An examination of the foregoing names in connection with the history of the Village will show conclusive proof, that, if the matter had been left to the people there, it would never have reached the point to which it was carried. It was the influence of the magistracy and the government of the colony, and the public sentiment prevalent elsewhere, overruling that of the immediate locality, that drove on the storm.
Israel Porter was the head of a great and powerful family. His wife Elizabeth was, as has been stated, a sister of Hathorne, the examining magistrate. Edward and Hannah Bishop were the venerable heads and founders of a large family. They lived in Beverly, and must each have been about ninety years of age. The list contains the names of the heads of the principal families in the village,—such as John and Rebecca Putnam, the Hutchinsons, Reas, Leaches, Houltons, and Herricks; and, in the neighborhood, such as the Feltons, Osbornes, and Samuel Endicott. The most remarkable fact it discloses is that it contains the name of one of the two complainants who procured the warrant against Rebecca Nurse,—Jonathan Putnam, the eldest son of John; and also of his wife Lydia. Subsequent reflection, and the return of his better judgment, satisfied him that he had done a great wrong to an innocent and worthy person; and he had the manliness to come out in her favor. This document ought to have been effectual in saving the life of Rebecca Nurse. It will for ever vindicate her character, and reflect honor upon each and every name subscribed to it.[ii.274]
One of the most cruel features in the prosecution of the witchcraft trials, and which was practised in all countries where they took place, was the examination of the bodies of the prisoners by a jury of the same sex, under the direction and in the presence of a surgeon or physician. The person was wholly exposed, and every part subjected to the most searching scrutiny. The process was always an outrage upon human nature; and in the cases of the victims on this occasion, many of them of venerable years and delicate feelings, it was shocking to every natural and instinctive sentiment. There is reason to fear that it was often conducted in a rough, coarse, and brutal manner. Marshal Herrick testifies, that, "by order of Their Majesties' justices," he, accompanied by the jail-keeper Dounton, and Constable Joseph Neal, made an examination of the body of George Jacobs. In persons of his great age, there would, in all likelihood, be shrivelled, desiccated, and callous places. They found one on the old man, under his right shoulder. Herrick made oath that it was a veritable witch teat, and his deposition describes it as follows: "About a quarter of an inch long or better, with a sharp point drooping downwards, so that I took a pin, and run it through the said teat; but there was neither water, blood, or corruption, nor any other matter." As proof positive that this was "the Devil's mark," Herrick and the turnkey testify that "the said Jacobs was not in the least sensible of what had been done"!
The mind loathes the thought of handling in this[ii.275] way refined and sensitive females of matronly character, or persons of either sex, with infirmities of body rendered sacred by years. The results of the examination were reduced to written reports, going into details, and, among other evidences in the trials, spread before the Court and jury.[C]
The evidence in the case of Rebecca Nurse was made up of the usual representations and actings of the "afflicted children." Mary Walcot and Abigail Williams charged her with having committed several murders; mentioning particularly Benjamin Houlton, John Harwood, and Rebecca Shepard, and averring that she was aided therein by her sister Cloyse. Mr. Parris, too, gave in a deposition against her; from which it ap[ii.276]pears, that, a certain person being sick, Mercy Lewis was sent for. She was struck dumb on entering the chamber. She was asked to hold up her hand, if she saw any of the witches afflicting the patient. Presently she held up her hand, then fell into a trance; and after a while, coming to herself, said that she saw the spectres of Goody Nurse and Goody Carrier having hold of the head of the sick man. Mr. Parris swore to this statement with the utmost confidence in Mercy's declarations.
The testimony of three persons particularly is required to be given, as illustrating the extraordinary extent to which the minds of those involved in the affair were under infatuation or hallucination.
Mrs. Ann Putnam was about thirty years of age. For six months she had been constantly absorbed in what was then, as now, regarded as spiritualism. Her[ii.277] house had been the scene of a perpetual series of wonders supposed to be disclosures and manifestations of a supernatural character. Apparitions, spectral shapes of living witches, ghosts of their murdered victims, and demons generally, were of daily and hourly occurrence. The dread secrets of the world unknown had been revealed to her in waking fancies and dreams by night. An originally sensitive and imaginative nature had been wrought into a condition in which her mental faculties were at once enfeebled and exalted. Besides all this, there were the trials to which her constitution had been subjected by the experiences of maternity so early begun, and the pressure upon her mind and heart of the anxieties and cares incident to a large family of young children. An accumulation of disappointments, vexations, and consuming griefs, spread like a dark cloud over her life,—the deaths of her own children, and of her sister Bayley and her children, and of her sister Baker's children; and, finally, the long-continued, and constantly recurring sufferings, tortures, convulsions, fits, and trances of her daughter Ann, and her servant-woman Mercy Lewis, under, as she fully believed, a diabolical hand.—These things must have given to her countenance and tones of voice a wonderful impressiveness to all who looked upon or listened to them. Her eminent social position, her general reputation,—for Lawson, who knew her well, calls her "a very sober and pious woman," so far as he could judge,—the stamp of profound earnestness marked on all her[ii.278] language, the glow which morbid excitement long experienced gave to her expression, must have arrested, to a high degree, the attention of the assembled multitude. An air of sadness, in the wild ravings of imagination, pervades her testimony. I present her deposition in full, as one of the phenomena of this strange transaction:—
"The Deposition of Ann Putnam, the wife of Thomas Putnam, aged about thirty years, who testifieth and saith, that, on the 18th March, 1692, I being wearied out in helping to tend my poor afflicted child and maid, about the middle of the afternoon I lay me down on the bed to take a little rest; and immediately I was almost pressed and choked to death, that, had it not been for the mercy of a gracious God and the help of those that were with me, I could not have lived many moments: and presently I saw the apparition of Martha Corey, who did torture me so as I cannot express, ready to tear me all to pieces, and then departed from me a little while; but, before I could recover strength or well take breath, the apparition of Martha Corey fell upon me again with dreadful tortures, and hellish temptation to go along with her. And she also brought to me a little red book in her hand and a black pen, urging me vehemently to write in her book; and several times that day she did most grievously torture me, almost ready to kill me. And, on the 19th March, Martha Corey again appeared to me; and also Rebecca Nurse, the wife of Francis Nurse, Sr.: and they both did torture me a great many times this day with such tortures as no tongue can express, because I would not yield to their hellish temptations, that, had I not been upheld by an Almighty arm, I could not have lived[ii.279] while night. The 20th March, being sabbath-day, I had a great deal of respite between my fits. 21st March, being the day of the examination of Martha Corey, I had not many fits, though I was very weak; my strength being, as I thought, almost gone: but, on the 22d March, 1692, the apparition of Rebecca Nurse did again set upon me in a most dreadful manner, very early in the morning, as soon as it was well light. And now she appeared to me only in her shift, and brought a little red book in her hand, urging me vehemently to write in her book; and, because I would not yield to her hellish temptations, she threatened to tear my soul out of my body, blasphemously denying the blessed God, and the power of the Lord Jesus Christ to save my soul; and denying several places of Scripture which I told her of, to repel her hellish temptations. And for near two hours together, at this time, the apparition of Rebecca Nurse did tempt and torture me, and also the greater part of this day, with but very little respite. 23d March, am again afflicted by the apparitions of Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey, but chiefly by Rebecca Nurse. 24th March, being the day of the examination of Rebecca Nurse, I was several times afflicted in the morning by the apparition of Rebecca Nurse, but most dreadfully tortured by her in the time of her examination, insomuch that the honored magistrates gave my husband leave to carry me out of the meeting-house; and, as soon as I was carried out of the meeting-house doors, it pleased Almighty God, for his free grace and mercy's sake, to deliver me out of the paws of those roaring lions, and jaws of those tearing bears, that, ever since that time, they have not had power so to afflict me until this 31st May, 1692. At the same moment that I was hearing my evidence read by the honored magistrates, to take my[ii.280] oath, I was again re-assaulted and tortured by my before-mentioned tormentor, Rebecca Nurse."
"The Testimony of Ann Putnam, Jr., witnesseth and saith, that, being in the room when her mother was afflicted, she saw Martha Corey, Sarah Cloyse, and Rebecca Nurse, or their apparition, upon her mother."
Mrs. Ann Putnam made another deposition under oath, at the same trial, which shows that she was determined to overwhelm the prisoner by the multitude of her charges. She says that Rebecca Nurse's apparition declared to her that "she had killed Benjamin Houlton, John Fuller, and Rebecca Shepard;" and that she and her sister Cloyse, and Edward Bishop's wife, had killed young John Putnam's child; and she further deposed as followeth:—
"Immediately there did appear to me six children in winding-sheets, which called me aunt, which did most grievously affright me; and they told me that they were my sister Baker's children of Boston; and that Goody Nurse, and Mistress Carey of Charlestown, and an old deaf woman at Boston, had murdered them, and charged me to go and tell these things to the magistrates, or else they would tear me to pieces, for their blood did cry for vengeance. Also there appeared to me my own sister Bayley and three of her children in winding-sheets, and told me that Goody Nurse had murdered them."
There is in this deposition a passage which illustrates one of the doctrines held at the time on the subject of witchcraft. Mrs. Ann Putnam "testifieth and saith, that, on the first day of June, 1692, the[ii.281] apparition of Rebecca Nurse did again fall upon me, and almost choke me; and she told me, that, now she was come out of prison, she had power to afflict me, and that now she would afflict me all this day long." The reference here is probably to the fact, that, on the 1st of June, she with many other prisoners was transferred from the jail in Boston to that in Salem; and that, "all that day long" being outside of prison walls, she had greater power to afflict than when chained in a cell. This was undoubtedly the received opinion, and it is curiously illustrated in the foregoing passage.
The only breath of disparagement against the character of Goodwife Nurse that can be found in any of the papers is in the following deposition:—
"The Deposition of Sarah Houlton, relict of Benjamin Houlton, deceased, who testifieth and saith, that, about this time three years, my dear and loving husband, Benjamin Houlton, deceased, was as well as ever I knew him in my life till one Saturday morning, that Rebecca Nurse, who now stands charged for witchcraft, came to our house, and fell a railing at him because our pigs got into her field. Though our pigs were sufficiently yoked, and their fence was down in several places, yet all we could say to her could no ways pacify her; but she continued railing and scolding a great while together, calling to her son Benj. Nurse to go and get a gun and kill our pigs, and let none of them go out of the field, though my poor husband gave her never a misbeholding word. And, within a short time after this, my poor husband going out very early in the morning, as he[ii.282] was coming in again, he was taken with a strange fit in the entry; being struck blind and stricken down two or three times, so that, when he came to himself, he told me he thought he should never have come into the house any more. And, all summer after, he continued in a languishing condition, being much pained at his stomach, and often struck blind: but, about a fortnight before he died, he was taken with strange and violent fits, acting much like to our poor bewitched persons when we thought they would have died; and the doctor that was with him could not find what his distemper was. And, the day before he died, he was very cheerly; but, about midnight, he was again most violently seized upon with violent fits, till the next night, about midnight, he departed this life by a cruel death.
"Jurat in Curia."
In explanation of the import of this testimony, it is to be observed, that the estate of Benjamin Houlton was contiguous to that of Francis Nurse. They were separated by a fence, which, as in such cases, was required for half its length to be kept in order by one party, the remaining half by the other. What the exact facts were cannot be ascertained, as we have the story of one side only. The widow Houlton appears to have been a tender-hearted, and, for aught we know, good woman. Some years afterwards, she was married, as his second wife, to Benjamin Putnam,—a very respectable person, and, on the death of his father Nathaniel, the head of that branch of the family. He was, for many years, deacon of the church. But she was, it must be conceded, a prejudiced witness; and[ii.283] her judgment for the time was wholly beclouded by the prevalent superstitions. The garden had been, from the days of Townsend Bishop, a choice portion of the Nurse estate. In all farms, it was a most important and valuable item; and was generally under the special care and management of the wife, daughters, and younger lads of the husbandman. Rebecca Nurse was an efficient helpmeet; contributing her whole share to the success of the great enterprise of clearing the estate, as well as in bringing up and educating a large family. It was, no doubt, very provoking to her, as it would be to any one, to have vegetable and flower beds devastated by the ravages of a neighbor's stray pigs. To what extent her "railing and scolding" went, she was not allowed to contribute her statement, to enable us to judge. The affair probably produced considerable gossip, and seems to be alluded to in Nathaniel Putnam's certificate in behalf of Rebecca Nurse. There is reason to believe that the widow Houlton was one of the first to realize what great injustice had been done by her and others to the good name of Rebecca Nurse.
Notwithstanding this evidence, so deeply were the jury impressed with the eminent virtue and true Christian excellence of this venerable woman, that, in spite of the clamors of the outside crowd, the monstrous statements of accusing witnesses, and the strong leaning of the Court against her, the jury brought in a verdict of "Not guilty." Calef, and Hutchinson after him, describe the effect, and what followed:[ii.284]—
"Immediately, all the accusers in the Court, and, suddenly after, all the afflicted out of Court, made an hideous outcry; to the amazement, not only of the spectators, but the Court also seemed strangely surprised. One of the judges expressed himself not satisfied: another of them, as he was going off the bench, said they would have her indicted anew. The chief-justice said he would not impose on the jury, but intimated as if they had not well considered one expression of the prisoner when she was upon trial; viz., that when one Hobbs, who had confessed herself to be a witch, was brought into Court to witness against her, the prisoner, turning her head to her, said, 'What! do you bring her? She is one of us;' or words to that effect. This, together with the clamors of the accusers, induced the jury to go out again, after their verdict, 'Not guilty.'"
The foreman of the jury, Thomas Fisk, made this statement on the 4th of July, a few days after the trial:—
"After the honored Court had manifested their dissatisfaction of the verdict, several of the jury declared themselves desirous to go out again, and thereupon the Court gave leave; but, when we came to consider the case, I could not tell how to take her words as an evidence against her, till she had a further opportunity to put her sense upon them, if she would take it. And then, going into Court, I mentioned the words aforesaid, which by one of the Court were affirmed to have been spoken by her, she being then at the bar, but made no reply nor interpretation of them; whereupon these words were to me a principal evidence against her."
Upon being informed of the use made of her words, the prisoner put in the following declaration:—
"These presents do humbly show to the honored Court and jury, that I being informed that the jury brought me in guilty upon my saying that Goodwife Hobbs and her daughter were of our company; but I intended no otherwise than as they were prisoners with us, and therefore did then, and yet do, judge them not legal evidence against their fellow-prisoners. And I being something hard of hearing and full of grief, none informing me how the Court took up my words, and therefore had no opportunity to declare what I intended when I said they were of our company."
It was perfectly natural for her to have spoken of them as "of our company," not only from the fact that they had long been crowded together in the same jails, but as they had accompanied each other in the transferrence from one jail to another, from time to time. A few days before, a large party, of which she was one, had been brought from Boston, spending the whole day together on the route. Sarah Good, John Procter and wife, Susanna Martin, Bridget Bishop, and Alice Parker happen to be mentioned as belonging to it. Calef further states:—
"After her condemnation, the governor saw cause to grant a reprieve, which, when known (and some say immediately upon granting), the accusers renewed their dismal outcries against her; insomuch that the governor was by some Salem gentlemen prevailed with to recall the reprieve, and she was executed with the rest.[ii.286]
"The testimonials of her Christian behavior, both in the course of her life and at her death, and her extraordinary care in educating her children, and setting them a good example, under the hands of so many, are so numerous, that for brevity they are here omitted."
The extraordinary conduct of "the Salem gentlemen," in preventing the intended exercise of executive discretion and clemency on this occasion, is explained, it is probable, by the fact, stated by Neal in his "History of New England," that there was an organized association of private individuals, a committee of vigilance, in Salem, during the continuance of the delusion, who had undertaken to ferret out and prosecute all suspected persons. He says that many were arrested and thrown into prison by their influence and interference. It is hardly to be doubted, that the persons who busied themselves to prevent the reprieve of Rebecca Nurse acted under the authority and by the direction of this self-constituted body of inquisitors. The agency of such unauthorized and irresponsible combinations is always of questionable expediency. When acting in the same line with an excited populace, they are extremely dangerous.
There is no more disgraceful record in the judicial annals of the country, than that which relates the trial of this excellent woman. The wave of popular fury made a clear breach over the judgment-seat. The loud and malignant outcry of an infatuated mob, inside and outside of the Court-house, instead of being yielded to, ought to have been, not only sternly rebuked, but[ii.287] visited with prompt and exemplary punishment. The judges were not only overcome and intimidated from the faithful discharge of their sacred duty by a clamoring crowd, but they played into their hands. Hutchinson justly remarks, that their conduct was in violation of that rule to execute "law and justice in mercy," which ought always to be written on their hearts. "In a capital case, the Court often refuses a verdict of 'Guilty;' but rarely, if ever, sends a jury out again upon one of 'Not guilty.'" The statement made by the foreman of the jury, with the subsequent explanation of the prisoner, taken in connection with the ground on which the chief-justice sent the jury out again after rendering their verdict of "Not guilty," made it the duty of the Court and the executive to give to her the benefit of that verdict.
At the trial of her mother, Sarah Nurse—aged twenty-eight years or thereabouts—offered this piece of testimony: that, "being in the Court, this 29th of June, 1692, I saw Goodwife Bibber pull pins out of her clothes, and held them between her fingers, and clasped her hands round her knee; and then she cried out, and said, Goody Nurse pinched her." In all these trials, Mercy Lewis was a principal witness and actor; yet we find, among the papers, testimony from the most respectable and reliable persons, that she was not to be trusted. There was also testimony which ought to have broken the force of the depositions of Ann Putnam and her mother. Four days after the examination and commitment of Rebecca Nurse, John[ii.288] Tarbell and Samuel Nurse went to the house of Thomas Putnam to find out in what way their mother had been made the object of such shocking accusations. They were men whose credibility was never brought in question. Their declarations, on this occasion, were not disputed, and, if not true, might have been overthrown; for there were many witnesses of the facts they stated. Tarbell swore as follows: "Upon discourse of many things, I asked whether the girl that was afflicted did first speak of Goody Nurse, before others mentioned her to her. They said she told them she saw the apparition of a pale-faced woman that sat in her grandmother's seat, but did not know her name. Then I replied and said, 'But who was it that told her that it was Goody Nurse?' Mercy Lewis said it was Goody Putnam that said it was Goody Nurse. Goody Putnam said that it was Mercy Lewis that told her. Thus they turned it upon one another, saying, 'It was you,' and 'It was you that told her.'" Samuel Nurse testified to the same.
There was another piece of evidence, which, though brought against Rebecca Nurse, bears harder, as we read it now, upon Ann Putnam than any one else, and makes it more difficult to palliate her conduct on the supposition of partial insanity. It is, all along, one of the obscure problems of our subject to determine how far delusion may have been accompanied by fraud and imposture. Edward Putnam testified, that "Ann Putnam, Jr., was bitten by Rebecca Nurse, as she said, about two of the clock of the day" after Rebecca[ii.289] Nurse had been committed to jail, and while she was several miles distant, in Salem; and the said Nurse also struck said Ann Putnam with her spectral chain, leaving a mark, "being in a kind of a round ring, and three streaks across the ring: she had six blows with a chain in the space of half an hour; and she had one remarkable one, with six streaks across her arm." Edward Putnam swears, "I saw the mark, both of bite and chains." The Court, no doubt, were solemnly impressed by this amazing evidence; but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Ann Putnam was guilty of elaborate falsehood and a studied trick.
In the trials at this session, one of the "afflicted children" cried out against the Rev. Samuel Willard, of the Old South Church, in Boston. "She was sent out of Court, and it was told about that she was mistaken in the person." There was surely evidence enough against the honesty and credibility of the accusers to leave the judges without excuse, and justly meriting perpetual condemnation for not paying heed to it.
The case of Rebecca Nurse proves that a verdict could not have been obtained against a person of her character charged with witchcraft in this county, had not the most extraordinary efforts been made by the prosecuting officer, aided by the whole influence of the Court and provincial authorities. The odium of the proceedings at the trials and at the executions cannot fairly be laid upon Salem, or the people of this vicinity.[ii.290]
But nothing can extenuate the infamy that must for ever rest upon the names of certain parties to the proceedings. Not to attempt here to measure the guilt of the accusing witnesses, it may be mentioned that it was the deliberate conviction of the family of Rebecca Nurse, that Mr. Parris, more than all other persons, was responsible for her execution; whether by his officious activity in driving on the prosecution, or in preventing her reprieve, cannot be known. Of the prominent part taken by Mr. Noyes in the cruel treatment of this woman, there is no room for doubt. The records of the First Church in Salem are darkened by the following entry:—
"1692, July 3.—After sacrament, the elders propounded to the church,—and it was, by an unanimous vote, consented to,—that our sister Nurse, being a convicted witch by the Court, and condemned to die, should be excommunicated; which was accordingly done in the afternoon, she being present."
The scene presented on this occasion must have been truly impressive at the time, as it is shocking to us in the retrospect. The action of the church, at the close of the morning service, of course became universally known; and the "great and spacious meeting-house" was thronged by a crowd that filled every nook and corner of its floor, galleries, and windows. The sheriff and his subordinates brought in the prisoner, manacled, and the chains clanking from her aged form. She was placed in the broad aisle. Mr.[ii.291] Higginson and Mr. Noyes—the elders, as the clergy were then called—were in the pulpit. The two ruling elders—who were lay officers—and the two deacons were in their proper seats, directly below and in front of the pulpit. Mr. Noyes pronounced the dread sentence, which, for such a crime, was then believed to be not merely an expulsion from the church on earth, but an exclusion from the church in heaven. It was meant to be understood as an eternal doom. As it had been proved, in his estimation, beyond a question, that she had given her soul to the Devil, he delivered her over to the great adversary of God and man.
From the dismal cell, which, for but a few days longer, was to hold her body, he proclaimed the transferrence of her soul to—
"A dungeon horrible on all sides round,
As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible;
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell; hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end,
As far removed from God, and light of heaven,
As from the centre thrice to the utmost pole."
Language and imagery, exhausting the resources of the divine genius of the greatest of poets, fail to give expression to what was felt to be the import of this fearful sentence. It sunk the recipient of it below the reach of human sympathy. She was regarded, by that blinded multitude, with a horror that cast out pity, and was full of hate. But in our view now, and, as we believe, in the view of God and angels then, she[ii.292] occupied an infinite height above her persecutors. Her mind was serenely fixed upon higher scenes, and filled with a peace which the world could not take away, or its cruel wrongs disturb. She went back to her prison walls, and then to the scaffold, with a pious and humble faith which has not failed to be recorded among men, as it has been rewarded where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.
Calef, as already quoted, gives the impression produced by her demeanor at her death. Hutchinson expresses in the following words the judgment of history and the sense of all coming times:—
"Mr. Noyes, the minister of Salem, a zealous prosecutor, excommunicated the poor old woman, and delivered her to Satan, to whom he supposed she had formally given herself up many years before; but her life and conversation had been such, that the remembrance thereof, in a short time after, wiped off all the reproach occasioned by the civil or ecclesiastical sentence against her."
It is impossible to close the story of the lot assigned to this good woman by an inscrutable Providence, without again contemplating it in a condensed recapitulation. In her old age, experiencing a full share of all the delicate infirmities which the instincts of humanity require to be treated with careful and reverent tenderness, she was ruthlessly snatched from the bosom of a loving family reared by her pious fidelity in all Christian graces, from the side of the devoted companion of her long life, from a home that was endeared[ii.293] by every grateful association and comfort; immured in the most wretched and crowded jails; kept loaded with irons and bound with cords for months; insulted and maligned at the preliminary examinations; outraged in her person by rough and unfeeling handling and scrutiny; and in her rights, by the most flagrant and detestable judicial oppression, by which the benefit of a verdict, given in her favor, had been torn away; carried to the meeting-house to receive the sentence of excommunication in a manner devised to harrow her most sacred sentiments; and finally carted through the streets by a route every foot of which must have been distressing to her infirm and enfeebled frame; made to ascend a rough and rocky path to the place of execution, and there consigned to the hangman. Surely, there has seldom been a harder fate.
Her body was probably thrown with the rest into a hole in the crevices of the rock, and covered hastily and thinly over by the executioners. It has been the constant tradition of the family, that, in some way, it was recovered; and the spot is pointed out in the burial-place belonging to the estate, where her ashes rest by the side of her husband, and in the midst of her children. It is certain, that, at least, one other body was thus exhumed, and taken to its own proper place of burial. From the known character of Francis Nurse and his sons and sons-in-law, we may be sure that what others could do they did not suffer to remain undone. It is left to the imagination to present the details of the sad and secret enterprise. In the[ii.294] darkness of midnight, they found and identified the body, and bore it tenderly in their arms along the silent roads and by-ways, across fields and over fences, to the old home, where it was received by the assembled family, mourned over, and cared for; and, during that or the ensuing night, deposited, with tears and prayers, in their own consecrated grounds. Her descendants of successive generations owned and reverently guarded the spot. They own and guard it to-day. The interesting reminiscences connected with the early history of the Nurse house have been alluded to. It has witnessed an extraordinary variety of the conditions of domestic vicissitude. Scenes rising before the mind in contemplative retrospection, while gazing upon it, present the extremest contrasts of human experience. On the evening of the 25th of October, 1678, Mary and Elizabeth Nurse were married. Such an occurrence was undoubtedly the occasion of the highest joy and gladness in a happy household. The old mansion shone in light, and echoed voices of cheer. How altered its aspect! What darkness and silence brooded over and within it, while those same daughters waited, watched, and listened, through the solemn hours of that night of woe and horror, for the coming of their father, husbands, and brothers, bearing to the home, from which she had been so cruelly torn, the remains of their slaughtered mother!
The subsequent history of the house presents a circumstance of singular interest in connection with[ii.295] our story. All the members of the three branches of the Putnam family, with the exception of Joseph, seem to have been carried away by the witchcraft delusion, in its early stages, and were more or less active in pushing on the prosecutions. We have seen how fierce was the maniac testimony of Mrs. Ann Putnam and her daughter against Rebecca Nurse. The lapse of time, by a Providence that wonderfully works its ends, has repaired the breaches made by folly and wrong. The descendants of the numerous family of Mrs. Ann Putnam have disappeared from the scene: none of them bearing the name are in the village. The descendants of Deacon Edward Putnam have also scattered in emigration to other places. Nathaniel and John, the heads of the other two branches of the family, although involved in the witchcraft delusion, each signed papers in favor of Rebecca Nurse; their descendants, as well as those of Joseph, are still numerous in the village, hold their old position of respectability and influence, and many of them occupy the lands of their ancestors. Stephen, the grandson of Nathaniel, married Miriam, the grand-daughter of John. Their son Phinehas, in 1784, bought the Nurse homestead from Benjamin Nurse, the great-grandson of Rebecca. Orin Putnam, the great-grandson of Phinehas, to whom the estate descends, married in 1836 the daughter of Allen Nurse, a direct descendant of Rebecca, and placed her at the head of her old ancestral homestead. The children of that marriage, with their father and grandfather, constitute the family[ii.296] that dwell in and own the venerable mansion. This singular restoration, suggesting such pleasing sentiments, adds another to the remarkable elements of interest belonging to the history of the Townsend-Bishop House.
The descendants of Francis and Rebecca Nurse are numerous, and have honorably perpetuated the name. Among them may be mentioned the Rev. Peter Nurse, a graduate of Harvard College in 1802, for some years librarian of that institution, an excellent scholar, and long universally respected as a clergyman; and Amos Nurse, a graduate of the same college in 1812,—an eminent physician connected with the medical faculty of Bowdoin College, a man of distinguished talent and influence in public affairs, and senator in Congress from the State of Maine.
The Court met again on the 5th of August, and tried George Burroughs; John Procter and Elizabeth, his wife; George Jacobs, Sr.; John Willard; and Martha Carrier. They were all condemned, and, with the exception of Elizabeth Procter, executed on the 19th of the same month.
Hutchinson describes the trial of Burroughs. After speaking of the evidence of the "afflicted persons" and the confessing witches, he mentions other circumstances which were thought to corroborate it: "One was, that, being a little man, he had performed feats beyond the strength of a giant; viz., had held out a gun of seven feet barrel with one hand, and had carried a barrel full of cider from a canoe to the shore." Bur[ii.297]roughs said that an Indian present at the time did the same. Instantly, the accusers said it was "the black man, or the Devil, who," they swore, "looks like an Indian." Another piece of evidence was, that he went from one place to another, on a certain occasion, in a shorter time than was possible had not the Devil helped him. He said, in answer, that another man accompanied him. Their reply to this was, that it was the Devil, using the appearance of another man. So whatever he said was turned against him. Hutchinson says, "Upon the whole, he was confounded, and used many twistings and turnings, which, I think, we cannot wonder at." This fair and judicious writer, like Brattle, appears in the foregoing remark to have adopted the common scandal, put in circulation by parties interested to disparage Mr. Burroughs. The papers in this case, that have come down to us, are more numerous than in reference to many others among the sufferers; and they do not bear such an impression. Mr. Burroughs was astounded at the monstrous folly and falsehood with which he was surrounded. He was a man without guile, and incapable of appreciating such wickedness. He tried, in simplicity and ingenuousness, to explain what was brought against him; and this, probably, was all the "twisting and turning" he exhibited.
Hutchinson had the benefit of consulting all the papers belonging to this and other trials; but neither he nor Calef seems to have noticed one remarkable fact: many of the depositions, how many we cannot[ii.298] tell, were procured after the trials were over, and surreptitiously foisted in among the papers to bolster up the proceedings. We find, for instance, the following deposition:—
"Thomas Greenslitt, aged about forty years, being deposed, testifieth that, about the first breaking-out of this last Indian war, being at the house of Captain Joshua Scotto at Black Point, he saw Mr. George Burrows, who was lately executed at Salem, lift a gun of six-foot barrel or thereabouts, putting the forefinger of his right hand into the muzzle of said gun, and that he held it out at arms' end, only with that finger: and further this deponent testifieth, that, at the same time, he saw the said Burrows take up a full barrel of molasses with but two of the fingers of one of his hands in the bung, and carry it from the stage head to the door at the end of the stage, without letting it down; and that Lieutenant Richard Hunniwell and John Greenslitt were then present, and some others that are dead. Sept. 15, '92."
Not only the date to this deposition, but its express language, proves that it could not have been used at the trial. There is another, to the same effect and of the same date, that is, nearly a month after Burroughs was thrown into his grave. There are others of the same kind. This stamps the management of the prosecutions, and of those concerned in the charge of the papers, with an irregularity of the grossest kind, which partakes strongly of the character of fraud and falsehood.
When it was found that there was beginning to grow up a want of confidence in "spectre evidence" and the testimony of the afflicted children, those con[ii.299]cerned in the prosecutions became alarmed lest a re-action of public sentiment might take place. The persons who had brought Mr. Burroughs to his death concluded that their best escape from public indignation was to accumulate evidence against him after he was in his grave, particularly on the point of his superhuman strength; and they got up these depositions, and caused them to be put among the papers on file. Great stress was laid, by those who were interested in damaging his character and suppressing sympathy in his fate, upon this particular proof of his having been in confederacy with the Devil. Increase Mather said, that, in his judgment, it was conclusive evidence that he "had the Devil to be his familiar," and that, had he been on the jury, he could not, on this account, have concurred in a verdict of acquittal; and Cotton Mather, feeling the importance of making the most of Mr. Burroughs's extraordinary strength, gives way to his tendency to indulge in the marvellous, as follows:—
"God had been pleased so to leave this George Burroughs, that he had ensnared himself by several instances which he had formerly given of preternatural strength, and which were now produced against him. He was a very puny man, yet he had often done things beyond the strength of a giant. A gun of about seven-foot barrel, and so heavy that strong men could not steadily hold it out with both hands,—there were several testimonies given in by persons of credit and honor, that he made nothing of taking up such a gun behind the lock with but one hand, and holding it out, like a pistol, at arms' end. Yea, there were two[ii.300] testimonies, that George Burroughs, with only putting the forefinger of his right hand into the muzzle of a heavy gun, a fowling-piece of about six or seven foot barrel, did lift up the gun, and hold it out at arms' end,—a gun which the deponents thought strong men could not with both hands lift up, and hold at the butt end, as is usual."
It is further observable, in reference to the foregoing deposition from Greenslitt, that it was given six days after the condemnation of his mother, Ann Pudeator, and a week before her execution. Cotton Mather says that he "was overpersuaded by others to be out of the way upon George Burroughs's trial," six weeks before. He did not fail, however, to come to Salem to be with his mother at her trial and until her death, and being here was compelled to give his deposition. His mother's life was at the mercy of the prosecutors; and he was tempted, in the vain hope of conciliating that mercy, to gratify them by making the statement about Burroughs a month after his execution, and whom it could not then harm. What he said was probably no more than the truth. It has been found that the power of the human muscles can be cultivated to a surprising extent; and the feats ascribed to Burroughs, without making much allowance for a natural degree of exaggeration, have been fully equalled in our day.
Calef gives the following account of his execution:—
"Mr. Burroughs was carried in a cart with the others, through the streets of Salem, to execution. When he was upon the ladder, he made a speech for the clearing of his[ii.301] innocency, with such solemn and serious expressions as were to the admiration of all present. His prayer (which he concluded by repeating the Lord's Prayer) was so well worded, and uttered with such composedness and such (at least seeming) fervency of spirit, as was very affecting, and drew tears from many, so that it seemed to some that the spectators would hinder the execution. The accusers said the black man stood and dictated to him. As soon as he was turned off, Mr. Cotton Mather, being mounted upon a horse, addressed himself to the people, partly to declare that he (Mr. Burroughs) was no ordained minister, and partly to possess the people of his guilt, saying that the Devil often had been transformed into an angel of light; and this somewhat appeased the people, and the executions went on. When he was cut down, he was dragged by a halter to a hole, or grave, between the rocks, about two feet deep; his shirt and breeches being pulled off, and an old pair of trousers of one executed put on his lower parts: he was so put in, together with Willard and Carrier, that one of his hands, and his chin, and a foot of one of them, was left uncovered."
Cotton Mather, not satisfied with this display of animosity, at a moment when every human heart, however imbittered by prejudice, is hushed for the time in solemn silence, attempts, in an account afterwards given of Mr. Burroughs's trial, to blacken his character by an elaborate dressing-up of the absurd stories told by the accusers, and a perverse misrepresentation of the demeanor of the accused. He relates with apparent glee what was regarded as a wonderful achievement of adroitness on the part of Chief-justice Stoughton in trapping Mr. Burroughs, and putting the laugh upon him in Court.[ii.302]
"It cost the Court a wonderful deal of trouble to hear the testimonies of the sufferers; for, when they were going to give in their depositions, they would for a long while be taken with fits, that made them quite uncapable of saying any thing. The chief judge asked the prisoner, who he thought hindered these witnesses from giving their testimonies; and he answered, he supposed it was the Devil. The honorable person then replied, 'How comes the Devil so loath to have any testimony borne against you?' Which cast him into very great confusion."
From what fell from him, at the preliminary examination, it is evident that it did not occur to him as a possibility that human nature could be capable of the guilt of such a wilful fabrication and imposture on the part of the "afflicted children." He beheld their sufferings, and he knew his own innocence. He felt, whatever his theological creed might have been, that a Devil was required to explain the mystery. The apparent sufferings of the accusing witnesses convinced Court, jury, and all, of the guilt of the accused. The logic of the chief-justice was perfectly absurd. For, if the Devil caused the sufferings, he was an adverse party to the prisoner. This, however, overthrows the whole theory of the prosecution, which was that the prisoner and the Devil were in league with each other. But the judge, jury, and people, all equally blinded and stupefied by the delusion, did not see it; and they chuckled over the alleged confusion of the prisoner. All thoughtful persons will concur in Mr. Burroughs's opinion, that, if ever a diabolical power had possession[ii.303] of human beings, it was in the case of the wretched creatures who enacted the part of the accusing girls in the witchcraft proceedings. In his account of the trial, Mather makes statements which show that he was privy to the fact, that testimony, subsequently taken, was lodged with the evidence belonging to the case. The documents prove that it was done to an extent beyond what he acknowledges.
Considering that none dared to show the least sympathy with the persons on trial, that they had none to counsel or stand by them, that the public passions were incensed against them as against no other persons ever charged with crime,—it being vastly more flagrant than any other crime, a rebellion against heaven and earth, God and man; a deliberate selling of the soul to the Arch-enemy of souls for the ruin of all other souls,—in view of all these things, it is truly astonishing, that, by the documents themselves, proceeding, as in almost all cases they do, from hostile and imbittered sources, we are compelled to the conviction, that, in their imprisonments, trials, and deaths, the victims of this savage delusion manifested—in most cases eminently, and in all substantially—the marks, not only of innocent, but of elevated and heroic minds. A review of what can be gleaned in reference to Mr. Burroughs at Casco Bay and Salem Village, and a considerate survey and scrutiny of all that has reached us from the day of his arrest to the moment of his death, have left a decided impression, that he was an able, intelligent, true-minded man; ingenuous,[ii.304] sincere, humble in his spirit; faithful and devoted as a minister; and active, generous, and disinterested as a citizen. His descendants, under his own name and the names of Newman, Fowle, Holbrook, Fox, Thomas, and others, have been numerous and respectable. The late Isaiah Thomas, LL.D., was one of them.
From the account given of John Procter, in the First Part, it is apparent that he was a person of decided character, and, although impulsive and liable to be imprudent, of a manly spirit, honest, earnest, and bold in word and deed. He saw through the whole thing, and was convinced that it was the result of a conspiracy, deliberate and criminal, on the part of the accusers. He gave free utterance to his indignation at their conduct, and it cost him his life.
A few days before his trial, he made his will. There is no reference in it to his particular situation. His signature to the document is accurately represented among the autographs given in this work. It was written while the manacles were on him. Notwithstanding the danger to which any one was exposed who expressed sympathy for convicted or accused persons, or doubt of their guilt, a large number had the manliness to try to save this worthy and honest citizen. John Wise, one of the ministers of Ipswich, heads the list of petitioners from that place. The document is in his handwriting. Thirty-one others joined in the act, many of them among the most respectable citizens of that town. Mr. Wise was a learned, able, and enlightened man. He had a free spirit, and was per[ii.305]haps the only minister in the neighborhood or country, who was discerning enough to see the erroneousness of the proceedings from the beginning. The petition is as follows:—
"The Humble and Sincere Declaration of us, Subscribers, Inhabitants in Ipswich, on the Behalf of our Neighbors, John Procter and his Wife, now in Trouble and under Suspicion of Witchcraft.
"TO THE HONORABLE COURT OF ASSISTANTS NOW SITTING IN BOSTON.
"Honored and Right Worshipful,—The aforesaid John Procter may have great reason to justify the Divine Sovereignty of God under these severe remarks of Providence upon his peace and honor, under a due reflection upon his life past; and so the best of us have reason to adore the great pity and indulgence of God's providence, that we are not exposed to the utmost shame that the Devil can invent, under the permissions of sovereignty, though not for that sin forenamed, yet for our many transgressions. For we do at present suppose, that it may be a method within the severer but just transactions of the infinite majesty of God, that he sometimes may permit Sathan to personate, dissemble, and thereby abuse innocents and such as do, in the fear of God, defy the Devil and all his works. The great rage he is permitted to attempt holy Job with; the abuse he does the famous Samuel in disquieting his silent dust, by shadowing his venerable person in answer to the charms of witchcraft; and other instances from good hands,—may be arguments. Besides the unsearchable footsteps of God's judgments, that are brought to light every morning, that as[ii.306]tonish our weaker reasons; to teach us adoration, trembling, dependence, &c. But we must not trouble Your Honors by being tedious. Therefore, being smitten with the notice of what hath happened, we reckon it within the duties of our charity, that teacheth us to do as we would be done by, to offer thus much for the clearing of our neighbors' innocency; viz., that we never had the least knowledge of such a nefandous wickedness in our said neighbors, since they have been within our acquaintance. Neither do we remember any such thoughts in us concerning them, or any action by them or either of them, directly tending that way, no more than might be in the lives of any other persons of the clearest reputation as to any such evils. What God may have left them to, we cannot go into God's pavilion clothed with clouds of darkness round about; but, as to what we have ever seen or heard of them, upon our consciences we judge them innocent of the crime objected. His breeding hath been amongst us, and was of religious parents in our place, and, by reason of relations and properties within our town, hath had constant intercourse with us. We speak upon our personal acquaintance and observation; and so leave our neighbors, and this our testimony on their behalf, to the wise thoughts of Your Honors.
I have given the names of the men who signed this paper, as copied from the original. It is due to their memory; and their descendants may well be gratified by the testimony thus borne to their courage and justice.
Their neighbors living near the bounds of the village presented the following paper, in the handwriting of Felton, the first signer. From the appearance of the document, it seems that a portion of it, probably containing an equal number of names, has been cut out by scissors.
"We whose names are underwritten, having several years known John Procter and his wife, do testify that we never heard or understood that they were ever suspected to be guilty of the crime now charged upon them; and several of us, being their near neighbors, do testify, that, to our apprehension, they lived Christian-like in their family, and were ever ready to help such as stood in need of their help.
"Nathaniel Felton, Sr., and
Mary his wife.
In addition to this testimony in their favor, evidence was offered, at their trial, that one of the accusing[ii.308] witnesses had denied, out of Court, what she had sworn to in Court; and declared that she must, at the time, have been "out of her head," and that she had never intended to accuse them. It was further proved, that another of the accusing witnesses acknowledged that she had sworn falsely, and tried to explain away her testimony in Court, acknowledging that what the girls said was "for sport. They must have some sport." But neither the testimony in their favor from those who had known them through life, nor the palpable and decisive manner in which the evidence against them had been impeached and exposed, could open the eyes of the infatuated Court and jury.
