Pardoning the Witches

Additional remarks by Jim Meehan


“Nobody thinks that were these women
witches anymore, so what’s the point? History proves they weren’t
witches.”
  (A modern day resident of
Salem Massachusetts.)

     

Witch trials were held in Connecticut
between 1647 and 1697 – five of them in the town of Wethersfield – Mary Johnson
(1648), Joan & John Carrington (1651), Elizabeth & John Blackleach
(1662-63), Katherine Harrison 1669), and Goody Burr (1678).   The legal process, at a general level,
looked to be pretty much by the book.

     

“Although all proceedings appeared to
have been documented, many of the trial records no longer exist. Of those that
survive, historians have discovered that a formal complaint started the
process. Following the complaint, local magistrates would collect evidence,
usually consisting of depositions from witnesses and an examination of the
accused. A single witness was all it took to support a witchcraft conviction
prior to 1662 [the year of the last execution]. Beginning that year,
Connecticut required simultaneous witnessing of the same incident by two or
more people.

     

“Once gathered, the information was
forwarded to higher courts authorized to try capital cases. The high court
would refer the cases to a grand jury for indictment. Full consideration was
given to the written evidence and, where possible, there was a personal
reaffirmation of the testimony by the deponents. If indicted, cases went to a
jury trial. The governor’s assistant served as prosecutor and as such he shaped
the jury’s understanding of the case. The prosecutor and the accused called
witnesses (it is unclear whether the accused were represented by counsel). Once
all of the evidence was presented, the jury delivered its verdict and the
magistrate (the governor) imposed sentence. If the jury returned a verdict with
which the magistrate disagreed, he could overturn it.”

     

Occasionally descendants of these
convicted witches have sought official abrogation of the legal decisions levied
against their ancestors.  Among the legal
remedies could be pardon (“The action of an executive official of the
government that mitigates or sets aside the punishment for a crime.”);
exoneration (“The removal of a burden, charge, responsibility, duty, or blame
imposed by law.”) or reversing a conviction “if the trial court made an error
of law that patently or significantly contributed to the trial’s
outcome…[especially] types of errors that are so egregious that they are
presumed harmful, such as the use of a coerced confession.”

     

None of the Connecticut witches’ guilt
has yet to be repudiated, but three other states – Massachusetts, New Hampshire
and Virginia – have mitigated the verdicts in 
some of their witchcraft cases. 


Massachusetts

     

On Oct. 17, 1711, an Order of
Compensation reversed the “convictions, judgements and attainders” of 22
(listed below) of the 31 convicted in Salem, Massachusetts – in part because
Queen Mary II and the newer General Court concluded that the Devil made them
(the original accusers) do it.

     

ctwitchtrialspardoning220px-Queen_Mary_II-thumb-320x385-624.jpg“The Influence and Energy of the Evil
Spirits so great at that time acting in and upon those who were the principal
accusers and Witnesses proceeding so far as to cause a Prosecution to be had of
persons of known and good reputation, which caused a great disatisfaction and a
stop to be put thereunto until theire Majesty’s pleasure should be known
therein: And upon a Representation thereof accordingly made her late Majesty
Queen Mary the second of blessed memory by Her Royal Letter given at her Court
at Whitehall the fifteenth of April 1693. was Graciously pleased to approve the
care and Circumspection therein; and to Will and require that in all
proceedings ag’t persons accused for Witchcraft, or being possessed by the
devil, the greatest Moderation and all due Circumspection be used, so far as
the same may be without Impediment to the Ordinary course of Justice.

     

“And 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.

     

“Upon the humble Petition and suit of
several of the s’d persons and of the children of others of them whose Parents
were Executed. Be it Declared and Enacted by his Excellency the Governor
Council and Representatives in General Court assembled and by the authority of
the same That the several convictions Judgments and Attainders….
Be and hereby are reversed made and d[eclared] to be null and void to all
Intents, Constructions and purposes wh[atso] ever, as if no such convictions,
Judgments or Attainders had ever [been] had or given. And that no penalties or
forfeitures of Goods or Chattels be by the said Judgments and attainders or
either of them had or Incurrd.

     

“Made and Pass’d by the Great and General
Court or Assembly of her

Majestys
Province of the Massachusets: Bay: in New England held atBoston the 17th day of
october. 1711.” 

