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.
Little aid in the understanding of the trials of witches in New England in Hi!)!' can be derived from courts as now conducted. The Honorable William Sullivan, in an address before the Bar of Suffolk, Massachusetts, in March, 1824, says that in Massachusetts the governor and assistants were the only depositaries of power, exercising legislative, judicial, and executive authority. They inferred from the charter the rights to exercise whatever power the welfare of the community required; when that was silent the Scriptures were the resort, the clergy and the elders being the expounders in all new emergencies. Hutchinson says that for a number of years " the jury, if not satisfied with the opinion of the court, were allowed to consult any bystander." For several years there were no lawyers, though there were a few attorneys, in the country. According to Mr. Sullivan, the importation in 1647 of two copies each of several law-books, including "Coke on Lyttleton," "Magna Charta," and "Coke's Reports," was probably the first introduction of the common law into the colony. Few or none of the judges were professional lawyers.
On the 8th of December, 1885, the Honorable William D. Northend delivered an address before the Bar of Sussex County, which is to be found in the twenty-second volume of the " Historical Collections of the Sussex Institute." His estimate of the judges is that there was not a regularly educated lawyer on the Superior Court Bench of Massachusetts until 1712, long after the witch trials were over. At that time, and for many years afterward, counsel were not assigned or allowed in capital cases, except on questions of law when the court was in doubt, the theory being that the judges were counsel for the prisoner. On May 14, 1692, Sir William Phipps arrived, bringing the new charter. He was a weak man and a believer in witchcraft. One of the first of his official acts wras to appoint seven persons of Oyer and Terminer to try the prisoners who had been committed under suspicion of witchcraft in Essex County.
The kind of evidence admitted appears from the records, which are now accessible. One case may serve to illustrate all. Against Rebecca Nurse there were four indictments. The first sets forth that "she has afflicted Ann Puttnam, Jr., by certain detestable arts called witchcraft, and sorceries, wherewith she has hurt, tortured, afflicted, wasted, and tormented."1 The other indictments use nearly the same language.
Mrs. Nurse was an aged woman of unspotted reputation, and was more tenderly treated during a portion of the time than any of the rest. The jury at first acquitted her, but the judges sent them out again, and practically forced them to bring in a verdict of guilty, notwithstanding Mrs. Nurse's assertion that she had failed to answer a question (which failure was used against her) because, being deaf, she did not hear it. The judges appeared to be convinced of the guilt of all from the time the afflicted declared them guilty, and badgered prisoners in a manner almost incredible. Most of the examinations were written down by the Rev. Samuel Parris; one of the strongest proofs of the utter blindness of the times being the frank and unequivocal manner in which the record is prepared.
The prejudices of the judges and the spirit in which they dealt with the defendants appear from the account of the examination of Elizabeth Cary, of Charlestown, given by her husband, a shipmaster.
His wife, being conscious of innocence, went to the church. The girls came in, fell in fits, and cried out, "Cary! Cary!" Mrs. Cary had never seen nor heard of one of them in her life.
1 From tho "Records of Sulem Witchcraft." copied from the original documents, and privately printed for W. Elliott Woodward. Volume I.
As at every motion of the defendant the afflicted made the same, Mrs. Cary was ordered to stand with her arms stretched out. Mr. Cary says, "I requested that I might hold one of her hands, but it was deuied me; then she desired me to wipe the tears from her eyes and the sweat from her face, which I did; then she desired that she might lean herself on me, saying she should faint. Justice Hathorne replied,' She had strength enough to torment these persons, and she should have strength enough to stand.' I speaking something against their cruel proceedings, they commanded me to be silent or else I should be turned out of the room".
Mrs. Cary was committed, but escaped from jail, went to Rhode Island, and finally to New York, where the governor of the State interested himself in her and protected her. Captain Cary, after describing her sufferings, says: " To speak of their usage of the prisoners, and the inhumanity shown to them at the time of their execution, no sober Christian could bear.'7
No testimony as to previous good conduct and character availed anything. This may be illustrated by the case of a womau of whom the Rev. William Hubbard, one of the most honored ministers in New England, characterized by Hutchinson as " a man of learning, and a logical and benevolent mind, accompanied with a good degree of Catholicism," certifies:
I have known the wife of William Buckley of Salem Village . . . ever since she was brought out of England, which is above fifty years ago. . . . She was bred by Christian parents, . . . was admitted as a member into the Church at Ipswich [of which he was the pastor] above forty years since. I never heard from others, or observed by myself, anything of her which was inconsistent with her profession, or unsuitable to Christianity.
But on evidence similar to that which convicted the others, and mostly from the same witnesses, she was hurried off to prison.
John Proctor went with his wife to support her under the charges; the "afflicted" cried out against him, and though many of the citizens testified to his good character, as well as to hers, he was executed. But the children cried out that they could see " his shape afflicting them".
Against George Burroughs, a graduate of Harvard College and former minister of Salem, the principal evidence was that though a puny man he was remarkably strong physically; that he made nothing of carrying barrels of sugar, flour, etc., from one place to another, and that he could hold a gun straight out at arm's-length by taking hold of the end of the stock; that his wife told some one that he said "he knew all secrets, and made her promise to reveal none of his"; and that he accused his brother-in-law and his wife of talking about him on one occasion.
In his address Judge Northern! remarks, "No better illustration can be given of the fallacy of the views of those who look upon legal rules as only a clog and hindrance in the administration of justice. Under the rules of laws now fully established, none of the evidence upon which the convictions were found would be admitted; spectral and kindred evidence could not be allowed, and without it not one of the accused could have been convicted".