After his conviction, he requested, in vain, time enough to prepare himself for death, and make the necessary arrangements of his business and for the welfare of his family; and the statement has come down to us, that Mr. Noyes refused to pray with him, unless he would confess himself guilty. The following letter, addressed by him to the ministers named, in behalf of himself and fellow-prisoners, gives a truly shocking account of the outrages connected with the prosecutions. It illustrates the courage of the writer in exposing them, and is a sensible and manly appeal and remonstrance. There is ground for supposing that the ministers addressed were known not to be entirely carried away by the delusion. The fact that Mr. Mather—meaning, of course, Increase Mather—is the first named, corroborates other evidence that he was beginning to entertain doubts about the propriety[ii.309] of the proceedings. Of the Rev. James Allen, much has been said in connection with the Townsend-Bishop farm. He had been a clergyman in England, and was silenced by the Act of Uniformity, in 1662. He came to New England; and, after officiating as an assistant to the Rev. Mr. Davenport, in the First Church at Boston, for six years, was ordained as its preacher in 1668. He was of independent fortune, and subsequently took a leading part with those opposed to the party that had favored the witchcraft prosecutions. He must have known Rebecca Nurse quite intimately, and much of the influence used in her favor, and which almost saved her, may be attributed to him; there was a particular intimacy between him and Increase Mather, and together they held Cotton Mather somewhat in check, occasionally at least. The Rev. Joshua Moody had been settled in the ministry at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In the maintenance of the principles of religious liberty he suffered a long imprisonment, and was afterwards exiled by arbitrary power. He was then invited to the First Church in Boston, where he preached from 1684 to 1693, when he returned to Portsmouth. He died in 1697. By his active exertions, Mr. and Mrs. English were enabled to escape from the jail at Boston. The Rev. Samuel Willard, pastor of the Old South Church in Boston, was one of the most revered and beloved ministers in the country. His publications were numerous, learned, and valuable; consisting of discourses, tracts, and volumes. His "Body of Divinity" is an elaborate and systematic[ii.310] work, comprising two hundred and fifty lectures on the Assembly's Catechism. That Procter was not in error in supposing Mr. Willard open to reason on the subject is demonstrated by the fact, that the "afflicted girls" were beginning to cry out against this eminent divine. The Rev. John Bailey was one of the ejected ministers who had here sought refuge from oppression in the mother-country. He was a distinguished person, associated with Mr. Allen and Mr. Moody in the ministry of the First Church at Boston. Cotton Mather made him the subject of the strongest eulogium in his "Magnalia." Procter addressed his letter to these persons because he believed them to be superior in wisdom and candid in spirit. It cannot be doubted that the good men did what they could in his behalf, but in vain.
"Salem Prison, July 23, 1692.
"Mr. Mather, Mr. Allen, Mr. Moody, Mr. Willard, and Mr. Bailey.
"Reverend Gentlemen,—The innocency of our case, with the enmity of our accusers and our judges and jury, whom nothing but our innocent blood will serve, having condemned us already before our trials, being so much incensed and enraged against us by the Devil, makes us bold to beg and implore your favorable assistance of this our humble petition to His Excellency, that if it be possible our innocent blood may be spared, which undoubtedly otherwise will be shed, if the Lord doth not mercifully step in; the magistrates, ministers, juries, and all the people in general, being[ii.311] so much enraged and incensed against us by the delusion of the Devil, which we can term no other, by reason we know, in our own consciences, we are all innocent persons. Here are five persons who have lately confessed themselves to be witches, and do accuse some of us of being along with them at a sacrament, since we were committed into close prison, which we know to be lies. Two of the five are (Carrier's sons) young men, who would not confess any thing till they tied them neck and heels, till the blood was ready to come out of their noses; and it is credibly believed and reported this was the occasion of making them confess what they never did, by reason they said one had been a witch a month, and another five weeks, and that their mother made them so, who has been confined here this nine weeks. My son, William Procter, when he was examined, because he would not confess that he was guilty, when he was innocent, they tied him neck and heels till the blood gushed out at his nose, and would have kept him so twenty-four hours, if one, more merciful than the rest, had not taken pity on him, and caused him to be unbound.
"These actions are very like the Popish cruelties. They have already undone us in our estates, and that will not serve their turns without our innocent blood. If it cannot be granted that we can have our trials at Boston, we humbly beg that you would endeavor to have these magistrates changed, and others in their room; begging also and beseeching you, that you would be pleased to be here, if not all, some of you, at our trials, hoping thereby you may be the means of saving the shedding of our innocent blood. Desiring your prayers to the Lord in our behalf, we rest, your poor afflicted servants,
"John Procter [and others]."
The bitterness of the prosecutors against Procter was so vehement, that they not only arrested, and tried to destroy, his wife and all his family above the age of infancy, in Salem, but all her relatives in Lynn, many of whom were thrown into prison. The helpless children were left destitute, and the house swept of its provisions by the sheriff. Procter's wife gave birth to a child, about a fortnight after his execution. This indicates to what alone she owed her life.
John Procter had spoken so boldly against the proceedings, and all who had part in them, that it was felt to be necessary to put him out of the way. He had denounced the entire company of the accusers, and their revenge demanded his sacrifice. They brought the whole power of their cunning and audacious arts to bear against him, and pursued him to the death with violence and rage. The manly and noble deportment exhibited in his dying hour seems to have made a deep impression on the minds of some, and gave an effectual blow to the delusion. The descendants of John Procter have always understood that his remains were recovered from the spot where the hangman deposited them, and placed in his own grounds, where they rest to-day.
No account has come to us of the deportment of George Jacobs, Sr., at his execution. As he was remarkable in life for the firmness of his mind, so he probably was in death. He had made his will before the delusion arose. It is dated Jan. 29, 1692; and shows that he, like Procter, had a considerable estate.[ii.315] Bartholomew Gedney is one of the attesting witnesses, and probably wrote the document. After his conviction, on the 12th of August, he caused another to be written, which, in its provisions, reflects light upon the state of mind produced by the condition in which he found himself. In his infirm old age, he had been condemned to die for a crime of which he knew himself innocent, and which there is some reason to believe he did not think any one capable of committing. He regarded the whole thing as a wicked conspiracy and absurd fabrication. He had to end his long life upon a scaffold in a week from that day. His house was desolated, and his property sequestered. His only son, charged with the same crime, had eluded the sheriff,—leaving his family, in the hurry of his flight, unprovided for—and was an exile in foreign lands. The crazy wife of that son was in prison and in chains, waiting trial on the same charge; her little children, including an unweaned infant, left in a deserted and destitute condition in the woods. The older children were scattered, he knew not where, while one of them had completed the bitterness of his lot by becoming a confessor, upon being arrested with her mother as a witch. This grand-daughter, Margaret, overwhelmed with fright and horror, bewildered by the statements of the accusers, and controlled probably by the arguments and arbitrary methods of address employed by her minister, Mr. Noyes,—whose peculiar function in these proceedings seems to have been to drive persons accused to make confession—had been betrayed into[ii.316] that position, and became a confessor, and accuser of others. Under these circumstances, the old man made a will, giving to his son George his estates, and securing the succession of them to his male descendants. But, in the mean while, without his then knowing it, Margaret had recalled her confession, as appears from the following documents, which tell their own story:—
"The Humble Declaration of Margaret Jacobs unto the Honored Court now sitting at Salem showeth, that, whereas your poor and humble declarant, being closely confined here in Salem jail for the crime of witchcraft,—which crime, thanks be to the Lord! I am altogether ignorant of, as will appear at the great day of judgment,—may it please the honored Court, I was cried out upon by some of the possessed persons as afflicting them; whereupon I was brought to my examination; which persons at the sight of me fell down, which did very much startle and affright me. The Lord above knows I knew nothing in the least measure how or who afflicted them. They told me, without doubt I did, or else they would not fall down at me; they told me, if I would not confess, I should be put down into the dungeon, and would be hanged, but, if I would confess, I should have my life: the which did so affright me, with my own vile, wicked heart, to save my life, made me make the like confession I did, which confession, may it please the honored Court, is altogether false and untrue. The very first night after I had made confession, I was in such horror of conscience that I could not sleep, for fear the Devil should carry me away for telling such horrid lies. I was, may it please the honored Court, sworn to my confession, as I understand[ii.317] since; but then, at that time, was ignorant of it, not knowing what an oath did mean. The Lord, I hope, in whom I trust, out of the abundance of his mercy, will forgive me my false forswearing myself. What I said was altogether false against my grandfather and Mr. Burroughs, which I did to save my life, and to have my liberty: but the Lord, charging it to my conscience, made me in so much horror, that I could not contain myself before I had denied my confession, which I did, though I saw nothing but death before me; choosing rather death with a quiet conscience, than to live in such horror, which I could not suffer. Where, upon my denying my confession, I was committed to close prison, where I have enjoyed more felicity in spirit, a thousand times, than I did before in my enlargement. And now, may it please Your Honors, your declarant having in part given Your Honors a description of my condition, do leave it to Your Honors' pious and judicious discretions to take pity and compassion on my young and tender years, to act and do with me as the Lord above and Your Honors shall see good, having no friend but the Lord to plead my cause for me; not being guilty, in the least measure, of the crime of witchcraft, nor any other sin that deserves death from man. And your poor and humble declarant shall for ever pray, as she is bound in duty, for Your Honors' happiness in this life, and eternal felicity in the world to come. So prays Your Honors' declarant,
The following letter was written by this same young person to her father. Let it be observed that her grandfather had been executed the day before, partly upon her false testimony.[ii.318]
"From the Dungeon in Salem Prison.
"August 20, 1692.
"Honored Father,—After my humble duty remembered to you, hoping in the Lord of your good health, as, blessed be God! I enjoy, though in abundance of affliction, being close confined here in a loathsome dungeon: the Lord look down in mercy upon me, not knowing how soon I shall be put to death, by means of the afflicted persons; my grandfather having suffered already, and all his estate seized for the king. The reason of my confinement is this: I having, through the magistrates' threatenings, and my own vile and wretched heart, confessed several things contrary to my conscience and knowledge, though to the wounding of my own soul; (the Lord pardon me for it!) but, oh! the terrors of a wounded conscience who can bear? But, blessed be the Lord! he would not let me go on in my sins, but in mercy, I hope, to my soul, would not suffer me to keep it any longer: but I was forced to confess the truth of all before the magistrates, who would not believe me; but it is their pleasure to put me in here, and God knows how soon I shall be put to death. Dear father, let me beg your prayers to the Lord on my behalf, and send us a joyful and happy meeting in heaven. My mother, poor woman, is very crazy, and remembers her kind love to you, and to uncle; viz., D.A. So, leaving you to the protection of the Lord, I rest, your dutiful daughter,
A temporary illness led to the postponement of her trial; and, before the next sitting of the Court, the delusion had passed away.
The "uncle D.A.," referred to, was Daniel Andrew, their nearest neighbor, who had escaped at the[ii.319] same time with her father. She calls him "uncle." He was, it is probable, a brother of John Andrew who had married Ann Jacobs, sister of her father. Words of relationship were then used with a wide sense.
Margaret read the recantation of her confession before the Court, and was, as she says, forthwith ordered by them into a dungeon. She obtained permission to visit Mr. Burroughs the day before his execution, acknowledged that she had belied him, and implored his forgiveness. He freely forgave, and prayed with her and for her. It is probable, that, at the same time, she obtained an interview with her grandfather for the same purpose. At any rate, the old man heard of her heroic conduct, and forthwith crowded into the space between two paragraphs in his will, in small letters closely written (the jailer probably being the amanuensis), a clause giving a legacy of "ten pounds to be paid in silver" to his grand-daughter, Margaret Jacobs. There is the usual declaration, that it "was inserted before sealing and signing." This will having been made after conviction and sentence to death, and having but two witnesses, one besides the jailer, was not allowed in Probate, but remains among the files of that Court. As a link in the foregoing story, it is an interesting relic. The legacy clause, although not operative, was no doubt of inexpressible value to the feelings of Margaret: and the circumstance seems to have touched the heart even of the General Court, nearly twenty years afterwards; for they took pains specifically to[ii.320] provide to have the same sum paid to Margaret, out of the Province treasury.
She was not tried at the time appointed, in consequence, it is stated, of "an imposthume in the head," and finally escaped the fate to which she chose to consign herself, rather than remain under a violated conscience. In judging of her, we cannot fail to make allowance for her "young and tender years," and to sympathize in the sufferings through which she passed. In making confession, and in accusing others, she had done that which filled her heart with horror, in the retrospect, so long as she lived. In recanting it, and giving her body to the dungeon, and offering her life at the scaffold, she had secured the forgiveness of Mr. Burroughs and her aged grandfather, and deserves our forgiveness and admiration. Every human heart must rejoice that this young girl was saved. She lived to be a worthy matron and the founder of a numerous and respectable family.
George Jacobs, Sr., is the only one, among the victims of the witchcraft prosecutions, the precise spot of whose burial is absolutely ascertained.
THE JACOBS HOUSE.
The tradition has descended through the family, that the body, after having been obtained at the place of execution, was strapped by a young grandson on the back of a horse, brought home to the farm, and buried beneath the shade of his own trees. Two sunken and weather-worn stones marked the spot. There the remains rested until 1864, when they were exhumed. They were enclosed again, and reverently redeposited[ii.321] in the same place. The skull was in a state of considerable preservation. An examination of the jawbones showed that he was a very old man at the time of his death, and had previously lost all his teeth. The length of some parts of the skeleton showed that he was a very tall man. These circumstances corresponded with the evidence, which was that he was tall of stature; so infirm as to walk with two staffs; with long, flowing white hair. The only article found, except the bones, was a metallic pin, which might have been used as a breastpin, or to hold together his aged locks. It is an observable fact, that he rests in his own ground still. He had lived for a great length of time on that spot; and it remains in his family and in his name to this day, having come down by direct descent. It is a beautiful locality: the land descends with a gradual and smooth declivity to the bank of the river. It is not much more than a mile from the city of Salem, and in full view from the main road.
John Willard appears to have been an honest and amiable person, an industrious farmer, having a comfortable estate, with a wife and three young children. He was a grandson of Old Bray Wilkins; whether by blood or marriage, I have not been able to ascertain. The indications are that he married a daughter of Thomas or Henry Wilkins, most probably the former, with both of whom he was a joint possessor of lands. He came from Groton; and it is for local antiquaries to discover whether he was a relative of the Rev. Samuel Willard of Boston. If so, the fact would[ii.322] shed much light upon our story. There is but one piece of evidence among the papers relating to his trial that deserves particular notice. It shows the horrid character of the charges made by the girls against prisoners at the bar, from their nature incapable of being refuted and which the prisoners knew to be false, but the Court, jury, and crowd implicitly believed. It also illustrates the completeness of the machinery got up by the "accusing girls" to give effect to their evidence. In addition to the evil gossip that could be scoured from all the country round, and to spectres of witches and ghosts of the dead, they brought into the scene angels and divine beings, and testified to what they were told by them. "The shining man," or the white man, was meant, in the following deposition, to be a spirit of this description:—
"The Testimony of Susanna Sheldon, aged eighteen years or thereabouts.—Testifieth and saith, that, the day of the date hereof (9th of May, 1692), I saw at Nathaniel Ingersoll's house the apparitions of these four persons,—William Shaw's first wife, the Widow Cook, Goodman Jones and his child; and among these came the apparition of John Willard, to whom these four said, 'You have murdered us.' These four having said thus to Willard, they turned as red as blood. And, turning about to look at me, they turned as pale as death. These four desired me to tell Mr. Hathorne. Willard, hearing them, pulled out a knife, saying, if I did, he would cut my throat."
The deponent goes on to say, that these several apparitions came before her on another occasion, and the same language and actions took place, and adds:[ii.323]—
"There did appear to me a shining man, who said I should go and tell what I had heard and seen to Mr. Hathorne. This Willard, being there present, told me, if I did, he would cut my throat. At this time and place, this shining man told me, that if I did go to tell this to Mr. Hathorne, that I should be well, going and coming, but I should be afflicted there. Then said I to the shining man, 'Hunt Willard away, and I would believe what he said, that he might not choke me.' With that the shining man held up his hand, and Willard vanished away. About two hours after, the same appeared to me again, and the said Willard with them; and I asked them where their wounds were, and they said there would come an angel from heaven, and would show them. And forthwith the angel came. I asked what the man's name was that appeared to me last, and the angel told his name was Southwick. And the angel lifted up his winding-sheet, and out of his left side he pulled a pitchfork tine, and put it in again, and likewise he opened all the winding-sheets, and showed all their wounds. And the white man told me to tell Mr. Hathorne of it, and I told him to hunt Willard away, and I would; and he held up his hand, and he vanished away."
In the same deposition, this girl testifies that "she saw this Willard suckle the apparitions of two black pigs on his breasts;" that Willard told her he had been a witch twenty years; that she saw Willard and other wizards kneel in prayer "to the black man with a long-crowned hat, and then they vanished away."
Such was the kind of testimony which the Court received with awe-struck and bewildered credulity,[ii.324] and which took away the lives of valuable and blameless men. All we know of the manner of Willard's death is a passage from Brattle, who states that a deep impression was produced by the admirable deportment of the sufferers during the awful scenes before and at their executions; giving every evidence of conscious innocence and a Christian character and faith, on the part especially of "Procter and Willard, whose whole management of themselves from the jail to the gallows, and whilst at the gallows, was very affecting, and melting to the hearts of some considerable spectators whom I could mention to you: but they are executed, and so I leave them."
On the 9th of September, the Court met again; and Martha Corey, Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Dorcas Hoar, and Mary Bradbury were tried and condemned; and, on the 17th, Margaret Scott, Wilmot Reed, Samuel Wardwell, Mary Parker, Abigail Faulkner, Rebecca Eames, Mary Lacy, Ann Foster, and Abigail Hobbs received the same sentence. Those in Italics were executed Sept. 22, 1692. Of the circumstances in relation to them, in reference to their death and at the time of their execution, but little information has reached us. The following extract from Mr. Parris's church-records presents a striking picture:—
"11 September, Lord's Day.—Sister Martha Corey—taken into the church 27 April, 1690—was, after examination upon suspicion of witchcraft, 27 March, 1692, committed to prison for that fact, and was condemned to the[ii.325] gallows for the same yesterday; and was this day in public, by a general consent, voted to be excommunicated out of the church, and Lieutenant Nathaniel Putnam and the two deacons chosen to signify to her, with the pastor, the mind of the church herein. Accordingly, this 14 September, 1692, the three aforesaid brethren went with the pastor to her in Salem Prison; whom we found very obdurate, justifying herself, and condemning all that had done any thing to her just discovery or condemnation. Whereupon, after a little discourse (for her imperiousness would not suffer much), and after prayer,—which she was willing to decline,—the dreadful sentence of excommunication was pronounced against her."
Calef informs us, that "Martha Corey, protesting her innocency, concluded her life with an eminent prayer upon the ladder."
Nothing has reached us particularly relating to the manner of death of Alice or Mary Parker, Ann Pudeator, Margaret Scott, or Wilmot Reed. They all asserted their innocence; and their deportment gave no ground for any unfavorable comment by their persecutors, who were on the watch to turn every act, word, or look of the sufferers to their disparagement. Wilmot Reed probably adhered to the unresisting demeanor which marked her examination. It was all a mystery to her; and to every question she answered, "I know nothing about it." Of Mary Easty it is grateful to have some account. Her own declarations in vindication of her innocence are fortunately preserved; and her noble record is complete in the fol[ii.326]lowing documents. The first appears to have been addressed to the Special Court, and was presented immediately before the trial of Mary Easty. No explanation has come down to us why Sarah Cloyse was not then also brought to trial. Circumstances to which we have no clew rescued her from the fate of her sisters.
"The Humble Request of Mary Easty and Sarah Cloyse to the Honored Court humbly showeth, that, whereas we two sisters, Mary Easty and Sarah Cloyse, stand now before the honored Court charged with the suspicion of witchcraft, our humble request is—First, that, seeing we are neither able to plead our own cause, nor is counsel allowed to those in our condition, that you who are our judges would please to be of counsel to us, to direct us wherein we may stand in need. Secondly, that, whereas we are not conscious to ourselves of any guilt in the least degree of that crime whereof we are now accused (in the presence of the living God we speak it, before whose awful tribunal we know we shall ere long appear), nor of any other scandalous evil or miscarriage inconsistent with Christianity, those who have had the longest and best knowledge of us, being persons of good report, may be suffered to testify upon oath what they know concerning each of us; viz., Mr. Capen, the pastor, and those of the town and church of Topsfield, who are ready to say something which we hope may be looked upon as very considerable in this matter, with the seven children of one of us; viz., Mary Easty: and it may be produced of like nature in reference to the wife of Peter Cloyse, her sister. Thirdly, that the testimony of witches, or such as are afflicted as is supposed by witches, may not be improved to[ii.327] condemn us without other legal evidence concurring. We hope the honored Court and jury will be so tender of the lives of such as we are, who have for many years lived under the unblemished reputation of Christianity, as not to condemn them without a fair and equal hearing of what may be said for us as well as against us. And your poor suppliants shall be bound always to pray, &c."
The following was presented by Mary Easty to the judges after she had received sentence of death. It would be hard to find, in all the records of human suffering and of Christian deportment under them, a more affecting production. It is a most beautiful specimen of strong good-sense, pious fortitude and faith, genuine dignity of soul, noble benevolence, and the true eloquence of a pure heart; and was evidently composed by her own hand. It may be said of her—and there can be no higher eulogium—that she felt for others more than for herself.
"The Humble Petition of Mary Easty unto his Excellency Sir William Phips, and to the Honored Judge and Bench now sitting in Judicature in Salem, and the Reverend Ministers, humbly showeth, that, whereas your poor and humble petitioner, being condemned to die, do humbly beg of you to take it in your judicious and pious consideration, that your poor and humble petitioner, knowing my own innocency, blessed be the Lord for it! and seeing plainly the wiles and subtilty of my accusers by myself, cannot but judge charitably of others that are going the same way of myself, if the Lord steps not mightily in. I was confined a whole month upon the same account that I am condemned[ii.328] now for, and then cleared by the afflicted persons, as some of Your Honors know. And in two days' time I was cried out upon them, and have been confined, and now am condemned to die. The Lord above knows my innocency then, and likewise does now, as at the great day will be known to men and angels. I petition to Your Honors not for my own life, for I know I must die, and my appointed time is set; but the Lord he knows it is that, if it be possible, no more innocent blood may be shed, which undoubtedly cannot be avoided in the way and course you go in. I question not but Your Honors do to the utmost of your powers in the discovery and detecting of witchcraft and witches, and would not be guilty of innocent blood for the world. But, by my own innocency, I know you are in the wrong way. The Lord in his infinite mercy direct you in this great work, if it be his blessed will that no more innocent blood be shed! I would humbly beg of you, that Your Honors would be pleased to examine these afflicted persons strictly, and keep them apart some time, and likewise to try some of these confessing witches; I being confident there is several of them, has belied themselves and others, as will appear, if not in this world, I am sure in the world to come, whither I am now agoing. I question not but you will see an alteration of these things. They say myself and others having made a league with the Devil, we cannot confess. I know, and the Lord knows, as will ... appear, they belie me, and so I question not but they do others. The Lord above, who is the Searcher of all hearts, knows, as I shall answer it at the tribunal seat, that I know not the least thing of witchcraft; therefore I cannot, I dare not, belie my own soul. I beg Your Honors not to deny this my humble petition from a poor, dying, innocent person. And I question not but the Lord will give a blessing to your endeavors."
The parting interview of this admirable woman with her husband, children, and friends, as she was about proceeding to the place of execution, is said to have been a most solemn, affecting, and truly sublime scene. Calef says that her farewell communications, on this occasion, were reported, by persons who listened to them, to have been "as serious, religious, distinct, and affectionate as could well be expressed, drawing tears from the eyes of almost all present."
Ann Pudeator had been formerly the wife of a person named Greenslitt, who left her with five children. Her subsequent husband, Jacob Pudeator, died in 1682, and by will gave her his whole estate, after the payment of legacies, of five pounds each, to her Greenslitt children, who appear to have been living in 1692 at Casco Bay. These provisions, as well as the expressions used by Pudeator, indicate that he regarded her with affection and esteem. The following document is all that we know else of her character particularly, except that she was a kind neighbor, and ever prompt in offices of charity and sympathy.
"The Humble Petition of Ann Pudeator unto the Honored Judge and Bench now sitting in Judicature in Salem, humbly showeth, that, whereas your poor and humble petitioner, being condemned to die, and knowing in my own conscience, as I shall shortly answer it before the great God of heaven, who is the Searcher and Knower of all hearts, that the evidence of Jno. Best, Sr., and Jno. Best, Jr., and Samuel Pickworth, which was given in against me in Court, were all of them altogether false and untrue, and, besides the[ii.330] abovesaid Jno. Best hath been formerly whipped and likewise is recorded for a liar. I would humbly beg of Your Honors to take it into your judicious and pious consideration, that my life may not be taken away by such false evidences and witnesses as these be; likewise, the evidence given in against me by Sarah Churchill and Mary Warren I am altogether ignorant of, and know nothing in the least measure about it, nor nothing else concerning the crime of witchcraft, for which I am condemned to die, as will be known to men and angels at the great day of judgment. Begging and imploring your prayers at the Throne of Grace in my behalf, and your poor and humble petitioner shall for ever pray, as she is bound in duty, for Your Honors' health and happiness in this life, and eternal felicity in the world to come."
Abigail, the wife of Francis Faulkner, and daughter of the Rev. Francis Dane, of Andover, who was among those sentenced on the 17th of September, had been examined, on the 11th of August, by Hathorne, Corwin, and Captain John Higginson, sitting as magistrates. Upon the prisoner's being brought in, the afflicted fell down, and went into fits, as usual. The magistrates asked the prisoner what she had to say. She replied, "I know nothing of it." The girls then renewed their performances, declaring that her shape was at that moment torturing them. The magistrates asked her if she did not see their sufferings. She answered, "Yes; but it is the Devil does it in my shape." Ann Putnam said that her spectre had afflicted her a few days before, pulling her off her horse.[ii.331] Upon the touch of her person, the sufferings of the afflicted would cease for a time. The prisoner held a handkerchief in her hand. The girls would screech out, declaring that, as she pressed the handkerchief, they were dreadfully squeezed. She threw the handkerchief on the table; and they said, "There are the shapes of Daniel Eames and Captain Floyd [two persons then in prison on the charge of witchcraft] sitting on her handkerchief." Mary Warren enacted the part of being dragged against her will under the table by an invisible hand, from whose grasp she was at once released, upon the prisoner's being made to touch her. Notwithstanding all this, she protested her innocence, and was remanded to jail. On the 30th, she was brought out again. In the mean while, six had been executed. The usual means were employed to break her down; but all that was gained was, that she owned she had expressed her indignation at the conduct of the afflicted, and was much excited against them "for bringing her kindred out, and she did wish them ill: and, her spirit being raised, she did pinch her hands together, and she knew not but that the Devil might take that advantage; but it was the Devil, and not she, that afflicted them." This was the only concession she would make; and they were puzzled to determine whether it was a confession, or not,—it having rather the appearance of clearing herself from all implication with the Devil, and leaving him on their hands—at any rate, they concluded to regard it in the latter sense; and she was[ii.332] duly convicted, and sentenced to death. Sir William Phips ordered a reprieve; and, after she had been thirteen weeks in prison, he directed her to be discharged on the ground of insufficient evidence. This, I think, is the only instance of a special pardon granted during the proceedings.
Samuel Wardwell, like most of the accused belonging to Andover, had originally joined the crowd of the confessors; but he was too much of a man to remain in that company. He took back his confession, and met his death. While he was speaking to the people, at the gallows, declaring his innocency, a puff of tobacco-smoke from the pipe of the executioner, as Calef informs us, "coming in his face, interrupted his discourse: those accusers said that the Devil did hinder him with smoke." The wicked creatures followed their victims to the last with their malignant outrages. The cart that carried the prisoners, on this occasion, to the hill, "was for some time at a set: the afflicted and others said that the Devil hindered it," &c.
The route by which they were conveyed from the jail, which was at the north corner of Federal and St. Peter's Streets, to the gallows, must have been a cruelly painful and fatiguing one, particularly to infirm and delicate persons, as many of them were. It was through St. Peter's, up the whole length of Essex, and thence probably along Boston Street, far towards Aborn Street; for the hill could only be ascended from that direction. It must have been a rough and jolting[ii.333] operation; and it is not strange that the cart got "set." It seems that the prisoners were carried in a single cart. It was a large one, provided probably for the occasion; and it is not unlikely that the reason why some who had been condemned were not executed, was that the cart could not hold them all at once. They were executed, one in June, five in July, five in August, and eight in September, with the intention, no doubt, by taking them in instalments, to extend the acts of the tragedy, from month to month, indefinitely.
It was necessary for the safety of the accusers and prosecutors to prevent a revulsion of the public mind, or even the least diminution of the popular violence against the supposed witches. As they all protested their innocence to the moment of death, and exhibited a remarkably Christian deportment throughout the dreadful scenes they were called to encounter from their arrest to their execution, there was reason to apprehend that the people would gradually be led to feel a sympathy for them, if not to entertain doubts of their guilt. To prevent this, and remove any impressions favorable to them that might be made by the conduct and declarations of the convicts, the prosecutors were on the alert. After the prisoners had been swung off, on the 22d of September, "turning him to the bodies, Mr. Noyes said, 'What a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there!'" It was the last time his eyes were regaled by such a sight. There were no more executions on Witch Hill.[ii.334]
Three days before, a life had been taken by the officers of the law in a manner so extraordinary, and marked by features so shocking, that they find no parallel in the annals of America, and will continue to arrest for ever the notice of mankind. The history and character of old Giles Corey have been given in preceding parts of this work. The only papers relating to him, on file as having been sworn to before the Grand Jury, are a few brief depositions. If he had been put on trial, we might have had more. Elizabeth Woodwell testifies, that "she saw Giles Corey at meeting at Salem on a lecture-day, since he has been in prison. He or his apparition came in, and sat in the middlemost seat of the men's seats, by the post. This was the lecture-day before Bridget Bishop was hanged. And I saw him come out with the rest of the people." Mary Walcot, of course, swore to the same. And Mary Warren swore that Corey was hostile to her and afflicted her, because he thought she "caused her master (John Procter) to ask more for a piece of meadow than he (Corey) was willing to give." She also charged him with "afflicting of her" by his spectre while he was in prison, and "described him in all his garments, both of hat, coat, and the color of them,—with a cord about his waist and a white cap on his head, and in chains." There is reason to believe, that, while in prison, he experienced great distress of mind. Although he had been a rough character in earlier life, and given occasion to much scandal by his disregard of public opinion, he always exhibited symp[ii.335]toms of a generous and sensitive nature. His foolish conduct in becoming so passionately engaged in the witchcraft proceedings, at their earliest stage, as to be incensed against his wife because she did not approve of or believe in them, and which led him to utter sentiments and expressions that had been used against her; and so far yielding to the accusers as to allow them to get from him the deposition, which, while it failed to satisfy their demands, it was shameful for him to have been persuaded to give,—all these things, which after his own apprehension and imprisonment he had leisure to ponder upon, preyed on his mind. He saw the awful character of the delusion to which he had lent himself; that it had brought his prayerful and excellent wife to the sentence of death, which had already been executed upon many other devout and worthy persons. He knew that he was innocent of the crime of witchcraft, and was now satisfied that all others were. Besides his own unfriendly course towards his wife, two of his four sons-in-law had turned against her. One (Crosby) had testified, and another (Parker) had allowed his name to be used, as an adverse witness. In view of all this, Corey made up his mind, determined on his course, and stood to that determination. He resolved to expiate his own folly by a fate that would satisfy the demands of the sternest criticism upon his conduct; proclaim his abhorrence of the prosecutions; and attest the strength of his feelings towards those of his children who had been false, and those who had been true, to his wife.[ii.336] He caused to be drawn up what has been called a will, although it is in reality a deed, and was duly recorded as such. Its phraseology is very strongly guarded, and made to give it clear, full, and certain effect. It begins thus: "Know ye, &c., that I, Giles Corey, lying under great trouble and affliction, through which I am very weak in body, but in perfect memory,—knowing not how soon I may depart this life; in consideration of which, and for the fatherly love and affection which I have and do bear unto my beloved son-in-law, William Cleeves, of the town of Beverly, and to my son-in-law, John Moulton, of the town of Salem, as also for divers other good causes and considerations me at the present especially moving;" and proceeds to convey and confirm all his property—"lands, meadow, housing, cattle, stock, movables and immovables, money, apparel, ... and all other the aforesaid premises, with their appurtenances"—to the said Cleeves and Moulton "for ever, freely and quietly, without any manner of challenge, claim, or demand of me the said Giles Corey, or of any other person or persons whatsoever for me in my name, or by my cause, means, or procurement;" and, in the use of all the language applicable to that end, he warrants and binds himself to defend the aforesaid conveyance and grant to Cleeves and Moulton, their heirs, executors, administrators, and assigns for ever. The document was properly signed, sealed, and delivered in the presence of competent witnesses, whose several signatures are indorsed to that effect. It was duly acknowledged[ii.337] before "Thomas Wade, Justice of the Peace in Essex," and recorded forthwith. This transaction took place in the jail at Ipswich.
His whole property being thus securely conveyed to his faithful sons-in-law, and placed beyond the reach of his own weakness or change of purpose, Corey resolved on a course that would surely try to the utmost the power of human endurance and firmness. He knew, that, if brought to trial, his death was certain. He did not know but that conviction and execution, through the attainder connected with it, might invalidate all attempts of his to convey his property. But it was certain, that, if he should not be brought to trial and conviction, his deed would stand, and nothing could break it, or defeat its effect. He accordingly made up his mind not to be tried. When called into court to answer to the indictment found by the Grand Jury, he did not plead "Guilty," or "Not guilty," but stood mute. How often he was called forth, we are not informed; but nothing could shake him. No power on earth could unseal his lips.
He knew that he could have no trial that would deserve the name. To have pleaded "Not guilty" would have made him, by his own act, a party to the proceeding, and have been, by implication, an assent to putting his case to the decision of a blind, maddened, and utterly perverted tribunal. He would not, by any act or utterance of his, leave his case with "the country" represented by a jury that embodied the passions of the deluded and infatuated multitude[ii.338] around him. He knew that the gates of justice were closed, and that truth had fled from the scene. He would have no part nor lot in the matter; refused to recognize the court, made no response to its questions, and was dumb in its presence. He stands alone in the resolute defiance of his attitude. He knew the penalty of suffering and agony he would have to pay; but he freely and fearlessly encountered it. All that was needed to carry his point was an unconquerable firmness, and he had it. He rendered it impossible to bring him to trial; and thereby, in spite of the power and wrath of the whole country and its authorities, retained his right to dispose of his property; and bore his testimony against the wickedness and folly of the hour in tones that reached the whole world, and will resound through all the ages.
When Corey took this ground, the Court found itself in a position of no little difficulty, and was probably at a loss what to do. No information has come to us of the details of the proceedings. If the usages in England on such occasions were adopted, the prisoner was three times brought before the Court, and called to plead; the consequences of persisting in standing mute being solemnly announced to him at each time. If he remained obdurate, the sentence of peine forte et dure was passed upon him; and, remanded to prison, he was put into a low and dark apartment. He would there be laid on his back on the bare floor, naked for the most part. A weight of iron would be placed upon him, not quite enough to crush him. He[ii.339] would have no sustenance, save only, on the first day, three morsels of the worst bread; and, on the second day, three draughts of standing water that should be nearest to the prison door: and, in this situation, such would be alternately his daily diet till he died, or till he answered. The object of this terrible punishment was to induce the prisoner to plead to the indictment; upon doing which, he would be brought to trial in the ordinary way. The motive that led prisoners to stand mute in England is stated to have been, most generally, to save their property from confiscation. The practice of putting weights upon them, and gradually increasing them, was to force them, by the slowly increasing torture, to yield.
How far the English practice was imitated in the case of Corey will remain for ever among the dread secrets of his prison-house. The tradition is, that the last act in the tragedy was in an open field near the jail, somewhere between Howard-street Burial Ground and Brown Street. It is said that Corey urged the executioners to increase the weight which was crushing him, that he told them it was of no use to expect him to yield, that there could be but one way of ending the matter, and that they might as well pile on the rocks. Calef says, that, as his body yielded to the pressure, his tongue protruded from his mouth, and an official forced it back with his cane. Some persons now living remember a popular superstition, lingering in the minds of some of the more ignorant class, that Corey's ghost haunted the grounds where this barbar[ii.340]ous deed was done; and that boys, as they sported in the vicinity, were in the habit of singing a ditty beginning thus:—
"'More weight! more weight!'
Giles Corey he cried."
For a person of more than eighty-one years of age, this must be allowed to have been a marvellous exhibition of prowess; illustrating, as strongly as any thing in human history, the power of a resolute will over the utmost pain and agony of body, and demonstrating that Giles Corey was a man of heroic nerve, and of a spirit that could not be subdued.
It produced a deep effect, as it was feared that it would. The bearing of all the sufferers at all the stages of the proceedings, and at their execution, had told in their favor; but the course of Giles Corey profoundly affected the public mind. This must have been noticed by the managers of the prosecutions; and they felt that some extraordinary expedient was necessary to renew, and render more intense than ever, the general infatuation. From the very beginning, there had been great skill and adroitness in arranging the order of incidents, and supplying the requisite excitements at the right moments and the right points. Some persons—it can only be conjectured who—had, all along, been behind the scenes, giving direction and materials to the open actors. This unseen power was in the village; and the movements it devised generally proceeded from Thomas Putnam's house, or the parsonage. It was on hand to meet the contingency[ii.341] created by Corey's having actually carried out to the last his resolution to meet a form of death that would, if any thing could, cause a re-action in the public mind; and the following stratagem was contrived to turn the manner of his death into the means of more than ever blinding and infatuating the people. It was the last and one of the most artful strokes of policy by the prosecutors. On the day after the death of Corey, and two days before the execution of his wife, Mary Easty, and the six others, Judge Sewall, then in Salem, received a letter from Thomas Putnam to this effect:—
"Last night, my daughter Ann was grievously tormented by witches, threatening that she should be pressed to death before Giles Corey; but, through the goodness of a gracious God, she had at last a little respite. Whereupon there appeared unto her (she said) a man in a winding-sheet, who told her that Giles Corey had murdered him by pressing him to death with his feet; but that the Devil there appeared unto him, and covenanted with him, and promised him that he should not be hanged. The apparition said God hardened his heart, that he should not hearken to the advice of the Court, and so die an easy death; because, as it said, it must be done to him as he has done to me. The apparition also said that Giles Corey was carried to the Court for this, and that the jury had found the murder; and that her father knew the man, and the thing was done before she was born."
Cotton Mather represented this vision, made to Ann Putnam, as proof positive of a divine communication to her, because, as he says, she could not have received[ii.342] her information from a human source, as everybody had forgotten the affair long ago; and that she never could have heard of it, happening, as it did, before she was born. Bringing up this old matter to meet the effect produced by Corey's death was indeed a skilful move; and it answered its purpose probably to a considerable extent. The man whom Corey was thus charged with having murdered seventeen years before died in a manner causing some gossip at the time; and a coroner's jury found that he had been "bruised to death, having clodders of blood about the heart." Bringing the affair back to the public mind, with the story of Ann Putnam's vision, was well calculated to meet and check any sympathy that might threaten to arise in favor of Corey. But the trick, however ingenious, will not stand the test of scrutiny. Mather's statement that everybody had forgotten the transaction, and that Ann could only have known of it supernaturally, is wholly untenable; for it was precisely one of those things that are never forgotten in a country village: it had always been kept alive as a part of the gossip of the neighborhood in connection with Corey; and her own father, as is unwittingly acknowledged, knew the man, and all about it. Of course, the girl had heard of it from him and others. The industry that had ransacked the traditions and collected the scandal of the whole country, far and near, for stories that were brought in evidence against all the prisoners, had not failed to pick up this choice bit against Corey. The only reason why it had not[ii.343] before been brought out was because he had not been on trial. The man who died with "clodders of blood about his heart," seventeen years before, was an unfortunate and worthless person, who had incurred punishment for his misconduct while a servant on Corey's farm, and afterwards at the hands of his own family: and he does not appear to have mended his morals upon passing into the spiritual world; for the statement of his ghost to Ann Putnam, that the jury had found Corey guilty of murder, and that the Court was hindered by some enchantment from proceeding against him, is disproved by the record which is—as has been mentioned in the First Part, vol. i. p. 185—that the man was carried back to his house by Corey's wife, and died there some time after; and the Court did no more than fine Corey for the punishment he had inflicted upon him while in his service, and which the evidence showed was repeated by his parents after his return to his own family.
Thomas Putnam's letter and Ann's vision were the last things of the kind that occurred. The delusion was approaching its close, and the people were beginning to be restored to their senses.
When it became known that Corey's resolution was likely to hold out, and that no torments or cruelties of any kind could subdue his firm and invincible spirit, Mr. Noyes hurried a special meeting of his church on a week-day, and had the satisfaction of dealing the same awful doom upon him as upon Rebecca Nurse. The entry in the record of the First Church is as follows:[ii.344]—
"Sept. 18, G. Corey was excommunicated: the cause of it was, that he being accused and indicted for the sin of witchcraft, he refused to plead, and so incurred the sentence and penalty of pain fort dure; being undoubtedly either guilty of the sin of witchcraft, or of throwing himself upon sudden and certain death, if he were otherwise innocent."