     

Almost two and one half centuries later,
on August 28, 1957, the Massachusetts General Court, at the urging of
historians and editorial writers, declared in a formal resolution that Ann
Pudeator, of Salem Town, and “certain other persons” ‘may have been illegally
tried, convicted and executed’ and that consequently no disgrace attached to
them or their relatives.” (emphasis added) (“Andover: Symbol of New
England” by Claude M. Fuess.)

      

“a resolve was made relative to the
indictment, trial, conviction and execution of those found guilty, sentenced
and executed in the year1692 (Chapter 143 of the Acts and Resolves of the
General Court of Massachusetts) stating that ‘if these proceedings were lawful
under the Provincial Charter and the law of Massachusetts as it then was–were
and are shocking and are superseded by our more civilized laws…that no
disgrace or cause for distress attaches to the descendants by reason of said
proceedings.'”
(emphasis added)


Salem resident Paula Keene, one of the
driving forces behind the movement to pardon said,  “Technically they are still hanging on
Gallows Hill and it is time to cut the noose loose.”

     

Then on November 1, 2001, acting
Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift approved a bill that exonerated the remaining
convicted witches not cleared by name in the previous amnesty resolutions:
Susannah Martin, Bridget Bishop, Alice Parker, Margaret Scott, and Wilmot
Redd.  House Bill No. 2752, amending the
1957 General Court Resolve to include the five names, was submitted by State
Representative J. Michael Ruane on behalf of Paula Keene of the Salem State
College History Department.  The bill
failed.  However Amesbury House
Representative Paul Tirone then “was instrumental in shepherding the bill
through the legislative process straight to the Governor’s desk.  With her signature, Massachusetts Governor
Jane Swift set these five women free from 309 years of legalistic limbo.”

New
Hampshire

     

ctwitchtrialspardoninggoody13-thumb-320x594-626.jpgIn the State of New Hampshire Eunice
(Goody) Cole was the only person in the town of Hampton ever to be accused of
witchcraft.  Her story was the subject of
John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “Wreck at Rivermouth.”

     

In 1937, with the town’s 300th
anniversary the next year, townspeople formed “The Society in Hampton
Beach for the Apprehension of Those Falsely Accusing Eunice (Goody) Cole of
Having Familiarity With the Devil” 
– aka the “Goody Cole Society” 
– in order to clear her name.  A
doll in her image was made and sold locally.

     

One year later, at Hampton’s 300th Town
Meeting, the citizens adopted the following resolution reinstating “Goody” Cole
to her rightful place as a citizen of the town. 
Certified copies of her court documents were burned, mixed with soil
from her reputed final resting place, and deposited in an urn for future
burial.  Instead of being interned, the
vase was given to the Tuck Museum.

    

“8
MARCH 1938


“The
300th Annual Town Meeting of Hampton, New Hampshire.


“ARTICLE
16: To see if the town will vote to adopt the following resolution; Resolved:
That we, the citizens of the Town of Hampton in the town meeting assembled do
hereby declare that we believe that Eunice (Goody) Cole was unjustly accused of
witchcraft and of familiarity with the Devil in the 17th Century, and we do
hereby restore to the said Eunice (Goody) Cole her rightful place as a citizen
of the Town of Hampton.

     

“It be further resolved that any such
time as the Selectmen shall elect during the Tercentenary of the Town of
Hampton, appropriate and fitting ceremonies shall be held to carry out the
purpose of this resolution by publicly burning certified copies of all official
documents relating to the false accusations against Eunice (Goody) Cole, and
that the burned documents together with soil from the reputed last resting
place and from the site of the home of Eunice (Goody) Cole be gathered in an
urn and reverently placed in the ground at such place in the Town of Hampton as
the Selectmen shall designate.”

Virginia

     

In July 2006 Governor Timothy Kaine of
Virginia gave an “informal pardon” to Grace Sherwood, the “Witch of Pungo”, one
of that state’s fourteen witches but the only convicted witch tried by the
“ducking test”. 

     

ctwitchtrialspardoning190px-Ordeal_of_water-thumb-320x480-628.jpg“On July 10, 1706, Sherwood was dropped
into the Lynnhaven River and floated 
which was considered proof she was guilty because the pure water cast out her
evil spirit, according to the belief system of the time. The theory behind the
ducking test was that if she sank, she was innocent, although she would also
drown.”
(http://www.washingtonpost.com)

     

The accused was tied right thumb to left
toe, left thumb to right toe.  This was
the normal manner in which the “test” was performed, and a position in which it
is difficult for a person to sink. 

    

“With 300 years of hindsight, we all
certainly can agree that trial by water is an injustice,” Kaine
wrote. 

