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.
It is important to notice how late in the Christian era individual belief, popular excitements, and judicial proceedings have been sufficiently conspicuous for permanent record.
In " Reports of Trials for Murder by Poisoning," by Browne, a barrister at law, and Stewart, senior assistant in the laboratory of St. Thomas's Hospital, a standard work for physicians, chemists, and jurists, published in London in 1883, I find the ease of Dove; and in the said trial various references were made to the prevalence of the belief in witchcraft among persons of the prisoner's class. It appears from the evidence that his interviews with the witch-man on the subjects of lost cattle, removing strange noises from his house, the bewitching of his live stock, and the deaths of persons inimical to him, and the promise of the witch-man to get him out of all difficulty, which led to the murder, were in the summer and autumn of 1855 and the spring of 1856.
In 1846 in England, and in 1845 in Scotland, cases of witchcraft attracted much attention.
The following series of incidents occurred in England about fifty years ago, and the son of the subject, now one of the most highly respected and well-informed clergymen west of the Alleghany Mountains, noted for his devotion to the physical sciences, writes me concerning it:
My father, like many others, fully believed in witchcraft. In a little ancient cottage about a mile from my father's lived an old woman who had the reputation of being a witch. One spring, as my father was planting potatoes in his field, the old lady came to him to beg a piece for a garden. This he said he could not grant, as he needed all for himself. She left the field muttering something, which I suppose my father understood to mean mischief. That evening, when still in the field, he was seized with a strange nervous sensation, and an utter inability to speak. Later in the evening he had a severe fit. This state of things continued for some years. Mother always sent one of the boys with him to render help or report his condition. Another phase of the witchcraft superstition was a belief in white witches, or those who could neutralize or destroy the work and influence of witches. My father heard of one living many miles away, and at once went to see him. I shall ever remember the interest with which we listened to his story. He said the white witch told him that he had been bewitched, as he supposed, by the old woman, but that her influence could be entirely destroyed. He then gave my father a little piece of paper upon which was written a charm which would in all future time protect him from all influence of witches. This paper must be worn over the breast, suspended by a piece of tape from the neck. It must never be opened, never touch wood, stone, or iron, nor be handled by any one but himself. Said my father in concluding his story: "The white wiU'h told me to always wear this over my breast, and that inside of three days I shall have one fit more, but after that I will never have another symptom of the kind." The following evening when at supper he had another severe attack of his old trouble, but sure enough it was the last. Ho lived more than twenty years after that, but never had auother symptom of fits, or nervous difficulty of any kind. He was absolutely cured, as I know.
In March, 1831, the case of an old woman in Edinburgh came before the court on account of her being attacked.
In 1827 a man was burned as a wizard in southwestern Russia; and in 1815 a person in northern Russia was sentenced by a legal tribunal to undergo thirty-five blows of the knout, as well as a public church penance, for witchcraft.
In 1815 Captain Samuel Ward well of Maine, captain of the schooner Polly, desiring to excel all his competitors in the number of trips made? between Boston and Penobscot in one season, hired Mrs. Leach, a reputed witch, for a bushel of meal a trip, to guarantee him fair winds.
" Moll Pitcher," so famous that for more than fifty years "to her came the rich and the poor, the wise and the ignorant, the accomplished and the vulgar, the brave and the timid," died April 9,1813, in Lynn, Massachusetts, aged seventy-five }rears.
Contemporary with her was a woman in Newbury-port, who came from Scotland in 1759 or 1760. Her career for many years was such as to command the respect and fear of the people. Mr. Samuel L. Kuapp, who wrote in 1825, speaks of another supposed witch in Massachusetts named Dan forth, who lived in a gloomy, hollow glen. On this Mr. Samuel G. Drake, writing in 1869, says:
The writer is not as old as he from whom the above extracts are made; but it was his fortune in youth to be acquainted in many towns, in nearly all of which there was a reputed witch.
In 1751, in Hertfordshire, two harmless people were mobbed, the woman beaten to death, the man nearly so. A similar incident happened as late as 1776 in Leicestershire. In Burlington, New Jersey, in January, 1731, a man and woman suspected of bewitching cattle were tried in the presence of the governor, by being weighed against a large Bible.
In 1728 Rhode Island reenacted its laws against witchcraft, which implies some agitation upon the subject; in 1720 there was a case in Littleton; prosecutions occurred in South Carolina in 1712; in 1706 there were disgraceful scenes, persons being subjected to ordeals and various barbarous tests; and in the year 1700 an execution for witchcraft took place in Albany, New York.
In noting these events we have reached the period of the dreadful outbreak in New England, separated by only a few years from a yet more dreadful frenzy of human nature in England, Scotland, and on the continent of Europe.