This attempt to introduce a form of argument into a church act of excommunication is a slight but significant symptom of its having become felt that the breath of reason had begun to raise a ripple upon the surface of the public mind. It increased slowly, but steadily to a gale that beat with severity upon Mr. Noyes and all his fellow-persecutors to their dying day.
After the executions, on the 22d of September, the Court adjourned to meet some weeks subsequently; and it was, no doubt, their expectation to continue from month to month to hold sessions, and supply, each time, new cart-loads of victims to the hangman. But a sudden collapse took place in the machinery, and they met no more. The executive authority intervened, and their functions ceased. The curtain fell unexpectedly, and the tragedy ended. It is not known precisely what caused this sudden change. It is probable, that a revolution had been going on some time in the public mind, which was kept for a while from notice, but at last became too apparent and too serious to be disregarded. It has generally been attributed to the fact, that the girls became over-confident, and struck too high. They had ventured, as we have seen, to cry[ii.345] out against the Rev. Samuel Willard, but were rebuked and silenced by the Court. Whoever began to waver in his confidence of the correctness of the proceedings was in danger of being attacked by them; and, as a general thing, when a person was "cried out upon," it may be taken as proof that he had spoken against them. Increase Mather, the president of Harvard College, called by Eliot "the father of the New-England clergy," was understood not to go so far as his son Cotton in sustaining the proceedings; and a member of his family was accused. The wife of Sir William Phips sympathized with those who suffered prosecution, and is said to have written an order for the release of a prisoner from jail. She was cried out upon. It may have been noticed, that, though Jonathan Corwin sat with Hathorne as an examining magistrate and assistant, and signed the commitments of the prisoners, he never took an active part, but was a silent and passive agent in the scene. He was subsequently raised to the bench; but there is reason to believe that his mind was not clear as to the correctness of the proceedings. This probably became known to the accusing girls; for they cried out repeatedly against his wife's mother, a respectable and venerable lady in Boston. The accusers, in aiming at such characters, overestimated their power; and the tide began to turn against them. But what finally broke the spell by which they had held the minds of the whole colony in bondage was their accusation, in October, of Mrs. Hale, the wife of the[ii.346] minister of the First Church in Beverly. Her genuine and distinguished virtues had won for her a reputation, and secured in the hearts of the people a confidence, which superstition itself could not sully nor shake. Mr. Hale had been active in all the previous proceedings; but he knew the innocence and piety of his wife, and he stood forth between her and the storm he had helped to raise: although he had driven it on while others were its victims, he turned and resisted it when it burst in upon his own dwelling. The whole community became convinced that the accusers in crying out upon Mrs. Hale, had perjured themselves, and from that moment their power was destroyed; the awful delusion was dispelled, and a close put to one of the most tremendous tragedies in the history of real life. The wildest storm, perhaps, that ever raged in the moral world, became a calm; the tide that had threatened to overwhelm every thing in its fury, sunk back to its peaceful bed. There are few, if any, other instances in history, of a revolution of opinion and feeling so sudden, so rapid, and so complete. The images and visions that had possessed the bewildered imaginations of the people flitted away, and left them standing in the sunshine of reason and their senses; and they could have exclaimed, as they witnessed them passing off, in the language of the great master of the drama and of human nature, but that their rigid Puritan principles would not, it is presumed, have permitted them, even in that moment of rescue and deliverance, to quote Shakspeare,[ii.347]—
"The earth hath bubbles, as the water has,
And these are of them. Whither are they vanished?
Into the air; and what seemed corporal, melted
As breath into the wind."
Sir William Phips well knew that the public sentiment demanded a stop to be put to the prosecutions. Besides that many of the people had lost all faith in the grounds on which they had been conducted, an influence from the higher orders of society began to make itself felt. Hutchinson says, "Although many such had suffered, yet there remained in prison a number of women of as reputable families as any in the towns where they lived, and several persons, of still superior rank, were hinted at by the pretended bewitched, or by the confessing witches. Some had been publicly named. Dudley Bradstreet, a justice of peace, who had been appointed one of President Dudley's council, and who was son to the worthy old governor, then living, found it necessary to abscond. Having been remiss in prosecuting, he had been charged by some of the afflicted as a confederate. His brother, John Bradstreet, was forced to fly also."
The termination of the proceedings was probably effectually secured by the spirited course of certain parties in Andover, who, at the first moment of its appearing that the public sentiment was changing, commenced actions for slander against the accusers.
The result of the whole matter was, that, while some of the judges, magistrates, and ministers persisted in their fanatical zeal, the great body of the people, high and low, were rescued from the delusion.[ii.348]
While, in the course of our story, we have witnessed some shocking instances of the violation of the most sacred affections and obligations of life, in husbands and wives, parents and children, testifying against each other, and exerting themselves for mutual destruction, we must not overlook the many instances in which filial, parental, and fraternal fidelity and love have shone conspicuously. It was dangerous to befriend an accused person. Procter stood by his wife to protect her, and it cost him his life. Children protested against the treatment of their parents, and they were all thrown into prison. Daniel Andrew, a citizen of high standing, who had been deputy to the General Court, asserted, in the boldest language, his belief of Rebecca Nurse's innocence; and he had to fly the country to save his life. Many devoted sons and daughters clung to their parents, visited them in prison in defiance of a bloodthirsty mob; kept by their side on the way to execution; expressed their love, sympathy, and reverence to the last; and, by brave and perilous enterprise, got possession of their remains, and bore them back under the cover of midnight to their own thresholds, and to graves kept consecrated by their prayers and tears. One noble young man is said to have effected his mother's escape from the jail, and secreted her in the woods until after the delusion had passed away, provided food and clothing for her, erected a wigwam for her shelter, and surrounded her with every comfort her situation would admit of. The poor creature must,[ii.349] however, have endured a great amount of suffering; for one of her larger limbs was fractured in the all but desperate attempt to rescue her from the prison-walls.
The Special Court being no longer suffered to meet, a permanent and regular tribunal, called the Superior Court of Judicature, was established, consisting of the Deputy-governor, William Stoughton, Chief-justice; and Thomas Danforth, John Richards, Wait Winthrop, and Samuel Sewall, associate justices. They held a Court at Salem, in January, 1693. Hutchinson says that, on this occasion, the Grand Jury found about fifty indictments. The following persons were brought to trial: Rebecca Jacobs, Margaret Jacobs, Sarah Buckley, Job Tookey, Hannah Tyler, Candy, Mary Marston, Elizabeth Johnson, Abigail Barker, Mary Tyler, Sarah Hawkes, Mary Wardwell, Mary Bridges, Hannah Post, Sarah Bridges, Mary Osgood, Mary Lacy, Jr., Sarah Wardwell, Elizabeth Johnson, Jr., and Mary Post. The three last were condemned, but not executed: all the rest were acquitted. Considering that the "spectral evidence" was wholly thrown out at these trials, the facts that the grand jury, under the advice of the Court, brought in so many indictments, and that three were actually convicted, are as discreditable to the regular Court as the convictions at the Special Court are to that body. It has been said that the Special Court had not an adequate representation of lawyers in its composition; and the results of its proceedings have been ascribed to that circumstance. It has been[ii.350] held up disparagingly in comparison with the regular Court that succeeded it. But, in fact, the regular Court consisted of persons all of whom sat in the Special Court, with the exception of Danforth. But his proceedings in originating the arrests for witchcraft in the fall of 1691, and his action when presiding at the preliminary examination of John Procter, Elizabeth Procter, and Sarah Cloyse, at Salem, April 11, 1692, show that, so far as the permission of gross irregularities and the admission of absurd kinds of testimony are concerned, the regular Court gained nothing by his sitting with it, unless his views had been thoroughly changed in the mean time. The truth is, that the judges, magistrates, and legislature were as much to blame, in this whole business, as the ministers, and much more slow to come to their senses, and make amends for their wrong-doing.
All the facts known to us, and all the statements that have come down to us, require us to believe, that none who confessed, and stood to their confession, were brought to trial. All who were condemned either maintained their innocence from the first, or, if persuaded or overcome into a confession, voluntarily took it back and disowned it before trial. If this be so, then the name of every person condemned ought to be held in lasting honor, as preferring to die rather than lie, or stand to a lie. It required great strength of mind to take back a confession; relinquish life and liberty; go down into a dungeon, loaded with irons; and from thence to ascend the gallows. It relieves[ii.351] the mind to think, that Abigail Hobbs, wicked and shocking as her conduct had been towards Mr. Burroughs and others, came to herself, and offered her life in atonement for her sin.
The Court continued the trials at successive sessions during the spring, all resulting in acquittals, until in May, 1693, Sir William Phips, by proclamation, discharged all. Hutchinson says, "Such a jail-delivery has never been known in New England." The number then released is stated to have been one hundred and fifty. How many had been apprehended, during the whole affair, we have no means of knowing. Twenty, counting Giles Corey, had been executed. Two at least, Ann Foster and Sarah Osburn, had died in jail: it is not improbable that others perished under the bodily and mental sufferings there. We find frequent expressions indicating that many died in prison. A considerable number of children, and some adults whose friends were able to give the heavy bonds required and had influence enough to secure the favor, had some time before been removed to private custody. Quite a considerable number had succeeded in breaking jail and eluding recapture. Upon the whole, there must have been several hundreds committed. Even after acquittal by a jury, and the Governor's proclamation, none were set at liberty until they had paid all charges; including board for the whole time of their imprisonment, jailer's fees, and fees of Court of all kinds. The families of many had become utterly impoverished.[ii.352]
The sufferings of the prisoners and of their relatives and connections are perhaps best illustrated by presenting the substance of a few of the petitions for their release, found among the files. The friends of the parties, in these cases, were not in a condition to give the bonds, and they probably remained in jail until the general discharge; and how long after, before the means could be raised to pay all dues, we cannot know.[D]
Margaret Jacobs had to remain in jail after the Governor's proclamation had directed the release of all prisoners, because she could not pay the fees and charges. Her grandfather had been executed, and all his furniture, stock, and moveable property seized by the marshal or sheriff. Her father escaped the warrant by a sudden flight from his home under the cover of midnight, and was in exile "beyond the seas;" her mother and herself taken at the time by the officers serving the warrants against them; the younger children of the family, left without protection, had dispersed, and been thrown upon the charity of neighbors; the house had been stripped of its contents, left open, and deserted. She had not a shilling in the world, and knew not where to look for aid. She[ii.354] was taken back to prison, and remained there for some time, until a person named Gammon, apparently a stranger, happened to hear of her case, and, touched with compassion, raised the money required, and released her. It was long before the affairs of the Jacobs' family were so far retrieved as to enable them to refund the money to the noble-hearted fisherman. How many others lingered in prison, or how long, we have no means of ascertaining.
In reviewing the proceedings at the examinations and trials, it is impossible to avoid being struck with the infatuation of the magistrates and judges. They acted throughout in the character and spirit of prosecuting officers, put leading and ensnaring questions to the prisoners, adopted a browbeating deportment towards them, and pursued them with undisguised hostility. They assumed their guilt from the first,[ii.355] and endeavored to force them to confess; treating them as obstinate culprits because they would not. Every kind of irregularity was permitted. The marshal was encouraged in perpetual interference to prejudice the persons on trial, watching and reporting aloud to the Court every movement of their hands or heads or feet. Other persons were allowed to speak out, from the body of the crowd, whatever they chose to say adverse to the prisoner. Accusers were suffered to make private communications to the magistrates and judges before or during the hearings. The presiding officers showed off their smartness in attempts to make the persons on trial before them appear at a disadvantage. In some instances, as in the case of Sarah Good, the magistrate endeavored to deceive the accused by representing falsely the testimony given by another. The people in and around the court-room were allowed to act the part of a noisy mob, by clamors and threatening outcries; and juries were overawed to bring in verdicts of conviction, and rebuked from the bench if they exercised their rightful prerogative without regard to the public passions. The chief-justice, in particular, appears to have been actuated by violent prejudice against the prisoners, and to have conducted the trials, all along, with a spirit that bears the aspect of animosity.
There is one point of view in which he must be held responsible for the blood that was shed, and the infamy that, in consequence, attaches to the proceedings. It may well be contended, that not a conviction would[ii.356] have taken place, but for a notion of his which he arbitrarily enforced as a rule of law. It was a part of the theory relating to witchcraft, that the Devil made use of the spectres, or apparitions, of some persons to afflict others. From this conceded postulate, a division of opinion arose. Some maintained that the Devil could employ only the spectres of persons in league with him; others affirmed, that he could send upon his evil errands the spectres of innocent persons, without their consent or knowledge. The chief-justice held the former opinion, against the judgment of many others, arbitrarily established it as a rule of Court, and peremptorily instructed juries to regard it as binding upon them in making their verdicts. The consequence was that a verdict of "Guilty" became inevitable. But few at that time doubted the veracity of the "afflicted persons," which was thought to be demonstrated to the very senses by their fits and sufferings, in the presence of the Court, jury, and all beholders. When they swore that they saw the shapes of Bridget Bishop, or Rebecca Nurse, or George Burroughs, choking or otherwise torturing a person, the fact was regarded as beyond question.
The prisoners took the ground, that the statements made by the witnesses, even if admitted, were not proof against them; for the Devil might employ the spectres of innocent persons, or of whomsoever he chose, without the knowledge of the persons whose shapes were thus used by him. When Mrs. Ann Putnam swore that she had seen the spectre of Rebecca Nurse[ii.357] afflicting various persons; and that the said spectre acknowledged to her, that "she had killed Benjamin Houlton, and John Fuller, and Rebecca Shepard,"—the answer of the prisoner was, "I cannot help it: the Devil may appear in my shape." When the examining magistrate put the question to Susanna Martin, "How comes your appearance to hurt these?" Martin replied, "I cannot tell. He that appeared in Samuel's shape, a glorified saint, can appear in any one's shape." The Rev. John Wise, in his noble appeal in favor of John Procter, argued to the same point. But the chief-justice was inexorably deaf to all reason; compelled the jury to receive, as absolute law, that the Devil could not use the shape of an innocent person; and, as the "afflicted" swore that they saw the shapes of the prisoners actually engaged in the diabolical work, there was no room left for question, and they must return a verdict of "Guilty."
In this way, innocent persons were slaughtered by a dogma in the mind of an obstinate judge. Dogmas have perverted courts and governments in all ages. A fabrication of fancy, an arbitrary verbal proposition, has been exalted above reason, and made to extinguish common sense. The world is full of such dogmas. They mislead the actions of men, and confound the page of history. "The king cannot die" is one of them. It is held as an axiom of political and constitutional truth. So an entire dynasty, crowded with a more glorious life than any other, is struck from the annals of an empire. In the public records of Eng[ii.358]land, the existence of the Commonwealth is ignored; and the traces of its great events are erased from the archives of the government, which, in all its formulas and official papers, proclaims a lie. A hunted fugitive, wandering in disguise through foreign lands, without a foot of ground on the globe that he could call his own, is declared in all public acts, parliamentary and judicial, and even by those assuming to utter the voice of history, to have actually reigned all the time. In our country and in our day, we are perplexed, and our public men bewildered, by a similar dogma. The merest fabric of human contrivance, a particular form of political society, is impiously clothed with an essential attribute of God alone; and ephemeral politicians are announcing, as an eternal law of Providence, that "a State cannot die." The mischiefs that result, in the management of human affairs, from enthroning dogmas over reason, truth, and fact, are, as they ever have been, incalculable.
Chief-justice Stoughton appears to have kept his mind chained to his dogma to the last. It rendered him wholly incapable of opening his eyes to the light of truth. He held on to spectral evidence, and his corollary from it, when everybody else had abandoned both. He would not admit that he, or any one concerned, had been in error. He never could bear to hear any persons express penitence or regret for the part they had taken in the proceedings. When the public delusion had so far subsided that it became difficult to procure the execution of a witch, he was[ii.359] disturbed and incensed to such a degree that he abandoned his seat on the bench. During a session of the Court at Charlestown, in January, 1692-3, "word was brought in, that a reprieve was sent to Salem, and had prevented the execution of seven of those that were there condemned, which so moved the chief judge that he said to this effect: 'We were in a way to have cleared the land of them; who it is that obstructs the cause of justice, I know not: the Lord be merciful to the country!' and so went off the bench, and came no more into that Court."
I have spoken of the judges as appearing to be infatuated, not on account of the opinions they held on the subject of witchcraft, for these were the opinions of their age; nor from the peculiar doctrine their chief enforced upon them, for that was entertained by many, and, as a mere theory, was perhaps as logically deducible from the prevalent doctrines as any other. Their infatuation consisted in not having eyes to see, or ears to hear, evidences continually occurring of the untruthful arts and tricks of the afflicted children, of their cunning evasions, and, in some instances, palpable falsehoods. Then, further, there was solid and substantial evidence before them that ought to have made them pause and consider, if not doubt and disbelieve. We find the following paper among the files:—
The Testimony of John Putnam, Sr., and Rebecca his Wife, saith that our son-in-law John Fuller, and our daughter Rebecca Shepard, did both of them die a most violent death (and died acting very strangely at the time of[ii.360] their death); further saith, that we did judge then that they both died of a malignant fever, and had no suspicion of withcraft of any, neither can we accuse the prisoner at the bar of any such thing."
When we recall the testimony of Ann Putnam the mother, and find that the afflicted generally charged the death of the above-named persons upon the shape of Rebecca Nurse, we perceive how absolutely Captain John Putnam and his wife discredit their testimony. The opinion of the father and mother of Fuller and Shepard ought to have had weight with the Court. They were persons of the highest standing, and of recognized intelligence and judgment. They were old church-members, and eminently orthodox in all their sentiments. They were the heads of a great family. He had represented the town in the General Court the year before. No man in this part of the country was more noted for strong good sense than Captain John Putnam. This deposition is honorable to their memory, and clears them from all responsibility for the extent to which the afflicted persons were allowed to sway the judgment of the Court. Taken in connection with the paper signed by so large a portion of the best people of the village, in behalf of Rebecca Nurse, it proves that the blame for the shocking proceedings in the witchcraft prosecutions cannot be laid upon the local population, but rests wholly upon the Court and the public authorities.
The Special Court that condemned the persons charged with witchcraft in 1692 is justly open to[ii.361] censure for the absence of all discrimination of evidence, and for a prejudgment of the cases submitted to them. In view of the then existing law and the practice in the mother-country under it, they ought to have the benefit of the admission that they did, in other respects than those mentioned, no more and no worse than was to be expected. And Cotton Mather, in the "Magnalia," vindicates them on this ground:—
"They consulted the precedents of former times, and precepts laid down by learned writers about witchcraft; as, Keeble on the Common Law, chap. 'Conjuration' (an author approved by the twelve judges of our nation): also, Sir Matthew Hale's Trials of Witches, printed anno 1682; Glanvill's Collection of Sundry Trials in England and Ireland in the years 1658, '61, '63, '64, and '81; Bernard's Guide to Jury-men; Baxter's and R.B., their histories about Witches, and their Discoveries; Cotton Mather's Memorable Providences relating to Witchcraft, printed 1685."
So far as the medical profession at the time is concerned, it must be admitted that they bear a full share of responsibility for the proceedings. They gave countenance and currency to the idea of witchcraft in the public mind, and were very generally in the habit, when a patient did not do well under their prescriptions, of getting rid of all difficulty by saying that "an evil hand" was upon him. Their opinion to this effect is cited throughout, and appears in a large number of the documents. There were coroners' juries in cases where it was suspected that a person[ii.362] died of witchcraft. It is much to be regretted that none of their verdicts have been preserved. Drawn up by an attending "chirurgeon," they would illustrate the state of professional science at that day, by informing us of the marks, indications, and conditions of the bodily organization by which the traces of the Devil's hand were believed to be discoverable. All we know is that, in particular cases, as that of Bray Wilkins's grandson Daniel, the jury found decisive proof that he had died by "an evil hand."
It is not to be denied or concealed, that the clergy were instrumental in bringing on the witchcraft delusion in 1692. As the supposed agents of the mischief belonged to the supernatural and spiritual world, which has ever been considered their peculiar province, it was thought that the advice and co-operation of ministers were particularly appropriate and necessary. Opposition to prevailing vices and attempts to reform society were considered at that time in the light of a conflict with Satan himself; and he was thought to be the ablest minister who had the greatest power over the invisible enemy, and could most easily and effectively avert his blows, and counteract his baleful influence. This gave the clergy the front in the battle against the hosts of Belial. They were proud of the position, and were stimulated to distinguish themselves in the conflict. Cotton Mather represents that ministers were honored by the special hostility of the great enemy of souls, "more dogged by the Devil than any other men," just as, according to his philosophy,[ii.363] the lightning struck the steeples of churches more frequently than other buildings because the Prince of the Power of the Air particularly hated the places where the sound of the gospel was heard. There were, moreover, it is to be feared, ministers whose ambition to acquire influence and power had been allowed to become a ruling principle, and who favored the delusion because thereby their object could be most surely achieved by carrying the people to the greatest extremes of credulity, superstition, and fanatical blindness.
But justice requires it to be said that the ministers, as a general thing, did not take the lead after the proceedings had assumed their most violent aspect, and the disastrous effects been fully brought to view. It may be said, on the contrary, that they took the lead, as a class, in checking the delusion, and rescuing the public mind from its control. Prior to the time when they were called upon to give their advice to the government, they probably followed Cotton Mather: after that, they seemed to have freed themselves generally from his influence. The names of Dane and Barnard of Andover, Higginson of Salem, Cheever of Marblehead, Hubbard and Wise of Ipswich, Payson and Phillips of Rowley, Allin of Salisbury, and Capen of Topsfield, appear in behalf of persons accused. To come forward in their defence shows courage, and proves that their influence was in the right direction, even while the proceedings were at their height. Mr. Hale, of Beverly, abandoned the prosecutions, and ex[ii.364]pressed his disapprobation of them, before the government or the Court relaxed the vigor of their operations, as is sufficiently proved by the fact that the "afflicted children" cried out against his wife. Willard, and James Allen, and Moody, and John Bailey, and even Increase Mather, of Boston, openly discountenanced the course things were taking. The latter circulated a letter from his London correspondent, a person whose opinion was entitled to weight, condemning in the strongest terms the doctrine of the chief-justice, as follows: "All that I speak with much wonder that any man, much less a man of such abilities, learning, and experience as Mr. Stoughton, should take up a persuasion that the Devil cannot assume the likeness of an innocent, to afflict another person. In my opinion, it is a persuasion utterly destitute of any solid reason to render it so much as probable." The ministers may have been among the first to bring on the delusion; but the foregoing facts prove, that, as a profession, they were the first to attempt to check and discountenance the prosecutions. While we are required, in all fairness, to give this credit to the clergy in general, it would be false to the obligations of historical truth and justice to attempt to palliate the conduct of some of them. Whoever considers all that Mr. Parris, according to his own account, said and did, cannot but shrink from the necessity of passing judgment upon him, and find relief in leaving him to that tribunal which alone can measure the extent of human responsibility,[ii.365] and sound the depths of the heart. Lawson threw into the conflagration all the combustible materials his eloquence and talents, heated, it is to be feared, by resentment, could contribute. Dr. Bentley, in his "Description and History of Salem" (Mass. Hist. Coll., 1st series, vol. vi.) says, "Mr. Noyes came out and publicly confessed his error, never concealed a circumstance, never excused himself; visited, loved, blessed, the survivors whom he had injured; asked forgiveness always, and consecrated the residue of his life to bless mankind." It is to be hoped that the statement is correct. There were several points of agreement between Noyes and Bentley. Both were men of ability and learning. Like Bentley, Noyes lived and died a bachelor; and, like him, was a man of lively and active temperament, and, in the general tenor of his life, benevolent and disinterested. Perhaps congeniality in these points led Bentley to make the statement, just quoted, a little too strong. He wrote more than a century after the witchcraft proceedings; just at that point when tradition had become inflated by all manner of current talk, of fable mixed with fact, before the correcting and expunging hand of a severe scrutiny of records and documents had commenced its work. The drag-net of time had drawn along with it every thing that anybody had said; but the process of sifting and discrimination had not begun. His kindly and ingenuous nature led him to believe, and prompted him to write down, all that was amiable, and pleasing to a mind like his. So far as the[ii.366] records and documents give us information, there is reason to apprehend, that Mr. Noyes, like Stoughton, another old bachelor, never recovered his mind from the frame of feeling or conviction in which it was during the proceedings. His name is not found, as are those of other ministers, to any petitions, memorials or certificates, in favor of the sufferers during the trials, or of reparation to their memories or to the feelings of their friends. He does not appear to have taken any part in arresting the delusion or rectifying the public mind.
Of Cotton Mather, more is required to be said. He aspired to be considered the leading champion of the Church, and the most successful combatant against the Satanic powers. He seems to have longed for an opportunity to signalize himself in this particular kind of warfare; seized upon every occurrence that would admit of such a coloring to represent it as the result of diabolical agency; circulated in his numerous publications as many tales of witchcraft as he could collect throughout New and Old England, and repeatedly endeavored to get up cases of the kind in Boston. There is some ground for suspicion that he was instrumental in originating the fanaticism in Salem; at any rate, he took a leading part in fomenting it. And while there is evidence that he endeavored, after the delusion subsided, to escape the disgrace of having approved of the proceedings, and pretended to have been in some measure opposed to them, it can be too clearly shown that he was secretly and cunningly endeavoring to[ii.367] renew them during the next year in his own parish in Boston.[E]
How blind is man to the future! The state of things which Cotton Mather labored to bring about, in order that he might increase his own influence over an infatuated people, by being regarded by them as mighty[ii.368] to cast out and vanquish evil spirits, and as able to hold Satan himself in chains by his prayers and his piety, brought him at length into such disgrace that his power was broken down, and he became the object of public ridicule and open insult. And the excitement that had been produced for the purpose of[ii.369] restoring and strengthening the influence of the clerical and spiritual leaders resulted in effects which reduced that influence to a still lower point. The intimate connection of Dr. Mather and other prominent ministers with the witchcraft delusion brought a reproach upon the clergy from which they have not yet recovered.[ii.370]
In addition to the designing exertions of ambitious ecclesiastics, and the benevolent and praiseworthy efforts of those whose only aim was to promote a real and thorough reformation of religion, all the passions of our nature stood ready to throw their concentrated energy into the excitement (as they are sure to do, whatever may be its character), so soon as it became sufficiently strong to encourage their action.
The whole force of popular superstition, all the[ii.371] fanatical propensities of the ignorant and deluded multitude, united with the best feelings of our nature to heighten the fury of the storm. Piety was indignant at the supposed rebellion against the sovereignty of God, and was roused to an extreme of agitation and apprehension in witnessing such a daring and fierce assault by the Devil and his adherents upon the churches and the cause of the gospel. Virtue was shocked at the tremendous guilt of those who were believed to have entered the diabolical confederacy; while public order and security stood aghast, amidst the invisible, the supernatural, the infernal, and apparently the irresistible attacks that were making upon the foundations of society. In baleful combination with principles, good in themselves, thus urging the passions into wild operation, there were all the wicked and violent affections to which humanity is liable. Theological bitterness, personal animosities, local controversies, private feuds, long-cherished grudges, and professional jealousies, rushed forward, and raised their discordant voices, to swell the horrible din; credulity rose with its monstrous and ever-expanding form, on the ruins of truth, reason, and the senses; malignity and cruelty rode triumphant through the storm, by whose fury every mild and gentle sentiment had been shipwrecked; and revenge, smiling in the midst of the tempest, welcomed its desolating wrath as it dashed the mangled objects of its hate along the shore.
The treatment of the prisoners, by the administra[ii.372]tive and subordinate officers in charge of them, there is reason to apprehend, was more than ordinarily harsh and unfeeling. The fate of Willard prevented expressions of kindness towards them. The crime of which they were accused put them outside of the pale of human charities. All who believed them guilty looked upon them, not only with horror, but hate. To have deliberately abandoned God and heaven, the salvation of Christ and the brotherhood of man, was regarded as detestable, execrable, and utterly and for ever damnable. This was the universal feeling at the time when the fanaticism was at its height; or, if there were any dissenters, they dared not show themselves. What the poor innocent sufferers experienced of cruelty, wrong, and outrage from this cause, it is impossible for words to tell. It left them in prison to neglect, ignominious ill-treatment, and abusive language from the menials having charge of them; it made their trials a brutal mockery; it made the pathway to the gallows a series of insults from an exasperated mob. If dear relatives or faithful friends kept near them, they did it at the peril of their lives, and were forbidden to utter the sentiments with which their hearts were breaking. There was no sympathy for those who died, or for those who mourned.
It may seem strange to us, at this distance of time, and with the intelligence prevalent in this age, that persons of such known, established, and eminent reputation as many of those whose cases have been par[ii.373]ticularly noticed, could possibly have been imagined guilty of the crime imputed to them. The question arises in every mind, Why did not their characters save them from conviction, and even from suspicion? The answer is to be found in the peculiar views then entertained of the power and agency of Satan. It was believed that it would be one of the signs of his coming to destroy the Church of Christ, that some of the "elect" would be seduced into his service,—that he would drag captive in his chains, and pervert into instruments to further his wicked cause, many who stood among the highest in the confidence of Christians. This belief made them more vehement in their proceedings against ministers, church-members, and persons of good repute, who were proved, by the overwhelming evidence of the "afflicted children" and the confessing witches, to have made a compact with the Devil. There is reason to fear that Mr. Burroughs, and all accused persons of the highest reputation before for piety and worth, especially all who had been professors of religion and accredited church-members, suffered more than others from the severity of the judges and executive officers of the law, and from the rage and hatred of the people. It was indeed necessary, in order to keep up the delusion and maintain the authority of the prosecutions, to break down the influence of those among the accused and the sufferers who had stood the highest, and bore themselves the best through the fiery ordeal of the examinations, trials, and executions.[ii.374]
It is indeed a very remarkable fact, which has justly been enlarged upon by several who have had their attention turned to this subject, that, of the whole number that suffered, none, in the final scene, lost their fortitude for a moment. Many were quite aged; a majority, women, of whom some, brought up in delicacy, were wholly unused to rough treatment or physical suffering. They must have undergone the most dreadful hardships, suddenly snatched from their families and homes; exposed to a torrent of false accusations imputing to them the most odious, shameful, and devilish crimes; made objects of the abhorrence of their neighbors, and, through the notoriety of the affair, of the world; carried to and fro, over rugged roads, from jail to jail, too often by unfeeling sub-officials; immured in crowded, filthy, and noisome prisons; heavily loaded with chains, in dungeons; left to endure insufficient attention to necessary personal wants, often with inadequate food and clothing; all expressions of sympathy for them withheld and forbidden,—those who ought to have been their comforters denouncing them in the most awful language, and consigning them to the doom of excommunication from the church on earth and from the hope of heaven. Surely, there have been few cases in the dark and mournful annals of human suffering and wrong, few instances of "man's inhumanity to man," to be compared with what the victims of this tragedy endured. Their bearing through the whole, from the arrest to the scaffold, reflects[ii.375] credit upon our common nature. The fact that Wardwell lost his firmness, for a time, ought not to exclude his name from the honored list. Its claim to be enrolled on it was nobly retrieved by his recantation, and his manly death.
There is one consideration that imparts a higher character to the deportment of these persons than almost any of the tests to which the firmness of the mind of man has ever been exposed. There was nothing outside of the mind to hold it up, but every thing to bear it down. All that they had in this world, all on which they could rest a hope for the next, was the consciousness of their innocence. Their fidelity to this sense of innocence—for a lie would have saved them—their unfaltering allegiance to this consciousness; the preservation of a calm, steadfast, serene mind; their faith and their prayers, rising above the maledictions of a maniac mob, in devotion to God and forgiveness to men, and, as in the case of Martha Corey and George Burroughs, in clear and collected expressions,—this was truly sublime. It was appreciated, at the time, by many a heart melted back to its humanity; and paved the way for the deliverance of the world, we trust for ever, from all such delusions, horrors, and spectacles. The sufferers in 1692 deserve to be held in grateful remembrance for having illustrated the dignity of which our nature is capable; for having shown that integrity of conscience is an armor which protects the peace of the soul against all the powers that can assail it; and for having given an[ii.376] example, that will be seen of all and in all times, of a courage, constancy, and faithfulness of which all are capable, and which can give the victory over infirmities of age, weaknesses and pains of body, and the most appalling combination of outrages to the mind and heart that can be accumulated by the violence and the wrath of man. Superstition and ignorance consigned their names to obloquy, and shrouded them in darkness. But the day has dawned; the shadows are passing away; truth has risen; the reign of superstition is over; and justice will be done to all who have been true to themselves, and stood fast to the integrity of their souls, even to the death.
The place selected for the executions is worthy of notice. It was at a considerable distance from the jail, and could be reached only by a circuitous and difficult route. It is a fatiguing enterprise to get at it now, although many passages that approach it from some directions have since been opened. But it was a point where the spectacle would be witnessed by the whole surrounding country far and near, being on the brow of the highest eminence in the vicinity of the town. As it was believed by the people generally that they were engaged in a great battle with Satan, one of whose titles was "the Prince of the Power of the Air," perhaps they chose that spot to execute his confederates, because, in going to that high point, they were flaunting him in his face, celebrating their triumph over him in his own realm. There is no contemporaneous nor immediately subsequent record, that[ii.377] the executions took place on the spot assigned by tradition; but that tradition has been uniform and continuous, and appears to be verified by a singular item of evidence that has recently come to light. A letter written by the late venerable Dr. Holyoke to a friend at a distance, dated Salem, Nov. 25, 1791, has found its way back to the possession of one of his grand-daughters, which contains the following passage: "In the last month, there died a man in this town, by the name of John Symonds, aged a hundred years lacking about six months, having been born in the famous '92. He has told me that his nurse had often told him, that, while she was attending his mother at the time she lay in with him, she saw, from the chamber windows, those unhappy people hanging on Gallows' Hill, who were executed for witches by the delusion of the times." John Symonds lived and died near the southern end of Beverly Bridge, on the south side of what is now Bridge Street. He was buried from his house, and Dr. Bentley made the funeral prayer, in which he is said to have used this language: "O God! the man who with his own hands felled the trees, and hewed the timbers, and erected the house in which we are now assembled, was the ancestor of him whose remains we are about to inter." It is inferrible from this that Symonds was born in the house from which he was buried. Gallows Hill, now "Witch Hill" is in full view from that spot, and would be from the chamber windows of a house there, at any time, even in the season when intervening trees were in their[ii.378] fullest foliage, while no other point in that direction would be discernible. From the only other locality of persons of the name of Symonds, at that time, in North Fields near the North Bridge, Witch Hill is also visible, and the only point in that direction that then would have been.
"Witch Hill" is a part of an elevated ledge of rock on the western side of the city of Salem, broken at intervals; beginning at Legg's Hill, and trending northerly. The turnpike from Boston enters Salem through one of the gaps in this ridge, which has been widened, deepened, and graded. North of the turnpike, it rises abruptly to a considerable elevation, called "Norman's Rocks." At a distance of between three and four hundred feet, it sinks again, making a wide and deep gulley; and then, about a third of a mile from the turnpike, it re-appears, in a precipitous and, at its extremity, inaccessible cliff, of the height of fifty or sixty feet. Its southern and western aspect, as seen from the rough land north of the turnpike, is given in the headpiece of the Third Part, at the beginning of this volume. Its sombre and desolate appearance admits of little variety of delineation. It is mostly a bare and naked ledge. At the top of this cliff, on the southern brow of the eminence, the executions are supposed to have taken place. The outline rises a little towards the north, but soon begins to fall off to the general level of the country. From that direction only can the spot be easily reached. It is hard to climb the western side, impossible to clamber[ii.379] up the southern face. Settlement creeps down from the north, and has partially ascended the eastern acclivity, but can never reach the brink. Scattered patches of soil are too thin to tempt cultivation, and the rock is too craggy and steep to allow occupation. An active and flourishing manufacturing industry crowds up to its base; but a considerable surface at the top will for ever remain an open space. It is, as it were, a platform raised high in air.
A magnificent panorama of ocean, island, headland, bay, river, town, field, and forest spreads out and around to view. On a clear summer day, the picture can scarcely be surpassed. Facing the sun and the sea, and the evidences of the love and bounty of Providence shining over the landscape, the last look of earth must have suggested to the sufferers a wide contrast between the mercy of the Creator and the wrath of his creatures. They beheld the face of the blessed God shining upon them in his works, and they passed with renewed and assured faith into his more immediate presence. The elevated rock, uplifted by the divine hand, will stand while the world stands, in bold relief, and can never be obscured by the encroachments of society or the structures of art,—a fitting memorial of their constancy.
When, in some coming day, a sense of justice, appreciation of moral firmness, sympathy for suffering innocence, the diffusion of refined sensibility, a discriminating discernment of what is really worthy of commemoration among men, a rectified taste, a gen[ii.380]erous public spirit, and gratitude for the light that surrounds and protects us against error, folly, and fanaticism, shall demand the rearing of a suitable monument to the memory of those who in 1692 preferred death to a falsehood, the pedestal for the lofty column will be found ready, reared by the Creator on a foundation that can never be shaken while the globe endures, or worn away by the elements, man, or time—the brow of Witch Hill. On no other spot could such a tribute be more worthily bestowed, or more conspicuously displayed.
The effects of the delusion upon the country at large were very disastrous. It cast its shadows over a broad surface, and they darkened the condition of generations. The material interests of the people long felt its blight. Breaking out at the opening of the season, it interrupted the planting and cultivating of the grounds. It struck an entire summer out of one year, and broke in upon another. The fields were neglected; fences, roads, barns, and even the meeting-house, went into disrepair. Burdens were accumulated upon the already over-taxed resources of the people. An actual scarcity of provisions, amounting almost to a famine, continued for some time to press upon families. Farms were brought under mortgage or sacrificed, and large numbers of the people were dispersed. One locality in the village, which was the scene of this wild and tragic fanaticism, bears to this day the marks of the blight then brought upon it. Although in the centre of a town exceeding almost[ii.381] all others in its agricultural development and thrift,—every acre elsewhere showing the touch of modern improvement and culture,—the "old meeting-house road," from the crossing of the Essex Railroad to the point where it meets the road leading north from Tapleyville, has to-day a singular appearance of abandonment. The Surveyor of Highways ignores it. The old, gray, moss-covered stone walls are dilapidated, and thrown out of line. Not a house is on either of its borders, and no gate opens or path leads to any. Neglect and desertion brood over the contiguous grounds. Indeed, there is but one house standing directly on the roadside until you reach the vicinity of the site of the old meeting-house; and that is owned and occupied by a family that bear the name and are the direct descendants of Rebecca Nurse. On both sides there are the remains of cellars, which declare that once it was lined by a considerable population. Along this road crowds thronged in 1692, for weeks and months, to witness the examinations.
The ruinous results were not confined to the village, but extended more or less over the country generally. Excitement, wrought up to consternation, spread everywhere. People left their business and families, and came from distant points, to gratify their curiosity, and enable themselves to form a judgment of the character of the phenomena here exhibited. Strangers from all parts swelled the concourse, gathered to behold the sufferings of "the afflicted" as manifested at the examinations; and flocked to the surrounding[ii.382] eminences and the grounds immediately in front of Witch Hill, to catch a view of the convicts as they approached the place selected for their execution, offered their dying prayers, and hung suspended high in air. Such scenes always draw together great multitudes. None have possessed a deeper, stronger, or stranger attraction; and never has the dread spectacle been held out to view over a wider area, or from so conspicuous a spot. The assembling of such multitudes so often, for such a length of time, and from such remote quarters, must have been accompanied and followed by wasteful, and in all respects deleterious, effects. The continuous or frequently repeated sessions of the magistrates, grand jury, and jury of trials; and the attendance of witnesses summoned from other towns, or brought from beyond the jurisdiction of the Province, and of families and parties interested specially in the proceedings,—must have occasioned an extensive and protracted interruption of the necessary industrial pursuits of society, and heavily increased the public burdens.
The destruction dealt upon particular families extended to so many as to constitute in the aggregate a vast, wide-spread calamity.[F]
The facts that belong to the story of the witchcraft delusion of 1692, or that may in any way explain or illustrate it, so far as they can be gathered from the imperfect and scattered records and papers that have come down to us, have now been laid before you. But there are one or two inquiries that force themselves upon thoughtful minds, which demand consideration before we close the subject.[ii.384]
What are we to think of those persons who commenced and continued the accusations,—the "afflicted children" and their associates?
In some instances and to some extent, the steps they took and the testimony they bore may be explained by referring to the mysterious energies of the imagination, the power of enthusiasm, the influence of sympathy, and the general prevalence of credulity,[ii.385] ignorance, superstition, and fanaticism at the time; and it is not probable, that, when they began, they had any idea of the tremendous length to which they were finally led on.