     

The pardon was granted at a ceremony that
included a partial reenactment of the water test – no one was actually dunked –
featuring Danielle Sheets, the daughter of Belinda Nash who requested the
governor to exonerate Grace Sherwood, as the accused witch.

Connecticut

     

At least two recent attempts to absolve
our state’s convicted witches.

     

In March 2008 the state legislature’s
judiciary committee discussed a resolution initiated by 14-year-old Adie Avery
and her mother Debra –  8th and 9th
generation descendants of convicted witch Mary Sanford of Hartford.

     

Judiciary Co-Chairman Rep. Michael
Lawlor, D- East Haven, who helped draft the resolution with Sen. Andrew W.
Roraback, R-Goshen, “noted that the resolution doesn’t technically call for an
exoneration or pardon, because doing so would imply that there was a crime to
commit in the first place.

     

“Though it’s ‘not the most significant
issue that the legislature will take up,’ Lawlor said, the matter of the
wrongly convicted still resonates today.”

     

However blogger Warner Todd Huston took
issue with the proposed resolution:

    

“You know, outrage can be a good thing.
It is often times useful for people to get outraged over a past slight so that
a community might be spurred to action to correct real societal ills. But is
the hanging of a “witch” or two over 300 years ago something we should waste
our time being outraged over now?

      

“This is the sort of outrage that is
wasted energy. But it is the same sort of outrage we see constantly inveighed
by people who want apologies for things that have been so well repudiated,
things that even bring about revulsion now. Such absurd outrage causes people
to wonder what the big deal really is at this late a date and serves to
trivialize what really happened.

      “I do, however, think you owe all of us
an apology. You should apologize for wasting our time and the tax money used to
fund the government that wasted its time on your silly resolution. And you
should apologize for forcing us all for taking time away from important
matters.”

     

The resolution was not enacted.

     

In April 2012 Tony Griego wrote on the
blog “damnedct.com” (“All that’s weird, unexplained and unusual in
Connecticut”) that, having been told by the governor and the Board of Pardons
and Paroles that neither has the authority to pardon the convicted witches, “we
have submitted a Governor’s Proclamation request to Governor Dannel Malloy’s
office. It is our hope that the Governor will issue a Proclamation clearing the
names of eleven named executed people for the colonial crime of Witchcraft I
believe that this would be fitting in light of the fact that Connecticut has
appealed the death penalty.

     

“The Governor’s office called and stated
that they were reviewing my request but had not yet made a decision.”

     

Legalistic limbo or wasted energy –
what’s your opinion?

 

*******************************

 

 

[Connecticut]
People Accused of Witchcraft / Accusation
Date and Place
/

Verdict
or Sentence

Alice
Young / 1647
Windsor / Hanged

Mary
Johnson / 1648
Wethersfield / Pressured
into a confession and probably executed

John
and Joan Carrington / 1651
Wethersfield / Guilty,
executed

Goodwife
Bassett / 1651
Fairfield / Convicted
and hung

Goodwife
Knapp / 1653
Fairfield / Convicted
and hung

Elizabeth
Goodman / 1653
and 1655 New Haven / Charged
with Slander in 1653. In 1655, acquitted of witchcraft and released with a
reprimand and warning.

Mary
Staples / 1654
New Haven / Slander

Lydia
Gilbert / 1654
Windsor / Probably
executed

Nicholas
Bailey & wife / 1655 / Acquitted
and banished

William
Meaker / 1657
New Haven / Slander

Elizabeth
Garlick / 1658
Easthampton* / Acquitted

Katherine
Palmer / 1660
and 1672 / Slander

Nicholas
& Margaret Jennings / 1661
Saybrook / Acquitted

Judith
Varlet / 1662-63
Hartford / Probably
acquitted

Goody
Ayres / 1662
Hartford / Fled
the colony with her husband, who also appears to have been accused

Rebecca
Greensmith / 1662
Hartford / Hanged

Nathanial
Greensmith / 1662
Hartford / Hanged

Mary
Sanford / 1662
Hartford / Probably
hanged

Andrew
Sanford / 1662
Hartford / Acquitted

Mary
Barnes / 1662-3
Farmington / Hanged

Elizabeth
and John Blackleach / 1662-3
Wethersfield / Complaint
filed

James
Wakeley / 1662
and 1665 Hartford / Fled
both times

Elizabeth
Seager / 1663
Hartford / Tried
twice and acquitted both times

Mary
Hall / 1664
Setauket* / Indicted

Elizabeth
Seager / 1665
Hartford / Convicted,
however the governor reversed the verdict

