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Witch Trials Weekly: February 1692

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Apr 04 2014

Witch Trials Weekly: Video 5, February 12th through February 18th

Church Control

Witch Trials Weekly: Video 6, February 19th through February 25th

The First Examinations


Witch Trials Weekly: Video 7, February 26th through March 3rd

Diagnosis, Witch Cake, and the Spread of the Evil Hand

Spectral Evidence

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Feb 15 2013

Among the more common questions we’re asked is,  “What is spectral evidence and what role did it play in the Salem witch trials?”

First let’s get a working definition.

US Legal.com :

http://definitions.uslegal.com/s/spectral-evidence/

“Spectral evidence refers to a witness testimony that the accused person’s spirit or spectral shape appeared to him/her witness in a dream at the time the accused person’s physical body was at another location. It was accepted in the courts during the Salem Witch Trials. The evidence was accepted on the basis that the devil and his minions were powerful enough to send their spirits, or specters, to pure, religious people in order to lead them astray.

In spectral evidence, the admission of victims’ conjectures is governed only by the limits of their fears and imaginations, whether or not objectively proven facts are forthcoming to justify them. [State v. Dustin, 122 N.H. 544, 551 (N.H. 1982)].”

We know that the Court of Oyer and Terminer, formed in June 1692 for the purpose of hearing cases awaiting in Boston’s jails backlogged while the Charter with England was being hammered out, recognized spectral evidence despite that it was not in keeping with generally accepted procedure of the time.  In Law and People in Colonial America Peter Charles Hoffer offers this characterization (p. 41):

“The result of having laymen on the high-court benches might be…swift and sensible justice.  Massachusetts superior Court justices, such as Samuel Sewall, were deeply moral men, concerned about the quality of their performance.  Sewall was typical of the best lay judges – well traveled, well schooled, much respected, and experienced in colonial government and in hearing and deciding lawsuits, if not learned in the law.  In the Salem witchcraft tirals of 1692 the judges, including Sewall, departed from current, learned, English practice, and did so with tragic consequences.

There were no trained lawyers on the bench, but all believed that there was a devil and that he contracted secretly with men and women to do his evil work in the colony.  Thus, at least in theory, witches had the power to leave their bodies and in spectral form assault their victims.”

The following passage from another of Hoffer’s works the Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History is further clarifying (page 78-79):

the-salem-witchcraft-trials-a-legal-history “Mather elected to straddle the [spectral evidence] controversy rather than resolve it.

Mather fretted, “Our neighbors at Salem are blown up after a sort, with an infernal gunpowder, under the floor.”  What could that mean?  To us the reference may be obscure, but to his fellow Puritans the implication was obvious.  In 1605 a band of Roman Catholics, driven to despair by King James’s persecution of their faith, tried to blow up the English houses of Parliament.  The plan was discovered at the last minute, and the conspirators were executed, but the “gunpowder plot” became a symbol among Protestants of the danger Roman Catholicism posed to English Protestantism.  In 1689 Parliament drove James II, a Roman Catholic, from the throne of England and replaced him with a Dutch Protestant, William of Orange, and James’s daughter, Mary, William’s wife.  They were to rule jointly.  A war followed in which Protestants battled Roman Catholics at home and abroad.  This was the war that brought the Indians and their French Roman Catholic allies to the doorstep of Salem.  Thus the Puritans saw Roman Catholicism as a continuing and powerful threat to Protestantism in England and the survival of Puritanism in New England.  They also believed that Roman Catholic priests were in league with the Devil.  Reports of priests and Indians worshiping the Devil before they attacked Massachusetts towns regularly made the rounds of the colony.

But the problem of spectral evidence remained, for the only ones who could see the witches in their spectral form, and thus say who it was that caused their pain, were the accusers themselves.  Here Mather could find no answers in his library.  He must leave it and enter the world of ordinary people.  No abstract theory or abstruse theology could dictate commonly accepted contemporary notions of the truth of testimony.”

Even while most people had misgivings about the validity and use of supernatural proof, Cotton Mather cited a precedent from 1664 wherein Mathew Hale asserts that such evidence is suitable in cases of necessity.  Mather interprets “in particular, the political crisis of the colony and the terrors of war.  War against the Devil and war against the popish French and their Indian allies were the same in his mind.” (Ibid., p. 89)

Image, “The soul-killing witches that deform the body” shared from University of Virginia SWT Documentary Archive and Transcription Project.