It was perhaps their original design to gratify a love of notoriety or of mischief by creating a sensation and excitement in their neighborhood, or, at the worst, to wreak their vengeance upon one or two individuals who had offended them. They soon, however, became intoxicated by the terrible success of their imposture, and were swept along by the frenzy they had occasioned. It would be much more congenial with our feelings to believe, that these misguided and wretched young persons early in the proceedings became themselves victims of the delusion into which they plunged every one else. But we are forbidden to form this charitable judgment by the manifestations of art and contrivance, of deliberate cunning and cool malice, they exhibited to the end. Once or twice they were caught in their own snare; and nothing but the blindness of the bewildered community saved them from disgraceful exposure and well-deserved punishment. They appeared as the prosecutors of every poor creature that was tried, and seemed ready to bear testimony against any one upon whom suspicion might happen to fall. It is dreadful to reflect upon the enormity of their wickedness, if they were conscious of imposture throughout. It seems to transcend the capabilities of human crime. There is, perhaps, a slumbering element in the heart of man,[ii.386] that sleeps for ever in the bosom of the innocent and good, and requires the perpetration of a great sin to wake it into action, but which, when once aroused, impels the transgressor onward with increasing momentum, as the descending ball is accelerated in its course. It may be that crime begets an appetite for crime, which, like all other appetites, is not quieted but inflamed by gratification.
Their precise moral condition, the degree of guilt to be ascribed, and the sentence to be passed upon them, can only be determined by a considerate review of all the circumstances and influences around them.
For a period embracing about two months, they had been in the habit of meeting together, and spending the long winter evenings, at Mr. Parris's house, practising the arts of fortune-telling, jugglery, and magic. What they had heard in the traditions and fables of a credulous and superstitious age,—stories handed down in the interior settlements, circulated in companies gathered around the hearths of farmhouses, indulging the excitements of terrified imaginations; filling each other's minds with wondrous tales of second-sight, ghosts and spirits from the unseen world, together with what the West-Indian or South-American slaves could add,—was for a long time the food of their fancies. They experimented continually upon what was the spiritualism of their day, and grew familiar with the imagery and the exhibitions of the marvellous. The prevalent notions concerning witch[ii.387]craft operations and spectral manifestations came into full effect among them. Living in the constant contemplation of such things, their minds became inflamed and bewildered; and, at the same time, they grew expert in practising and exhibiting the forms of pretended supernaturalism, the conditions of diabolical distraction, and the terrors of demonology. Apparitions rose before them, revealing the secrets of the past and of the future. They beheld the present spectres of persons then bodily far distant. They declared in language, fits, dreams, or trance, the immediate operations upon themselves of the Devil, by the agency of his confederates. Their sufferings, while thus under "an evil hand," were dreadful to behold, and soon drew wondering and horror-struck crowds around them.
At this point, if Mr. Parris, the ministers, and magistrates had done their duty, the mischief might have been stopped. The girls ought to have been rebuked for their dangerous and forbidden sorceries and divinations, their meetings broken up, and all such tamperings with alleged supernaturalism and spiritualism frowned down. Instead of this, the neighboring ministers were summoned to meet at Mr. Parris's house to witness the extraordinary doings of the girls, and all they did was to indorse, and pray over, them. Countenance was thus given to their pretensions, and the public confidence in the reality of their statements established. Magistrates from the town, church-members, leading people, and people of all sorts, flocked to witness the awful power of Satan, as displayed in[ii.388] the tortures and contortions of the "afflicted children;" who became objects of wonder, so far as their feats were regarded, and of pity in view of their agonies and convulsions.
The aspect of the evidence rather favors the supposition, that the girls originally had no design of accusing, or bringing injury upon, any one. But the ministers at Parris's house, physicians and others, began the work of destruction by pronouncing the opinion that they were bewitched. This carried with it, according to the received doctrine, a conviction that there were witches about; for the Devil could not act except through the instrumentality of beings in confederacy with him. Immediately, the girls were beset by everybody to say who it was that bewitched them. Yielding to this pressure, they first cried out upon such persons as might have been most naturally suggested to them,—Sarah Good, apparently without a regular home, and wandering with her children from house to house for shelter and relief; Sarah Osburn, a melancholy, broken-minded, bed-ridden person; and Tituba, a slave, probably of mixed African and Indian blood. At the examination of these persons, the girls were first brought before the public, and the awful power in their hands revealed to them. The success with which they acted their parts; the novelty of the scene; the ceremonials of the occasion, the magistrates in their imposing dignity and authority, the trappings of the marshal and his officers, the forms of proceeding,—all which they had never seen[ii.389] before; the notice taken of them; the importance attached to them; invested the affair with a strange fascination in their eyes, and awakened a new class of sentiments and ideas in their minds. A love of distinction and notoriety, and the several passions that are gratified by the expression by others of sympathy, wonder, and admiration, were brought into play. The fact that all eyes were upon them, with the special notice of the magistrates, and the entire confidence with which their statements were received, flattered and beguiled them. A fearful responsibility had been assumed, and they were irretrievably committed to their position. While they adhered to that position, their power was irresistible, and they were sure of the public sympathy and of being cherished by the public favor. If they faltered, they would be the objects of universal execration and of the severest penalties of law for the wrongs already done and the falsehoods already sworn to. There was no retracing their steps; and their only safety was in continuing the excitement they had raised. New victims were constantly required to prolong the delusion, fresh fuel to keep up the conflagration; and they went on to cry out upon others. With the exception of two of their number, who appear to have indulged spite against the families in which they were servants, there is no evidence that they were actuated by private grievances or by animosities personal to themselves. They were ready and sure to wreak vengeance upon any who expressed doubts about the truth of their[ii.390] testimony, or the propriety of the proceedings; but, beyond this, they were very indifferent as to whom they should accuse. They were willing, as to that matter, to follow the suggestions of others, and availed themselves of all the gossip and slander and unfriendly talk in their families that reached their ears. It was found, that a hint, with a little information as to persons, places, and circumstances, conveyed to them by those who had resentments and grudges to gratify, would be sufficient for the purpose. There is reason to fear, that there were some behind them, giving direction to the accusations, and managing the frightful machinery, all the way through. The persons who were apprehended had, to a considerable extent, been obnoxious, and subject to prejudice, in connection with quarrels and controversies related in Part I., vol. i. They were "Topsfield men," or the opponents of Bayley or of Parris, or more or less connected with some other feuds. As further proof that the girls were under the guidance of older heads, it is obvious, that there was, in the order of the proceedings, a skilful arrangement of times, sequences, and concurrents, that cannot be ascribed to them. No novelist or dramatist ever laid his plot deeper, distributed his characters more artistically, or conducted more methodically the progress of his story.
In the mean while, they were becoming every day more perfect in the performance of their parts; and their imaginative powers, nervous excitability, and flexibility and rapidity of muscular action, were kept[ii.391] under constant stimulus, and attaining a higher development. The effect of these things, so long continued in connection with the perpetual pretence, becoming more or less imbued with the character of belief, of their alliance and communion with spiritual beings and manifestations, may have unsettled, to some extent, their minds. Added to this, a sense of the horrid consequences of their actions, accumulating with every pang they inflicted, the innocent blood they were shedding, and the depths of ruin into which they were sinking themselves and others, not only demoralized, but to some extent, perhaps, crazed them. It is truly a marvel that their physical constitutions did not break down under the exhausting excitements, the contortions of frame, the force to which the bodily functions were subjected in trances and fits, and the strain upon all the vital energies, protracted through many months. The wonder, however, would have been greater, if the mental and moral balance had not thereby been disturbed.
Perpetual conversance with ideas of supernaturalism; daily and nightly communications, whether in the form of conscious imposture or honest delusion, with the spiritual world, continued through a great length of time,—as much at least as the exclusive contemplation of any one idea or class of ideas,—must be allowed to be unsalutary. Whatever keeps the thoughts wholly apart from the objects of real and natural life, and absorbs them in abstractions, cannot be favorable to the soundness of the faculties or the tone of the[ii.392] mind. This must especially be the effect, if the subjects thus monopolizing the attention partake of the marvellous and mysterious. When these things are considered, and the external circumstances of the occasion, the wild social excitement, the consternation, confusion, and horror, that were all crowded and heaped up and kept pressing upon the soul without intermission for months, the wonder is, indeed, that not only the accusers, prosecutors, and sufferers, but the whole people, did not lose their senses. Never was the great boon of life, a sound mind in a sound body, more liable to be snatched away from all parties. The depositions of Ann Putnam, Sr., have a tinge of sadness;—a melancholy, sickly mania running through them. Something of the kind is, perhaps, more or less discernible in the depositions of others.
Let us, then, relieve our common nature from the load of the imputation, that, in its normal state, it is capable of such inconceivable wickedness, by giving to these wretched persons the benefit of the supposition that they were more or less deranged. This view renders the lesson they present more impressive and alarming. Sin in all cases, when considered by a mind that surveys the whole field, is itself insanity. In the case of these accusers, it was so great as to prove, by its very monstrousness, that it had actually subverted their nature and overthrown their reason. They followed their victims to the gallows, and jeered, scoffed, insulted them in their dying hours. Sarah Churchill, according to the testimony of Sarah Inger[ii.393]soll, on one occasion came to herself, and manifested the symptoms of a restored moral consciousness: but it was a temporary gleam, a lucid interval; and she passed back into darkness, continuing, as before, to revel in falsehood, and scatter destruction around her. With this single exception, there is not the slightest appearance of compunction or reflection among them. On the contrary, they seem to have been in a frivolous, sportive, gay frame of thought and spirits. There is, perhaps, in this view of their conduct and demeanor, something to justify the belief that they were really demented. The fact that a large amount of skilful art and adroit cunning was displayed by them is not inconsistent with the supposition that they had become partially insane; for such cunning and art are often associated with insanity.
The quick wit and ready expedients of the "afflicted children" are very remarkable. They were prompt with answers, if any attempted to cross-examine them, extricated themselves most ingeniously if ever brought into embarrassment, and eluded all efforts to entrap or expose them. Among the papers is a deposition, the use of which at the trials is not apparent. It does not purport to bear upon any particular case. Joseph Hutchinson was a firm-minded man, of strong common sense. He could not easily be deceived; and, although he took part in the proceedings at the beginning, soon became opposed to them. It looks as if, by close questions put to the child, Abigail Williams, on some occasion of his casually meeting her, he had tried[ii.394] to expose the falseness of her accusations, and that he was made to put the conversation into the shape of a deposition. It is as follows:—
"The Deposition of Joseph Hutchinson, aged fifty-nine years, do testify as followeth: "Abigail Williams, I have heard you speak often of a book that has been offered to you. She said that there were two books: one was a short, thick book; and the other was a long book. I asked her what color the book was of. She said the books were as red as blood. I asked her if she had seen the books opened. She said she had seen it many times. I asked her if she did see any writing in the book. She said there were many lines written; and, at the end of every line, there was a seal. I asked her, who brought the book to her. She told me that it was the black man. I asked her who the black man was. She told me it was the Devil. I asked her if she was not afraid to see the Devil. She said, at the first she was, and did go from him; but now she was not afraid, but could talk with him as well as she could with me."
There is an air of ease and confidence in the answers of Abigail, which illustrates the promptness of invention and assurance of their grounds which the girls manifested on all occasions. They were never at a loss, and challenged scrutiny. Hutchinson gained no advantage, and no one else ever did, in an encounter with them.
Whatever opinion may be formed of the moral or mental condition of the "afflicted children," as to their sanity and responsibility, there can be no doubt that they were great actors. In mere jugglery and[ii.395] sleight of hand, they bear no mean comparison with the workers of wonders, in that line, of our own day. Long practice had given them complete control over their countenances, intonations of voice, and the entire muscular and nervous organization of their bodies; so that they could at will, and on the instant, go into fits and convulsions, swoon and fall to the floor, put their frames into strange contortions, bring the blood to the face, and send it back again. They could be deadly pale at one moment, at the next flushed; their hands would be clenched and held together as with a vice; their limbs stiff and rigid or wholly relaxed; their teeth would be set; they would go through the paroxysms of choking and strangulation, and gasp for breath, bringing froth and blood from the mouth; they would utter all sorts of screams in unearthly tones; their eyes remain fixed, sometimes bereft of all light and expression, cold and stony, and sometimes kindled into flames of passion; they would pass into the state of somnambulism, without aim or conscious direction in their movements, looking at some point, where was no apparent object of vision, with a wild, unmeaning glare. There are some indications that they had acquired the art of ventriloquism; or they so wrought upon the imaginations of the beholders, that the sounds of the motions and voices of invisible beings were believed to be heard. They would start, tremble, and be pallid before apparitions, seen, of course, only by themselves; but their acting was so perfect that all present thought they saw them too. They would[ii.396] address and hold colloquy with spectres and ghosts; and the responses of the unseen beings would be audible to the fancy of the bewildered crowd. They would follow with their eyes the airy visions, so that others imagined they also beheld them. This was surely a high dramatic achievement. Their representations of pain, and every form and all the signs and marks of bodily suffering,—as in the case of Ann Putnam's arm, and the indentations of teeth on the flesh in many instances,—utterly deceived everybody; and there were men present who could not easily have been imposed upon. The Attorney-general was a barrister fresh from Inns of Court in London. Deodat Lawson had seen something of the world; so had Joseph Herrick. Joseph Hutchinson was a sharp, stern, and sceptical observer. John Putnam was a man of great practical force and discrimination; so was his brother Nathaniel, and others of the village. Besides, there were many from Boston and elsewhere competent to detect a trick; but none could discover any imposture in the girls. Sarah Nurse swore that she saw Goody Bibber cheat in the matter of the pins; but Bibber did not belong to the village, and was a bungling interloper. The accusing girls showed extraordinary skill, ingenuity, and fancy in inventing the stories to which they testified, and seemed to have been familiar with the imagery which belonged to the literature of demonology. This has led some to suppose that they must have had access to books treating the subject. Our fathers abhorred, with a perfect hatred, all theatrical exhibitions. It would[ii.397] have filled them with horror to propose going to a play. But unwittingly, week after week, month in and month out, ministers, deacons, brethren, and sisters of the church rushed to Nathaniel Ingersoll's, to the village and town meeting-houses, and to Thomas Beadle's Globe Tavern, and gazed with wonder, awe, and admiration upon acting such as has seldom been surpassed on the boards of any theatre, high or low, ancient or modern.
There is another aspect that perplexes and confounds the judgments of all who read the story. It is this: As it is at present the universal opinion that the whole of this witchcraft transaction was a delusion, having no foundation whatever but in the imaginations and passions; and as it is now certain, that all the accused, both the condemned and the pardoned, were entirely innocent,—how can it be explained that so many were led to confess themselves guilty? The answer to this question is to be found in those general principles which have led the wisest legislators and jurists to the conclusion, that, although on their face and at first thought, they appear to be the very best kind of evidence, yet, maturely considered, confessions made under the hope of a benefit, and sometime even without the impulses of such a hope, are to be received with great caution and wariness. Here were fifty-five persons, who declared themselves guilty of a capital, nay, a diabolical crime, of which we know they were innocent. It is probable that the motive of self-preservation influenced most of them. An[ii.398] awful death was in immediate prospect. There was no escape from the wiles of the accusers. The delusion had obtained full possession of the people, the jury, and the Court. By acknowledging a compact with Satan, they could in a moment secure their lives and liberty. It was a position which only the firmest minds could safely occupy. The principles and the prowess of ordinary characters could not withstand the temptation and the pressure. They yielded, and were saved from an impending and terrible death.
As these confessions had a decisive effect in precipitating the public mind into the depths of its delusion, gave a fatal power to the accusers, and carried the proceedings to the horrible extremities which have concentrated upon them the attention of the world, they assume an importance in the history of the affair that demands a full and thorough exposition. At the examination of Ann Foster, at Salem Village, on the 15th of July, 1692, the following confession was, "after a while," extorted from her. It was undoubtedly the result of the overwhelming effect of the horrors of her condition upon a distressed and half-crazed mind. It shows the staple materials of which confessions were made, and the forms of absurd superstition with which the imaginations of people were then filled:—
The Devil appeared to her in the shape of a bird at several times,—such a bird as she never saw the like before; and she had had this gift (viz., of striking the afflicted down with her eye) ever since. Being asked why she thought that bird was the Devil, she answered, because he came[ii.399] white and vanished away black; and that the Devil told her she should have this gift, and that she must believe him, and told her she should have prosperity: and she said that he had appeared to her three times, and always as a bird, and the last time about half a year since, and sat upon a table,—had two legs and great eyes, and that it was the second time of his appearance that he promised her prosperity. She further stated, that it was Goody Carrier that made her a witch. She told her, that, if she would not be a witch, the Devil would tear her to pieces, and carry her away,—at which time she promised to serve the Devil; that she was at the meeting of the witches at Salem Village; that Goody Carrier came, and told her of the meeting, and would have her go: so they got upon sticks, and went said journey, and, being there, did see Mr. Burroughs, the minister, who spake to them all; that there were then twenty-five persons met together; that she tied a knot in a rag, and threw it into the fire to hurt Timothy Swan, and that she did hurt the rest that complained of her by squeezing puppets like them, and so almost choked them; that she and Martha Carrier did both ride on a stick or pole when they went to the witch-meeting at Salem Village, and that the stick broke as they were carried in the air above the tops of the trees, and they fell: but she did hang fast about the neck of Goody Carrier, and they were presently at the village; that she had heard some of the witches say that there were three hundred and five in the whole country, and that they would ruin that place, the village; that there were also present at that meeting two men besides Mr. Burroughs, the minister, and one of them had gray hair; and that the discourse among the witches at the meeting in Salem Village was, that they would afflict there to set up the Devil's kingdom.
The confession of which the foregoing is the substance appears to have been drawn out at four several examinations on different days, during which she was induced by the influences around her to make her testimony more and more extravagant at each successive examination. Her daughter, Mary Lacy, called Goody Lacy, was brought up on the charge of witchcraft at the same time; and, upon finding the mother confessing, she saw that her only safety was in confessing also. When confronted, the daughter cried out to the mother, "We have forsaken Jesus Christ, and the Devil hath got hold of us. How shall we get clear of this Evil One?" She proceeded to say that she had accompanied her mother and Goody Carrier, all three riding together on the pole, to Salem Village. She then made the following statement: "About three or four years ago, she saw Mistress Bradbury, Goody Howe, and Goody Nurse baptized by the old Serpent at Newbury Falls; that he dipped their heads in the water, and then said they were his, and he had power over them; that there were six baptized at that time, who were some of the chief or higher powers, and that there might be near about a hundred in company at that time." It being asked her "after what manner she went to Newbury Falls," she answered, "the Devil carried her in his arms." She said, that, "if she did take a rag, and roll it up together, and imagine it to represent such and such a person, then that, whatsoever she did to that rag so rolled up, the person represented thereby would be[ii.401] in like manner afflicted." Her daughter, also named Mary Lacy, followed the example of her mother and grandmother, and made confession.
An examination of the confessions shows, that, when accused persons made up their minds to confess, they saw, that, to make their safety secure, it was necessary to go the whole length of the popular superstition and fanaticism. In many instances, they appear to have fabricated their stories with much ingenuity and tact, making them tally with the statements of the accusers, adding points and items that gave an air of truthfulness, and falling in with current notions and fancies. They were undoubtedly under training by the girls, and were provided with the materials of their testimony. Their depositions are valuable, inasmuch as they enable us to collect about the whole of the notions then prevalent on the subject. If, in delivering their evidences, any prompting was needed, the accusers were at their elbows, and helped them along in their stories. If, in any particular, they were in danger of contradicting themselves or others, they were checked or diverted. In one case, a confessing witch was damaging her own testimony, whereupon one of the afflicted cried out that she saw the shapes or apparitions of other witches interfering with her utterance. The witness took the hint, pretended to have lost the power of expressing herself, and was removed from the stand.
In some cases, the confessing witches showed great adroitness, and knowledge of human nature. When[ii.402] a leading minister was visiting them in the prison, one of them cried out as he passed her cell, calling him by name, "Oh! I remember a text you preached on in England, twenty years since, from these words: 'Your sin will find you out;' for I find it to be true in my own case." This skilful compliment, showing the power of his preaching making an impression which time could not efface, was no doubt flattering to the good man, and secured for her his favorable influence.
Justice requires that their own explanation of the influences which led them to confess should not be withheld.
The following declaration of six women belonging to Andover is accompanied by a paper signed by more than fifty of the most respectable inhabitants of that town, testifying to their good character, in which it is said that "by their sober, godly, and exemplary conversation, they have obtained a good report in the place, where they have been well esteemed and approved in the church of which they are members:"—
"We whose names are underwritten, inhabitants of Andover, when as that horrible and tremendous judgment, beginning at Salem Village, in the year 1692, by some called witchcraft, first breaking forth at Mr. Parris's house, several young persons, being seemingly afflicted, did accuse several persons for afflicting them; and many there believing it so to be, we being informed, that, if a person was sick, the afflicted person could tell what or who was the cause of that sickness: John Ballard of Andover, his wife being[ii.403] sick at the same time, he, either from himself, or by the advice of others, fetched two of the persons called the afflicted persons from Salem Village to Andover, which was the beginning of that dreadful calamity that befell us in Andover, believing the said accusations to be true, sent for the said persons to come together to the meeting-house in Andover, the afflicted persons being there. After Mr. Barnard had been at prayer, we were blindfolded, and our hands were laid upon the afflicted persons, they being in their fits, and falling into their fits at our coming into their presence, as they said: and some led us, and laid our hands upon them; and then they said they were well, and that we were guilty of afflicting them. Whereupon we were all seized as prisoners, by a warrant from the justice of the peace, and forthwith carried to Salem; and by reason of that sudden surprisal, we knowing ourselves altogether innocent of that crime, we were all exceedingly astonished and amazed, and consternated and affrighted, even out of our reason; and our nearest and dearest relations, seeing us in that dreadful condition, and knowing our great danger, apprehended there was no other way to save our lives, as the case was then circumstanced, but by our confessing ourselves to be such and such persons as the afflicted represented us to be, they, out of tenderness and pity, persuaded us to confess what we did confess. And, indeed, that confession that it is said we made was no other than what was suggested to us by some gentlemen, they telling us that we were witches, and they knew it, and we knew it, which made us think that it was so; and, our understandings, our reason, our faculties almost gone, we were not capable of judging of our condition; as also the hard measures they used with us rendered us incapable of making our defence, but said any thing, and[ii.404] every thing which they desired, and most of what we said was but in effect a consenting to what they said. Some time after, when we were better composed, they telling us what we had confessed, we did profess that we were innocent and ignorant of such things; and we hearing that Samuel Wardwell had renounced his confession, and was quickly after condemned and executed, some of us were told we were going after Wardwell.
The means employed, and the influences brought to bear upon persons accused, were, in many cases, such as wholly to overpower them, and to relieve their confessions, to a great extent, of a criminal character. They were scarcely responsible moral agents. In the month of October, Increase Mather came to Salem, to confer with the confessing witches in prison. The result of his examinations is preserved in a document of which he is supposed to have been the author. The following extracts afford some explanation of the whole subject:—
"Goodwife Tyler did say, that, when she was first apprehended, she had no fears upon her, and did think that nothing could have made her confess against herself. But since, she had found, to her great grief, that she had wronged the truth, and falsely accused herself. She said that, when she was brought to Salem, her brother Bridges rode with her; and that, all along the way from Andover to Salem,[ii.405] her brother kept telling her that she must needs be a witch, since the afflicted accused her, and at her touch were raised out of their fits, and urging her to confess herself a witch. She as constantly told him that she was no witch, that she knew nothing of witchcraft, and begged him not to urge her to confess. However, when she came to Salem, she was carried to a room, where her brother on one side, and Mr. John Emerson on the other side, did tell her that she was certainly a witch, and that she saw the Devil before her eyes at that time (and, accordingly, the said Emerson would attempt with his hand to beat him away from her eyes); and they so urged her to confess, that she wished herself in any dungeon, rather than be so treated. Mr. Emerson told her, once and again, 'Well, I see you will not confess! Well, I will now leave you; and then you are undone, body and soul, for ever.' Her brother urged her to confess, and told her that, in so doing, she could not lie: to which she answered, 'Good brother, do not say so; for I shall lie if I confess, and then who shall answer unto God for my lie?' He still asserted it, and said that God would not suffer so many good men to be in such an error about it, and that she would be hanged if she did not confess; and continued so long and so violently to urge and press her to confess, that she thought, verily, that her life would have gone from her, and became so terrified in her mind that she owned, at length, almost any thing that they propounded to her; that she had wronged her conscience in so doing; she was guilty of a great sin in belying of herself, and desired to mourn for it so long as she lived. This she said, and a great deal more of the like nature; and all with such affection, sorrow, relenting, grief, and mourning, as that it exceeds any pen to describe and express the same."[ii.406]
"Goodwife Wilson said that she was in the dark as to some things in her confession. Yet she asserted that, knowingly, she never had familiarity with the Devil; that, knowingly, she never consented to the afflicting of any person, &c. However, she said that truly she was in the dark as to the matter of her being a witch. And being asked how she was in the dark, she replied, that the afflicted persons crying out of her as afflicting them made her fearful of herself; and that was all that made her say that she was in the dark."
"Goodwife Bridges said that she had confessed against herself things which were all utterly false; and that she was brought to her confession by being told that she certainly was a witch, and so made to believe it,—though she had no other grounds so to believe."
Some explanation of the details which those, prevailed upon to confess, put into their testimony, and which seemed, at the time, to establish and demonstrate the truth of their statements, is afforded by what Mary Osgood is reported, by Increase Mather, to have said to him on this occasion:—
"Being asked why she prefixed a time, and spake of her being baptized, &c., about twelve years since, she replied and said, that, when she had owned the thing, they asked the time, to which she answered that she knew not the time. But, being told that she did know the time, and must tell the time, and the like, she considered that about twelve years before (when she had her last child) she had a fit of sickness, and was melancholy; and so thought that that time might be as proper a time to mention as any, and accordingly did prefix the said time. Being asked about[ii.407] the cat, in the shape of which she had confessed that the Devil had appeared to her, &c., she replied, that, being told that the Devil had appeared to her, and must needs appear to her, &c. (she being a witch), she at length did own that the Devil had appeared to her; and, being pressed to say in what creature's shape he appeared, she at length did say that it was in the shape of a cat. Remembering that, some time before her being apprehended, as she went out at her door, she saw a cat, &c.; not as though she any whit suspected the said cat to be the Devil, in the day of it, but because some creature she must mention, and this came into her mind at that time."
This poor woman, as well as several others, besides Goodwife Tyler, who denied and renounced their confessions, manifested, as Dr. Mather affirms, the utmost horror and anguish at the thought that they could have been so wicked as to have belied themselves, and brought injury upon others by so doing. They "bewailed and lamented their accusing of others, about whom they never knew any evil" in their lives. They proved the sincerity of their repentance by abandoning and denouncing their confessions, and thus offering their lives as a sacrifice to atone for their falsehood. They were then awaiting their trial; and there seemed no escape from the awful fate which had befallen all persons brought to trial before, and who had not confessed or had withdrawn their confession. Fortunately for them, the Court did not meet again in 1692; and they were acquitted at the regular session, in the January following.[ii.408]
In one of Calef's tracts, he sums up his views, on the subject of the confessions, as follows:—
"Besides the powerful argument of life (and freedom from hardships, not only promised, but also performed to all that owned their guilt), there are numerous instances of the tedious examinations before private persons, many hours together; they all that time urging them to confess (and taking turns to persuade them), till the accused were wearied out by being forced to stand so long, or for want of sleep, &c., and so brought to give assent to what they said; they asking them, 'Were you at such a witch meeting?' or, 'Have you signed the Devil's book?' &c. Upon their replying 'Yes,' the whole was drawn into form, as their confession."
This accounts for the similarity of construction and substance of the confessions generally.
"But that which did mightily further such confessions was their nearest relations urging them to it. These, seeing no other way of escape for them, thought it the best advice that could be given; hence it was, that the husbands of some, by counsel, often urging, and utmost earnestness, and children upon their knees intreating, have at length prevailed with them to say they were guilty."
One of the most painful things in the whole affair was, that the absolute conviction of the guilt of the persons accused, pervading the community, took full effect upon the minds of many relatives and friends. They did not consider it as a matter of the least possible doubt. They therefore looked upon it as wicked[ii.409] obstinacy not to confess, and, in this sense, an additional and most conclusive evidence of a mind alienated from truth and wholly given over to Satan. This turned natural love and previous friendships into resentment, indignation, and abhorrence, which left the unhappy prisoners in a condition where only the most wonderful clearness of conviction and strength of character could hold them up. And, in many cases where they yielded, it was not from unworthy fear, or for self-preservation, but because their judgment was overthrown, and their minds in complete subjection and prostration.
There can, indeed, hardly be a doubt, that, in some instances, the confessing persons really believed themselves guilty. To explain this, we must look into the secret chambers of the human soul; we must read the history of the imagination, and consider its power over the understanding. We must transport ourselves to the dungeon, and think of its dark and awful walls, its dreary hours, its tedious loneliness, its heavy and benumbing fetters and chains, its scanty fare, and all its dismal and painful circumstances. We must reflect upon their influence over a terrified and agitated, an injured and broken spirit. We must think of the situation of the poor prisoner, cut off from hope; hearing from all quarters, and at all times, morning, noon, and night, that there is no doubt of his guilt; surrounded and overwhelmed by accusations and evidence, gradually but insensibly mingling and confounding the visions and vagaries of his troubled[ii.410] dreams with the reveries of his waking hours, until his reason becomes obscured, his recollections are thrown into derangement, his mind loses the power of distinguishing between what is perpetually told him by others and what belongs to the suggestions of his own memory: his imagination at last gains complete ascendency over his other faculties, and he believes and declares himself guilty of crimes of which he is as innocent as the child unborn. The history of the transaction we have been considering, affords a clear illustration of the truth and reasonableness of this explanation.
The facility with which persons can be persuaded, by perpetually assailing them with accusations of the truth of a charge, in reality not true, even when it is made against themselves, has been frequently noticed. Addison, in one of the numbers of his "Spectator," speaks of it in connection with our present subject: "When an old woman," says he, "begins to dote, and grow chargeable to a parish, she is generally turned into a witch, and fills the whole country with extravagant fancies, imaginary distempers, and terrifying dreams. In the mean time, the poor wretch that is the innocent occasion of so many evils begins to be frighted at herself, and sometimes confesses secret commerces and familiarities that her imagination forms in a delirious old age. This frequently cuts off charity from the greatest objects of compassion, and inspires people with a malevolence towards those poor, decrepit parts of our species[ii.411] in whom human nature is defaced by infirmity and dotage."
This passage is important, in addition to the bearing it has upon the point we have been considering, as describing the state of opinion and feeling in England twenty years after the folly had been exploded here. In another number of the same series of essays, he bears evidence, that the superstitions which here came to a head in 1692 had long been prevalent in the mother-country: "Our forefathers looked upon nature with more reverence and horror before the world was enlightened by learning and philosophy, and loved to astonish themselves with the apprehensions of witchcraft, prodigies, charms, and enchantments. There was not a village in England that had not a ghost in it; the churchyards were all haunted; every large common had a circle of fairies belonging to it; and there was scarce a shepherd to be met with who had not seen a spirit." These fancies still linger in the minds of some in the Old World and in the New.
After allowing for the utmost extent of prevalent superstitions, the exaggerations incident to a state of general excitement, and the fertile inventive faculties of the accusing girls, there is much in the evidence that cannot easily be accounted for. In other cases than that of Westgate, we find the symptoms of that bewildered condition of the senses and imagination not at all surprising or unusual in the experience of men staggering home in midnight hours from tavern haunts. Disturbed dreams were, it is[ii.412] not improbable, a fruitful source of delusion. A large part of the evidence is susceptible of explanation by the supposition, that the witnesses had confounded the visions of their sleeping, with the actual observations and occurrences of their waking hours. At the trial of Susanna Martin, it was in evidence, that one John Kembal had agreed to purchase a puppy from the prisoner, but had afterwards fallen back from his bargain, and procured a puppy from some other person, and that Martin was heard to say, "If I live, I will give him puppies enough." The circumstances seem to me to render it probable, that the following piece of evidence given by Kembal, and to which the Court attached great weight, was the result of a nightmare occasioned by his apprehension and dread of the fulfilment of the reported threat:—
"I, this deponent, coming from his intended house in the woods to Edmund Elliot's house where I dwelt, about the sunset or presently after; and there did arise a little black cloud in the north-west, and a few drops of rain, and the wind blew pretty hard. In going between the house of John Weed and the meeting-house, this deponent came by several stumps of trees by the wayside; and he by impulse he can give no reason of, that made him tumble over the stumps one after another, though he had his axe upon his shoulder which put him in much danger, and made him resolved to avoid the next, but could not.
"And, when he came a little below the meeting-house, there did appear a little thing like a puppy, of a darkish color. It shot between my legs forward and backward, as[ii.413] one that were dancing the hay.[G] And this deponent, being free from all fear, used all possible endeavors to cut it with his axe, but could not hurt it; and, as he was thus laboring with his axe, the puppy gave a little jump from him, and seemed to go into the ground.
"In a little further going, there did appear a black puppy, somewhat bigger than the first, but as black as a coal to his apprehension, which came against him with such violence as its quick motions did exceed his motions of his axe, do what he could. And it flew at his belly, and away, and then at his throat and over his shoulder one way, and go off, and up at it again another way; and with such quickness, speed, and violence did it assault him, as if it would tear out his throat or his belly. A good while, he was without fear; but, at last, I felt my heart to fail and sink under it, that I thought my life was going out. And I recovered myself, and gave a start up, and ran to the fence, and calling upon God and naming the name Jesus Christ, and then it invisibly away. My meaning is, it ceased at once; but this deponent made it not known to anybody, for fretting his wife."[H]
We are all exposed to the danger of confounding the impressions left by the imagination, when, set free from all confinement, it runs wild in dreams, with the actual experiences of wakeful faculties in real life. It is a topic worthy the consideration of writers on evidence, and of legal tribunals. So also is the effect, upon the personal consciousness, of the continued[ii.415] repetition of the same story, or of hearing it repeated by others. Instances are given in books,—perhaps can be recalled by our own individual experience or observation,—in which what was originally a delibe[ii.416]rate fabrication of falsehood or of fancy has come, at last, to be regarded as a veritable truth and a real occurrence.
A thorough and philosophical treatise on the subject of evidence is, in view of these considerations, much needed. The liability all men are under to confound the fictions of their imaginations with the realities of actual observation is not understood with sufficient clearness by the community; and, so long as it is not understood and regarded, serious mistakes and inconveniences will be apt to occur in seasons of general excitement. We are still disposed to attribute more importance than we ought to strong convictions, without stopping to inquire whether they may not be in reality delusions of the understanding. The cause of truth demands a more thorough examination of this whole subject. The visions that appeared before the mind of the celebrated Colonel Gardiner are still regarded by the generality of pious people as evidence of miraculous interposition, while, just so far as they are evidence to that point, so far is the authority of Christianity overthrown; for it is a fact, that Lord Herbert of Cherbury believed with equal sincerity and confidence that he had been vouchsafed a similar vision sanctioning his labors, when about to publish what has been pronounced one of the most powerful attacks ever made upon our religion. It is dangerous to advance arguments in favor of any cause which may be founded upon nothing better than the reveries of an ardent imagination![ii.417]
The phenomena of dreams, of the exercises and convictions which occupy the mind, while the avenues of the senses are closed, and the soul is more or less extricated from its connection with the body, particularly in the peculiar conditions of partial slumber, are among the deep mysteries of human experience. The writers on mental philosophy have not given them the attention they deserve.
The testimony in these trials is particularly valuable as showing the power of the imagination to completely deceive and utterly falsify the senses of sober persons, when wide awake and in broad daylight. The following deposition was given in Court under oath. The parties testifying were of unquestionable respectability. The man was probably a brother of James Bayley, the first minister of the Salem Village parish.
"The Deposition of Joseph Bayley, aged forty-four years.—Testifieth and saith, that, on the twenty-fifth day of May last, myself and my wife being bound to Boston, on the road, when I came in sight of the house where John Procter did live, there was a very hard blow struck on my breast, which caused great pain in my stomach and amazement in my head, but did see no person near me, only my wife behind me on the same horse; and, when I came against said Procter's house, according to my understanding, I did see John Procter and his wife at said house. Procter himself looked out of the window, and his wife did stand just without the door. I told my wife of it; and she did look that way, and could see nothing but a little maid at[ii.418] the door. Afterwards, about half a mile from the aforesaid house, I was taken speechless for some short time. My wife did ask me several questions, and desired me, that, if I could not speak, I should hold up my hand; which I did, and immediately I could speak as well as ever. And, when we came to the way where Salem road cometh into Ipswich road, there I received another blow on my breast, which caused so much pain that I could not sit on my horse. And, when I did alight off my horse, to my understanding, I saw a woman coming towards us about sixteen or twenty pole from us, but did not know who it was: my wife could not see her. When I did get up on my horse again, to my understanding, there stood a cow where I saw the woman. After that, we went to Boston without any further molestation; but, after I came home again to Newbury, I was pinched and nipped by something invisible for some time: but now, through God's goodness to me, I am well again.—Jurat in curia by both persons."
Bayley and his wife were going to Boston on election week. It was a good two days' journey from Newbury, as the roads then were, and riding as they did. According to the custom of the times, she was mounted on a pillion behind him. They had probably passed the night at the house of Sergeant Thomas Putnam, with whom he was connected by marriage. It was at the height of the witchcraft delirium. Thomas Putnam's house was the very focus of it. There they had listened to highly wrought accounts of its wonders and terrors, had witnessed the amazing phenomena exhibited by Ann Putnam and Mercy Lewis, and their minds been filled with images of[ii.419] spectres of living witches, and ghosts of the dead. They had seen with their own eyes the tortures of the girls under cruel diabolical influence, of which they had heard so much, and realized the dread outbreak of Satan and his agents upon the lives and souls of men.
They started the next morning on their way through the gloomy woods and over the solitary road. It was known that they were to pass the house of John Procter, believed to be a chief resort of devilish spirits. Oppressed with terror and awe, Bayley was on the watch, his heart in his mouth. The moment he came in sight, his nervous agitation reached its climax; and he experienced the shock he describes. When he came opposite to the house, to his horror there was Procter looking at him from the window, and Procter's wife standing outside of the door. He knew, that, in their proper persons and natural bodies, they were, at that moment, both of them, and had been, for six weeks, in irons, in one of the cells of the jail at Boston. Bayley's wife, from her position on the pillion behind him, had her face directed to the other side of the road. He told her what he saw. She looked round to the house, and could see nothing but a little maid at the door. After one or two more fits of fright, he reached the Lynn road, had escaped from the infernal terrors of the infected region, and his senses resumed their natural functions. It was several days before his nervous agitations ceased. Altogether, this is a remarkable case of hallucination:[ii.420] showing that the wildest fancies brought before the mind in dreams may be paralleled in waking hours; and that mental excitement may, even then, close the avenues of the senses, exclude the perception of reality, and substitute unsubstantial visions in the place of actual and natural objects.
There may be an interest in some minds to know who the "little maid at the door" was. The elder children of John Procter were either married off, or lived on his farm at Ipswich, with the exception of Benjamin, his oldest son, who remained with his father on the Salem farm. Benjamin had been imprisoned two days before Bayley passed the house. Four days before, Sarah, sixteen years of age, had also been arrested, and committed to jail. This left only William, eighteen years of age, who, three days after, was himself put into prison; Samuel, seven; Abigail, between three and four years of age; and one still younger. No female of the family was then at the house older than Abigail. This poor deserted child was "the little maid." Curiosity to see the passing strangers, or possibly the hope that they might be her father and mother, or her brother and sister, brought her to the door.
In the terrible consequences that resulted from the mischievous, and perhaps at the outset merely sportive, proceedings of the children in Mr. Parris's family, we have a striking illustration of the principle, that no one can foretell, with respect either to himself or others, the extent of the suffering and injury that may[ii.421] be occasioned by the least departure from truth, or from the practice of deception. In the horrible succession of crimes through which those young persons were led to pass, in the depth of depravity to which they were thrown, we discern the fate that endangers all who enter upon a career of wickedness.
No one can have an adequate knowledge of the human mind, who has not contemplated its developments in scenes like those that have now been related. It may be said of the frame of our spiritual, even with more emphasis than of our corporeal nature, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. In the maturity of his bodily and mental organization, health gliding through his veins, strength and symmetry clothing his form, intelligence beaming from his countenance, and immortality stamped on his brow, man is indeed the noblest work of God. In the degradation and corruption to which he can descend, he is the most odious and loathsome object in the creation. The human mind, when all its faculties are fully developed and in proper proportions, reason seated on its rightful throne and shedding abroad its light, memory embracing the past, hope smiling upon the future, faith leaning on Heaven, and the affections diffusing through all their gentle warmth, is worthy of its source, deserves its original title of "image of God," and is greater and better than the whole material universe. It is nobler than all the works of God; for it is an emanation, a part of God himself, "a ray from the fountain of light." But where, I[ii.422] ask, can you find a more deplorable and miserable object than the mind in ruins, tossed by its own rebellious principles, and distorted by the monstrously unequal development of its faculties? You will look in vain upon the earthquake, the volcano, or the hurricane, for those elements of the awful and terrible which are manifested in a community of men whose passions have trampled upon their principles, whose imaginations have overthrown the government of reason, and who are swept along by the torrent until all order and security are swallowed up and lost. Such a spectacle we have now been witnessing. We have seen the whole population of this place and vicinity yielding to the sway of their credulous fancies, allowing their passions to be worked up to a tremendous pitch of excitement, and rushing into excesses of folly and violence that have left a stain on their memory, and will awaken a sense of shame, pity, and amazement in the minds of their latest posterity.