Ralph
and Mary Hall / 1664
Setauket* / Acquitted

Hannah
Griswold / 1667
Saybrook / Slander

William
Graves / 1667
Stamford / Complaint
filed, probably indicted

Katherine
Harrison / 1669
Wethersfield / Guilty,
however verdict was overturned and Harrison left Connecticut

Goody
Messenger / 1673
Windsor / Slander

Goody
Burr / 1678
Wethersfield / Slander

Goody
Bowden / 1689
New Haven / Slander

Mercy
Disborough / 1692
Fairfield / Subjected
to the water test** and later convicted and sentenced to death, however given a
reprieve by the General Assembly

Elizabeth
Clawson / 1692
Stamford / Subjected
to the water test** and acquitted

Mary
Staples / 1692
Fairfield / Indicted

Mary
Harvey / 1692
Fairfield / Indicted

Hannah
Harvey / 1692
Fairfield / Indicted

Goody
Miller / 1692
Fairfield / Accusation

Winifred
Benham / 1692
Wallingford / Indicted

Hugh
Croasia / 1692
Stratford / Indicted

Winifred
Benham / 1697
Wallingford / Acquitted

  

* This town in Long Island, which today
belongs to New York, was initially within the jurisdiction of the Connecticut
Colony.

  

* ** Suspected witches were sometimes
dropped into a body of water to determine if they possessed evil spirits. The
theory behind the so-called “ducking test” was that if the person sank she was
innocent but if she floated she was guilty because the pure water cast out her
evil spirit.

Convicted
Witches Mentioned in the Reversal of Attainment, October 17, 1711

George
Burroughs of Wells; John Procter, George Jacobs, John Willard, Giles Core, and
his wife, Rebecca Nurse, and Sarah Good all of Salem; aforesaid Elizabeth How
of Ipswich; Mary Eastey, Sarah Wild and Abigail Hobbs all of Topsfield; Samuel
Wardell, Mary Parker, Martha Carrier, Abigail Falkner, Anne Foster, Rebecca
Eames, Mary Post and Mary Lacey all of Andover; Mary Bradbury of Salisbury; and
Dorcas Hoar of Beverley.

THE
WRECK OF RIVERMOUTH

by
John Greenleaf Whittier

Rivermouth
Rocks are fair to see,

By
dawn or sunset shone across,

When
the ebb of the sea has left them free

To
dry their fringes of gold-green moss:

For
there the river comes winding down,

From
salt sea-meadows and uplands brown,

And
waves on the outer rocks afoam

Shout
to its waters, “Welcome home!”

 

And
fair are the sunny isles in view

East
of the grisly Head of the Boar,

And
Agamenticus lifts its blue

Disk
of a cloud the woodlands o’er;

 

And,
southerly, when the tide is down,

“Twixt
white sea-waves and sand-hills brown,

The
beach-birds dance and the gray gulls wheel

Over
a floor of burnished steel.

 

Once,
in the old Colonial days,

Two
hundred years ago and more,

A
boat sailed down through the winding ways

Of
Hampton River to that low shore,

Full
of goodly company

Sailing
out on the summer sea,

Veering
to catch the land-breeze light,

With
the Boar to left and the Rocks to right.

 

In
Hampton meadows, where mowers laid

Their
scythes to the swaths of salted grass,

“Ah,
well-a-day! our hay must be made!”

A
young man sighed, who saw them pass.

Loud
laughed his fellows to see him stand

Whetting
his scythe with a listless hand,

Hearing
a voice in a far-off song,

Watching
a white hand beckoning long.

 

“Fie
on the witch!” cried a merry girl,

As
they rounded the point where Goody Cole

Sat
by her door with her wheel atwirl,

A
bent and blear-eyed poor old soul.

“Oho!”
she muttered, “ye’re brave to-day!

But
I hear the little waves laugh and say,

‘The
broth will be cold that waits at home;

For
it’s one to go, but another to come!’ “

 

“She’s
cursed,” said the skipper; “speak her fair:

I’m
scary always to see her shake

Her
wicked head, with its wild gray hair,

And
nose like a hawk, and eyes like a snake.”

But
merrily still, with laugh and shout,

From
Hampton River the boat sailed out,

Till
the huts and the flakes on Star seemed nigh,

And
they lost the scent of the pines of Rye.

 

They
dropped their lines in the lazy tide,

Drawing
up haddock and mottled cod;

They
saw not the Shadow that walked beside,

They
heard not the feet with silence shod.

