It is often said that Irishmen succeed best out of Ireland ; those qualities they possess, which fail to ripen and come to maturity in the lethargic atmosphere of the Green Isle, where nothing matters very much provided public opinion is not run counter to, become factors of history under the sunshine and storm of countries where more ample scope is given for the full development of pugnacity, industry, or state-craft. At any rate, from the days of Duns Scotus and St. Columbanus down to the present, Irishmen have filled, and still fill, positions of the highest importance in every part of the globe as friends of kings, leaders of armies, or preachers of the Truth—of such every Irishman, be his creed or politics what they may, is justly proud. To the lengthy and varied list of honours and offices may be added (in one instance at least) the item of witchcraft. Had the unhappy creature, whose tale is related below, remained in her native land, she would most probably have ended her days in happy oblivion as a poor old woman, in no way distinguishable from hundreds of others in like position ; as it was, she attained unenviable notoriety as a powerful witch, and was almost certainly the means of starting the outbreak at Salem. Incidentally the story is of interest as showing that at this time there were some Irish-speaking people in Boston.
Shortly after the date of its colonisation the State of Massachusetts became remarkable for its cases of witchcraft ; several persons were tried, and some were hanged, for this crime. But at the time about which we are writing there was in Boston a distinguished family of puritanical ministers named Mather. The father, Increase Mather, is to be identified with the person of that name who was Commonwealth " minister of the Gospel" at Magherafelt in Ireland in 1656 ; his more famous son, Cotton, was a most firm believer in all the possibilities of witchcraft, and it is to his pen that we owe the following. He first gave an account of it to the world in his Memorable Providences relating to Witchcraft, published at Boston in 1689, the year after its occurrence ; and subsequently reproduced it, though in a more condensed form, in his better-known Magnalia Christi (London, 1702). It is from this latter source that we have taken it, and the principal passages which are omitted in it, but occur in the Memorable Providences, are here inserted either within square brackets in the text, or as footnotes. We may now let the reverend gentleman tell his tale in his own quaint and rotund phraseology.
" Four children of John Goodwin in Boston which had enjoyed a Religious Education, and answer'd it with a towardly Ingenuity ; Children indeed of an exemplary Temper and Carriage, and an Example to all about them for Piety, Honesty, and Industry. These were in the year 1688 arrested by a stupendous Witchcraft. The Eldest of the children, a Daughter of about Thirteen years old, saw fit to examine their Laundress, the Daughter of a Scandalous Irish Woman in the Neighbourhood, whose name was Glover [whose miserable husband before he died had sometimes complained of her, that she was undoubtedly a witch, and that wherever his head was laid, she would quickly arrive unto the punishments due to such a one], about some Linnen that was missing, and the Woman bestowing very bad language on the Child, in the Daughter's Defence, the Child was immediately taken with odd Fits, that carried in them something Diabolical. It was not long before one of her Sisters, with two of her Brothers, were horribly taken with the like Fits, which the most Experience Physicians [particularly our worthy and prudent friend Dr. Thomas Oakes] pronounced Extraordinary and preternatural ; and one thing the more confirmed them in this Opinion was, that all the Children were tormented still just the same part of their Bodies, at the same time, though their Pains flew like swift lightning from one part to another, and they were kept so far asunder that they neither saw nor heard each other's Complaints. At nine or ten a-clock at Night they still had a Release from their miseries, and slept all Night pretty comfortably. But when the Day came they were most miserably handled. Sometimes they were Deaf, sometimes Dumb, and sometimes Blind, and often all this at once. Their tongues would be drawn down their throats, and then pull'd out upon their Chins, to a prodigious Length. Their Mouths were forc'd open to such a Wideness, that their Jaws were out of Joint ; and anon clap together again, with a Force like a Spring-lock : and the like would happen to their Shoulder-blades, their Elbows and Hand-wrists, and several of their Joints. . . . Their Necks would be broken, so that their Neck-bone would seem dissolv'd unto them that felt after it, and yet on the sudden it would become again so stiff, that there was no stirring of their Heads ; yea, their Heads would be twisted almost round. And if the main Force of their Friends at any time obstructed a dangerous Motion which they seemed upon, they would roar exceedingly.
" But the Magistrates being awakened by the Noise of these Grievous and Horrid Occurrences, examin'd the Person who was under the suspicion of having employ'd these Troublesome Dæmons, and she gave such a Wretched Account of herself that she was committed unto the Gaoler's Custody. [Goodwin had no proof that could have done her any hurt ; but the hag had not power to deny her interest in the enchantment of the children ; and when she was asked, Whether she believed there was a God ? her answer was too blasphemous and horrible for any pen of mine to mention. Upon the commitment of this extraordinary woman all the children had some present ease, until one related to her, accidentally meeting one or two of them, entertain'd them with her blessing, that is railing, upon which three of them fell ill again.]
" It was not long before this Woman was brought upon her Trial; but then [thro' the efficacy of a charm, I suppose, used upon her by one or some of her crue] the Court could have no Answers from her but in the Irish, which was her Native Language, although she understood English very well, and had accustom'd her whole Family to none but English in her former Conversation. [It was long before she could with any direct answers plead unto her Indictment, and when she did plead] it was with owning and bragging rather than denial of her Guilt. And the Interpreters, by whom the Communication between the Bench and the Barr was managed, were made sensible that a Spell had been laid by another Witch on this, to prevent her telling Tales, by confining her to a language which 'twas hoped nobody would understand. The Woman's House being searched, several Images, or Poppets, or Babies, made of Raggs and stuffed with Goat's Hair, were found ; when these were produced the vile Woman confess'd, that her way to torment the Objects of her Malice was by wetting of her Fingerwith her Spittle, and stroaking of these little Images. The abus'd Children were then produced in Court, and the Woman still kept stooping and shrinking, as one that was almost prest to death with a mighty Weight upon her. But one of the Images being brought to her, she odly and swiftly started up, and snatch'd it into her Hand. But she had no sooner snatch'd it than one of the Children fell into sad Fits before the whole Assembly. The Judges had their just Apprehensions at this, and carefully causing a repetition of the Experiment, they still found the same Event of it, tho' the Children saw not when the Hand of the Witch was laid upon the Images. They ask'd her, Whether she had any to stand by her I She reply'd, She had; and looking very fixtly into the air, she added, No, he's gone! and then acknowledged she had One, who was her Prince, with whom she mention'd I know not what Communion. For which cause the Night after she was heard expostulating with a Devil for his thus deserting her, telling him, that because he had served her so basely and falsely she had confessed all.