There is nothing more mysterious than the self-deluding power of the mind, and there never were scenes in which it was more clearly displayed than the witchcraft prosecutions. Honest men testified, with perfect confidence and sincerity, to the most absurd impossibilities; while those who thought themselves victims of diabolical influence would actually exhibit, in their corporeal frames, all the appropriate symptoms of the sufferings their imaginations had brought upon them. Great ignorance prevailed in reference to the influences of the body and the mind[ii.423] upon each other. While the imagination was called into a more extensive and energetic action than at any succeeding or previous period, its properties and laws were but little understood: the extent of the connection of the will and the muscular system, the reciprocal influence of the nerves and the fancy, and the strong and universally pervading sympathy between our physical and moral constitutions, were almost wholly unknown. These important subjects, indeed, are but imperfectly understood at the present day.
It may perhaps be affirmed, that the relations of the human mind with the spiritual world will never be understood while we continue in the present stage of existence and mode of being. The error of our ancestors—and it is an error into which men have always been prone to fall, and from which our own times are by no means exempt—was in imagining that their knowledge had extended, in this direction, beyond the boundary fixed unalterably to our researches, while in this corporeal life.
It admits of much question, whether human science can ever find a solid foundation in what relates to the world of spirits. The only instrument of knowledge we can here employ is language. Careful thinkers long ago came to the conclusion, that it is impossible to frame a language precisely and exclusively adapted to convey abstract and spiritual ideas, even if it is possible, as some philosophers have denied, for the mind, in its present state, to have such ideas. All[ii.424] attempts to construct such a language, though made by the most ingenious men, have failed. Language is based upon imagery, and associations drawn from so much of the world as the senses disclose to us; that is, from material objects and their relations. We are here confined, as it were, within narrow walls. We can catch only glimpses of what is above and around us, outside of those walls. Such glimpses may be vouchsafed, from time to time, to rescue us from sinking into materialism, and to keep alive our faith in scenes of existence remaining to be revealed when the barriers of our imprisonment shall be taken down, and what we call death lift us to a clearer and broader vision of universal being.
Of the reality of the spiritual world, we are assured by consciousness and by faith; but our knowledge of that world, so far as it can go into particulars, or become the subject of definition or expression, extends no further than revelation opens the way. In all ages, men have been awakened to the "wonders of the invisible world;" but they remain "wonders" still. Nothing like a permanent, stable, or distinct science has ever been achieved in this department. Man and God are all that are placed within our ken. Metaphysics and Theology are the names given to the sciences that relate to them. The greater the number of books written by human learning and ingenuity to expound them, the more advanced the intelligence and piety of mankind, the less, it is confessed, do we know of them in detail, the more they rise above our comprehension,[ii.425] the more unfathomable become their depths. Experience, history, the progress of light, all increase our sense of the impossibility of estimating the capacities of the human soul. So also we find that the higher we rise towards the Deity, in the contemplation of his works and word, the more does he continue to transcend our power to describe or imagine his greatness and glory. The revelation which the Saviour brought to mankind is all that the heart of man need desire, or the mind of man can comprehend. We are God's children, and he is our Father. That is all; and, the wiser and better we become, the more we are convinced and satisfied that it is enough.
There are, undoubtedly, innumerable beings in the world of spirits, besides departed souls, the Redeemer, and the Father. But of such beings we have, while here, no absolute and specific knowledge. In every age, as well as in our own, there have been persons who have believed themselves to hold communication with unseen spirits. The methods of entering into such communication have been infinitely diversified, from the incantations of ancient sorcery to the mediums and rappings of the present day. In former periods, particularly where the belief of witchcraft prevailed, it was thought that such communications could be had only with evil spirits, and, mostly, with the Chief of evil spirits. They were accordingly treated as criminal, and made the subject of the severest penalties known to the law. In our day, no such penalties are attached to the practice of seeking spiritual com[ii.426]munications. Those who have a fancy for such experiments are allowed to amuse themselves in this way without reproach or molestation. It is not charged upon them that they are dealing with the Evil One or any of his subordinates. They do not imagine such a thing themselves. I have no disposition, at any time, in any given case, to dispute the reality of the wonderful stories told in reference to such matters. All that I am prompted ever to remark is, that, if spirits do come, as is believed, at the call of those who seek to put themselves into communication with them, there is no evidence, I venture to suggest, that they are good spirits. I have never heard of their doing much good, substantially, to any one. No important truth has been revealed by them, no discovery been made, no science had its field enlarged; no department of knowledge has been brought into a clearer light; no great interest has been promoted; no movement of human affairs, whether in the action of nations or the transactions of men, has been advanced or in any way facilitated; no impulse has been given to society, and no elevation to life and character. It may be that the air is full of spiritual beings, hovering about us; but all experience shows that no benefit can be derived from seeking their intervention to share with us the duties or the burdens of our present probation. The mischiefs which have flowed from the belief that they can operate upon human affairs, and from attempting to have dealings with them, have been illustrated in the course of our narrative. In this view of the sub[ii.427]ject, no law is needed to prevent real or pretended communication with invisible beings. Enlightened reflection, common sense, natural prudence, would seem to be sufficient to keep men from meddling at all with practices, or countenancing notions, from which all history proclaims that no good has ever come, but incalculable evil flowed.
For the conduct of life, while here in these bodies, we must confine our curiosity to fields of knowledge open to our natural and ordinary faculties, and embraced within the limits of the established condition of things. Our fathers filled their fancies with the visionary images of ghosts, demons, apparitions, and all other supposed forms and shadows of the invisible world; lent their ears to marvellous stories of communications with spirits; gave to supernatural tales of witchcraft and demonology a wondering credence, and allowed them to occupy their conversation, speculations, and reveries. They carried a belief of such things, and a proneness to indulge it, into their daily life, their literature, and the proceedings of tribunals, ecclesiastical and civil. The fearful results shrouded their annals in darkness and shame. Let those results for ever stand conspicuous, beacon-monuments warning us, and coming generations, against superstition in every form, and all credulous and vain attempts to penetrate beyond the legitimate boundaries of human knowledge.
The phenomena of the real world, so far as science discloses them to our contemplation; the records of[ii.428] actual history; the lessons of our own experience; the utterances of the voice within, audible only to ourselves; and the teachings of the Divine Word,—are sufficient for the exercise of our faculties and the education of our souls during this brief period of our being, while in these bodies. In God's appointed time, we shall be transferred to a higher level of vision. Then, but not before, we may hope for re-union with disembodied spirits, for intercourse with angels, and for a nearer and more open communion with all divine beings.
The principal difference in the methods by which communications were believed to be made between mortals and spiritual beings, at the time of the witchcraft delusion and now, is this. Then it was chiefly by the medium of the eye, but at present by the ear. The "afflicted children" professed to have seen and conversed with the ghosts of George Burroughs's former wives and of others. They also professed to have seen the shapes or appearances of living persons in a disembodied form, or in the likeness of some animal or creature. Now it is affirmed by those calling themselves Spiritualists, that, by certain rappings or other incantations, they can summon into immediate but invisible presence the spirits of the departed, hold conferences with them, and draw from them information not derivable from any sources of human knowledge. There is no essential distinction between the old and the new belief and practice. The consequences that resulted from the former would be[ii.429] likely to result from the latter, if it should obtain universal or general credence, be allowed to mix with judicial proceedings, or to any extent affect the rights of person, property, or character.
The "afflicted children" at Salem Village had, by long practice, become wonderful adepts in the art of jugglery, and probably of ventriloquism. They did many extraordinary things, and were believed to have constant communications with ghosts and spectres; but they did not attain to spiritual rapping. If they had possessed that power, the credulity of judges, ministers, magistrates, and people, would have been utterly overwhelmed, and no limit could have been put to the destruction they might have wrought.
If there was any thing supernatural in the witchcraft of 1692, if any other than human spirits were concerned at all, one thing is beyond a doubt: they were shockingly wicked spirits, and led those who dealt with them to the utmost delusion, crime, and perdition; and this example teaches all who seek to consult with spirits, through a medium or in any other way, to be very strict to require beforehand the most satisfactory and conclusive evidence of good character before they put themselves into communication with them. Spirits who are said to converse with people, in these modern ages, cannot be considered as having much claim to a good repute. No valuable discovery of truth, no important guidance in human conduct, no useful instruction, has ever been conveyed to mankind through them; and much[ii.430] mischief perhaps may have resulted from confiding in them. It is not wise to place our minds under the influence of any of our fellow-creatures, in the ordinary guise of humanity, unless we know something about them entitling them to our acquaintance; much less so, to take them into our intimacy or confidence. Spirits cannot be put under oath, or their credibility be subjected to tests. Whether they are spirits of truth or falsehood cannot be known; and common caution would seem to dictate an avoidance of their company. The fields of knowledge opened to us in the works of mortal men; the stores of human learning and science; the pages of history, sacred or profane; the records of revelation; and the instructions and conversation of the wise and good of our fellow-creatures, while in the body,—are wide enough for our exploration, and may well occupy the longest lifetime.
In its general outlines and minuter details, Salem Witchcraft is an illustration of the fatal effects of allowing the imagination inflamed by passion to take the place of common sense, and of pushing the curiosity and credence of the human mind, in this stage of our being, while in these corporeal embodiments, beyond the boundaries that ought to limit their exercise. If we disregard those boundaries, and try to overleap them, we shall be liable to the same results. The lesson needs to be impressed equally upon all generations and ages of the world's future history. Essays have been written and books published to prove that the sense of the miraculous is destined[ii.431] to decline as mankind becomes more enlightened, and ascribing a greater or less tendency to the indulgence of this sense to particular periods of the church, or systems of belief, or schools of what is called philosophy. It is maintained that it was more prevalent in the mediæval ages than in modern times. Some assert that it has had a greater development in Catholic than Protestant countries; and some, perhaps, insist upon the reverse. Some attempt to show that it has manifested itself more remarkably among Puritans than in other classes of Protestant Christians. The last and most pretentious form of this dogma is, that the sense of the miraculous fades away in the progress of what arrogates to itself the name of Rationalism. This is one of the delusive results of introducing generalization into historical disquisitions. History deals with man. Man is always the same. The race consists, not of an aggregation, but of individuals, in all ages, never moulded or melted into classes. Each individual has ever retained his distinctness from every other. There has been the same infinite variety in every period, in every race, in every nation. Society, philosophy, custom, can no more obliterate these varieties than they can bring the countenances and features of men into uniformity. Diversity everywhere alike prevails. The particular forms and shapes in which the sense of the miraculous may express itself have passed and will pass away in the progress of civilization. But the sense itself remains; just as particular costumes and fashions of garment pass away, while the[ii.432] human form, its front erect and its vision towards the heavens, remains. The sense of the miraculous remains with Protestants as much as with Catholics, with Churchmen as much as with Puritans, with those who reject all creeds, equally with those whose creeds are the longest and the oldest. In our day, it must have been generally noticed, that the wonders of what imagines itself to be Spiritualism are rather more accredited by persons who aspire to the character of rationalists than by those who hold on tenaciously to the old landmarks of Orthodoxy.
The truth is, that the sense of the miraculous has not declined, and never can. It will grow deeper and stronger with the progress of true intelligence. As long as man thinks, he will feel that he is himself a perpetual miracle. The more he thinks, the more will he feel it. The mind which can wander into the deepest depths of the starry heavens, and feel itself to be there; which, pondering over the printed page, lives in the most distant past, communes with sages of hoar antiquity, with prophets and apostles, joins the disciples as they walk with the risen Lord to Emmaus, or mingles in the throng that listen to Paul at Mars' Hill,—knows itself to be beyond the power of space or time, and greater than material things. It knows not what it shall be; but it feels that it is something above the present and visible. It realizes the spiritual world, and will do so more and more, the higher its culture, the greater its freedom, and the wider its view of the material nature[ii.433] by which it is environed, while in this transitory stage of its history.
The lesson of our story will be found not to discard spiritual things, but to teach us, while in the flesh, not to attempt to break through present limitations, not to seek to know more than has been made known of the unseen and invisible, but to keep the inquiries of our minds and the action of society within the bounds of knowledge now attainable, and extend our curious researches and speculations only as far as we can here have solid ground to stand upon.
To explain the superstitious opinions that took effect in the witchcraft delusion, it is necessary to consider the state of biblical criticism at that period. That department of theological learning was then in a very immature condition.
The authority of Scripture, as it appeared on the face of the standard version, seemed to require them to pursue the course they adopted; and those enlarged and just principles of interpretation which we are taught by the learned of all denominations at the present day to apply to the Sacred Writings had not then been brought to the view of the people or received by the clergy.
It was gravely argued, for instance, that there was nothing improbable in the idea that witches had the power, in virtue of their compact with the Devil, of riding aloft through the air, because it is recorded, in the history of our Lord's temptation, that Satan transported him in a similar manner to the pinnacle of the[ii.434] temple, and to the summit of an exceedingly high mountain. And Cotton Mather declares, that, to his apprehension, the disclosures of the wonderful operations of the Devil, upon and through his subjects, that were made in the course of the witchcraft prosecutions, had shed a marvellous light upon the Scriptures! What a perversion of the Sacred Writings to employ them for the purpose of sanctioning the extravagant and delirious reveries of the human imagination! What a miserable delusion, to suppose that the Word of God could receive illumination from the most absurd and horrible superstition that ever brooded in darkness over the mind of man!
One of the sources of the delusion of 1692 was ignorance of many natural laws that have been revealed by modern science. A vast amount of knowledge on these subjects has been attained since that time. In our halls of education, in associations for the diffusion of knowledge, and in a diversified and all-pervading popular literature, what was dark and impenetrable mystery then has been explained, accounted for, and brought within the grasp of all minds. The contemplation of the evils brought upon our predecessors by their ignorance of the laws of nature cannot but lead us to appreciate more highly our opportunities to get knowledge in this department. As we advance into the interior of the physical system to which we belong; are led in succession from one revelation of beauty and grandeur to another, and the field of light and truth displaces that of darkness and[ii.435] mystery; while the fearful images that disturbed the faith and bewildered the thoughts of our fathers are dissolving and vanishing, the whole host of spirits, ghosts, and demons disappearing, and the presence and providence of God alone found to fill all scenes and cause all effects,—our hearts ought to rise to him in loftier adoration and holier devotion. If, while we enjoy a fuller revelation of his infinite and all-glorious operations and designs than our fathers did, the sentiment of piety which glowed in their hearts like a coal from the altar of God has been permitted to grow dim in ours, no reproach their errors and faults can possibly authorize will equal that which will justly fall upon us.
Another cause of their delusion was too great a dependence upon the imagination. We shall find no lesson more clearly taught by history, by experience, or by observation, than this, that man is never safe while either his fancy or his feeling is the guiding principle of his nature. There is a strong and constant attraction between his imagination and his passions; and, if either is permitted to exercise unlimited sway, the other will most certainly be drawn into co-operation with it, and, when they are allowed to act without restraint upon each other and with each other, they lead to the derangement and convulsion of his whole system. They constitute the combustible elements of our being: one serves as the spark to explode the other. Reason, enlightened by revelation and guided by conscience, is the great conservative prin[ii.436]ciple: while that exercises the sovereign power over the fancy and the passions, we are safe; if it is dethroned, no limit can be assigned to the ruin that may follow. In the scenes we have now been called to witness, we have perceived to what lengths of folly, cruelty, and crime even good men have been carried, who relinquished the aid, rejected the counsels, and abandoned the guidance of their reason.
Another influence that operated to produce the catastrophe in 1692 was the power of contagious sympathy. Every wise man and good citizen ought to be aware of the existence and operation of this power. There seems indeed to be a constitutional, original, sympathy in our nature. When men act in a crowd, their heartstrings are prone to vibrate in unison. Whatever chord of passion is struck in one breast, the same will ring forth its wild note through the whole mass. This principle shows itself particularly in seasons of excitement, and its power rises in proportion to the ardor and zeal of those upon whom it acts. It is for every one who desires to be preserved from the excesses of popular feeling, and to prevent the community to which he belongs from plunging into riotous and blind commotions, to keep his own judgment and emotions as free as possible from a power that seizes all it can reach, draws them into its current, and sweeps them round and round like the Maelstrom, until they are overwhelmed and buried in its devouring vortex. When others are heated, the only wisdom is to determine to keep cool; whenever a people or an individual[ii.437] is rushing headlong, it is the duty of patriotism and of friendship to check the motion.
In this connection it may be remarked—and I should be sorry to bring the subject to a close without urging the thought upon your attention—that the mere power of sympathy, the momentum with which men act in a crowd, is itself capable of convulsing society and overthrowing all its safeguards, without the aid or supposed agency of supernatural beings. The early history of the colony of New York presents a case in point.
In 1741, just half a century after the witchcraft prosecutions in Massachusetts, the city of New York, then containing about nine thousand inhabitants, witnessed a scene quite rivalling, in horror and folly, that presented here. Some one started the idea, that a conspiracy was on foot, among the colored portion of the inhabitants, to murder the whites. The story was passed from one to another. Although subsequently ascertained to have been utterly without foundation, no one stopped to inquire into its truth, or had the wisdom or courage to discountenance its circulation. Soon a universal panic, like a conflagration, spread through the whole community; and the results were most frightful. More than one hundred persons were cast into prison. Four white persons and eighteen negroes were hanged. Eleven negroes were burned at the stake, and fifty were transported into slavery. As in the witchcraft prosecutions, a clergyman was among the victims, and perished on the gallows.[ii.438]
The "New-York Negro Plot," as it was called, was indeed marked by all the features of absurdity in the delusion, ferocity in the popular excitement, and destruction along the path of its progress, which belonged to the witchcraft proceedings here, and shows that any people, given over to the power of contagious passion, may be swept by desolation, and plunged into ruin.
One of the practical lessons inculcated by the history that has now been related is, that no duty is more certain, none more important, than a free and fearless expression of opinion, by all persons, on all occasions. No wise or philosophic person would think of complaining of the diversities of sentiment it is likely to develop. Such diversities are the vital principle of free communities, and the only elements of popular intelligence. If the right to utter them is asserted by all and for all, tolerance is secured, and no inconvenience results. It is probable that there were many persons here in 1692 who doubted the propriety of the proceedings at their commencement, but who were afterwards prevailed upon to fall into the current and swell the tide. If they had all discharged their duty to their country and their consciences by freely and boldly uttering their disapprobation and declaring their dissent, who can tell but that the whole tragedy might have been prevented? and, if it might, the blood of the innocent may be said, in one sense, to be upon their heads.
The leading features and most striking aspects of[ii.439] the witchcraft delusion have been repeated in places where witches and the interference of supernatural beings are never thought of: whenever a community gives way to its passions, and spurns the admonitions and casts off the restraints of reason, there is a delusion that can hardly be described in any other phrase. We cannot glance our eye over the face of our country without beholding such scenes: and, so long as they are exhibited; so long as we permit ourselves to invest objects of little or no real importance with such an inordinate imaginary interest that we are ready to go to every extremity rather than relinquish them; so long as we yield to the impulse of passion, and plunge into excitement, and take counsel of our feelings rather than our judgment,—we are following in the footsteps of our fanatical ancestors. It would be wiser to direct our ridicule and reproaches to the delusions of our own times than to those of a previous age; and it becomes us to treat with charity and mercy the failings of our predecessors, at least until we have ceased to imitate and repeat them.
It has been my object to collect and arrange all the materials within reach necessary to give a correct and adequate view of the passage of history related and discussed in this work, and to suggest the considerations and conclusions required by truth and justice. It is worthy of the most thoughtful contemplation. The moralist, metaphysician, and political philosopher will find few chapters of human experience more fraught with instruction, and may well ponder upon[ii.440] the lessons it teaches, scrutinize thoroughly all its periods, phases, and branches, analyze its causes, eliminate its elements, and mark its developments. The laws, energies, capabilities, and liabilities of our nature, as exhibited in the character of individuals and in the action of society, are remarkably illustrated. The essential facts belonging to the transaction, gathered from authentic records and reliable testimonies and traditions, have been faithfully presented. The Witchcraft Delusion of 1692, so far as I have been able to recover it from misunderstanding and oblivion, has been brought to view; and I indulge the belief, that the subject will commend itself to, and reward, the study of every meditative mind.
I know not in what better terms the discussion of this subject can be brought to a termination, than in those which express the conclusions to which one of our own most distinguished citizens was brought, after having examined the whole transaction with the eye of a lawyer and the spirit of a judge. The following is from the Centennial Discourse pronounced in Salem on the 18th of September, 1828, by the late Hon. Joseph Story, of the Supreme Court of the United States:—
"We may lament, then," says he, "the errors of the times, which led to these prosecutions. But surely our ancestors had no special reasons for shame in a belief which had the universal sanction of their own and all former ages; which counted in its train philosophers, as well as enthusiasts; which was graced[ii.441] by the learning of prelates, as well as by the countenance of kings; which the law supported by its mandates, and the purest judges felt no compunctions in enforcing. Let Witch Hill remain for ever memorable by this sad catastrophe, not to perpetuate our dishonor, but as an affecting, enduring proof of human infirmity; a proof that perfect justice belongs to one judgment-seat only,—that which is linked to the throne of God."
In the work which has now reached its close, many strange phases of humanity have been exposed. We have beheld, with astonishment and horror, the extent to which it is liable to be the agent and victim of delusion and ruin. Folly that cannot be exceeded; wrong, outrage, and woe, melting the heart that contemplates them; and crime, not within our power or province to measure,—have passed before us. But not the dark side only of our nature has been displayed. Manifestations of innocence, heroism, invincible devotion to truth, integrity of soul triumphing over all the terrors and horrors that can be accumulated in life and in death, Christian piety in its most heavenly radiance, have mingled in the drama, whose curtain is now to fall. Noble specimens of virtue in man and woman, old and young, have shed a light, as from above, upon its dark and melancholy scenes. Not only the sufferers, but some of those who shared the dread responsibility of the crisis, demand our commiseration, and did what they could to atone for their error.
The conduct of Judge Sewall claims our particu[ii.442]lar 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 rose 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.
The following passage is found in his diary, under the date of April 23, 1720, nearly thirty years afterwards. It was suggested by the perusal of Neal's "History of New England:"—
"In Dr. Neal's 'History of New England,' its nakedness is laid open in the businesses of the Quakers, Anabaptists, witchcraft. The judges' names are mentioned p. 502; my confession, p. 536, vol. ii. The good and gracious God be pleased to save New England and me, and my family!"
There never was a more striking and complete fulfilment of the apostolic assurance, that the prayer of a righteous man availeth much, than in this instance. God has been pleased, in a remarkable manner, to[ii.443] save and bless New England. The favor of Heaven was bestowed upon Judge Sewall during the remainder of his life. He presided for many years on the bench where he committed the error so sincerely deplored by him, and was regarded by all as a benefactor, an ornament, and a blessing to the community: while his family have enjoyed to a high degree the protection of Providence from that day to this; have adorned every profession, and every department of society; have filled with honor the most elevated stations; have graced, in successive generations, the same lofty seat their ancestor occupied; and been the objects of the confidence, respect, and love of their fellow-citizens.
Your thoughts have been led through scenes of the most distressing and revolting character. I leave before your imaginations one bright with all the beauty of Christian virtue,—that which exhibits Judge Sewall standing forth in the house of his God and in the presence of his fellow-worshippers, making a public declaration of his sorrow and regret for the mistaken judgment he had co-operated with others in pronouncing. Here you have a representation of a truly great and magnanimous spirit; a spirit to which the divine influence of our religion had given an expansion and a lustre that Roman or Grecian virtue never knew; a spirit that had achieved a greater victory than warrior ever won,—a victory over itself; a spirit so noble and so pure, that it felt no shame in acknowledging an error, and publicly imploring,[ii.444] for a great wrong done to his fellow-creatures, the forgiveness of God and man.
Our Essex poet, whose beautiful genius has made classical the banks of his own Merrimac, shed a romantic light over the early homes and characters of New England, and brought back to life the spirit, forms, scenes, and men of the past, has not failed to immortalize, in his verse, the profound penitence of the misguided but upright judge:—
"Touching and sad, a tale is told,
Like a penitent hymn of the Psalmist old,
Of the fast which the good man life-long kept
With a haunting sorrow that never slept,
As the circling year brought round the time
Of an error that left the sting of crime,
When he sat on the bench of the witchcraft courts,
With the laws of Moses and 'Hale's Reports,'
And spake, in the name of both, the word
That gave the witch's neck to the cord,
And piled the oaken planks that pressed
The feeble life from the warlock's breast!
All the day long, from dawn to dawn,
His door was bolted, his curtain drawn;
No foot on his silent threshold trod,
No eye looked on him save that of God,
As he baffled the ghosts of the dead with charms
Of penitent tears, and prayers, and psalms,
And, with precious proofs from the sacred Word
Of the boundless pity and love of the Lord,
His faith confirmed and his trust renewed,
That the sin of his ignorance, sorely rued,
Might be washed away in the mingled flood
Of his human sorrow and Christ's dear blood!"
[The subject of Salem Witchcraft has been traced to its conclusion, and discussed within its proper limits, in the foregoing work. But whoever is interested in it as a chapter of history or an exhibition of humanity may feel a curiosity, on some points, that reasonably demands gratification. The questions will naturally arise, Who were the earliest to extricate themselves and the public from the delusion? what is known, beyond the facts mentioned in the progress of the foregoing discussion, of the later fortunes of its prominent actors? what the view taken in the retrospect by individuals and public bodies implicated in the transaction? and what opinions on the general subject have subsequently prevailed? To answer these questions is the design of this Supplement.]
IT can hardly be said that there was any open and avowed opposition in the community to the proceedings during their early progress. There is some uncertainty and obscurity to what extent there was an unexpressed dissent in the minds of particular private persons. On the general subject of the existence and power of the Devil and his agency, more or less, in influencing human and earthly affairs, it would be difficult to prove that there was any considerable difference of opinion.
The first undisguised and unequivocal opposition to the proceedings was a remarkable document that has recently come to light. Among some papers which have found their way to the custody of the Essex Institute, is a letter, dated "Salisbury, Aug. 9, 1692," addressed "To the worshipful Jonathan Corwin, Esq., these present at his house in Salem." It is indorsed, "A letter[ii.448] to my grandfather, on account of the condemnation of the witches." Its date shows that it was written while the public infatuation and fury were at their height, and the Court was sentencing to death and sending to the gallows its successive cartloads. There is no injunction of secresy, and no shrinking from responsibility. Although the name of the writer is not given in full, he was evidently well known to Corwin, and had written to him before on the subject. The messenger, in accordance with the superscription, undoubtedly delivered it into the hands of the judge at his residence on the corner of Essex and North Streets. The fact that Jonathan Corwin preserved this document, and placed it in the permanent files of his family papers, is pretty good proof that he appreciated the weight of its arguments. It is not improbable that he expressed himself to that effect to his brethren on the bench, and perhaps to others. What he said, and the fact that he was holding such a correspondence, may have reached the ears of the accusers, and led them to commence a movement against him by crying out upon his mother-in-law.
The letter is a most able argument against the manner in which the trials were conducted, and, by conclusive logic, overthrows the whole fabric of the evidence on the strength of which the Court was convicting and taking the lives of innocent persons. No such piece of reasoning has come to us from that age. Its author must be acknowledged to have been an expert in dialectic subtleties, and a pure reasoner of unsurpassed acumen and force. It requires, but it will reward, the closest attention and concentration of thought in following the threads of the argument. It reaches its conclusions on a most difficult subject with clearness and certainty. It achieves and realizes, in mere mental processes, quantities, and forces, on the points at which it aims, what is called demonstration in mathematics and geometry.
The writer does not discredit, but seems to have received, the then prevalent doctrines relating to the personality, power, and attributes of the Devil; and, from that standpoint, controverts and demolishes the principles on which the Court was proceeding, in reference to the "spectral evidence" and the credibility of the "afflicted children" generally. The letter, and the formal argument appended to it, arrest notice in one or two general aspects. There is an appearance of their having proceeded from an elderly[ii.449] person, not at all from any marks of infirmity of intellect, but rather from an air of wisdom and a tone of authority which can only result from long experience and observation. The circumstance that an amanuensis was employed, and the author writes the initials of his signature only, strengthens this impression. At the same time, there are indications of a free and progressive spirit, more likely to have had force at an earlier period of life. In some aspects, the document indicates a theological education, and familiarity with matters that belong to the studies of a minister; in others, it manifests habits of mind and modes of expression and reasoning more natural to one accustomed to close legal statements and deductions. If the production of a trained professional man of either class, it would justly be regarded as remarkable. If its author belonged to neither class, but was merely a local magistrate, farmer, and militia officer, it becomes more than remarkable. There must have been a high development among the founders of our villages, when the laity could present examples of such a capacity to grasp the most difficult subjects, and conduct such acute and abstruse disquisitions. [See Appendix.]
The question as to the authorship of this paper may well excite interest, involving, as it does, minute critical speculations. The elements that enter into its solution illustrate the difficulties and perplexities encompassing the study of local antiquities, and attempts to determine the origin and bearings of old documents or to settle minute points of history. The weight of evidence seems to indicate that the document is attributable to Major Robert Pike, of Salisbury. Whoever was its author did his duty nobly, and stands alone, above all the scholars and educated men of the time, in bearing testimony openly, bravely, in the very ears of the Court, against the disgraceful and shocking course they were pursuing.[I]
William Brattle, an eminent citizen and opulent merchant of Boston, and a gentleman of education and uncommon abilities, wrote a letter to an unknown correspondent of the clerical profes[ii.451]sion, in October, 1692. It is an able criticism upon the methods of procedure at the trials, condemning them in the strongest language; but it was a confidential communication, and not published[ii.452] until many years afterwards. He says that "the witches' meetings, the Devil's baptisms and mock sacraments, which the accusing and confessing witches oft speak of, are nothing else but the effect of their fancy, depraved and deluded by the Devil, and not a reality to be regarded or minded by any wise man." He charges the judges with having taken testimony from the Devil himself, through witnesses who swore to what they said the Devil communicated to them, thus indirectly introducing the Devil as a witness; and he clinches the accusation by quoting the judges themselves, who, when the accusing and confessing witnesses contradicted each other, got over the difficulty by saying that the Devil, in such instances, took away the memory of some of them, for the moment, obscuring their brains, and misleading them. He sums up this part of his reasoning in these words: "If it be thus granted that the Devil is able to represent false ideas to the imaginations of the confessors, what man of sense will regard the confessions, or any of the words of these confessors?" He says that he knows several persons "about the Bay,"—men, for understanding, judgment, and piety, inferior to few, if any, in New England,—that do utterly condemn the said proceedings. He repudiates the idea that Salem was, in any sense, exclusively responsible for the transaction; and affirms that "other justices in the country, besides the Salem jus[ii.453]tices, have issued out their warrants;" and states, that, of the eight "judges, commissioned for this Court at Salem, five do belong to Suffolk County, four of which five do belong to Boston, and therefore I see no reason why Boston should talk of Salem as though their own judges had had no hand in these proceedings in Salem."
There is one view of the subject, upon which Brattle presses with much force and severity. There is ground to suspect, that the proceedings were suffered to go on, after some of those appearing to countenance them had ceased to have faith in the accusations. He charges, directly, complicity in the escape of Mrs. Carey, Mrs. English, Captain Alden, Hezekiah Usher, and others, upon the high officials; and says that while the evidence, upon which so many had been imprisoned, sentenced, and executed, bore against Mrs. Thacher, of Boston, she was never proceeded against. "She was much complained of by the afflicted persons, and yet the justices would not issue out their warrants to apprehend" her and certain others; while at the very same time they were issuing, upon no better or other grounds, warrants against so many others. He charges the judges with this most criminal favoritism. The facts hardly justify such an imputation upon the judges. They did not, after the trials had begun, it is probable, ever issue warrants: that was the function of magistrates. With the exception, perhaps, of Corwin, I think there is no evidence of there having been any doubts or misgivings on the bench. It is altogether too heavy a charge to bring, without the strongest evidence, upon any one. To intimate that officials, or any persons, who did not believe in the accusations, connived at the escape of their friends and relatives, and at the same time countenanced, pretended to believe, and gave deadly effect to them when directed against others, is supposing a criminality and baseness too great to be readily admitted. In that wild reign of the worst of passions, this would have transcended them all in its iniquity. The only excusable people at that time were those who honestly, and without a doubt, believed in the guilt of the convicted. Those who had doubts, and did not frankly and fearlessly express them, were the guilty ones. On their hands is the stain of the innocent blood that was shed. It is not probable, and is scarcely possible, that any considerable number could be at once doubters and prosecutors. On this[ii.454] point, Brattle must be understood to mean, not that judges, or others actively engaged in the prosecutions, warded off proceedings against particular friends or relatives from a principle of deliberate favoritism, but that third parties, actuated by a sycophantic spirit, endeavored to hush up or intercept complaints, when directed too near to the high officials, or thought to gain their favor by aiding the escape of persons in whom they were interested.
Brattle uses the same weapon which afterwards the opponents of Mr. Parris, in his church at Salem Village, wielded with such decisive effect against him and all who abetted him. It is much to be lamented, that, instead of hiding it under a confidential letter, he did not at the time openly bring it to bear in the most public and defiant manner. One brave, strong voice, uttered in the face of the court and in the congregations of the people, echoed from the corners of the streets, and reaching the ears of the governor and magistrates, denouncing the entire proceedings as the damnable crime of familiarity with evil spirits, and sorcery of the blackest dye, might perhaps have recalled the judges, the people, and the rulers to their senses. If the spirit of the ancient prophets of God, of the Quakers of the preceding age, or of true reformers of any age, had existed in any breast, the experiment would have been tried. Brattle says,—
"I cannot but admire that any should go with their distempered friends and relations to the afflicted children, to know what their distempered friends ail, whether they are not bewitched, who it is that afflicts them, and the like. It is true, I know no reason why these afflicted may not be consulted as well as any other, if so be that it was only their natural and ordinary knowledge that was had recourse to: but it is not on this notion that these afflicted children are sought unto, but as they have a supernatural knowledge; a knowledge which they obtain by their holding correspondence with spectres or evil spirits, as they themselves grant. This consulting of these afflicted children, as abovesaid, seems to me to be a very gross evil, a real abomination, not fit to be known in New England; and yet is a thing practised, not only by Tom and John,—I mean the rude and more ignorant sort,—but by many who profess high, and pass among us for some of the better sort. This is that which aggravates the evil, and makes it heinous and tremendous; and yet this is not the worst of it,—for, as[ii.455] sure as I now write to you, even some of our civil leaders and spiritual teachers, who, I think, should punish and preach down such sorcery and wickedness, do yet allow of, encourage, yea, and practise, this very abomination. I know there are several worthy gentlemen in Salem who account this practice as an abomination, have trembled to see the methods of this nature which others have used, and have declared themselves to think the practice to be very evil and corrupt. But all avails little with the abettors of the said practice."
If Mr. Brattle and the "several worthy gentlemen" to whom he alludes, instead of sitting in "trembling" silence, or whispering in private their disapprobation, or writing letters under the injunction of secrecy, had come boldly out, and denounced the whole thing, in a spirit of true courage, meeting and defying the risk, and carrying the war home, and promptly, upon the ministers, magistrates, and judges, they might have succeeded, and exploded the delusion before it had reached its fatal results.
He mentions, in the course of his letter, among those persons known by him to disapprove of the proceedings,—
"The Hon. Simon Bradstreet, Esq. (our late governor), the Hon. Thomas Danforth, Esq. (our late deputy-governor), the Rev. Mr. Increase Mather, and the Rev. Mr. Samuel Willard. Major N. Saltonstall, Esq., who was one of the judges, has left the court, and is very much dissatisfied with the proceedings of it. Excepting Mr. Hale, Mr. Noyes, and Mr. Parris, the reverend elders, almost throughout the whole country, are very much dissatisfied. Several of the late justices—viz., Thomas Graves, Esq.; N. Byfield, Esq.; Francis Foxcroft, Esq.—are much dissatisfied; also several of the present justices, and, in particular, some of the Boston justices, were resolved rather to throw up their commissions than be active in disturbing the liberty of Their Majesties' subjects merely on the accusations of these afflicted, possessed children."
It is to be observed, that the dissatisfaction was with some of the methods adopted in the proceedings, and not with the prosecutions themselves. Increase Mather and Samuel Willard signed the paper indorsing Deodat Lawson's famous sermon, which surely drove on the prosecutions; and the former expressed, in print, his approbation of his son Cotton's "Wonders of the Invisible World," in which he labors to defend the witchcraft prosecutions, and to make it out that those who suffered were "malefactors."[ii.456] Dr. Increase Mather is understood to have countenanced the burning of Calef's book, some few years afterwards, in the square of the public grounds of Harvard College, of which institution he was then president. It cannot be doubted, however, that both the elder Mather and Mr. Willard had expressed, more or less distinctly, their disapprobation of some of the details of the proceedings. It is honorable to their memories, and shows that the former was not wholly blinded by parental weakness, but willing to express his dissent, in some particulars, from the course of his distinguished son, and that the latter had an independence of character which enabled him to criticise and censure a court in which three of his parishioners sat as judges.
Brattle relates a story which seems to indicate that Increase Mather sometimes was unguarded enough to express himself with severity against those who gave countenance to the proceedings. "A person from Boston, of no small note, carried up his child to Salem, near twenty miles, on purpose that he might consult the afflicted about his child, which accordingly he did; and the afflicted told him that his child was afflicted by Mrs. Carey and Mrs. Obinson." The "afflicted," in this and some other instances, had struck too high. The magistrates in Boston were unwilling to issue a warrant against Mrs. Obinson, and Mrs. Carey had fled. All that the man got for his pains, in carrying his child to Salem, was a hearty scolding from Increase Mather, who asked him "whether there was not a God in Boston, that he should go to the Devil, in Salem, for advice."
Bradstreet's great age prevented, it is to be supposed, his public appearance in the affair; but his course in a case which occurred twelve years before fully justifies confidence in the statement of Brattle. The tradition has always prevailed, that he looked with disapprobation upon the proceedings, from beginning to end. The course of his sons, and the action taken against them, is quite decisive to the point.
Facts have been stated, which show that Thomas Danforth, if he disapproved of the proceedings at Salem, in October, must have undergone a rapid change of sentiments. No irregularities, improprieties, extravagances, or absurdities ever occurred in the examinations or trials greater than he was fully responsible for in April. Having, in the mean while, been superseded in office, he[ii.457] had leisure, in his retirement, to think over the whole matter; and it is satisfactory to find that he saw the error of the ways in which he had gone himself, and led others.
The result of the inquiry on this point is, that, while some, outside of the village, began early to doubt the propriety of the proceedings in certain particulars, they failed, with the single exception of Robert Pike, to make manly and seasonable resistance. He remonstrated in a writing signed with his own initials, and while the executions were going on. He sent it to one of the judges, and did not shrink from having his action known. No other voice was raised, no one else breasted the storm, while it lasted. The errors which led to the delusion were not attacked from any quarter at any time during that generation, and have remained lurking in many minds, in a greater or less degree, to our day.
There were, however, three persons in Salem Village and its immediate vicinity, who deserve to be for ever remembered in this connection. They resisted the fanaticism at the beginning, and defied its wrath. Joseph Putnam was a little more than twenty-two years of age. He probably did not enter into the question of the doctrines then maintained on such subjects, but was led by his natural sagacity and independent spirit to the course he took. In opposition to both his brothers and both his uncles, and all the rest of his powerful and extensive family, he denounced the proceedings through and through. At the very moment when the excitement was at its most terrible stage, and Mr. Parris held the life of every one in his hands, Joseph Putnam expressed his disapprobation of his conduct by carrying his infant child to the church in Salem to be baptized. This was a public and most significant act. For six months, he kept some one of his horses under saddle night and day, without a moment's intermission of the precaution; and he and his family were constantly armed. It was understood, that, if any one attempted to arrest him, it would be at the peril of life. If the marshal should approach with overwhelming force, he would spring to his saddle, and bid defiance to pursuit. Such a course as this, taken by one standing alone against the whole community to which he belonged, shows a degree of courage, spirit, and resolution, which cannot but be held in honor.[ii.458]
Martha Corey was an aged Christian professor, of eminently devout habits and principles. It is, indeed, a strange fact, that, in her humble home, surrounded, as it then was, by a wilderness, this husbandman's wife should have reached a height so above and beyond her age. But it is proved conclusively by the depositions adduced against her, that her mind was wholly disenthralled from the errors of that period. She utterly repudiated the doctrines of witchcraft, and expressed herself freely and fearlessly against them. The prayer which this woman made "upon the ladder," and which produced such an impression on those who heard it, was undoubtedly expressive of enlightened piety, worthy of being characterized as "eminent" in its sentiments, and in its demonstration of an innocent heart and life.
The following paper, in the handwriting of Mr. Parris, is among the court-files. It has not the ordinary form of a deposition, but somehow was sworn to in Court:—
"The morning after the examination of Goody Nurse, Sam. Sibley met John Procter about Mr. Phillips's, who called to said Sibley as he was going to said Phillips's, and asked how the folks did at the village. He answered, he heard they were very bad last night, but he had heard nothing this morning. Procter replied, he was going to fetch home his jade; he left her there last night, and had rather given forty shillings than let her come up. Said Sibley asked why he talked so. Procter replied, if they were let alone so, we should all be devils and witches quickly; they should rather be had to the whipping-post; but he would fetch his jade home, and thrash the Devil out of her,—and more to the like purpose, crying, 'Hang them! hang them!'"
In another document, it is stated that Nathaniel Ingersoll and others heard John Procter tell Joseph Pope, "that, if he had John Indian in his custody, he would soon beat the Devil out of him."