But
thicker and thicker a hot mist grew,

Shot
by the lightnings through and through;

And
muffled growls, like the growl of a beast,

Ran
along the sky from west to east.

 

Then
the skipper looked from the darkening sea

Up
to the dimmed and wading sun;

But
he spake like a brave man cheerily,

“Yet
there is time for our homeward run.”

Veering
and tacking, they backward wore;

And
just as a breath from the woods ashore

Blew
out to whisper of danger past,

The
wrath of the storm came down at last!

 

The
skipper hauled at the heavy sail:

“God
be our help!” he only cried,

As
the roaring gale, like the stroke of a flail,

Smote
the boat on its starboard side.

The
Shoalsmen looked, but saw alone

Dark
films of rain-cloud slantwise blown,

Wild
rocks lit up by the lightning’s glare,

The
strife and torment of sea and air.

 

Goody
Cole looked out from her door:

The
Isles of Shoals were drowned and gone,

Scarcely
she saw the Head of the Boar

Toss
the foam from tusks of stone.

She
clasped her hands with a grip of pain,

The
tear on her cheek was not of rain:

“They
are lost,” she muttered, “boat and crew!

Lord,
forgive me! my words were true!”

 

Suddenly
seaward swept the squall;

The
low sun smote through cloudy rack;

The
Shoals stood clear in the light, and all

The
trend of the coast lay hard and black.

But
far and wide as eye could reach,

No
life was seen upon wave or beach;

The
boat that went out at morning never

Sailed
back again into Hampton River.

 

O
mower, lean on thy bended snath,

Look
from the meadows green and low:

The
wind of the sea is a waft of death,

The
waves are singing a song of woe!

By
silent river, by moaning sea,

Long
and vain shall thy watching be:

Never
again shall the sweet voice call,

Never
the white hand rise and fall!

 

O
Rivermouth Rocks, how sad a sight

Ye
saw in the light of breaking day!

Dead
faces looking up cold and white

From
sand and seaweed where they lay

The
mad old witch-wife wailed and wept,

And
cursed the tide as it backward crept:

Crawl
back, crawl back, blue water-snake!

Leave
your dead for the hearts that break!”

 

Solemn
it was in that old day

In
Hampton town and its log-built church,

Where
side by side the coffins lay

And
the mourners stood in aisle and porch.

In
the singing-seats young eyes were dim,

The
voices faltered that raised the hymn,

And
Father Dalton, grave and stern,

Sobbed
through his prayer and wept in turn.

 

But
his ancient colleague did not pray,

Under
the weight of his fourscore years

He
stood apart, with the iron-gray

Of
his strong brows knitted to hide his tears;

And
a fair-faced woman of doubtful fame,

Linking
her own with his honored name,

Subtle
as sin, at his side withstood

The
felt reproach of her neighborhood

 

Apart
with them, like them forbid,

Old
Goody Cole looked drearily round,

As,
two by two, with their faces hid,

The
mourners walked to the burying-ground.

She
let the staff from her clasped hands fall:

“Lord,
forgive us! we’re sinners all!”

And
the voice of the old man answered her:

“Amen!”
said Father Bachiler.

 

So,
as I sat upon Appledore

In
the calm of a closing summer day,

And
the broken lines of Hampton shore

In
purple mist of cloudland lay,

The
Rivermouth Rocks their story told;

And
waves aglow with sunset gold,

Rising
and breaking in steady chime,

Beat
the rhythm and kept the time.

 

And
the sunset paled, and warmed once more

With
a softer, tenderer after-glow;

In
the east was moon-rise, with boats off shore

And
sails in the distance drifting slow.

The
beacon glimmered from Portsmouth bar,

The
White Isle kindled its great red star;

And
life and death in my old-time lay

Mingled
in peace like the night and day!

Sources:

http://www.carriergenealogy.com/Notes.html

http://www.cga.ct.gov/2006/rpt/2006-R-0718.htm

http://www.cbsnews.com

http://www.hamptonhistoricalsociety.org/gcole.htm

http://www.washingtonpost.com

http://www.damnedct.com

http://www.thelandofthefree.net/conservativeopinion

http://www.HartfordInfo.org

Google Books; Bridget Bishop by Paula Keene

Essex County Archives, Salem — Witchcraft Vol. 2 Page 63

Comments

  1. Greg Cunningham says

    Excellent work Jim!! If another “proclamation” effort to clear the names of the “acused” happens I would gladly get involved on behalf of James Wakelee.

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