This section is from the book "Faith - Healing. Christian Science And Kindred Phenomena", by James Monroe Buckley. Also available from Amazon: Faith-Healing, Christian Science and Kindred Phenomena.
The history of witchcraft exhibits features common to all forms of mental and moral contagion, and its characteristics are similar everywhere; so that the study of its phenomena in New England, where the information is full, the date recent, and the habits, language, religion, and institutions analogous to those of all English-speaking races, will have special advantages.
The first settlers of New England brought across the Atlantic the sentiments which had been formed in their minds in Great Britain and on the Continent, as well as the tendencies which were the common heritage of such an ancestry. They were a very religious and also credulous people; having few books, no papers, little news, and virtually no science; removed by thousands of miles and months of time from Old World civilization; living in the midst of an untamed wilderness, contending against a climate unlike anything they had experienced, surrounded by Indians whom they believed to be under the control of the devil, and whose medicine-men and soothsayers they accounted wizards. Such mental and moral soil was adapted to the growth of witchcraft, and to create an invincible determination to inflict the punishments pronounced against it in the Old Testament; but the cooperation of various exciting causes was necessary to a general agitation and a real epidemic.
Samuel G. Drake's "Annals of Witchcraft in New England and Elsewhere in the United States, from their first Settlement," which is here epitomized, enables us to trace the sporadic manifestations of witchcraft step by step to the fearful explosion of 1692. The Pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1620. In 1636 they included in the summary of offenses "lyable to death," "the solemn compaction or conversing with the Divell by the way of Witchcraft, conjuration, or the like." The colony of Massachusetts adopted the Body of Liberties, which contains a similar clause. In 1642 Connecticut included this in its Capital Code: " Yf any Man or Woman be a witch, that is, hath or contorteth with a Familiar Spirit, they i'hall be put to death".
It is believed that the first actual trouble from witchcraft occurred in New Haven, and the first execution was in 1646 in Hartford. In 1647 Rhode Island made the penalty " Felone of Death".
The first execution for witchcraft in the colony of Massachusetts Bay was that of Mrs. Jones in Boston in 1648. Another woman was executed in Hartford in 1648.
From the settlement of Springfield in 1636 there was more or less trouble about witchcraft.
Mrs. Knapp suffered death in the New Haven colony in 1653. The troubles continued through 1654 and 1655. In 1656 Mrs. Ann Hibbens was executed in Boston. In the same year there was a trial at Portsmouth, but no conviction. In East Hampton, Long Island, in 1657, Mrs. Garlicke was tried for witchcraft.
There were troubles in 1659 at Saybrook, Connecticut, and Andover, Massachusetts. In 1660 at Scit-uate, Plymouth, and at Oyster Bay, Long Island, there were disturbances, but no convictions. In 1662 Mr. and Mrs. Green Smith were executed at Hartford, and in 1665 the Court of Sessions in the State of New York tried Ralph Hall and his wife Mary. They were finally acquitted after three years' imprisonment. In 1669 Susannah Martin was prosecuted. She was one of those afterward executed at Salem. Catharine Harrison of Wethersfield was convicted, but the special court reversed the decision.
Mrs. Mary Parsons, of the highest social standing in Northampton, was charged with witchcraft in 1674, kept in prison several months, and acquitted. At that time three of the most enlightened men of the age, Governor Leverett and Generals Gookin and Dennison, had charge of the administration.
In 1675 a queerly worded law was enacted to regulate the Pequot Indians: " Whofoever fhall Powau or vfe Witchcraft, or any Worfhip of the Devill, or any fals Gods, fliall be convented punifhed".
In 1681 and 1682 in Massachusetts there was much excitement, and cases arose in 1683 which show a descent to the lowest depths of barbaric superstition. In 1684 Margaret Matson was tried in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, before William Penn. Philadelphia was then only three years old. The court brought in the verdict that she was " guilty of having the common fame of a witch, but not guilty in manner and form as she stands indicted." Tradition says that Penn said to her, "Art thou a witch?" and "Hast thou ridden through the air on a broomstick ?" When she answered yes, he said that she had a right to ride on a broomstick, that he knew no law against it, and thereupon ordered her discharge.