The declarations thus ascribed to John Procter show that his views of the subject were about right; and it will probably be generally conceded, that the treatment he proposed for Mary Warren and "John Indian," if dealt out to the "afflicted children" generally at the outset, would have prevented all the mischief. A sound thrashing all round, seasonably administered, would have reached the root of the matter; and the story which has now been concluded of Salem witchcraft would never have been told.
When the witchcraft tornado burst upon Andover, it prostrated[ii.459] every thing before it. Accusers and accused were counted by scores, and under the panic of the hour the accused generally confessed. But Andover was the first to recover its senses. On the 12th of October, 1692, seven of its citizens addressed a memorial to the General Court in behalf of their wives and children, praying that they might be released on bond, "to remain as prisoners in their own houses, where they may be more tenderly cared for." They speak of their "distressed condition in prison,—a company of poor distressed creatures as full of inward grief and trouble as they are able to bear up in life withal." They refer to the want of "food convenient" for them, and to "the coldness of the winter season that is coming which may despatch such out of the way that have not been used to such hardships," and represent the ruinous effects of their absence from their families, who were at the same time required to maintain them in jail. On the 18th of October, the two ministers of Andover, Francis Dane and Thomas Barnard, with twenty-four other citizens of Andover, addressed a similar memorial to the Governor and General Court, in which we find the first public expression of condemnation of the proceedings. They call the accusers "distempered persons." They express the opinion that their friends and neighbors have been misrepresented. They bear the strongest testimony in favor of the persons accused, that several of them are members of the church in full communion, of blameless conversation, and "walking as becometh women professing godliness." They relate the methods by which they had been deluded and terrified into confession, and show the worthlessness of those confessions as evidences against them. They use this bold and significant language: "Our troubles we foresee are likely to continue and increase, if other methods be not taken than as yet have been; and we know not who can think himself safe, if the accusations of children and others who are under a diabolical influence shall be received against persons of good fame." On the 2d of January, 1693, the Rev. Francis Dane addressed a letter to a brother clergyman, which is among the files, and was probably designed to reach the eyes of the Court, in which he vindicates Andover against the scandalous reports got up by the accusers, and says that a residence there of forty-four years, and intimacy with the people, enable him to declare that they are not justly chargeable with any[ii.460] such things as witchcraft, charms, or sorceries of any kind. He expresses himself in strong language: "Had charity been put on, the Devil would not have had such an advantage against us, and I believe many innocent persons have been accused and imprisoned." He denounces "the conceit of spectre evidence," and warns against continuing in a course of proceeding that will procure "the divine displeasure." A paper signed by Dudley Bradstreet, Francis Dane, Thomas Barnard, and thirty-eight other men and twelve women of Andover, was presented to the Court at Salem to the same effect.
None of the persons named by Brattle can present so strong a claim to the credit of having opposed the witchcraft fanaticism before the close of the year 1692, as Francis Dane, his colleague Barnard, and the citizens of Andover, who signed memorials to the Legislature on the 18th of October, and to the Court of Trials about the same time. There is, indeed, one conclusive proof that the venerable senior pastor of the Andover Church made his disapprobation of the witchcraft proceedings known at an earlier period, at least in his immediate neighborhood. The wrath of the accusers was concentrated upon him to an unparalleled extent from their entrance into Andover. They did not venture to attack him directly. His venerable age and commanding position made it inexpedient; but they struck as near him, and at as many points, as they dared. They accused, imprisoned, and caused to be convicted and sentenced to death, one of his daughters, Abigail Faulkner. They accused, imprisoned, and brought to trial another, Elizabeth Johnson. They imprisoned, and brought to the sentence of death, his grand-daughter, Elizabeth Johnson, Jr. They cried out against, and caused to be imprisoned, several others of his grandchildren. They accused and imprisoned Deliverance the wife, and also the "man-servant," of his son Nathaniel. There is reason for supposing, as has been stated, that Elizabeth How was the wife of his nephew. Surely, no one was more signalized by their malice and resentment than Francis Dane; and he deserves to be recognized as standing pre-eminent, and, for a time, almost alone, in bold denunciation and courageous resistance of the execrable proceedings of that dark day.
Francis Dane made the following statement, also designed to reach the authorities, which cannot be read by any person of sen[ii.461]sibility without feeling its force, although it made no impression upon the Court at the time:—
"Concerning my daughter Elizabeth Johnson, I never had ground to suspect her, neither have I heard any other to accuse her, till by spectre evidence she was brought forth; but this I must say, she was weak, and incapacious, fearful, and in that respect I fear she hath falsely accused herself and others. Not long before she was sent for, she spake as to her own particular, that she was sure she was no witch. And for her daughter Elizabeth, she is but simplish at the best; and I fear the common speech, that was frequently spread among us, of their liberty if they would confess, and the like expression used by some, have brought many into a snare. The Lord direct and guide those that are in place, and give us all submissive wills; and let the Lord do with me and mine what seems good in his own eyes!"
There is nothing in the proceedings of the Special Court of Oyer and Terminer more disgraceful than the fact, that the regular Court of Superior Judicature, the next year, after the public mind had been rescued from the delusion, and the spectral evidence repudiated, proceeded to try these and other persons, and, in the face of such statements as the foregoing, actually condemned to death Elizabeth Johnson, Jr.
It is remarkable that Brattle does not mention Calef. The understanding has been that they acted in concert, and that Brattle had a hand in getting up some of Calef's arguments. The silence of Brattle is not, upon the whole, at all inconsistent with their mutual action and alliance. As Calef was more perfectly unembarrassed, without personal relations to the clergy and others in high station, and not afraid to stand in the gap, it was thought best to let him take the fire of Cotton Mather. His name had not been connected with the matter in the public apprehension. He was a merchant of Boston, and a son of Robert Calef of Roxbury. His attention was called to the proceedings which originated in Salem Village; and his strong faculties and moral courage enabled him to become the most efficient opponent, in his day, of the system of false reasoning upon which the prosecutions rested. He prepared several able papers in different forms, in which he discussed the subject with great ability, and treated Cotton Mather and all others whom he regarded as instrumental in precipitating the community into the fatal tragedy,[ii.462] with the greatest severity of language and force of logic, holding up the whole procedure to merited condemnation. They were first printed, at London, in 1700, in a small quarto volume, under the title of "More Wonders of the Invisible World." This publication burst like a bomb-shell upon all who had been concerned in promoting the witchcraft prosecutions. Cotton Mather was exasperated to the highest pitch. He says in his diary: "He sent this vile volume to London to be published, and the book is printed; and the impression is, this day week, arrived here. The books that I have sent over into England, with a design to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, are not published, but strangely delayed; and the books that are sent over to vilify me, and render me incapable to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ,—these are published." Calef's writings gave a shock to Mather's influence, from which it never recovered.
Great difficulty has been experienced in drawing the story out in its true chronological sequence. The effect produced upon the public mind, when it became convinced that the proceedings had been wrong, and innocent blood shed, was a universal disposition to bury the recollection of the whole transaction in silence, and, if possible, oblivion. This led to a suppression and destruction of the ordinary materials of history. Papers were abstracted from the files, documents in private hands were committed to the flames, and a chasm left in the records of churches and public bodies. The journal of the Special Court of Oyer and Terminer is nowhere to be found. Hutchinson appears to have had access to it. It cannot well be supposed to have been lost by fire or other accident, because the records of the regular Court, up to the very time when the Special Court came into operation, and from the time when it expired, are preserved in order. A portion of the papers connected with the trials have come down in a miscellaneous, scattered, and dilapidated state, in the offices of the Clerk of the Courts in the County of Essex, and of the Secretary of the Commonwealth. By far the larger part have been abstracted, of which a few have been deposited, by parties into whose hands they had happened to come, with the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston and the Essex Institute at Salem. The records of the parish of Salem Village, although exceedingly well kept before and after 1692 by Thomas Putnam, are in another hand for that[ii.463] year, very brief, and make no reference whatever to the witchcraft transactions. This general desire to obliterate the memory of the calamity has nearly extinguished tradition. It is more scanty and less reliable than on any other event at an equal distance in the past. A subject on which men avoided to speak soon died out of knowledge. The localities of many very interesting incidents cannot be identified. This is very observable, and peculiarly remarkable as to places in the now City of Salem. The reminiscences floating about are vague, contradictory, and few in number. In a community of uncommon intelligence, composed, to a greater degree perhaps than almost any other, of families that have been here from the first, very inquisitive for knowledge, and always imbued with the historical spirit, it is truly surprising how little has been borne down, by speech and memory, in the form of anecdote, personal traits, or local incidents, of this most extraordinary and wonderful occurrence of such world-wide celebrity. Almost all that we know is gleaned from the offices of the Registry of Deeds and Wills.[J]
It is remarkable, that the marshal and sheriff, both quite young men, so soon followed their victims to the other world. Jonathan Walcot, the father of Mary, and next neighbor to Parris, removed from the village, and died at Salem in 1699. Thomas Putnam and Ann his wife, the parents of the "afflicted child," who acted so extraordinary a part in the proceedings and of whom further mention will be made, died in 1699,—the former on the 24th of May, the latter on the 8th of June,—at the respective ages of forty-seven and thirty-eight.[K] There are indications that they saw the errors into which they had been led. If their eyes were at all opened to this view, how terrible must have been the thought of the cruel wrongs and wide-spread ruin of which they had been the cause! Of the circumstances of their deaths, or their last words and sentiments, we have no knowledge. It is not strange, that, in addition to all her woes, the death of her husband was more than Mrs. Ann Putnam could bear, and that[ii.465] she followed him so soon to the grave. Of the other accusers, we have but little information. Elizabeth Booth was married to Israel Shaw about the year 1700. Mary Walcot was married, somewhere between 1692 and 1697, to a person belonging to Woburn, whose name is torn or worn off from Mr. Parris's records. Of the other "afflicted children" nothing is known, beyond the fact, that the Act of the Legislature of the Province, reversing the judgments, and taking off the attainder from those who were sentenced to death in 1692, has this paragraph: "Some of the principal accusers and witnesses in those dark and severe prosecutions have since discovered themselves to be persons of profligate and vicious conversation;" and Calef speaks of them as "vile varlets," and asserts that their reputations were not without spot before, and that subsequently they became abandoned to open and shameless vice.
A very considerable number of the people left the place. John Shepard and Samuel Sibley sold their lands, and went elsewhere; as did Peter Cloyse, who never brought his family to the village after his wife's release from prison. Edward and Sarah Bishop sold their estates, and took up their abode at Rehoboth. Some of the Raymond family removed to Middleborough. The Haynes family emigrated to New Jersey. No mention is afterwards found of other families in the record-books. The descendants of Thomas and Edward Putnam, in the next generation, were mostly dis[ii.466]persed to other places; but those of Joseph remained on his lands, and have occupied his homestead to this day. It is a singular circumstance, that some of the spots where, particularly, the great mischief was brewed, are, and long have been, deserted. Where the parsonage stood, with its barn and garden and well and pathways, is now a bare and rugged field, without a vestige of its former occupancy, except a few broken bricks that mark the site of the house. The same is the case of the homestead of Jonathan Walcot. It was in these two families that the affair began and was matured. The spots where several others, who figured in the proceedings, lived, have ceased to be occupied; and the only signs of former habitation are hollows in the ground, fragments of pottery, and heaps of stones denoting the location of cellars and walls. Here and there, where houses and other structures once stood, the blight still rests.
Some circumstances relating to the personal history of those who experienced the greatest misery during the prevalence of the dreadful fanaticism, and were left to mourn over its victims, have happened to be preserved in records and documents on file. On the 30th of November, 1699, Margaret Jacobs was married to John Foster. She belonged to Mr. Noyes's parish; but the recollection of his agency in pushing on proceedings which carried in their train the execution of her aged grandfather, the exile of her father, the long imprisonment of her mother and herself, with the prospect of a violent and shameful death hanging over them every hour, and, above all, her own wretched abandonment of truth and conscience for a while, probably under his persuasion, made it impossible for her to think of being married by him. Mr. Greene was known to sympathize with those who had suffered, and the couple went to the village to be united. Some years afterwards, when the church of the Middle Precinct, now South Danvers, was organized, John and Margaret Foster, among the first, took their children there for baptism; and their descendants are numerous, in this neighborhood and elsewhere. Margaret, the widow of John Willard, married William Towne. Elizabeth, the widow of John Procter, married, subsequently to 1696, a person named Richards. Edward Bishop, the husband of Bridget, a few years afterwards was appointed guardian of Susannah Mason, the only child of Christian, who was the only child of Bridget by her[ii.467] former husband Thomas Oliver. Bishop seems to have invested the money of his ward in the lot at the extreme end of Forrester Street, where it connects with Essex Street, bounded by Forrester Street on the north and east, and Essex Street on the south. This was the property of Susannah when she married John Becket, Jr. Bishop appears to have continued his business of a sawyer to a very advanced age, and died in Salem, in 1705.
Sarah Nurse, about two years after her mother's death, married Michael Bowden, of Marblehead; and they occupied her father's house, in the town of Salem, of which he had retained the possession. His family having thus all been married off, Francis Nurse gave up his homestead to his son Samuel, and divided his remaining property among his four sons and four daughters. He made no formal deed or will, but drew up a paper, dated Dec. 4, 1694, describing the distribution of the estate, and what he expected of his children. He gave them immediate occupancy and possession of their respective portions. The provision made by the old man for his comfort, and the conditions required of his children, are curious. They give an interesting insight of the life of a rural patriarch. He reserved his "great chair and cushion;" a great chest; his bed and bedding; wardrobe, linen and woollen; a pewter pot; one mare, bridle, saddle, and sufficient fodder; the whole of the crop of corn, both Indian and English, he had made that year. The children were to discharge all the debts of his estate, pay him fourteen pounds a year, and contribute equally, as much more as might be necessary for his comfortable maintenance, and also to his "decent burial." The labors of his life had closed. He had borne the heaviest burden that can be laid on the heart of a good man. He found rest, and sought solace and support, in the society and love of his children and their families, as he rode from house to house on the road he had opened, by which they all communicated with each other. The parish records show that he continued his interest in its affairs. He lived just long enough to behold sure evidence that justice would be done to the memory of those who suffered, and the authors of the mischief be consigned to the condemnation of mankind. The tide, upon which Mr. Parris had ridden to the destruction of so many, had turned; and it was becoming apparent to all, that[ii.468] he would soon be compelled to disappear from his ministry in the village, before the awakening resentment of the people and the ministers. Francis Nurse died on the 22d of November, 1695, seventy-seven years of age. His sons with their wives, and his daughters with their husbands, went into the Probate Court with the paper before described, and unanimously requested the judge to have the estate divided according to its terms. This is conclusive proof that the father had been just and wise in his arrangements, and that true fraternal love and harmony pervaded the whole family. The descendants, under the names of Bowden, Tarbell, and Russell, are dispersed in various parts of the country: those under the name of Preston, while some have gone elsewhere, have been ever since, and still are, among the most respectable and honored citizens of the village. Some of the name of Nurse have also remained, and worthily represent and perpetuate it.
I have spoken of the tide's beginning to turn in 1695. Sure indications to that effect were then quite visible. It had begun far down in the public mind before the prosecutions ceased; but it was long before the change became apparent on the surface. It was long before men found utterance for their feelings.
Persons living at a distance have been accustomed, and are to this day, to treat the Salem-witchcraft transaction in the spirit of lightsome ridicule, and to make it the subject of jeers and jokes. Not so those who have lived on, or near, the fatal scene. They have ever regarded it with solemn awe and profound sorrow, and shunned the mention, and even the remembrance, of its details. This prevented an immediate expression of feeling, and delayed movements in the way of attempting a reparation of the wrongs that had been committed. The heart sickened, the lips were dumb, at the very thought of those wrongs. Reparation was impossible. The dead were beyond its reach. The sorrows and anguish of survivors were also beyond its reach. The voice of sympathy was felt to be unworthy to obtrude upon sensibilities that had been so outraged. The only refuge left for the individuals who had been bereaved, and for the body of the people who realized that innocent blood was on all their hands, was in humble and soul-subdued silence, and in prayers for forgiveness from God and from each other.[ii.469]
It was long before the public mind recovered from its paralysis. No one knew what ought to be said or done, the tragedy had been so awful. The parties who had acted in it were so numerous, and of such standing, including almost all the most eminent and honored leaders of the community from the bench, the bar, the magistracy, the pulpit, the medical faculty, and in fact all classes and descriptions of persons; the mysteries connected with the accusers and confessors; the universal prevalence of the legal, theological, and philosophical theories that had led to the proceedings; the utter impossibility of realizing or measuring the extent of the calamity; and the general shame and horror associated with the subject in all minds; prevented any open movement. Then there was the dread of rekindling animosities which time was silently subduing, and nothing but time could fully extinguish. Slowly, however, the remembrance of wrongs was becoming obscured. Neighborhood and business relations were gradually reconciling the estranged. Offices of civility, courtesy, and good-will were reviving; social and family intimacies and connections were taking effect and restoring the community to a natural and satisfactory condition. Every day, the sentiment was sinking deeper in the public mind, that something was required to be done to avert the displeasure of Heaven from a guilty land. But while some were ready to forgive, and some had the grace to ask to be forgiven, any general movement in this direction was obstructed by difficulties hard to be surmounted.
The wrongs committed were so remediless, the outrages upon right, character, and life, had been so shocking, that it was expecting too much from the ordinary standard of humanity to demand a general oblivion. On the other hand, so many had been responsible for them, and their promoters embraced such a great majority of all the leading classes of society, that it was impossible to call them to account. Dr. Bentley describes the condition of the community, in some brief and pregnant sentences, characteristic of his peculiar style: "As soon as the judges ceased to condemn, the people ceased to accuse.... Terror at the violence and guilt of the proceedings succeeded instantly to the conviction of blind zeal; and what every man had encouraged all professed to abhor. Few dared to blame other men, because[ii.470] few were innocent. The guilt and the shame became the portion of the country, while Salem had the infamy of being the place of the transactions.... After the public mind became quiet, few things were done to disturb it. But a diminished population, the injury done to religion, and the distress of the aggrieved, were seen and felt with the greatest sorrow.... Every place was the subject of some direful tale. Fear haunted every street. Melancholy dwelt in silence in every place, after the sun retired. Business could not, for some time, recover its former channels; and the innocent suffered with the guilty."
While the subject was felt to be too dark and awful to be spoken of, and most men desired to bury it in silence, occasionally the slumbering fires would rekindle, and the flames of animosity burst forth. The recollection of the part he had acted, and the feelings of many towards him in consequence, rendered the situation of the sheriff often quite unpleasant; and the resentment of some broke out in a shameful demonstration at his death, which occurred early in 1697. Mr. English, representing that class who had suffered under his official hands in 1692, having a business demand upon him, in the shape of a suit for debt, stood ready to seize his body after it was prepared for interment, and prevented the funeral at the time. The body was temporarily deposited on the sheriff's own premises. There were, it is probable, from time to time, other less noticeable occurrences manifesting the long continued existence of the unhappy state of feeling engendered in 1692. There were really two parties in the community, generally both quiescent, but sometimes coming into open collision; the one exasperated by the wrongs they and their friends had suffered, the other determined not to allow those who had acted in conducting the prosecutions to be called to account for what they had done. After the lapse of thirty years, and long subsequent to the death of Mr. Noyes, Mr. English was prosecuted for having said that Mr. Noyes had murdered Rebecca Nurse and John Procter.
It has been suggested, that the bearing of the executive officers of the law towards the prisoners was often quite harsh. This resulted from the general feeling, in which these officials would have been likely to sympathize, of the peculiarly execrable nature of the crime charged upon the accused, and from the danger that[ii.471] might attend the manifestation of any appearance of kindly regard for them. So far as the seizure of goods is considered, or the exaction of fees, the conduct of the officials was in conformity with usage and instructions. The system of the administration of the law, compared with our times, was stern, severe, and barbarous. The whole tone of society was more unfeeling. Philanthropy had not then extended its operations, or directed its notice, to the prison. Sheriff Corwin was quite a young man, being but twenty-six years of age at the time of his appointment. He probably acted under the advice of his relatives and connections on the bench. I think there is no evidence of any particular cruelty evinced by him. The arrests, examinations, and imprisonments had taken place under his predecessor, Marshal Herrick, who continued in the service as his deputy.
That individual, indeed, had justly incurred the resentment of the sufferers and their friends, by eager zeal in urging on the prosecutions, perpetual officiousness, and unwarrantable interference against the prisoners at the preliminary examinations. The odium originally attached to the marshal seems to have been transferred to his successor, and the whole was laid at the door of the sheriff. Marshal Herrick does not appear to have been connected with Joseph Herrick, who lived on what is now called Cherry Hill, but was a man of an entirely different stamp. He was thirty-four years of age, and had not been very long in the country. John Dunton speaks of meeting him in Salem, in 1686, and describes him as a "very tall, handsome man, very regular and devout in his attendance at church, religious without bigotry, and having every man's good word." His impatient activity against the victims of the witchcraft delusion wrought a great change in the condition of this popular and "handsome" man, as is seen in a petition presented by him, Dec. 8, 1692; to "His Excellency Sir William Phips, Knight, Captain-general and Governor of Their Majesties' Territories and Dominions of Massachusetts Bay in New England; and to the Honorable William Stoughton, Esq., Deputy-Governor; and to the rest of the Honored Council." It begins thus: "The petition of your poor servant, George Herrick, most humbly showeth." After recounting his great and various services "for the term of nine months," as marshal or deputy-sheriff in apprehending many prisoners, and conveying[ii.472] them "unto prison and from prison to prison," he complains that his whole time had been taken up so that he was incapable of getting any thing for the maintenance of his "poor family:" he further states that he had become so impoverished that necessity had forced him to lay down his place; and that he must certainly come to want, if not in some measure supplied. "Therefore I humbly beseech Your Honors to take my case and condition so far into consideration, that I may have some supply this hard winter, that I and my poor children may not be destitute of sustenance, and so inevitably perish; for I have been bred a gentleman, and not much used to work, and am become despicable in these hard times." He concludes by declaring, that he is not "weary of serving his king and country," nor very scrupulous as to the kind of service; for he promises that "if his habitation" could thereby be "graced with plenty in the room of penury, there shall be no services too dangerous and difficult, but your poor petitioner will gladly accept, and to the best of my power accomplish. I shall wholly lay myself at Your Honorable feet for relief." Marshal Herrick died in 1695.
But, while this feeling was spreading among the people, the government were doing their best to check it. There was great apprehension, that, if allowed to gather force, it would burst over all barriers, that no limit would be put to its demands for the restoration of property seized by the officers of the law, and that it would wreak vengeance upon all who had been engaged in the prosecutions. Under the influence of this fear, the following attempt was made to shield the sheriff of the county from prosecutions for damages by those whose relatives had suffered:—
"At a Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assize, and General Jail Delivery, held at Ipswich, the fifteenth day of May, anno Domini 1694.—Present, William Stoughton, Esq., Chief-justice; Thomas Danforth, Esq.; Samuel Sewall, Esq.
"This Court, having adjusted the accounts of George Corwin, Esq., high-sheriff for the county of Essex, do allow the same to be just and true; and that there remains a balance due to him, the said Corwin, of £67. 6s. 4d., which is also allowed unto him; and, pursuant to law, this Court doth fully, clearly, and absolutely acquit and discharge him,[ii.473] the said George Corwin, his heirs, executors, and administrators, lands and tenements, goods and chattels, of and from all manner of sum or sums of money, goods or chattels levied, received, or seized, and of all debts, duties, and demands which are or may be charged in his, the said Corwin's, accounts, or which may be imposed by reason of the sheriff's office, or any thing by him done by virtue thereof, or in the execution of the same, from the time he entered into the said office, to this Court."
This extraordinary attempt of the Court to close the doors of justice beforehand against suits for damages did not seem to have any effect; for Mr. English compelled the executors of the sheriff to pay over to him £60. 3s.
At length, the government had to meet the public feeling. A proclamation was issued, "By the Honorable the Lieutenant-Governor, Council, and Assembly of His Majesty's province of the Massachusetts Bay, in General Court assembled." It begins thus: "Whereas the anger of God is not yet turned away, but his hand is still stretched out against his people in manifold judgments;" and, after several specifications of the calamities under which they were suffering, and referring to the "many days of public and solemn" addresses made to God, it proceeds: "Yet we cannot but also fear that there is something still wanting to accompany our supplications; and doubtless there are some particular sins which God is angry with our Israel for, that have not been duly seen and resented by us, about which God expects to be sought, if ever he again turn our captivity." Thursday, the fourteenth of the next January, was accordingly appointed to be observed as a day of prayer and fasting,—
"That so all God's people may offer up fervent supplications unto him, that all iniquity may be put away, which hath stirred God's holy jealousy against this land; that he would show us what we know not, and help us, wherein we have done amiss, to do so no more; and especially, that, whatever mistakes on either hand have been fallen into, either by the body of this people or any orders of men, referring to the late tragedy, raised among us by Satan and his instruments, through the awful judgment of God, he would humble us therefor, and pardon all the errors of his servants and people that desire to love his name; that he would remove the rod of the wicked from off the lot of the[ii.474] righteous; that he would bring in the American heathen, and cause them to hear and obey his voice.
"Given at Boston, Dec. 17, 1696, in the eighth year of His Majesty's reign.
Isaac Addington, Secretary."
The jury had acted in conformity with their obligations and honest convictions of duty in bringing in their verdicts. They had sworn to decide according to the law and the evidence. The law under which they were required to act was laid down with absolute positiveness by the Court. They were bound to receive it, and to take and weigh the evidence that was admitted; and to their minds it was clear, decisive, and overwhelming, offered by persons of good character, and confirmed by a great number of confessions. If it had been within their province, as it always is declared not to be, to discuss the general principles, and sit in judgment on the particular penalties of law, it would not have altered the case; for, at that time, not only the common people, but the wisest philosophers, supported the interpretation of the law that acknowledged the existence of witchcraft, and its sanction that visited it with death.
Notwithstanding all this, however, so tender and sensitive were the consciences of the jurors, that they signed and circulated the following humble and solemn declaration of regret for the part they had borne in the trials. As the publication of this paper was highly honorable to those who signed it, and cannot but be contemplated with satisfaction by all their descendants, I will repeat their names:—
"We whose names are underwritten, being in the year 1692 called to serve as jurors in court at Salem, on trial of many who were by some suspected guilty of doing acts of witchcraft upon the bodies of sundry persons,—we confess that we ourselves were not capable to understand, nor able to withstand, the mysterious delusions of the powers of darkness and Prince of the air, but were, for want of knowledge in ourselves and better information from others, prevailed with to take up with such evidence against the accused as, on further consideration and better information, we justly fear was insufficient for the touching the lives of any (Deut. xvii. 6), whereby we fear we have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon ourselves and this people of the Lord the guilt of innocent blood; which sin the Lord saith in Scripture he would not pardon[ii.475] (2 Kings xxiv. 4),—that is, we suppose, in regard of his temporal judgments. We do therefore hereby signify to all in general, and to the surviving sufferers in special, our deep sense of, and sorrow for, our errors in acting on such evidence to the condemning of any person; and do hereby declare, that we justly fear that we were sadly deluded and mistaken,—for which we are much disquieted and distressed in our minds, and do therefore humbly beg forgiveness, first, of God, for Christ's sake, for this our error, and pray that God would not impute the guilt of it to ourselves nor others: and we also pray that we may be considered candidly and aright by the living sufferers, as being then under the power of a strong and general delusion, utterly unacquainted with, and not experienced in, matters of that nature.
"We do heartily ask forgiveness of you all, whom we have justly offended; and do declare, according to our present minds, we would none of us do such things again, on such grounds, for the whole world,—praying you to accept of this in way of satisfaction for our offence, and that you would bless the inheritance of the Lord, that he may be entreated for the land.
In 1697, Rev. John Hale, of Beverly, published a work on the subject of the witchcraft persecutions, in which he gives the reasons which led him to the conclusion that there was error at the foundation of the proceedings. The following extract shows that he took a rational view of the subject:—
"It may be queried then, How doth it appear that there was a going too far in this affair?
"Answer I.—By the number of persons accused. It cannot be imagined, that, in a place of so much knowledge, so many, in so small a compass of land, should so abominably leap into the Devil's lap,—at once.
"Ans. II.—The quality of several of the accused was such as did bespeak better things, and things that accompany salvation. Persons whose blameless and holy lives before did testify for them; persons that had taken great pains to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, such as we had charity for as for our[ii.476] own souls,—and charity is a Christian duty, commended to us in 1 Cor. xiii., Col. iii. 14, and many other places.
"Ans. III.—The number of the afflicted by Satan daily increased, till about fifty persons were thus vexed by the Devil. This gave just ground to suspect some mistake.
"Ans. IV.—It was considerable, that nineteen were executed, and all denied the crime to the death; and some of them were knowing persons, and had before this been accounted blameless livers. And it is not to be imagined but that, if all had been guilty, some would have had so much tenderness as to seek mercy for their souls in the way of confession, and sorrow for such a sin.
"Ans. V.—When this prosecution ceased, the Lord so chained up Satan, that the afflicted grew presently well: the accused are generally quiet, and for five years since we have no such molestation by them."
Such reasonings as these found their way into the minds of the whole community; and it became the melancholy conviction of all candid and considerate persons that innocent blood had been shed. Standing where we do, with the lights that surround us, we look back upon the whole scene as an awful perversion of justice, reason, and truth.
On the 13th of June, 1700, Abigail Faulkner presented a well-expressed memorial to the General Court, in which she says that her pardon "so far had its effect, as that I am yet suffered to live, but this only as a malefactor convict upon record of the most heinous crimes that mankind can be supposed to be guilty of;" and prays for "the defacing of the record" against her. She claims it as no more than a simple act of justice; stating that the evidence against her was wholly confined to the "afflicted, who pretended to see me by their spectral sight, and not with their bodily eyes." That "the jury (upon only their testimony) brought me in 'Guilty,' and the sentence of death was passed upon me;" and that it had been decided that such testimony was of no value. The House of Representatives felt the force of her appeal, and voted that "the prayer of the petitioner be granted." The council declined to concur, but addressed "His Excellency to grant the petitioner His Majesty's gracious pardon; and His Excellency expressed His readiness to grant the same." Some adverse influence, it seemed, prevailed to prevent it.
On the 18th of March, 1702, another petition was presented to[ii.477] the General Court, by persons of Andover, Salem Village, and Topsfield, who had suffered imprisonment and condemnation, and by the relations of others who had been condemned and executed on the testimony, as they say, of "possessed persons," to this effect:—
"Your petitioners being dissatisfied and grieved that (besides what the condemned persons have suffered in their persons and estates) their names are exposed to infamy and reproach, while their trial and condemnation stands upon public record, we therefore humbly pray this honored Court that something may be publicly done to take off infamy from the names and memory of those who have suffered as aforesaid, that none of their surviving relations nor their posterity may suffer reproach on that account."
[Signed by Francis Faulkner, Isaac Easty, Thorndike Procter, and eighteen others.]
On the 20th of July, in answer to the foregoing petitions, a bill was ordered by the House of Representatives to be drawn up, forbidding in future such procedures, as in the witchcraft trials of 1692; declaring that "no spectre evidence may hereafter be accounted valid or sufficient to take away the life or good name of any person or persons within this province, and that the infamy and reproach cast on the names and posterity of said accused and condemned persons may in some measure be rolled away." The council concurred with an additional clause, to acquit all condemned persons "of the penalties to which they are liable upon the convictions and judgments in the courts, and estate them in their just credit and reputation, as if no such judgment had been had."
This petition was re-enforced by an "address" to the General Court, dated July 8, 1703, by several ministers of the county of Essex. They speak of the accusers in the witchcraft trials as "young persons under diabolical molestations," and express this sentiment: "There is great reason to fear that innocent persons then suffered, and that God may have a controversy with the land upon that account." They earnestly beg that the prayer of the petitioners, lately presented, may be granted. This petition was signed by Thomas Barnard, of Andover; Joseph Green, of Salem Village; William Hubbard, John Wise, John Rogers, and Jabez[ii.478] Fitch, of Ipswich; Benjamin Rolfe, of Haverhill; Samuel Cheever, of Marblehead; Joseph Gerrish, of Wenham; Joseph Capen, of Topsfield; Zechariah Symmes, of Bradford; and Thomas Symmes, of Boxford. Francis Dane, of Andover, had died six years before. John Hale, of Beverly, had died three years before. The great age of John Higginson, of Salem,—eighty-seven years,—probably prevented the papers being handed to him. It is observable, that Nicholas Noyes, his colleague, is not among the signers.
What prevented action, we do not know; but nothing was done. Six years afterwards, on the 25th of May, 1709, an "humble address" was presented to the General Court by certain inhabitants of the province, some of whom "had their near relations, either parents or others, who suffered death in the dark and doleful times that passed over this province in 1692;" and others "who themselves, or some of their relations, were imprisoned, impaired and blasted in their reputations and estates by reason of the same." They pray for the passage of a "suitable act" to restore the reputations of the sufferers, and to make some remuneration "as to what they have been damnified in their estates thereby." This paper was signed by Philip English and twenty-one others. Philip English gave in an account in detail of what articles were seized and carried away, at the time of his arrest, from four of his warehouses, his wharf, and shop-house, besides the expenses incurred in prison, and in escaping from it. It appears by this statement, that he and his wife were nine weeks in jail at Salem and Boston. Nothing was done at this session. The next year, Sept. 12, 1710, Isaac Easty presented a strong memorial to the General Court in reference to his case. He calls for some remuneration. In speaking of the arrest and execution of his "beloved wife," he says "my sorrow and trouble of heart in being deprived of her in such a manner, which this world can never make me any compensation for." At the same time, the daughters of Elizabeth How, the son of Sarah Wildes, the heirs of Mary Bradbury, Edward Bishop and his wife Sarah, sent in severally similar petitions,—all in earnest and forcible language. Charles, one of the sons of George Burroughs, presented the case of his "dear and honored father;" declaring that his innocence of the crime of which he was accused, and his excellence of character, were shown in "his careful catechising his children, and upholding[ii.479] religion in his family, and by his solemn and savory written instructions from prison." He describes in affecting details the condition in which his father's family of little children was left at his death. One of Mr. Burroughs's daughters, upon being required to sign a paper in reference to compensation, expresses her distress of mind in these words: "Every discourse on this melancholy subject doth but give a fresh wound to my bleeding heart. I desire to sit down in silence." John Moulton, in behalf of the family of Giles Corey, says that they "cannot sufficiently express their grief" for the death, in such a manner, of "their honored father and mother." Samuel Nurse, in behalf of his brothers and sisters, says that their "honored and dear mother had led a blameless life from her youth up.... Her name and the name of her posterity lies under reproach, the removing of which reproach is the principal thing wherein we desire restitution. And, as we know not how to express our loss of such a mother in such a way, so we know not how to compute our charge, but leave it to the judgment of others, and shall not be critical." He distinctly intimates, that they do not wish any money to be paid them, unless "the attainder is taken off." Many other petitions were presented by the families of those who suffered, all in the same spirit; and several besides the Nurses insisted mainly upon the "taking off the attainder."
The General Court, on the 17th of October, 1710, passed an act, that "the several convictions, judgments, and attainders be, and hereby are, reversed, and declared to be null and void." In simple justice, they ought to have extended the act to all who had suffered; but they confined its effect to those in reference to whom petitions had been presented. The families of some of them had disappeared, or may not have had notice of what was going on; so that the sentence which the Government acknowledged to have been unjust remains to this day unreversed against the names and memory of Bridget Bishop, Susanna Martin, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Wilmot Read, and Margaret Scott. The stain on the records of the Commonwealth has never been fully effaced. What caused this dilatory and halting course on the part of the Government, and who was responsible for it, cannot be ascertained. Since the presentation of Abigail Faulkner's petition in 1700, the Legislature, in the popular branch at least, and the[ii.480] Governor, appear to have been inclined to act favorably in the premises; but some power blocked the way. There is some reason to conjecture that it was the influence of the home government. Its consent to have the prosecutions suspended, in 1692, was not very cordial, but, while it approved of "care and circumspection therein," expressed reluctance to allow any "impediment to the ordinary course of justice."
On the 17th of December, 1711, Governor Dudley issued his warrant for the purpose of carrying out a vote of the "General Assembly," "by and with the advice and consent of Her Majesty's Council," to pay "the sum of £578. 12s." to "such persons as are living, and to those that legally represent them that are dead;" which sum was divided as follows:—
The distribution, as above, according to the evidence as it has come down to us, is as unjust and absurd as the smallness of the[ii.481] amount, and the long delay before it was ordered, are discreditable to the province. One of the larger sums was allowed to William Good, while he clearly deserved nothing, as he was an adverse witness in the examination of his wife, and did what he could to promote the prosecution against her. He did not, it is true, swear that he believed her to be a witch; but what he said tended to prejudice the magistrates and the public against her. Benjamin Putnam acted as his attorney, and received the money for him. Good was a retainer and dependant of that branch of the Putnam family; and its influence gave him so large a proportionate amount, and not the reason or equity of the case. More was allowed to Abigail Hobbs, a very malignant witness against the prisoners, than to the families of several who were executed. Nearly twice as much was allowed for Abigail Faulkner, who was pardoned, as for Elizabeth How, who was executed. The sums allowed in the cases of Parker, Carrier, and Foster, were shamefully small. The public mind evidently was not satisfied; and the Legislature were pressed for a half-century to make more adequate compensation, and thereby vindicate the sentiment of justice, and redeem the honor of the province.
On the 8th of December, 1738, Major Samuel Sewall, a son of the Judge, introduced an order in the House of Representatives for the appointment of a committee to get information relating to "the circumstances of the persons and families who suffered in the calamity of the times in and about the year 1692." Major Sewall entered into the matter with great zeal. The House unanimously passed the order. He was chairman of the committee; and, on the 9th of December, wrote to his cousin Mitchel Sewall in Salem, son of Stephen, earnestly requesting him and John Higginson, Esq., to aid in accomplishing the object. The following is an extract from a speech delivered by Governor Belcher to both Houses of the Legislature, Nov. 22, 1740. It is honorable to his memory.
"The Legislature have often honored themselves in a kind and generous remembrance of such families and of the posterity of such as have been sufferers, either in their persons or estates, for or by the Government, of which the public records will give you many instances. I should therefore be glad there might be a committee appointed by this Court to inquire into the sufferings of the people called Quakers, in the early days of this country, as also into the descendants of such[ii.482] families as were in a manner ruined in the mistaken management of the terrible affair called witchcraft. I really think there is something incumbent on this Government to be done for relieving the estates and reputations of the posterities of the unhappy families that so suffered; and the doing it, though so long afterwards, would doubtless be acceptable to Almighty God, and would reflect honor upon the present Legislature."
On the 31st of May, 1749, the heirs of George Burroughs addressed a petition to Governor Shirley and the General Court, setting forth "the unparalleled persecutions and sufferings" of their ancestor, and praying for "some recompense from this Court for the losses thereby sustained by his family." It was referred to a committee of both Houses. The next year, the petitioners sent a memorial to Governor Spencer Phips and the General Court, stating, that "it hath fell out, that the Hon. Mr. Danforth, chairman of the said committee, had not, as yet, called them together so much as once to act thereon, even to this day, as some of the honorable committee themselves were pleased, with real concern, to signify to your said petitioners." The House immediately passed this order: "That the committee within referred to be directed to sit forthwith, consider the petition to them committed, and report as soon as may be."
All that I have been able to find, as the result of these long-delayed and long-protracted movements, is a statement of Dr. Bentley, that the heirs of Philip English received two hundred pounds. He does not say when the act to this effect was passed. Perhaps some general measure of the kind was adopted, the record of which I have failed to meet. The engrossing interest of the then pending French war, and of the vehement dissensions that led to the Revolution, probably prevented any further attention to this subject, after the middle of the last century.
It is apparent from the foregoing statements and records, that while many individuals, the people generally, and finally Governor Belcher and the House of Representatives emphatically, did what they could, there was an influence that prevailed to prevent for a long time, if not for ever, any action of the province to satisfy the demands made by justice and the honor of the country in repairing the great wrongs committed by the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the Government in 1692. The only bodies[ii.483] of men who fully came up to their duty on the occasion were the clergy of the county, and, as will appear, the church at Salem Village.
What was done by the First Church in Salem is shown in the following extract from its records:—
"March 2, 1712.—After the sacrament, a church-meeting was appointed to be at the teacher's house, at two of the clock in the afternoon, on the sixth of the month, being Thursday: on which day they accordingly met to consider of the several following particulars propounded to them by the teacher; viz.:—
"1. Whether the record of the excommunication of our Sister Nurse (all things considered) may not be erased and blotted out. The result of which consideration was, That whereas, on July 3d, 1692, it was proposed by the Elders, and consented to by an unanimous vote of the church, that our Sister Nurse should be excommunicated, she being convicted of witchcraft by the Court, and she was accordingly excommunicated, since which the General Court having taken off the attainder, and the testimony on which she was convicted being not now so satisfactory to ourselves and others as it was generally in that hour of darkness and temptation; and we being solicited by her son, Mr. Samuel Nurse, to erase and blot out of the church records the sentence of her excommunication,—this church, having the matter proposed to them by the teacher, and having seriously considered it, doth consent that the record of our Sister Nurse's excommunication be accordingly erased and blotted out, that it may no longer be a reproach to her memory, and an occasion of grief to her children. Humbly requesting that the merciful God would pardon whatsoever sin, error, or mistake was in the application of that censure and of that whole affair, through our merciful High-priest, who knoweth how to have compassion on the ignorant, and those that are out of the way.