Caption: “The soul-killing witches that deform the body,” Shaks.
Description: The image shows two witches stirring a steaming cauldron; it was published in a 1828 edition of Robert Calef’s More Wonders of the Invisible World. In the background a witch rides on a broomstick, brandishing a snake in her hand; to the left, spectral images fly out of the boiling cauldron; and a cat leaps into the scene from the right. References to cat familiars, flying witches, and spectral images are common features of the court records of the Salem witch trials.
Source: Frontispiece, The Wonders of the Invisible World Displayed, by Robert Calef. New Edition. Boston: T. Bedlington, 1828. Image by permission of the University of Virginia Library, Special Collections. © The Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, 2003.

Galileo Galilei

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Jan 23 2012

“We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves.”

CB059743

July 19th, 1692 – Tuesday

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Jul 19 2011

roach-witch-trials-book Quoted from

The Salem Witch Trials:  A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege by Marilynne K. Roach, page 201-202

_ _ _ _ _ _

Salem Town

Between eight o’clock and noon, Sheriff George Corwin transported Rebecca Nurse, Susanna Martin, Elizabeth How, Sarah Good, and Sarah Wildes – all praying that God would prove their innocence – from prison by cart through the streets of Salem to be hanged.  Quiet housewives or turbulent scolds, well-to-do or in rags, all five women now faced a painful, public death.

It was customary for the dying to attempt facing death in a spirit of forgiveness lest their souls appear before Heavenly judgment seething hatred.  Sarah Good would have none of it.  At the gallows Reverend Nicholas Noyes urged her to confess what the courts had seemingly proven and at least not die a liar.  When she denied the guild, Noyes said she knew she was a witch.

“You are a liar,” she snapped.  “I am no more a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life God will give you blood to drink.”  (The folk curse was loosely based on a verse in Revelation.  People later remembered it when Noyes, it was said, died bleeding at the mouth when a blood vessel burst in his head.)

Rumors hinted that the Devil might attempt a last-minute rescue of his followers, but all five hanged as scheduled on the ledge above the tidal pool.

Joseph Ballard probably witnessed the executions on his way from Andover.  Soon after, he entered a complaint in Salem before Magistrates Gedney, Corwin, Hathorne, and Higginson against Mary Lacy and her daughter Mary Jr. for tormenting his wife Elizabeth with “strange pains and pressures.”  He even put up a £100 bond “on condition to prosecute.”  (Plaintiffs customarily did this in civil suits, the sum forfeit if the plaintiff didn’t appear in court, but this is the first recorded bond in these witch cases where the accusations seem to have been treated as a public emergency.)  The magistrates issued a warrant for only Goody Lacy, however, and not for her daughter.

The bodies of the dead, meantime, were buried (if only temporarily) near the rocky execution site.  By family tradition the Nurses waited for darkness (sunset was about a quarter after seven) then rowed up the North River to the bend by the ledge and exhumed Rebecca’s body.  According to another tradition Caleb Buffum  (a distant relative) noticed this effort from his home nearby and helped carry the remains to the shore.  From there a small craft could slip downstream past town on the midnight’s high tide, then north up the estuary to Crane River and along its narrowing length to the Nurses’ land, where they buried her privately on the homeground.

sarah-good-memorial-stone

Quote of the Week

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Jan 15 2011

President Obama in Tucson: “The Forces that Divide Us are Not as Strong as Those that Unite Us”

Peace Love Unity Respect From The Whitehouse Blog

Posted by Jesse Lee on January 13, 2011 at 11:00 AM EST

Click here to see the President’s full speech

“Sounds Like Salem” – Guest Blogger, Cathy Hutchison

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Dec 29 2010

statue-of-liberty How lucky we are to have visitors who are passionate about the subject of human rights and witch hunts.  The talented Texas resident Cathy Hutchison of the “random Cathy…” blog caught my eye recently when she wrote about the treatment of immigrants in our country today. 

Check out her full post at: random Cathy… Sounds Like Salem

I love that she quotes from the The New Colossus, the 1883 sonnet by Emma Lazarus which is mounted on a bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles.  From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips.  “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We thank Cathy for her tolerance and insight and for allowing us to share her blog.

Reverend Increase Matther

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Sep 29 2010

Increase Mather “It were better that ten suspected witches should escape, than that one innocent person should be condemned.”

INCREASE MATHER (1639-1723)
An authoritative minister in Boston, President of Harvard College and close friend of Governor William Phips, his publication of Cases of Conscience illustrated his more moderate position on the witch trials.   He was also the father of Cotton Mather.

Learn more about Increase Mather and the Salem Witch trials online.