In 1685 Mary Webster, who had been acquitted in Boston in 1683, was accused of killing William Smith by sorcery. She was acquitted, but harassed by the people and often mobbed until her death in 1696. The famous case of the Goodwin children in Boston occurred in 1688. Mary Randall was arrested in Springfield in 1691, and kept in jail for a while, but there was no trial.
Thus it appears that, from the settlement of New England, wherever unaccountable events took place,— if horses and cattle were sick in an unusual manner or acted strangely; if adults or children were attacked by incurable or mysterious diseases; if lightning struck men, animals, or buildings, or storms disturbed sailors,— the cause was attributed to witchcraft. Under such circumstances any woman who had incurred the animosity of neighbors, especially if she had made threats against "afflicted" persons, was liable to the suspicion of complicity with the devil. But as there had been only two or three executions at most in any one part of the country, and intelligence of the trials spread slowly, no great excitement arose until 1692.
In view of the preceding history, the events in Salem, Salem Village, and vicinity might have been expected in any community in New England where many social feuds existed, and where strong superstition, great energy, and force of will, with an entire want of discretion, were united in the character of the minister of the parish. All these conditions existed in Salem Village, where the epidemic originated.
Upham, in "Salem Witchcraft," has portrayed in a graphic and convincing manner the influence of local feuds upon the investigation of charges. But if the people of New England had not believed in the reality of witchcraft, and if their laws had not decreed the penalty of death against those convicted of practising it, personal, social, and ecclesiastical animosities could not have caused such terrible deeds.
Salem witchcraft thus arose: The Rev. Mr. Parris, minister of the church in Salem Village, had formerly lived in the West Indies, and brought a few negro slaves back with him. These slaves talked with the children of the neighborhood, some of whom could not read, while the others had but little to read. In the winter of 1691-92 they formed a kind of circle which met at Mr. Parris's house, probably unknown to him, to practise palmistry and fortune-telling, and learn what they could of magic and necromancy. This circle consisted of two or three negro slaves; Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. Parris, aged nine; his niece Abigail Williams, eleven; Ann Putnam, twelve (Upham says that the last-named was the leading agent in all the mischief that followed); Mary Wal-cot, seventeen; Mercy Lewis, seventeen (she was one of the worst, and fairly reveled in murder and misery); Elizabeth Hubbard, seventeen (almost as bad); Elizabeth Booth and Susannah Sheldon, each eighteen; aud two servants, Mary Warren and Sarah Churchill, each twenty years of age. These servants hated the families of John Proctor and George Jacobs, with whom they lived. With them met three married women, one the mother of Ann Putnam.
Before the winter was over some of them fully believed that they were under the influence of spirits. Epidemic hysteria arose; physicians could not explain their state: the cry was raised that they were bewitched ; and some began to make charges against those whom they disliked of having bewitched them. In the end those of stronger mind among them became managers and plotters, directing the rest at their will. By the time public attention was attracted Mr. Parris had come to the conclusion that they were bewitched, and, having a theory to maintain, encouraged and flattered them, and by his questions made even those who had not believed themselves bewitched think that they were.
From March, 1692, to May, 1693, about two hundred persons were imprisoned. Of these some escaped by the help of friends, some by bribing their jailers, a number died in prison, and one hundred and fifty were set free at the close of the excitement by the proclamation of the governor. Nineteen were executed, namely: On July 19, Sarah Good, Sarah Wildes, Elizabeth Howe, George Jacobs, Susannah Martin (who had been tried and acquitted in Boston about twenty years before), and Rebecca Nurse; on August 19, John Proctor, Bridget Bishop, George Burroughs (minister of tin1 gospel), Martha Carrier, and John Willard; on September 22, Martha Corey, Mary Eastey, Alice Parker, Mary Parker, Ann Pudeater, Willtnet Redd, Margaret Scott, and Samuel Wardwell. Giles Corey, a man eighty years of age, when charged refused to plead, and was pressed to death — the only instance of the application of this ancient law on the American continent.
When it is remembered that a number of these persons were among the most pious and amiable of the people of Salem, Salem Village, and other parts of Essex County; that they were related by blood, marriage, friendship, and Christian fellowship to many of those who cried out against them, both as accusers and supporters of the prosecutions, the transaction must be classed among the darkest in human history.