"2. It was proposed whether the sentence of excommunication against our Brother Giles Corey (all things considered) may not be erased and blotted out. The result was, That whereas, on Sept. 18, 1692, it was considered by the church, that our Brother Giles Corey stood accused of and indicted for the sin of witchcraft, and that he had obstinately refused to plead, and so threw himself on certain death. It was agreed by the vote of the church, that he should be excommunicated for it; and accordingly he was excommunicated. Yet the church, having now testimony in his behalf, that, before his death, he did bitterly repent of his obstinate refusal to plead in defence[ii.484] of his life, do consent that the sentence of his excommunication be erased and blotted out."
It will be noticed that these proceedings were not had at a regular public meeting, but at a private meeting of the church, on a week-day afternoon, at the teacher's house. The motives that led to them were a disposition to comply with the act of the General Court, and the solicitations of Mr. Samuel Nurse, rather than a profound sense of wrong done to a venerable member of their own body, who had claims upon their protection as such. The language of the record does not frankly admit absolutely that there was sin, error, or mistake, but requests forgiveness for whatsoever there may have been. The character of Rebecca Nurse, and the outrageous treatment she had received from that church, in the method arranged for her excommunication, demanded something more than these hypothetical expressions, with such a preamble.
The statement made in the vote about Corey is, on its face, a misrepresentation. From the nature of the proceeding by which he was destroyed, it was in his power, at any moment, if he "repented of his obstinate refusal to plead," by saying so, to be instantly released from the pressure that was crushing him. The only design of the torture was to make him bring it to an end by "answering" guilty, or not guilty. Somebody fabricated the slander that Corey's resolution broke down under his agonies, and that he bitterly repented; and Mr. Noyes put the foolish scandal upon the records of the church.
The date of this transaction is disreputable to the people of Salem. Twenty years had been suffered to elapse, and a great outrage allowed to remain unacknowledged and unrepented. The credit of doing what was done at last probably belongs to the Rev. George Corwin. His call to the ministry, as colleague with Mr. Noyes, had just been consummated. The introduction of a new minister heralded a new policy, and the proceedings have the appearance of growing out of the kindly and auspicious feelings which generally attend and welcome such an era.
The Rev. George, son of Jonathan Corwin, was born May 21, 1683, and graduated at Harvard College in 1701. Mr. Barnard, of Marblehead, describes his character: "The spirit of[ii.485] early devotion, accompanied with a natural freedom of thought and easy elocution, a quick invention, a solid judgment, and a tenacious memory, laid the foundation of a good preacher; to which his acquired literature, his great reading, hard studies, deep meditation, and close walk with God, rendered him an able and faithful minister of the New Testament." The records of the First Church, in noticing his death, thus speak of him: "He was highly esteemed in his life, and very deservedly lamented at his death; having been very eminent for his early improvement in learning and piety, his singular abilities and great labors, his remarkable zeal and faithfulness. He was a great benefactor to our poor." Those bearing the name of Curwen among us are his descendants. He died Nov. 23, 1717.
The Rev. Nicholas Noyes died Dec. 13, 1717. He was a person of superior talents and learning. He published, with the sermon preached by Cotton Mather on the occasion, a poem on the death of his venerable colleague, Mr. Higginson, in 1708; and also a poem on the death of Rev. Joseph Green, in 1715. Although an amiable and benevolent man in other respects, it cannot be denied that he was misled by his errors and his temperament into the most violent course in the witchcraft prosecutions; and it is to be feared that his feelings were never wholly rectified in reference to that transaction.
Jonathan, the father of the Rev. George Corwin, and whose part as a magistrate and judge in the examinations and trials of 1692 has been seen, died on the 9th of July, 1718, seventy-eight years of age.
It only remains to record the course of the village church and people in reference to the events of 1692. After six persons, including Rebecca Nurse, had suffered death; and while five others, George Burroughs, John Procter, John Willard, George Jacobs, and Martha Carrier, were awaiting their execution, which was to take place on the coming Friday, Aug. 19,—the facts, related as follows by Mr. Parris in his record-book, occurred:—
"Sabbath-day, 14th August, 1692.—The church was stayed after the congregation was dismissed, and the pastor spake to the church after this manner:—
"'Brethren, you may all have taken notice, that, several sacrament days past, our brother Peter Cloyse, and Samuel Nurse and his wife,[ii.486] and John Tarbell and his wife, have absented from communion with us at the Lord's Table, yea, have very rarely, except our brother Samuel Nurse, been with us in common public worship: now, it is needful that the church send some persons to them to know the reason of their absence. Therefore, if you be so minded, express yourselves.'
"None objected. But a general or universal vote, after some discourse, passed, that Brother Nathaniel Putnam and the two deacons should join with the pastor to discourse with the said absenters about it.
"31st August.—Brother Tarbell proves sick, unmeet for discourse; Brother Cloyse hard to be found at home, being often with his wife in prison at Ipswich for witchcraft; and Brother Nurse, and sometimes his wife, attends our public meeting, and he the sacrament, 11th September, 1692: upon all which we choose to wait further."
When it is remembered that the individuals aimed at all belonged to the family of Rebecca Nurse, whose execution had taken place three weeks before under circumstances with which Mr. Parris had been so prominently and responsibly connected, this proceeding must be felt by every person of ordinary human sensibilities to have been cruel, barbarous, and unnatural. Parris made the entry in his book, as he often did, some time after the transaction, as the inserted date of Sept. 11, shows. What his object was in commencing disciplinary treatment of this distressed family is not certain. It may be that he was preparing to get up such a feeling against them as would make it safe to have the "afflicted" cry out upon some of them. Or it may be that he wished to get them out of his church, to avoid the possibility of their proceeding against him, by ecclesiastical methods, at some future day. He could not, however, bring his church to continue the process. This is the first indication that the brethren were no longer to be relied on by him to go all lengths, and that some remnants of good feeling and good sense were to be found among them.
But Mr. Parris was determined not to allow the public feeling against persons charged with witchcraft to subside, if he could help it; and he made one more effort to renew the vehemence of the prosecutions. He prepared and preached two sermons, on the 11th of September, from the text, Rev. xvii. 14: "These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is[ii.487] Lord of lords, and King of kings; and they that are with him are called and chosen and faithful." They are entitled, "The Devil and his instruments will be warring against Christ and his followers." This note is added, "After the condemnation of six witches at a court at Salem, one of the witches, viz., Martha Corey, in full communion with our church." The following is a portion of "the improvement" in the application of these discourses:—
"It may serve to reprove such as seem to be so amazed at the war the Devil has raised amongst us by wizards and witches, against the Lamb and his followers, that they altogether deny it. If ever there were witches, men and women in covenant with the Devil, here are multitudes in New England. Nor is it so strange a thing that there should be such; no, nor that some church-members should be such. Pious Bishop Hall saith, 'The Devil's prevalency in this age is most clear in the marvellous number of witches abounding in all places. Now hundreds (says he) are discovered in one shire; and, if fame deceive us not, in a village of fourteen houses in the north are found so many of this damned brood. Heretofore, only barbarous deserts had them; but now the civilized and religious parts are frequently pestered with them. Heretofore, some silly, ignorant old woman, &c.; but now we have known those of both sexes who professed much knowledge, holiness, and devotion, drawn into this damnable practice.'"
The foregoing extract is important as showing that some persons at the village had begun to express their disbelief of the witchcraft doctrine of Mr. Parris, "altogether denying it." The title and drift of the sermons in connection with the date, and his proceedings, the month before, against Samuel Nurse, Tarbell, and Cloyse, members of his church, give color to the idea that he was designing to have them "cried out" against, and thus disposed of. It is a noticeable fact, that, about this time, Cotton Mather was also laying his plans for a renewal, or rather continuance, of witchcraft prosecutions. Nine days after these sermons were preached by Parris, Mather wrote the following letter to Stephen Sewall of Salem:—
Boston, Sept. 20, 1692.
My dear and my very obliging Stephen,—It is my hap to be continually ... with all sorts of objections, and objectors against the ... work now doing at Salem; and it is my further good hap to do some little service for God and you in my encounters.[ii.488]
But that I may be the more capable to assist in lifting up a standard against the infernal enemy, I must renew my most importunate request, that you would please quickly to perform what you kindly promised, of giving me a narrative of the evidences given in at the trials of half a dozen, or if you please a dozen, of the principal witches that have been condemned. I know 'twill cost you some time; but, when you are sensible of the benefit that will follow, I know you will not think much of that cost; and my own willingness to expose myself unto the utmost for the defence of my friends with you makes me presume to plead something of merit to be considered.
I shall be content, if you draw up the desired narrative by way of letter to me; or, at least, let it not come without a letter, wherein you shall, if you can, intimate over again what you have sometimes told me of the awe which is upon the hearts of your juries, with ... unto the validity of the spectral evidences.
Please also to ... some of your observations about the confessors and the credibility of what they assert, or about things evidently preternatural in the witchcrafts, and whatever else you may account an entertainment, for an inquisitive person, that entirely loves you and Salem. Nay, though I will never lay aside the character which I mentioned in my last words, yet I am willing, that, when you write, you should imagine me as obstinate a Sadducee and witch-advocate as any among us: address me as one that believed nothing reasonable; and when you have so knocked me down, in a spectre so unlike me, you will enable me to box it about among my neighbors, till it come—I know not where at last.
But assure yourself, as I shall not wittingly make what you write prejudicial to any worthy design which those two excellent persons, Mr. Hale and Mr. Noyse, may have in hand; so you shall find that I shall be, sir, your grateful friend,
P.S.—That which very much strengthens the charms of the request which this letter makes you is, that His Excellency the Governor laid his positive commands upon me to desire this favor of you; and the truth is, there are some of his circumstances with reference to this affair, which I need not mention, that call for the expediting of your kindness,—kindness, I say, for such it will be esteemed as well by him as by your servant,
In order to understand the character and aim of this letter, it will be necessary to consider its date. It was written Sept. 20, 1692. On the 19th of August, but one month before, Dr. Mather[ii.489] was acting a conspicuous part under the gallows at Witch-hill, at the execution of Mr. Burroughs and four others, increasing the power of the awful delusion, and inflaming the passions of the people. On the 9th of September, six more miserable creatures received sentence of death. On the 17th of September, nine more received sentence of death. On the 19th of September, Giles Corey was crushed to death. And, on the 22d of September, eight were executed. These were the last that suffered death. The letter, therefore, was written while the horrors of the transaction were at their height, and by a person who had himself been a witness of them, and whose "good hap" it had been to "do some little service" in promoting them. The object of the writer is declared to be, that he might be "more capable to assist in lifting up a standard against the infernal enemy." The literal meaning of this expression is, that he might be enabled to get up another witchcraft delusion under his own special management and control. Can any thing be imagined more artful and dishonest than the plan he had contrived to keep himself out of sight in all the operations necessary to accomplish his purpose? "Nay, though I will never lay aside the character which I mentioned in my last words, yet I am willing, that, when you write, you should imagine me as obstinate a Sadducee and witch-advocate as any among us: address me as one that believed nothing reasonable; and when you have so knocked me down, in a spectre so unlike me, you will enable me to box it about among my neighbors, till it come—I know not where at last."
Upon obtaining the document requisite to the fulfilment of his design, he did "box it about" so effectually among his neighbors, that he succeeded that next summer in getting up a wonderful case of witchcraft, in the person of one Margaret Rule, a member of his congregation in Boston. Dr. Mather published an account of her long-continued fastings, even unto the ninth day, and of the incredible sufferings she endured from the "infernal enemy." "She was thrown," says he, "into such exorbitant convulsions as were astonishing to the spectators in general. They that could behold the doleful condition of the poor family without sensible compassions might have entrails, indeed, but I am sure they could have no true bowels in them." So far was he successful in spreading the delusion, that he prevailed upon six men to testify[ii.490] that they had seen Margaret Rule lifted bodily from her bed, and raised by an invisible power "so as to touch the garret floor;" that she was entirely removed from the bed or any other material support; that she continued suspended for several minutes; and that a strong man, assisted by several other persons, could not effectually resist the mysterious force that lifted her up, and poised her aloft in the air! The people of Boston were saved from the horrors intended to be brought upon them by this dark and deep-laid plot, by the activity, courage, and discernment of Calef and others, who distrusted Dr. Mather, and, by watching his movements, exposed the imposture, and overthrew the whole design.
Mr. Parris does not appear to have produced much effect by his sermons. The people had suffered enough from the "war between the Devil and the Lamb," as he and Mather had conducted it; and it could not be renewed.
Immediately upon the termination of the witchcraft proceedings, the controversy between Mr. Parris and the congregation, or the inhabitants, as they were called, of the village, was renewed, with earnest resolution on their part to get rid of him. The parish neglected and refused to raise the means for paying his salary; and a majority of the voters, in the meetings of the "inhabitants," vigilantly resisted all attempts in his favor. The church was still completely under his influence; and, as has been stated in the First Part, he made use of that body to institute a suit against the people. The court and magistrates were wholly in his favor, and peremptorily ordered the appointment, by the people, of a new committee. The inhabitants complied with the order by the election of a new committee, but took care to have it composed exclusively of men opposed to Mr. Parris; and he found himself no better off than before. He concluded not to employ his church any longer as a principal agent in his lawsuit against the parish; but used it for another purpose.
After the explosion of the witchcraft delusion, the relations of parties became entirely changed. The prosecutors at the trials were put on the defensive, and felt themselves in peril. Parris saw his danger, and, with characteristic courage and fertility of resources, prepared to defend himself, and carry the war upon any quarter from which an attack might be apprehended. He[ii.491] continued, on his own responsibility, to prosecute, in court, his suit against the parish, and in his usual trenchant style. As the law then was, a minister, in a controversy with his parish, had a secure advantage, and absolutely commanded the situation, if his church were with him. From the time of his settlement, Parris had shaped his policy on this basis. He had sought to make his church an impregnable fortress against his opponents. But, to be impregnable, it was necessary that there should be no enemies within it. A few disaffected brethren could at any time demand, and have a claim to, a mutual council; and Mr. Parris knew, that, before the investigations of such a council, his actions in the witchcraft prosecutions could not stand. This perhaps suggested his movements, in August, 1692, against Samuel Nurse, John Tarbell, and Peter Cloyse. He did not at that time succeed in getting rid of them; and they remained in the church, and, with the exception of Cloyse, in the village. They might at any time take the steps that would lead to a mutual council; and Mr. Parris was determined, at all events, to prevent that. It was evident that the members of that family would insist upon satisfaction being given them, in and through the church, for the wrongs he had done them. Although, in the absence of Cloyse, but two in number, there was danger that sympathy for them might reach others of the brethren. Thomas Wilkins, a member in good standing, son of old Bray Wilkins, and a connection of John Willard, an intelligent and resolute man, had already joined them. Parris felt that others might follow, and that whatever could be done to counteract them must be done quickly. He accordingly initiated proceedings in his church to rid himself of them, if not by excommunication, at least by getting them under discipline, so as to prevent the possibility of their dealing with him.
This led to one of the most remarkable passages of the kind in the annals of the New-England churches. It is narrated in detail by Mr. Parris, in his church record-book. It would not be easy to find anywhere an example of greater skill, wariness, or ability in a conflict of this sort. On the one side is Mr. Parris, backed by his church and the magistrates, and aided, it is probable, by Mr. Noyes; on the other, three husbandmen. They had no known backers or advisers; and, at frequent stages of the fencing match, had to parry or strike, without time to consult any[ii.492] one. Mr. Parris was ingenious, quick, a great strategist, and not over-scrupulous as to the use of his weapons. Nurse, Tarbell, and Wilkins were cautious, cool, steady, and persistent. Of course, they were wholly inexperienced in such things, and liable to make wrong moves, or to be driven or drawn to untenable ground. But they will not be found, I think, to have taken a false step from beginning to end. Their line of action was extremely narrow. It was necessary to avoid all personalities, and every appearance of passion or excitement; to make no charge against Mr. Parris that could touch the church, as such, or reflect upon the courts, magistrates, or any others that had taken part in the prosecutions. It was necessary to avoid putting any thing into writing, with their names attached, which could in any way be tortured into a libel. Parris lets fall expressions which show that he was on the watch for something of the kind to seize upon, to transfer the movement from the church to the courts. Entirely unaccustomed to public speaking, these three farmers had to meet assemblages composed of their opponents, and much wrought up against them; to make statements, and respond to interrogatories and propositions, the full and ultimate bearing of which was not always apparent: any unguarded expression might be fatal to their cause. Their safety depended upon using the right word at the right time and in the right manner, and in withholding the statement of their grievances, in adequate force of language, until they were under the shelter of a council. If, during the long-protracted conferences and communications, they had tripped at any point, allowed a phrase or syllable to escape which might be made the ground of discipline or censure, all would be lost; for Parris could not be reached but through a council, and a council could not even be asked for except by brethren in full and clear standing. It was often attempted to ensnare them into making charges against the church; but they kept their eye on Parris, and, as they told him more than once in the presence of the whole body of the people, on him alone. Limited as the ground was on which they could stand, they held it steadfastly, and finally drove him from his stronghold.
On the first movement of Mr. Parris offensively upon them, they commenced their movement upon him. The method by which alone they could proceed, according to ecclesiastical law[ii.493] and the platform of the churches, was precisely as it was understood to be laid down in Matt. xviii. 15-17. Following these directions, Samuel Nurse first called alone upon Mr. Parris, and privately made known his grievances. Parris gave him no satisfaction. Then, after a due interval, Nurse, Tarbell, and Wilkins called upon him together. He refused to see them together, but one at a time was allowed to go up into his study. Tarbell and Nurse each spent an hour or more with him, leaving no time for Wilkins. In these interviews, he not only failed to give satisfaction, but, according to his own account, treated them in the coolest and most unfeeling manner, not allowing himself to utter a soothing word, but actually reiterating his belief of the guilt of their mother; telling them, as he says, "that he had not seen sufficient grounds to vary his opinion." Cloyse came soon after to the village, and had an interview with him for the same purpose. Parris saw them one only at a time, in order to preclude their taking the second step required by the gospel rule; that is, to have a brother of the church with them as a witness. He also took the ground that they could not be witnesses for each other, but that he should treat them all as only one person in the transaction. A sense of the injustice of his conduct, or some other consideration, led William Way, another of the brethren, to go with them as a witness. Nurse, Tarbell, Wilkins, Cloyse, and Way went to his house together. He said that the four first were but one person in the case; but admitted that Way was a distinct person, a brother of accredited standing, and a witness. He escaped, however, under the subterfuge that the gospel rule required "two or three witnesses." In this way, the matter stood for some time; Parris saying that they had not complied with the conditions in Matt. xviii., and they maintaining that they had.
The course of Parris was fast diminishing his hold upon the public confidence. It was plain that the disaffected brethren had done what they could, in an orderly way, to procure a council. At length, the leading clergymen here and in Boston, whose minds were open to reason, thought it their duty to interpose their advice. They wrote to Parris, that he and his church ought to consent to a council. They wrote a second time in stronger terms. Not daring to quarrel with so large a portion of the clergy, Parris pretended to comply with their advice, but demanded a majority of the coun[ii.494]cil to be chosen by him and his church. The disaffected brethren insisted upon a fair, mutual council; each party to have three ministers, with their delegates, in it. To this, Parris had finally to agree. The dissatisfied brethren named, as one of their three, a church at Ipswich. Parris objected to the Ipswich church. The dissenting brethren insisted that each side should be free to select its respective three churches. Parris was not willing to have Ipswich in the council. The other party insisted, and here the matter hung suspended. The truth is, that the disaffected brethren were resolved to have the Rev. John Wise in the council. They knew Cotton Mather would be there, on the side of Parris; and they knew that John Wise was the man to meet him. The public opinion settled down in favor of the dissatisfied brethren, on the ground that each party to a mutual council ought to—and, to make it really mutual, must—have free and full power to nominate the churches to be called by it. Parris, being afraid to have a mutual council, and particularly if Mr. Wise was in it, suddenly took a new position. He and his church called an ex parte council, at which the following ministers, with their delegates, were present: Samuel Checkley of the New South Church, James Allen of the First Church, Samuel Willard of the Old South, Increase and Cotton Mather of the North Church,—all of Boston; Samuel Torrey of Weymouth; Samuel Phillips of Rowley, and Edward Payson, also of Rowley. Among the delegates were many of the leading public men of the province. The result was essentially damaging to Mr. Parris. The tide was now strongly set against him. The Boston ministers advised him to withdraw from the contest. They provided a settlement for him in Connecticut, and urged him to quit the village, and go there. But he refused, and prolonged the struggle. In the course of it, papers were drawn up and signed, one by his friends, another by his opponents, together embracing nearly all the men and women of the village. Those who did not sign either paper were understood to sympathize with the disaffected brethren. Many who signed the paper favorable to him acted undoubtedly from the motive stated in the heading; viz., that the removal of Mr. Parris could do no good, "for we have had three ministers removed already, and by every removal our differences have been rather aggravated." Another removal, they thought, would utterly ruin them. They[ii.495] do not express any particular interest in Mr. Parris, but merely dread another change. They preferred to bear the ills they had, rather than fly to others that they knew not of. It is a very significant fact, that neither Mrs. Ann Putnam nor the widow Sarah Houlton signed either paper (the Sarah Houlton whose name appears was the wife of Joseph Houlton, Sr.). There is reason to believe that they regretted the part they had taken, particularly against Rebecca Nurse, and probably did not feel over favorably to the person who had led them into their dreadful responsibility.
In the mean time, the controversy continued to wax warm among the people. Mr. Parris was determined to hold his place, and, with it, the parsonage and ministry lands. The opposition was active, unappeasable, and effective. The following paper, handed about, illustrates the methods by which they assailed him:—
"As to the contest between Mr. Parris and his hearers, &c., it may be composed by a satisfactory answer to Lev. xx. 6: 'And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a-whoring after them, I will set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.' 1 Chron. x. 13, 14: 'So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord,—even against the word of the Lord, which he kept not,—and also for asking counsel of one who had a familiar to inquire of it, and inquired not of the Lord: therefore he slew him,'" &c.
Mr. Parris mirrored, or rather daguerrotyped, his inmost thoughts upon the page of his church record-book. Whatever feeling happened to exercise his spirit, found expression there. This gives it a truly rare and singular interest. Among a variety of scraps variegating the record, and thrown in with other notices of deaths, he has the following:—
"1694, Oct. 27.—Ruth, daughter to Job Swinnerton (died), and buried the 28th instant, being the Lord's Day; and the corpse carried by the meeting-house door in time of singing before meeting afternoon, and more at the funeral than at the sermon."
This illustrates the state of things. The Swinnerton family were all along opposed to Mr. Parris, and kept remarkably clear from the witchcraft delusion. Originally, it was not customary to have prayers at funerals. At any rate, all that Mr. Parris had to do on the occasion was to witness and record the fact, which he[ii.496] indites in the pithy manner in which he often relieves his mind, that more people went to the distant burial-ground than came to hear him preach. The procession was made up of his opponents; the congregation, of his friends. At last, Captain John Putnam proposed that each party should choose an equal number from themselves to decide the controversy; and that Major Bartholomew Gedney, from the town, should be invited to act as moderator of the joint meeting. Both sides agreed, and appointed their representatives. Major Gedney consented to preside. But this movement came to nothing, probably owing to the refractoriness of Mr. Parris; for, from that moment, he had no supporters. The church ceased to act: its members were merged in the meeting of the inhabitants. There was no longer any division among them. The party that had acted as friends of Mr. Parris united thenceforward with his opponents to defend the parish in the suit he had brought against it in the courts. The controversy was quite protracted. The Court was determined to uphold him, and expressed its prejudice against the parish, sometimes with considerable severity of manner and action.[L]
The parish heeded not the frowns of the Court, but persisted inexorably in its purpose to get rid of Mr. Parris. After an obstinate contest, it prevailed. In the last stage of the controversy, it appointed four men, as its agents or attorneys, whose names indicate the spirit in which it acted,—John Tarbell, Samuel Nurse, Daniel Andrew, and Joseph Putnam. His dauntless son did not follow the wolf through the deep and dark recesses of his den with a more determined resolution than that with which Joseph Putnam pursued Samuel Parris through the windings of the law, until he ferreted him out, and rid the village of him for ever.
Finally, the inferior court of Common Pleas, before which Mr. Parris had carried the case, ordered that the matters in controversy between him and the inhabitants of Salem Village should be referred to arbitrators for decision. The following statement was laid before them by the persons representing the inhabitants:—
"To the Honorable Wait Winthrop, Elisha Cook, and Samuel Sewall, Esquires, Arbitrators, indifferently chosen, between Mr. Samuel Parris and the Inhabitants of Salem Village.
"The Remonstrances of several Aggrieved Persons in the said Village, with further Reasons why they conceive they ought not to hear Mr. Parris, nor to own him as a Minister of the Gospel, nor to contribute any Support to him as such for several years past, humbly offered as fit for consideration.
"We humbly conceive that, having, in April, 1693, given our reasons why we could not join with Mr. Parris in prayer, preaching, or sacrament, if these reasons are found sufficient for our withdrawing (and we cannot yet find but they are), then we conceive ourselves virtually discharged, not only in conscience, but also in law, which re[ii.498]quires maintenance to be given to such as are orthodox and blameless; the said Mr. Parris having been teaching such dangerous errors, and preached such scandalous immoralities, as ought to discharge any (though ever so gifted otherways) from the work of the ministry, particularly in his oath against the lives of several, wherein he swears that the prisoners with their looks knock down those pretended sufferers. We humbly conceive that he that swears to more than he is certain of, is equally guilty of perjury with him that swears to what is false. And though they did fall at such a time, yet it could not be known that they did it, much less could they be certain of it; yet did swear positively against the lives of such as he could not have any knowledge but they might be innocent.
"His believing the Devil's accusations, and readily departing from all charity to persons, though of blameless and godly lives, upon such suggestions; his promoting such accusations; as also his partiality therein in stifling the accusations of some, and, at the same time, vigilantly promoting others,—as we conceive, are just causes for our refusal, &c.
"That Mr. Parris's going to Mary Walcot or Abigail Williams, and directing others to them, to know who afflicted the people in their illnesses,—we understand this to be a dealing with them that have a familiar spirit, and an implicit denying the providence of God, who alone, as we believe, can send afflictions, or cause devils to afflict any: this we also conceive sufficient to justify such refusal.
"That Mr. Parris, by these practices and principles, has been the beginner and procurer of the sorest afflictions, not to this village only, but to this whole country, that did ever befall them.
"We, the subscribers, in behalf of ourselves, and of several others of the same mind with us (touching these things), having some of us had our relations by these practices taken off by an untimely death; others have been imprisoned and suffered in our persons, reputations, and estates,—submit the whole to your honors' decision, to determine whether we are or ought to be any ways obliged to honor, respect, and support such an instrument of our miseries; praying God to guide your honors to act herein as may be for his glory, and the future settlement of our village in amity and unity.
Attorneys for the people of the Village.
Boston, July 21, 1697."
The arbitrators decided that the inhabitants should pay to Mr. Parris a certain amount for arrearages, and also the sum of £79. 9s. 6d. for all his right and interest in the ministry house and land, and that he be forthwith dismissed; and his ministerial relation to the church and society in Salem Village dissolved. The parish raised the money with great alacrity. Nathaniel Ingersoll, who had, as has been stated, made him a present at his settlement of a valuable piece of land adjoining the parsonage grounds, bought it back, paying him a liberal price for it, fully equal to its value; and he left the place, so far as appears, for ever.
On the 14th of July, 1696, in the midst of his controversy with his people, his wife died. She was an excellent woman; and was respected and lamented by all. He caused a stone slab to be placed at the head of her grave, with a suitable inscription, still plainly legible, concluding with four lines, to which his initials are appended, composed by him, of which this is one: "Farewell, best wife, choice mother, neighbor, friend." Her ashes rest in what is called the Wadsworth burial ground.
Mr. Parris removed to Newton, then to Concord; and in November, 1697, began to preach at Stow, on a salary of forty pounds, half in money and half in provisions, &c. A grant from the general court was relied upon from year to year to help to make up the twenty pounds to be paid in money. Afterwards he preached at Dunstable, partly supported by a grant from the general court, and finally in Sudbury, where he died, Feb. 27, 1720. His daughter Elizabeth, who belonged, it will be remembered, to the circle of "afflicted children" in 1692, then nine years of age, in 1710 married Benjamin Barnes of Concord. Two other daughters married in Sudbury. His son Noyes, who graduated at Harvard College in 1721, became deranged, and was supported by the town. His other son Samuel was long deacon of the church at Sudbury, and died Nov. 22, 1792, aged ninety-one years.
In the "Boston News Letter," No. 1433, July 15, 1731, is a notice, as follows:—
"Any person or persons who knew Mr. Samuel Parris, formerly of Barbadoes, afterwards of Boston in New England, merchant, and after that minister of Salem Village, &c., deceased to be a son of Thomas Parris of the island aforesaid, Esq. who deceased 1673, or[ii.500] sole heir by will to all his estate in said island, are desired to give or send notice thereof to the printer of this paper; and it shall be for their advantage."
Whether the identity of Mr. Parris, of Salem Village, with the son of Thomas Parris, of Barbadoes, was established, we have no information. If it was, some relief may have come to his descendants. There is every reason to believe, that, after leaving the village, he and his family suffered from extremely limited means, if not from absolute poverty. The general ill-repute brought upon him by his conduct in the witchcraft prosecutions followed him to the last. He had forfeited the sympathy of his clerical brethren by his obstinate refusal to take their advice. They earnestly, over and over again, expostulated against his prolonging the controversy with the people of Salem Village, besought him to relinquish it, and promised him, if he would, to provide an eligible settlement elsewhere. They actually did provide one. But he rejected their counsels and persuasions, in expressions of ill-concealed bitterness. So that, when he was finally driven away, they felt under no obligations to befriend him; and with his eminent abilities he eked out a precarious and inadequate maintenance for himself and family, in feeble settlements in outskirt towns, during the rest of his days.
It is difficult to describe the character of this unfortunate man. Just as is the condemnation which facts compel history to pronounce, I have a feeling of relief in the thought, that, before the tribunal to which he so long ago passed, the mercy we all shall need, which comprehends all motives and allows for all infirmities, has been extended to him, in its infinite wisdom and benignity.
He was a man of uncommon abilities, of extraordinary vivacity and activity of intellect. He does not appear to have been wilfully malevolent; although somewhat reckless in a contest, he was not deliberately untruthful; on the contrary, there is in his statements a singular ingenuousness and fairness, seldom to be found in a partisan, much more seldom in a principal. Although we get almost all we know of the examinations of accused parties in the witchcraft proceedings, and of his long contentions with his parish, from him, there is hardly any ground to regret that the parties on the other side had no friends to tell their story. A transparency[ii.501] of character, a sort of instinctive incontinency of mind, which made him let out every thing, or a sort of blindness which prevented his seeing the bearings of what was said and done, make his reports the vehicles of the materials for the defence of the very persons he was prosecuting. I know of no instance like it. His style is lucid, graphic, lively, natural to the highest degree; and whatever he describes, we see the whole, and, as it were, from all points of view. Language flowed from his pen with a facility, simplicity, expressiveness, and accuracy, not surpassed or often equalled. He wrote as men talk, using colloquial expressions without reserve, but always to the point. When we read, we hear him; abbreviating names, and clipping words, as in the most familiar and unguarded conversation. He was not hampered by fear of offending the rules which some think necessary to dignify composition. In his off-hand, free and easy, gossiping entries in the church-book, or in his carefully prepared productions, like the "Meditations for Peace," read before his church and the dissatisfied brethren, we have specimens of plain good English, in its most translucent and effective forms. Considering that his academic education was early broken off, and many intermediate years were spent in commercial pursuits, his learning and attainments are quite remarkable. The various troubles and tragic mischiefs of his life, the terrible wrongs he inflicted on others, and the retributions he brought upon himself, are traceable to two or three peculiarities in his mental and moral organization.
He had a passion for a scene, a ceremony, an excitement. He delighted in the exercise of power, and rejoiced in conflicts or commotions, from the exhilaration they occasioned, and the opportunity they gave for the gratification of the activity of his nature. He pursued the object of getting possession of the ministry house and land with such desperate pertinacity, not, I think, from avaricious motives, but for the sake of the power it would give him as a considerable landholder. His love of form and public excitement led him to operate as he did with his church. He kept it in continual action during the few years of his ministry. He had at least seventy-five special meetings of that body, without counting those which probably occurred without number, but of which there is no record, during the six months of the witchcraft period. Twice, the brethren gave out, wholly exhausted; and the powers[ii.502] of the church were, by vote, transferred to a special committee, to act in its behalf, composed of persons who had time and strength to spare. But Mr. Parris, never weary of excitement, would have been delighted to preside over church-meetings, and to be a participator in vehement proceedings, every day of his life. The more noisy and heated the contention, the more he enjoyed it. During all the transactions connected with the witchcraft prosecutions, he was everywhere present, always wide awake, full of animation, if not cheerfulness, and ready to take any part to carry them on. These propensities and dispositions were fraught with danger, and prolific of evil in his case, in consequence of what looks very much like a total want in himself of many of the natural human sensibilities, and an inability to apprehend them in others. Through all the horrors of the witchcraft prosecutions, he never evinced the slightest sensibility, and never seemed to be aware that anybody else had any. It was not absolute cruelty, but the absence of what may be regarded as a natural sense. It was not a positive wickedness, but a negative defect. He seemed to be surprised that other people had sentiments, and could not understand why Tarbell and Nurse felt so badly about the execution of their mother. He told them to their faces, without dreaming of giving them offence, that, while they thought she was innocent, and he thought she was guilty and had been justly put to death, it was a mere difference of opinion, as about an indifferent matter. In his "Meditations for Peace," presented to these dissatisfied brethren, for the purpose and with an earnest desire of appeasing them, he tells them that the indulgence of such feelings at all is a yielding to "temptation," being under "the clouds of human weakness," and "a bewraying of remaining corruption." Indeed, the theology of that day, it must be allowed, bore very hard upon even the best and most sacred affections of our nature. The council, in their Result, allude to the feelings of those whose parents, and other most loved and honored relatives and connections, had been so cruelly torn from them and put to death, as "infirmities discovered by them in such an heart-breaking day," and bespeak for their grief and lamentations a charitable construction. They ask the church, whose hands were red with the blood of their innocent and dearest friends, not to pursue them with "more critical and vigorous proceedings" in consequence of their exhibiting these[ii.503] natural sensibilities on the occasion, but "to treat them with bowels of much compassion." These views had taken full effect upon Mr. Parris, and obliterated from his breast all such "infirmities." This is the only explanation or apology that can be made for him.
Of the history of Cotton Mather, subsequently to the witchcraft prosecutions, and more or less in consequence of his agency in them, it may be said that the residue of his life was doomed to disappointment, and imbittered by reproach and defeat. The storm of fanatical delusion, which he doubted not would carry him to the heights of clerical and spiritual power, in America and everywhere, had left him a wreck. His political aspirations, always one of his strongest passions, were wholly blasted; and the great aim and crown of his ambition, the Presidency of Harvard College, once and again and for ever had eluded his grasp. I leave him to tell his story, and reveal the state of his mind and heart in his own most free and full expressions from his private diary for the year 1724.
"1. What has a gracious Lord helped me to do for the seafaring tribe, in prayers for them, in sermons to them, in books bestowed upon them, and in various projections and endeavors to render the sailors a happy generation? And yet there is not a man in the world so reviled, so slandered, so cursed among sailors.
"2. What has a gracious Lord helped me to do for the instruction and salvation and comfort of the poor negroes? And yet some, on purpose to affront me, call their negroes by the name of COTTON MATHER, that so they may, with some shadow of truth, assert crimes as committed by one of that name, which the hearers take to be Me.
"3. What has a gracious Lord given me to do for the profit and honor of the female sex, especially in publishing the virtuous and laudable characters of holy women? And yet where is the man whom the female sex have spit more of their venom at? I have cause to question whether there are twice ten in the town but what have, at some time or other, spoken basely of me.
"4. What has a gracious Lord given me to do, that I may be a blessing to my relatives? I keep a catalogue of them, and not a week passes me without some good devised for some or other of them, till I have taken all of them under my cognizance. And yet where is the man who has been so tormented with such monstrous relatives? Job said, 'I am a brother to dragons.'[ii.504]
"5. What has a gracious Lord given me to do for the vindication and reputation of the Scottish nation? And yet no Englishman has been so vilified by the tongues and pens of Scots as I have been.
"6. What has a gracious Lord given me to do for the good of the country, in applications without number for it in all its interests, besides publications of things useful to it and for it? And yet there is no man whom the country so loads with disrespect and calumnies and manifold expressions of aversion.
"7. What has a gracious Lord given me to do for the upholding of the government, and the strengthening of it, and the bespeaking of regards unto it? And yet the discountenance I have almost perpetually received from the government! Yea, the indecencies and indignities which it has multiplied upon me are such as no other man has been treated with.
"8. What has a gracious Lord given me to do, that the College may be owned for the bringing forth such as are somewhat known in the world, and have read and wrote as much as many have done in other places? And yet the College for ever puts all possible marks of disesteem upon me. If I were the greatest blockhead that ever came from it, or the greatest blemish that ever came to it, they could not easily show me more contempt than they do.
"9. What has a gracious Lord given me to do for the study of a profitable conversation? For nearly fifty years together, I have hardly ever gone into any company, or had any coming to me, without some explicit contrivance to speak something or other that they might be the wiser or the better for. And yet my company is as little sought for, and there is as little resort unto it, as any minister that I am acquainted with.
"10. What has a gracious Lord given me to do in good offices, wherever I could find opportunities for the doing of them? I for ever entertain them with alacrity. I have offered pecuniary recompenses to such as would advise me of them. And yet I see no man for whom all are so loth to do good offices. Indeed I find some cordial friends, but how few! Often have I said, What would I give if there were any one man in the world to do for me what I am willing to do for every man in the world!
"11. What has a gracious Lord given me to do in the writing of many books for the advancing of piety and the promoting of his kingdom? There are, I suppose, more than three hundred of them. And yet I have had more books written against me, more pamphlets to traduce and reproach me and belie me, than any man I know in the world.
"12. What has a gracious Lord given me to do in a variety of[ii.505] services? For many lustres of years, not a day has passed me, without some devices, even written devices, to be serviceable. And yet my sufferings! They seem to be (as in reason they should be) more than my services. Everybody points at me, and speaks of me as by far the most afflicted minister in all New England. And many look on me as the greatest sinner, because the greatest sufferer; and are pretty arbitrary in their conjectures upon my punished miscarriages."
"Diary, May 7, 1724.—The sudden death of the unhappy man who sustained the place of President in our College will open a door for my doing singular services in the best of interests. I do not know that the care of the College will now be cast upon me, though I am told that it is what is most generally wished for. If it should be, I shall be in abundance of distress about it; but, if it should not, yet I may do many things for the good of the College more quietly and more hopefully than formerly.
"June 5.—The College is in great hazard of dissipation and grievous destruction and confusion. My advice to some that have some influence on the public may be seasonable.
"July 1, 1724.—This day being our insipid, ill-contrived anniversary, which we call the Commencement, I chose to spend it at home in supplications, partly on the behalf of the College that it may not be foolishly thrown away, but that God may bestow such a President upon it as may prove a rich blessing unto it and unto all our churches."
On the 18th of November, 1724, the corporation of Harvard College elected the Rev. Benjamin Colman, pastor of the Brattle-street Church in Boston, to the vacant presidential chair. He declined the appointment. The question hung in suspense another six months. In June, 1725, the Rev. Benjamin Wadsworth, pastor of the First Church in Boston, was elected, accepted the office, and held it to his death, on the 16th of March, 1737. It may easily be imagined how keenly these repeated slights were felt by Cotton Mather. He died on the 13th of February, 1728.
From the early part of the spring of 1695, when the abortive attempt to settle the difficulty between Mr. Parris and the people of the village, by the umpirage of Major Gedney, was made, it evidently became the settled purpose of the leading men, on both sides, to restore harmony to the place. On all committees, persons who had been prominent in opposition to each other were joined together, that, thus co-operating, they might become reconciled.[ii.506] This is strikingly illustrated in the "seating of the meeting-house," as it was called. In 1699, in a seat accommodating three persons, John Putnam the son of Nathaniel, and John Tarbell, were two of the three. Another seat for three was occupied by James and John Putnam, sons of John, and by Thomas Wilkins. Thomas Putnam and Samuel Nurse were placed in the same seat; and so were the wives of Thomas Putnam and Samuel Nurse, and the widow Sarah Houlton. The widow Preston, daughter of Rebecca Nurse, was seated with the widow Walcot, mother of Mary, one of the accusing girls.
