WITCHCRAFT

Jewett, Jeremiah Peabody, d. 1870

The first instance of a trial for witchcraft in Massachusetts occurred in 1648, when Margaret Jones, of Charlestown, who being indicted as a witch, was found guilty, and under the laws of England against such supposed crime, was executed. ” She was charged of having such a malignancy that if she laid her hands on man, woman or child in anger, they were seized presently with deafness, vomiting or other sickness, or other violent pains.”

In 1692 a great excitement was again revived on account of its supposed prevalence. It commenced at this time in the town of Danvers, then a part of Salem, about the last of February. Several children at first began to act in a curious, unaccountable manner. Their strange conduct continuing for several days, their friends betook themselves to fasting and prayer. During religious services the children were still, but after the service they would renew their former unaccountable conduct. This was deemed sufficient evidence that they were
moved by an evil hand, and every exhibition of the sort was then regarded as witchcraft. After a while these children began to bring accusations against divers individuals in that vicinity, being severally charged of bewitching them. Unfortunately the children were credited, and the suspected persons were arrested and imprisoned. From that time the contagion spread rapidly over the neighboring towns, and soon appeared in several parts of Essex county as well as cases now and then in Middlesex and Suffolk. Individuals at Andover, Ipswich, Gloucester, Boston and other places, were accused and held for trial.

For some time those who were accused were persons of the lower class. But at length accusations were extended even to persons of high rank and distinction. This delusion had now become fearful. Before the close of September of that year nineteen persons bad been executed for witchcraft. Among the victims was one Giles Gory, who was pressed to death for refusing to put himself on trial before the Jury. Most, if not all of these persons died declaring themselves innocent of the crime laid to their charge. At length the courts began to be convinced that their proceedings had been rash, and their judgments without any just foundation. A special session of the court was then holden on this subject, and fifty persons then being held for trial, were acquitted. Others wrere reprieved by the Governor. These proceedings were followed by a release of all who were then in prison.

It ought to be said, perhaps, that if human testimony, coming from credible witnesses, is to be credited, many things happened at that time inducing a belief in witchcraft, which even to many people of our day have never been satisfactorily explained.