enforcing punishment, abating nuisances, and shutting out disagreeable truths; fertile in injustice, oppression, the shedding of innocent blood, and the extinguishing of light. No one can justify it, or plead beneficial results from it which could not have been secured with far less evil in other ways. But it was natural that, believing the crime to exist, they should use the belief to strike down offenders or annoyances out of reach of any other legal means. They did not invent the crime for the purpose, nor did they invent the death penalty for this crime." Connecticut as a Colony (1: 206), MORGAN.
"As to what you mention, concerning that poor creature in your town that is afflicted and mentioned my name to yourself and son, I return you hearty thanks for your intimation about it, and for your charity therein mentioned; and I have great cause to bless God, who, of his mercy hitherto, hath not left me to fall into such an horrid evil." Extract of a Letter from Sec. Allyn to Increase Mather, Hartford, Mar. 18, 1692-93.
An accusation of witchcraft was a serious matter, one of life or death, and often it was safer to become an accuser than one of the accused. Made in terror, malice, mischief, revenge, or religious dementia, or of some other ingredients in the Devil's brew, it passed through the stages of suspicion, espionage, watchings, and searchings, to the formal complaints and indictments which followed the testimony of the witnesses, in their madness and delusion hot-foot to tell the story of their undoing, their grotesque imaginings, their spectral visions, their sufferings at the hands of Satan and his tools, and all aimed at people, their neighbors and acquaintances, often wholly innocent, but having marked personal peculiarities, or of irregular lives by the Puritan standard, or unpopular in their communities, who were made the victim of one base passion or another and brought to trial for a capital offense against person and property.
Taking into account the actual number of accusations, trials, and convictions or acquittals, the number of witnesses called and depositions given was very great. And the later generations owe their opportunity to judge aright in the matter, to the foresight of the men of chief note in the communities who saw the vital necessity of record evidence, and so early as 1666, in the General Court of Connecticut, it was ordered that
"Whatever testimonies are improved in any court of justice in this corporation in any action or case to be tried, shall be presented in writing, and so kept by the secretary or clerk of the said court on file."
This preliminary analysis brings the searcher for the truth face to face with the very witnesses who have left behind them, in the attested records, the ludicrous or solemn, the pitiable or laughable memorials of their own folly, delusion, or deviltry, which marked them then and now as Satan's chosen servitors.
Among the many witnesses and their statements on oath now made available, the chief difficulty is one of selection and elimination; and there will be presented here with the context some of the chief depositions[F] and statements in the most notable witchcraft trials in some of the Connecticut towns, that are typical of all of them, and show upon what travesties of evidence the juries found their verdicts and the courts imposed their sentences.