We see in this the effect of the wise and decisive course adopted by Mr. Parris's successor, the Rev. Joseph Green. Immediately upon his ordination, Nov. 10, 1698, he addressed himself in earnest to the work of reconciliation in that distracted parish. From the date of its existence, nearly thirty years before, it had been torn by constant strife. It had just passed through scenes which had brought all hearts into the most terrible alienation. A man of less faith would not have believed it possible, that the horrors and outrages of those scenes could ever be forgotten, forgiven, or atoned for, by those who had suffered or committed the wrongs. But he knew the infinite power of the divine love, which, as a minister of Christ, it was his office to inspire and diffuse. He knew that, with the blessing of God, that people, who had from the first been devouring each other, and upon whose garments the stain of the blood of brethren and sisters was fresh, might be made "kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven" them. In this heroic and Christ-like faith, he entered upon and steadfastly adhered to his divine work. He pursued it with patience, wisdom, and courageous energy. No ministry in the whole history of the New-England churches has had a more difficult task put upon it, and none has more perfectly succeeded in its labors. I shall describe the administration of this good man, as a minister of reconciliation, in his own words, transcribed from his church records:—
"Nov. 25, 1698, being spent in holy exercises (in order to our preparation for the sacrament of the Lord's Supper), at John Putnam, Jr.'s, after the exercise, I desired the church to manifest, by the usual sign, that they were so cordially satisfied with their brethren, Thomas Wilkins, John Tarbell, and Samuel Nurse, that they were heartily[ii.507] desirous that they would join with us in all ordinances, that so we might all live lovingly together. This they consented unto, and none made any objection, but voted it by lifting up their hands. And further, that whatever articles they had drawn up against these brethren formerly, they now looked upon them as nothing, but let them fall to the ground, being willing that they should be buried for ever.
"Feb. 5, 1699.—This day, also our brother John Tarbell, and his wife, and Thomas Wilkins and his wife, and Samuel Nurse's wife, joined with us in the Lord's Supper; which is a matter of thankfulness, seeing they have for a long time been so offended as that they could not comfortably join with us.
"1702.—In December, the pastor spake to the church, on the sabbath, as followeth: 'Brethren, I find in your church-book a record of Martha Corey's being excommunicated for witchcraft; and, the generality of the land being sensible of the errors that prevailed in that day, some of her friends have moved me several times to propose to the church whether it be not our duty to recall that sentence, that so it may not stand against her to all generations; and I myself being a stranger to her, and being ignorant of what was alleged against her, I shall now only leave it to your consideration, and shall determine the matter by a vote the next convenient opportunity.'
"Feb. 14, 1702/3.—The major part of the brethren consented to the following: 'Whereas this church passed a vote, Sept. 11, 1692, for the excommunication of Martha Corey, and that sentence was pronounced against her Sept. 14, by Mr. Samuel Parris, formerly the pastor of this church; she being, before her excommunication, condemned, and afterwards executed, for supposed witchcraft; and there being a record of this in our church-book, page 12, we being moved hereunto, do freely consent and heartily desire that the same sentence may be revoked, and that it may stand no longer against her; for we are, through God's mercy to us, convinced that we were at that dark day under the power of those errors which then prevailed in the land; and we are sensible that we had not sufficient grounds to think her guilty of that crime for which she was condemned and executed; and that her excommunication was not according to the mind of God, and therefore we desire that this may be entered in our church-book, to take off that odium that is cast on her name, and that so God may forgive our sin, and may be atoned for the land; and we humbly pray that God will not leave us any more to such errors and sins, but will teach and enable us always to do that which is right in his sight.'
"There was a major part voted, and six or seven dissented.
"J. Gr., Pr."
The First Church in Salem rescinded its votes of excommunication of Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey, in March, 1712. The church at the village was nearly ten years before it, in this act of justice to itself and to the memory of the injured dead. Mr. Green did not wait until the public sentiment drove him to it. He regarded it as his duty to lead, and keep in front of that sentiment, in the right direction. He did not wait until everybody demanded it to be done, but instantly began to prepare his people for it. At the proper time, he gave notice that he was about to bring the question before them; and he accordingly did so. He had no idea of allowing a few narrow-minded, obstinate individuals to keep the blot any longer upon the records of his church. His conduct is honorable to his name, and to the name of the village. By wise, prudent, but persistent efforts, he gradually repaired every breach, brought his parish out from under reproach, and set them right with each other, with the obligations of justice, and with the spirit of Christianity. It is affecting to read his ejaculations of praise and gratitude to God for every symptom of the prevalence of harmony and love among the people of his charge.
The man who extinguished the fires of passion in a community that had ever before been consumed by them deserves to be held in lasting honor. The history of the witchcraft delusion in Salem Village would, indeed, be imperfectly written, if it failed to present the character of him who healed its wounds, obliterated the traces of its malign influence on the hearts and lives of those who acted, and repaired the wrongs done to the memory of those who suffered, in it. Joseph Green had a manly and amiable nature. He was a studious scholar and an able preacher. He was devoted to his ministry and faithful to its obligations. He was a leader of his people, and shared in their occupations and experiences. He was active in the ordinary employments of life and daily concerns of society. Possessed of independent property, he was frugal and simple in his habits, and liberal in the use of his means. The parsonage, while he lived in it, was the abode of hospitality, and frequented by the best society in the neighborhood. By mingled firmness and kindliness, he met and removed difficulties. He had a cheerful temperament, was not irritated by the course of events, even when of an unpleasant character. While Mr. Noyes was disturbed, even to resentment, by encroachments upon his parish,[ii.509] in the formation of new societies in the middle precinct of Salem, now South Danvers, and in the second precinct of Beverly, now Upper Beverly, Mr. Green, although they drew away from him as many as from Mr. Noyes, went to participate in the raising of their meeting-houses. Of a genial disposition, he countenanced innocent amusements. He was fond of the sports of the field. The catamount was among the trophies of his sure aim, and he came home with his huntsman's bag filled with wild pigeons. He would take his little sons before and behind him on his horse, and spend a day with them fishing and fowling on Wilkins's Pond; and, when Indians threatened the settlements, he would shoulder his musket, join the brave young men of his parish, and be the first in the encounter, and the last to relinquish the pursuit of the savage foe.
He was always, everywhere, a peacemaker; by his genial manner, and his genuine dignity and decision of character, he removed dissensions from his church and neighborhood, and secured the respect while he won the love of all. That such a person was raised up and placed where he was at that time, was truly a providence of God.
The part performed in the witchcraft tragedy by the extraordinary child of twelve years of age, Ann Putnam, has been fully set forth. As has been stated, both her parents (and no one can measure their share of responsibility, nor that of others behind them, for her conduct) died within a fortnight of each other, in 1699. She was then nineteen years of age; a large family of children, all younger than herself, was left with her in the most melancholy orphanage. How many there were, we do not exactly know: eight survived her. Although their uncles, Edward and Joseph, were near, and kind, and able to care for them, the burden thrown upon her must have been great. With the terrible remembrance of the scenes of 1692, it was greater than she could bear. Her health began to decline, and she was long an invalid. Under the tender and faithful guidance of Mr. Green, she did all that she could to seek the forgiveness of God and man. After consultations with him, in visits to his study, a confession was drawn up, which she desired publicly to make. Upon conferring with Samuel Nurse, it was found to be satisfactory to him, as the representative of those who had suffered from her testimony. It was her desire to offer this[ii.510] confession and a profession of religion at the same time. The day was fixed, and made known to the public. On the 25th of August, 1706, a great concourse assembled in the meeting-house. Large numbers came from other places, particularly from the town of Salem. The following document, having been judged sufficient and suitable, was written out in the church-book the evening before, and signed by her. It was read by the pastor before the congregation, who were seated; she standing in her place while it was read, and owning it as hers by a declaration to that effect at its close, and also acknowledging the signature.
"The Confession of Anne Putnam, when she was received to Communion, 1706.
"I desire to be humbled before God for that sad and humbling providence that befell my father's family in the year about '92; that I, then being in my childhood, should, by such a providence of God, be made an instrument for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken away from them, whom now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons; and that it was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time, whereby I justly fear I have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon myself and this land the guilt of innocent blood; though what was said or done by me against any person I can truly and uprightly say, before God and man, I did it not out of any anger, malice, or ill-will to any person, for I had no such thing against one of them; but what I did was ignorantly, being deluded by Satan. And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing of Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humbled for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offence, whose relations were taken away or accused.
"This confession was read before the congregation, together with her relation, Aug. 25, 1706; and she acknowledged it.
"J. Green, Pastor.
This paper shows the baleful influence of the doctrine of Satan[ii.511] then received. It afforded a refuge and escape from the compunctions of conscience. The load of sin was easily thrown upon the back of Satan. This young woman was undoubtedly sincere in her penitence, and was forgiven, we trust and believe; but she failed to see the depth of her iniquity, and of those who instigated and aided her, in her false accusations. The blame, and the deed, were wholly hers and theirs. Satan had no share in it. Human responsibility cannot thus be avoided.
While, in a certain sense, she imputes the blame to Satan, this declaration of Ann Putnam is conclusive evidence that she and her confederate accusers did not believe in any communications having been made to them by invisible spirits of any kind. Those persons, in our day, who imagine that they hold intercourse, by rapping or otherwise, with spiritual beings, have sometimes found arguments in favor of their belief in the phenomena of the witchcraft trials. But Ann Putnam's confession is decisive against this. If she had really received from invisible beings, subordinate spirits, or the spirits of deceased persons, the matters to which she testified, or ever believed that she had, she would have said so. On the contrary, she declares that she had no foundation whatever, from any source, for what she said, but was under the subtle and mysterious influence of the Devil himself.
She died at about the age of thirty-six years. Her will is dated May 20, 1715, and was presented in probate June 29, 1716. Its preamble is as follows:—
"In the name of God, amen. I, Anne Putnam, of the town of Salem, single woman, being oftentimes sick and weak in body, but of a disposing mind and memory, blessed be God! and calling to mind the mortality of my body, and that it is appointed for all men once to die, do make this my last will and testament. First of all, I recommend my spirit into the hands of God, through Jesus Christ my Redeemer, with whom I hope to live for ever; and, as for my body, I commit it to the earth, to be buried in a Christian and decent manner, at the discretion of my executor, hereafter named, nothing doubting but, by the mighty power of God, to receive the same again at the resurrection."
She divided her land to her four brothers, and her personal estate to her four sisters.
It seems that she was frequently the subject of sickness, and[ii.512] her bodily powers much weakened. The probability is, that the long-continued strain kept upon her muscular and nervous organization, during the witchcraft scenes, had destroyed her constitution. Such uninterrupted and vehement exercise, to their utmost tension, of the imaginative, intellectual, and physical powers, in crowded and heated rooms, before the public gaze, and under the feverish and consuming influence of bewildering and all but delirious excitement, could hardly fail to sap the foundations of health in so young a child. The tradition is, that she had a slow and fluctuating decline. The language of her will intimates, that, at intervals, there were apparent checks to her disease, and rallies of strength,—"oftentimes sick and weak in body." She inherited from her mother a sensitive and fragile constitution; but her father, although brought to the grave, probably by the terrible responsibilities and trials in which he had been involved, at a comparatively early age, belonged to a long-lived race and neighborhood. The opposite elements of her composition struggled in a protracted contest,—on the one side, a nature morbidly subject to nervous excitability sinking under the exhaustion of an overworked, overburdened, and shattered system; on the other, tenacity of life. The conflict continued with alternating success for years; but the latter gave way at last. Her story, in all its aspects, is worthy of the study of the psychologist. Her confession, profession, and death point the moral.
The Rev. Joseph Green died Nov. 26, 1715. The following tribute to his memory is inscribed on the records of the church. It is in the handwriting, and style of thought and language, of Deacon Edward Putnam.
"Then was the choicest flower and greenest olive-tree in the garden of our God here cut down in its prime and flourishing estate at the age of forty years and two days, who had been a faithful ambassador from God to us eighteen years. Then did that bright star set, and never more to appear here among us; then did our sun go down; and now what darkness is come upon us! Put away and pardon our iniquities, O Lord! which have been the cause of thy sore displeasure, and return to us again in mercy, and provide yet again for this thy flock a pastor after thy own heart, as thou hath promised to thy people in thy word; on which promise we have hope, for we are called by thy name; and, oh, leave us not!"
The Rev. Peter Clark was ordained June 5, 1717. The termination of the connection between the Salem Village church and the witchcraft delusion, and all similar kinds of absurdity and wickedness, is marked by the following record, which fully and for ever redeems its character. If Samuel Parris had been as wise and brave as Peter Clark, he would, in the same decisive manner, have nipped the thing in the bud.
"Salem Village Church Records.
"Sept. 5, 1746.—At a church meeting appointed on the lecture, the day before, on the occasion of several persons in this parish being reported to have resorted to a woman of a very ill reputation, pretending to the art of divination and fortune-telling, &c., to make inquiry into that matter, and to take such resolutions as may be thought proper on the occasion, the brethren of the church then present came into the following votes; viz., That for Christians, especially church-members, to seek to and consult reputed witches or fortune-tellers, this church is clearly of opinion, and firmly believes on the testimony of the Word of God, is highly impious and scandalous, being a violation of the Christian covenant sealed in baptism, rendering the persons guilty of it subject to the just censure of the church.
"No proof appearing against any of the members of this church (some of whom had been strongly suspected of this crime), so as to convict them of their being guilty, it was further voted, That the pastor, in the name of the church, should publicly testify their disapprobation and abhorrence of this infamous and ungodly practice of consulting witches or fortune-tellers, or any that are reputed such; exhorting all under their watch, who may have been guilty of it, to an hearty repentance and returning to God, earnestly seeking forgiveness in the blood of Christ, and warning all against the like practice for the time to come.
"Sept. 7.—This testimony, exhortation, and warning, voted by the church, was publicly given by the pastor, before the dismission of the congregation."
The Salem Village Parish, when its present pastor, the Rev. Charles B. Rice, was settled, Sept. 2, 1863, had been in existence a hundred and ninety-one years. During its first twenty-five years, it had four ministers, whose aggregate period of service was eighteen years. During the succeeding hundred and sixty-six years, it had four ministers, whose aggregate period of service[ii.514] was one hundred and fifty-eight years. They had all been well educated, several were men of uncommon endowments, and without exception they possessed qualities suitable for success and usefulness in their calling.
The first period was filled with an uninterrupted series of troubles, quarrels, and animosities, culminating in the most terrific and horrible disaster that ever fell upon a people. The second period was an uninterrupted reign of peace, harmony, and unity; no religious society ever enjoying more comfort in its privileges, or exhibiting a better example of all that ought to characterize a Christian congregation.
The contrast between the lives of its ministers, in the two periods respectively, is as great as between their pastorates. The first four suffered from inadequate means of support, and, owing to the feuds in the congregation, rates not being collected, were hardly supplied with the necessaries of life. There is no symptom in the records of the second period of there having ever been any difficulty on this score. The prompt fulfilment of their contracts by the people, and the favor of Providence, placed the ministers above the reach or approach of inconvenience or annoyance from that quarter.
The history of the New-England churches presents no epoch more melancholy, distressful, and stormy than the first, and none more united, prosperous, or commendable than the second period in the annals of the Salem Village church.
The contrast between the fortunes and fates of the ministers of these two periods is worthy of being stated in detail.
James Bayley began to preach at the Village at the formation of the society, when he was quite a young man, within three years from receiving his degree at Harvard College. After about seven years, during which he buried his wife and three children, and encountered a bitter and turbulent opposition,—so far as we can see, most causeless and unreasonable,—he relinquished the ministry altogether, and spent the residue of his life in another profession elsewhere.
The ministry of George Burroughs, at the Village, lasted about two years. The violence of both parties to the controversy by which the parish had been rent was concentrated upon his innocent and unsheltered head. He was, at a public assembly of his[ii.515] people, in his own meeting-house, arrested, and taken out in the custody of the marshal of the county, a prisoner for a debt incurred to meet the expenses of his wife's recent funeral, of an amount less than the salary then due him, and which, in point of fact, he had paid at the time by an order upon the parish treasurer. From such outrageous ill-treatment, he escaped by resigning his ministry. He was followed to his retreat in a remote settlement, and while engaged there, a laborious, self-sacrificing, and devoted minister, was, by the malignity of his enemies at the Village, suddenly seized, all unconscious of having wronged a human creature, snatched from the table where he was taking his frugal meal in his humble home, torn from his helpless family, hurried up to the Village; overwhelmed in a storm of falsehood, rage, and folly; loaded with irons, immured in a dungeon, carried to the place of execution, consigned to the death of a felon; and his uncoffined remains thrown among the clefts of the rocks of Witch Hill, and left but half buried,—for a crime of which he was as innocent as the unborn child.
Deodat Lawson, a great scholar and great preacher, after a two years' trial, and having buried his wife and daughter at the Village, abandoned the attempt to quell the storm of passion there. He found another settlement on the other side of Massachusetts Bay, which he left without taking leave, and was never heard of more by his people. Eight years afterwards, he re-appeared in the reprint, at London, of his famous Salem Village sermon, and then vanished for ever from sight. A cloud of impenetrable darkness envelopes his name at that point. Of his fate nothing is known, except that it was an "unhappy" one.
Samuel Parris, after a ministry of seven years, crowded from the very beginning with contention and animosity, and closed in desolation, ruin, and woes unutterable, havoc scattered among his people and the whole country round, was driven from the parish, the blood of the innocent charged upon his head, and, for the rest of his days, consigned to obscurity and penury. The place of his abode has upon it no habitation or structure of man; and the only vestiges left of him are his records of the long quarrel with his congregation, and his inscription on the headstone, erected by him, as he left the Village for ever, over the fresh grave of his wife.[ii.516]
Surely, the annals of no church present a more dismal, shocking, or shameful history than this.
Joseph Green, on the 26th of November, 1715, terminated with his life a ministry of eighteen years, as useful, beneficent, and honorable as it had been throughout harmonious and happy. Peter Clark died in office, June 10, 1768, after a service of fifty-one years. He was recognized throughout the country as an able minister and a learned divine. Peace and prosperity reigned, without a moment's intermission, among the people of his charge. Benjamin Wadsworth, D.D., also died in office, Jan. 18, 1826, after a service of fifty-four years. Through life he was universally esteemed and loved in all the churches. Milton P. Braman, D.D., on the 1st of April, 1861, terminated by resignation a ministry of thirty-five years. He always enjoyed universal respect and affection, and the parish under his care, uninterrupted union and prosperity. He did not leave his people, but remains among them, participating in the enjoyment of their privileges, and upholding the hands of his successor. His eminent talents are occasionally exercised in neighboring pulpits, and in other services of public usefulness. He lives in honored retirement on land originally belonging to Nathaniel Putnam, distant only a few rods, a little to the north of east, from the spot owned and occupied by his first predecessor, James Bayley.
It can be said with assurance, of this epoch in the history of the Salem Village church and society, that it can hardly be paralleled in all that indicates the well-being of man or the blessings of Heaven. No such contrast, as these two periods in the annals of this parish present, can elsewhere be found.
Prosecutions for witchcraft continued in the older countries after they had been abandoned here; although it soon began to be difficult, everywhere, to procure the conviction of a person accused of witchcraft. In 1716, a Mrs. Hicks and her daughter, the latter aged nine years, were hanged in Huntingdon, in England, for witchcraft. In the year 1720, an attempt, already alluded to, was made to renew the Salem excitement in Littleton, Mass., but it failed: the people had learned wisdom at a price too dear to allow them so soon to forget it. In a letter to Cotton Mather, written Feb. 19, 1720, the excellent Dr. Watts, after having expressed his doubts respecting the sufficiency of the spec[ii.517]tral evidence for condemnation, says, in reference to the Salem witchcraft, "I am much persuaded that there was much immediate agency of the Devil in these affairs, and perhaps there were some real witches too." Not far from this time, we find what was probably the opinion of the most liberal-minded and cultivated people in England expressed in the following language of Addison: "To speak my thoughts freely, I believe, in general, that there is and has been such a thing as witchcraft, but, at the same time, can give no credit to any particular instance of it."
There was an execution for witchcraft in Scotland in 1722. As late as the middle of the last century, an annual discourse, commemorative of executions that took place in Huntingdon during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, continued to be delivered in that place. An act of a Presbyterian synod in Scotland, published in 1743, and reprinted at Glasgow in 1766, denounced as a national sin the repeal of the penal laws against witchcraft.
Blackstone, the great oracle of British law, and who flourished in the latter half of the last century, declared his belief in witchcraft in the following strong terms: "To deny the possibility, nay, the actual existence, of witchcraft and sorcery, is at once flatly to contradict the revealed Word of God, in various passages both of the Old and New Testament; and the thing itself is a truth to which every nation in the world hath in its turn borne testimony, either by examples seemingly well attested, or by prohibitory laws, which at least suppose the possibility of commerce with evil spirits."
It is related, in White's "Natural History of Selborne," that, in the year 1751, the people of Tring, a market town of Hertfordshire, and scarcely more than thirty miles from London, "seized on two superannuated wretches, crazed with age and overwhelmed with infirmities, on a suspicion of witchcraft." They were carried to the edge of a horse-pond, and there subjected to the water ordeal. The trial resulted in the acquittal of the prisoners; but they were both drowned in the process.
A systematic effort seems to have been made during the eighteenth century to strengthen and renew the power of superstition. Alarmed by the progress of infidelity, many eminent and excellent men availed themselves of the facilities which their position at the head of the prevailing literature afforded them, to push the[ii.518] faith of the people as far as possible towards the opposite extreme of credulity. It was a most unwise, and, in its effects, deplorable policy. It was a betrayal of the cause of true religion. It was an acknowledgment that it could not be vindicated before the tribunal of severe reason. Besides all the misery produced by filling the imagination with unreal objects of terror, the restoration to influence, during the last century, of the fables and delusions of an ignorant age, has done incalculable injury, by preventing the progress of Christian truth and sound philosophy; thus promoting the cause of the very infidelity it was intended to check. The idea of putting down one error by setting up another cannot have suggested itself to any mind that had ever been led to appreciate the value or the force of truth. But this was the policy of Christian writers from the time of Addison to that of Johnson. The latter expressly confesses, that it was necessary to maintain the credit of the belief of the existence and agency of ghosts, and other supernatural beings, in order to help on the argument for a future state as founded upon the Bible.
Dr. Hibbert, in his excellent book on the "Philosophy of Apparitions," illustrates some remarks similar to those just made, by the following quotation from Mr. Wesley:—
"It is true, that the English in general, and indeed most of the men in Europe, have given up all accounts of witches and apparitions as mere old wives' fables. I am sorry for it; and I willingly take this opportunity of entering my solemn protest against this violent compliment, which so many that believe the Bible pay to those who do not believe it. I owe them no such service. I take knowledge, these are at the bottom of the outcry which has been raised, and with such insolence spread throughout the nation, in direct opposition, not only to the Bible, but to the suffrage of the wisest and best men in all ages and nations. They well know (whether Christians know it or not), that the giving up witchcraft is, in effect, giving up the Bible. And they know, on the other hand, that, if but one account of the intercourse of men with separate spirits be admitted, their whole castle in the air (Deism, Atheism, Materialism) falls to the ground. I know no reason, therefore, why we should suffer even this weapon to be wrested out of our hands. Indeed, there are numerous arguments besides, which abundantly confute their vain imaginations. But we need not be hooted out of one: neither reason nor religion requires this."
The belief in witchcraft continued to hold a conspicuous place among popular superstitions during the whole of the last century. Many now living can remember the time when it prevailed very generally. Each town or village had its peculiar traditionary tales, which were gravely related by the old, and deeply impressed upon the young.
The legend of the "Screeching Woman" of Marblehead is worthy of being generally known. The story runs thus: A piratical cruiser, having captured a Spanish vessel during the seventeenth century, brought her into Marblehead harbor, which was then the site of a few humble dwellings. The male inhabitants were all absent on their fishing voyages. The pirates brought their prisoners ashore, carried them at the dead of the night into a retired glen, and there murdered them. Among the captives was an English female passenger. The women who belonged to the place heard her dying outcries, as they rose through the midnight air, and reverberated far and wide along the silent shores. She was heard to exclaim, "O mercy, mercy! Lord Jesus Christ, save me! Lord Jesus Christ, save me!" Her body was buried by the pirates on the spot. The same piercing voice is believed to be heard at intervals, more or less often, almost every year, in the stillness of a calm starlight or clear moonlight night. There is something, it is said, so wild, mysterious, and evidently superhuman in the sound, as to strike a chill of dread into the hearts of all who listen to it. The writer of an article on this subject, in the "Marblehead Register" of April 3, 1830, declares, that "there are not wanting, at the present day, persons of unimpeachable veracity and known respectability, who still continue firmly to believe the tradition, and to assert that they themselves have been auditors of the sounds described, which they declare were of such an unearthly nature as to preclude the idea of imposition or deception."
When "the silver moon unclouded holds her way," or when the stars are glistening in the clear, cold sky, and the dark forms of the moored vessels are at rest upon the sleeping bosom of the harbor; when no natural sound comes forth from the animate or inanimate creation but the dull and melancholy rote of the sea along the rocky and winding coast,—how often is the watcher startled from the reveries of an excited imagination by the pite[ii.520]ous, dismal, and terrific screams of the unlaid ghost of the murdered lady!
A negro died, fifty years ago, in that part of Danvers called originally Salem Village, at a very advanced age. He was supposed to have reached his hundredth year. He never could be prevailed upon to admit that there was any delusion or mistake in the proceedings of 1692. To him, the whole affair was easy of explanation. He believed that the witchcraft was occasioned by the circumstance of the Devil's having purloined the church-book, and that it subsided so soon as the book was recovered from his grasp. Perhaps the particular hypothesis of the venerable African was peculiar to himself; but those persons must have a slight acquaintance with the history of opinions in this and every other country, who are not aware that the superstition on which it was founded has been extensively entertained by men of every color, almost, if not quite, up to the present day. If the doctrines of demonology have been completely overthrown and exterminated in our villages and cities, it is a very recent achievement; nay, I fear that in many places the auspicious event remains to take place.
In the year 1808, the inhabitants of Great Paxton, a village of Huntingdonshire, in England, within sixty miles of London, rose in a body, attacked the house of an humble, and, so far as appears, inoffensive and estimable woman, named Ann Izard, suspected of bewitching three young females,—Alice Brown, Fanny Amey, and Mary Fox,—dragged her out of her bed into the fields, pierced her arms and body with pins, and tore her flesh with their nails, until she was covered with blood. They committed the same barbarous outrage upon her again, a short time afterwards; and would have subjected her to the water ordeal, had she not found means to fly from that part of the country.
The writer of the article "Witchcraft," in Rees's "Cyclopædia," gravely maintains the doctrine of "ocular fascination."
Prosecutions for witchcraft are stated to have occurred, in the first half of the present century, in some of the interior districts of our Southern States. The civilized world is even yet full of necromancers and thaumaturgists of every kind. The science of "palmistry" is still practised by many a muttering vagrant; and perhaps some in this neighborhood remember when, in the days[ii.521] of their youthful fancy, they held out their hands, that their future fortunes might be read in the lines of their palms, and their wild and giddy curiosity and anxious affections be gratified by information respecting wedding-day or absent lover.
The most celebrated fortune-teller, perhaps, that ever lived, resided in an adjoining town. The character of "Moll Pitcher" is familiarly known in all parts of the commercial world. She died in 1813. Her place of abode was beneath the projecting and elevated summit of High Rock, in Lynn, and commanded a view of the wild and indented coast of Marblehead, of the extended and resounding beaches of Lynn and Chelsea, of Nahant Rocks, of the vessels and islands of Boston's beautiful bay, and of its remote southern shore. She derived her mysterious gifts by inheritance, her grandfather having practised them before in Marblehead. Sailors, merchants, and adventurers of every kind, visited her residence, and placed confidence in her predictions. People came from great distances to learn the fate of missing friends, or recover the possession of lost goods; while the young of both sexes, impatient of the tardy pace of time, and burning with curiosity to discern the secrets of futurity, availed themselves of every opportunity to visit her lowly dwelling, and hear from her prophetic lips the revelation of the most tender incidents and important events of their coming lives. She read the future, and traced what to mere mortal eyes were the mysteries of the present or the past, in the arrangement and aspect of the grounds or settlings of a cup of tea or coffee. Her name has everywhere become the generic title of fortune-tellers, and occupies a conspicuous place in the legends and ballads of popular superstition. Her renown has gone abroad to the farthest regions, and her memory will be perpetuated in the annals of credulity and imposture. An air of romance is breathed around the scenes where she practised her mystic art, the interest and charm of which will increase as the lapse of time removes her history back towards the dimness of the distant past.
The elements of the witchcraft delusion of 1692 are slumbering still in the bosom of society. We hear occasionally of haunted houses, cases of second-sight, and communications from the spiritual world. It always will be so. The human mind feels instinctively its connection with a higher sphere. Some will ever be[ii.522] impatient of the restraints of our present mode of being, and prone to break away from them; eager to pry into the secrets of the invisible world, willing to venture beyond the bounds of ascertainable knowledge, and, in the pursuit of truth, to aspire where the laws of evidence cannot follow them. A love of the marvellous is inherent to the sense of limitation while in these terrestrial bodies; and many will always be found not content to wait until this tabernacle is dissolved and we shall be clothed upon with a body which is from Heaven.
I. Lawson's Prefatory
[From the edition of Deodat Lawson's Sermon printed in London, 1704.]
To all my Christian Friends and Acquaintance, the Inhabitants of Salem Village.
Christian Friends,—The sermon here presented unto you was delivered in your audience by that unworthy instrument who did formerly spend some years among you in the work of the ministry, though attended with manifold sinful failings and infirmities, for which I do implore the pardoning mercy of God in Jesus Christ, and entreat from you the covering of love. As this was prepared for that particular occasion when it was delivered amongst you, so the publication of it is to be particularly recommended to your service.
My heart's desire and continual prayer to God for you all is, that you may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ; and, accordingly, that all means he is using with you, by mercies and afflictions, ordinances and providences, may be sanctified to the building you up in grace and holiness, and preparing you for the kingdom of glory. We are told by the apostle (Acts xiv. 22), that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God. Now, since (besides your share in the common calamities, under the burden whereof this poor people are groaning at this time) the righteous and holy God hath been pleased to permit a sore and grievous affliction to befall you, such as can hardly be said to be common to men; viz., by giving liberty to Satan to range and rage amongst you, to the torturing the bodies and distracting the minds of some of the visible sheep and lambs of the Lord Jesus Christ. And (which is yet more astonishing) he who is the accuser of the brethren endeavors to introduce as criminal some of the visible subjects of Christ's kingdom, by whose sober and godly conversation in times[ii.526] past we could draw no other conclusions than that they were real members of his mystical body, representing them as the instruments of his malice against their friends and neighbors.
I thought meet thus to give you the best assistance I could, to help you out of your distresses. And since the ways of the Lord, in his permissive as well as effective providence, are unsearchable, and his doings past finding out, and pious souls are at a loss what will be the issue of these things, I therefore bow my knees unto the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he would cause all grace to abound to you and in you, that your poor place may be delivered from those breaking and ruining calamities which are threatened as the pernicious consequences of Satan's malicious operations; and that you may not be left to bite and devour one another in your sacred or civil society, in your relations or families, to the destroying much good and promoting much evil among you, so as in any kind to weaken the hands or discourage the heart of your reverend and pious pastor, whose family also being so much under the influence of these troubles, spiritual sympathy cannot but stir you up to assist him as at all times, so especially at such a time as this; he, as well as his neighbors, being under such awful circumstances. As to this discourse, my humble desire and endeavor is, that it may appear to be according to the form of sound words, and in expressions every way intelligible to the meanest capacities. It pleased God, of his free grace, to give it some acceptation with those that heard it, and some that heard of it desired me to transcribe it, and afterwards to give way to the printing of it. I present it therefore to your acceptance, and commend it to the divine benediction; and that it may please the Almighty God to manifest his power in putting an end to your sorrows of this nature, by bruising Satan under your feet shortly, causing these and all other your and our troubles to work together for our good now, and salvation in the day of the Lord, is the unfeigned desire, and shall be the uncessant prayer, of—
Less than the least, of all those that serve,
In the Gospel of our Lord Jesus,
DEODAT LAWSON'S NARRATIVE.
[Appended to his Sermon, London edition, 1704.]
At the request of several worthy ministers and Christian friends, I do here annex, by way of appendix to the preceding sermon, some brief account of those amazing things which occasioned that discourse to be delivered. Let the reader please therefore to take it in the brief remarks following, and judge as God shall incline him.
It pleased God, in the year of our Lord 1692, to visit the people at a place called Salem Village, in New England, with a very sore and grievous affliction, in which they had reason to believe that the sovereign and holy God was pleased to permit Satan and his instruments to affright and afflict those poor mortals in such an astonishing and unusual manner.
Now, I having for some time before attended the work of the ministry in that village, the report of those great afflictions came quickly to my notice, and the more readily because the first person afflicted was in the minister's family who succeeded me after I was removed from them. In pity, therefore, to my Christian friends and former acquaintance there, I was much concerned about them, frequently consulted with them, and fervently, by divine assistance, prayed for them; but especially my concern was augmented when it was reported, at an examination of a person suspected for witchcraft, that my wife and daughter, who died three years before, were sent out of the world under the malicious operations of the infernal powers, as is more fully represented in the following remarks. I did then desire, and was also desired by some concerned in the Court, to be there present, that I might hear what was alleged in that respect; observing, therefore, when I was amongst them, that the case of the afflicted was very amazing and deplorable, and the charges brought against the accused such as were ground of suspicions, yet very intricate, and difficult to draw up right conclusions about them; I thought good, for the satisfaction of myself and such of my friends as might be curious to inquire into those mysteries of God's providence and Satan's malice, to draw up and keep by me a brief account of the most remarkable things that came to my knowledge in those affairs, which remarks were afterwards (at my request) revised and corrected by some who sat judges on the bench in those matters, and were now transcribed from the same paper on which they were then written. After this, I being by the providence of God[ii.528] called over into England in the year 1696, I then brought that paper of remarks on the witchcraft with me; upon the sight thereof some worthy ministers and Christian friends here desired me to reprint the sermon, and subjoin the remarks thereunto in way of appendix; but for some particular reasons I did then decline it. But now, forasmuch as I myself had been an eye and ear witness of most of those amazing things, so far as they came within the notice of human senses, and the requests of my friends were renewed since I came to dwell in London, I have given way to the publishing of them, that I may satisfy such as are not resolved to the contrary, that there may be (and are) such operations of the powers of darkness on the bodies and minds of mankind by divine permission, and that those who sat judges on those cases may, by the serious consideration of the formidable aspect and perplexed circumstances of that afflictive providence, be in some measure excused, or at least be less censured, for passing sentence on several persons as being the instruments of Satan in those diabolical operations, when they were involved in such a dark and dismal scene of providence, in which Satan did seem to spin a finer thread of spiritual wickedness than in the ordinary methods of witchcraft: hence the judges, desiring to bear due testimony against such diabolical practices, were inclined to admit the validity of such a sort of evidence as was not so clearly and directly demonstrable to human senses as in other cases is required, or else they could not discover the mysteries of witchcraft. I presume not to impose upon my Christian or learned reader any opinion of mine how far Satan was an instrument in God's hand in these amazing afflictions which were on many persons there about that time; but I am certainly convinced, that the great God was pleased to lengthen his chain to a very great degree for the hurting of some and reproaching of others, as far as he was permitted so to do. Now, that I may not grieve any whose relations were either accused or afflicted in those times of trouble and distress, I choose to lay down every particular at large, without mentioning any names or persons concerned (they being wholly unknown here); resolving to confine myself to such a proportion of paper as is assigned to these remarks in this impression of the book, yet, that I may be distinct, shall speak briefly to the matter under three heads; viz.:—
1. Relating to the afflicted.
To begin with the afflicted.—
1. One or two of the first that were afflicted complaining of unusual illness, their relations used physic for their cure; but it was altogether in vain.
2. They were oftentimes very stupid in their fits, and could neither hear nor understand, in the apprehension of the standers-by; so that, when prayer hath been made with some of them in such a manner as might be audible in a great congregation, yet, when their fit was off, they declared they did not hear so much as one word thereof.[ii.529]
3. It was several times observed, that, when they were discoursed with about God or Christ, or the things of salvation, they were presently afflicted at a dreadful rate; and hence were oftentimes outrageous, if they were permitted to be in the congregation in the time of the public worship.
4. They sometimes told at a considerable distance, yea, several miles off, that such and such persons were afflicted, which hath been found to be done according to the time and manner they related it; and they said the spectres of the suspected persons told them of it.
5. They affirmed that they saw the ghosts of several departed persons, who, at their appearing, did instigate them to discover such as (they said) were instruments to hasten their deaths, threatening sorely to afflict them if they did not make it known to the magistrates. They did affirm at the examination, and again at the trial of an accused person, that they saw the ghosts of his two wives (to whom he had carried very ill in their lives, as was proved by several testimonies), and also that they saw the ghosts of my wife and daughter (who died above three years before); and they did affirm, that, when the very ghosts looked on the prisoner at the bar, they looked red, as if the blood would fly out of their faces with indignation at him. The manner of it was thus: several afflicted being before the prisoner at the bar, on a sudden they fixed all their eyes together on a certain place of the floor before the prisoner, neither moving their eyes nor bodies for some few minutes, nor answering to any question which was asked them: so soon as that trance was over, some being removed out of sight and hearing, they were all, one after another, asked what they saw; and they did all agree that they saw those ghosts above mentioned. I was present, and heard and saw the whole of what passed upon that account, during the trial of that person who was accused to be the instrument of Satan's malice therein.
6. In this (worse than Gallick) persecution by the dragoons of hell, the persons afflicted were harassed at such a dreadful rate to write their names in a Devil-book presented by a spectre unto them: and one, in my hearing, said, "I will not, I will not write! It is none of God's book, it is none of God's book: it is the Devil's book, for aught I know;" and, when they steadfastly refused to sign, they were told, if they would but touch, or take hold of, the book, it should do; and, lastly, the diabolical propositions were so low and easy, that, if they would but let their clothes, or any thing about them, touch the book, they should be at ease from their torments, it being their consent that is aimed at by the Devil in those representations and operations.
7. One who had been long afflicted at a stupendous rate by two or three spectres, when they were (to speak after the manner of men) tired out with tormenting of her to force or fright her to sign a covenant with the Prince of Darkness, they said to her, as in a diabolical and accursed passion, "Go your ways, and the Devil go with you; for we will be no more pestered and plagued about you." And, ever after that, she was well, and no more afflicted, that ever I heard of.[ii.530]
8. Sundry pins have been taken out of the wrists and arms of the afflicted; and one, in time of examination of a suspected person, had a pin run through both her upper and her lower lip when she was called to speak, yet no apparent festering followed thereupon, after it was taken out.
9. Some of the afflicted, as they were striving in their fits in open court, have (by invisible means) had their wrists bound fast together with a real cord, so as it could hardly be taken off without cutting. Some afflicted have been found with their arms tied, and hanged upon an hook, from whence others have been forced to take them down, that they might not expire in that posture.
10. Some afflicted have been drawn under tables and beds by undiscerned force, so as they could hardly be pulled out; and one was drawn half-way over the side of a well, and was, with much difficulty, recovered back again.
11. When they were most grievously afflicted, if they were brought to the accused, and the suspected person's hand but laid upon them, they were immediately relieved out of their tortures; but, if the accused did but look on them, they were instantly struck down again. Wherefore they used to cover the face of the accused, while they laid their hands on the afflicted, and then it obtained the desired issue: for it hath been experienced (both in examinations and trials), that, so soon as the afflicted came in sight of the accused, they were immediately cast into their fits; yea, though the accused were among the crowd of people unknown to the sufferers, yet, on the first view, were they struck down, which was observed in a child of four or five years of age, when it was apprehended, that so many as she could look upon, either directly or by turning her head, were immediately struck into their fits.
12. An iron spindle of a woollen wheel, being taken very strangely out of an house at Salem Village, was used by a spectre as an instrument of torture to a sufferer, not being discernible to the standers-by, until it was, by the said sufferer, snatched out of the spectre's hand, and then it did immediately appear to the persons present to be really the same iron spindle.
13. Sometimes, in their fits, they have had their tongues drawn out of their mouths to a fearful length, their heads turned very much over their shoulders; and while they have been so strained in their fits, and had their arms and legs, &c., wrested as if they were quite dislocated, the blood hath gushed plentifully out of their mouths for a considerable time together, which some, that they might be satisfied that it was real blood, took upon their finger, and rubbed on their other hand. I saw several together thus violently strained and bleeding in their fits, to my very great astonishment that my fellow-mortals should be so grievously distressed by the invisible powers of darkness. For certainly all considerate persons who beheld these things must needs be convinced, that their motions in their fits were preternatural and involuntary, both as to the manner, which was so strange as a well person could not (at least without great pain) screw their bodies into,[ii.531] and as to the violence also, they were preternatural motions, being much beyond the ordinary force of the same persons when they were in their right minds; so that, being such grievous sufferers, it would seem very hard and unjust to censure them of consenting to, or holding any voluntary converse or familiarity with, the Devil.
14. Their eyes were, for the most part, fast closed in their trance-fits, and when they were asked a question they could give no answer; and I do verily believe, they did not hear at that time; yet did they discourse with the spectres as with real persons, asserting things and receiving answers affirmative or negative, as the matter was. For instance, one, in my hearing, thus argued with, and railed at, a spectre: "Goodw—-, begone, begone, begone! Are you not ashamed, a woman of your profession, to afflict a poor creature so? What hurt did I ever do you in my life? You have but two years to live, and then the Devil will torment your soul for this. Your name is blotted out of God's book, and it shall never be put into God's book again. Begone! For shame! Are you not afraid of what is coming upon you? I know, I know what will make you afraid,—the wrath of an angry God: I am sure that will make you afraid. Begone! Do not torment me. I know what you would have" (we judged she meant her soul): "but it is out of your reach; it is clothed with the white robes of Christ's righteousness." This sufferer I was well acquainted with, and knew her to be a very sober and pious woman, so far as I could judge; and it appears that she had not, in that fit,