Witch Hunt Hysteria
New England was not unfamiliar with witches in their history. But in 1662 a wave of hysteria swept the area and the hunt began for the New England Witches. After a young girl died suddenly in March of that year, her grieving parents could find no logical explanation for their loss. And so, found an illogical one.
Believing that devilry was at work and that their neighbour had possessed the body of their daughter, they pointed fingers. Making claims of the child’s sickbed testimony naming Goodwife Ayres as the cause of her ailment. And they weren’t the only townspeople to do so. By the time the hysteria had subsided the town had tried seven individuals and executed four. Those executed were Nathanial and Rebecca Greensmith, Mary Sanford, and Mary Barnes.
Fifteen years before Goode Ayres was accused, in 1642, another woman was executed for being a witch. Alse Younger of Connecticut was followed by at least five others all for the crime of being suspected of witchcraft or wizardry.
Whilst hanging was often the method used, torture to get a confession was also employed. As well as a few attempts at trying out long-held beliefs about witches, like: do they float?
Nor were they against accusing and sentencing dogs to death for witchcraft.
Connecticut held it’s final witch trial in 1697, having prosecuted 46 suspected of witchcraft and executed eleven known individuals.
Salam Witch Trials
If you have landed on my site, it is unlikely you’ve never heard of the Salam Witch Trials. But let’s assume for a moment, it’s your first time.
In 1692, three young women, Elizabeth Paris (9), Abigail Williams (11), and Ann Putnam (11), started to experience seizures. During these seizures, the girls were said to contort, be verbally abusive, scream, and throw things. And the local doctor, unaware of what he was about to start one must presume, proclaimed that the supernatural was to blame.
Already under strain from the refugees of King Williams War, the townspeople’s already fragile rivalries and diminishing food supplies put them on edge. And the three girls, when questioned, blamed three women for infecting them – a slave, a beggar, and an impoverished woman.
The slave confessed.
A stream of up to 200 accusations followed that led to the first hanging on Gallows Hill. Men, women, children, no one was immune. All in all, 19 were hung and one elderly man pressed to death before all who had survived their time in jail were pardoned by Governor Phipps in 1693.
The Salem story and the history of the New England Witches have made it into a number of movies and television shows, from The Crucible in 1953 to the more recent Salem TV series where the story explores the dark history of the town and the possible reasons for the hysteria. Of course, a large dose of Ergot fuels the artistic licence.
New England Witches: The Devil & The Power
The Appearance of the Devil
The devil is a master of trickery and can appear in any form he wishes, be it man or beast. Sometimes a black dog, others a well-dressed man, a bird, a horse, a turtle, monkey man, or simply an unrecognisable shape. And all with the hope of having the individual sign his book and be baptised in his name. Of course, he doesn’t expect you to do that for free and offers riches you could never imagine. Riches that never appear once he has you misbehaving.
Wearing a high crowned hat, and whispering falsehoods in your ear he could convince you to become one of his minions or drive you insane. Although it seems, in New England, he was a little stingy on the powers.
New England Witches Powers
Whilst the gifts of witches vary from country to country, and in some cases town to town, the witches of New England had particular skillsets. They could divine what was written in a letter before it was opened, spin the finest linen, survive mishaps and injuries, and enjoyed nothing more than disordering the kitchen, enchanting beer, and causing cows to leap in the air (and presumably over the moon in some instances). Whether they were wicked and dark or unconventionally clever, a witch had many ways to mess with your daily life.
Witches weren’t the only creature to plague New England
Vampires were considered to be a problem on a number of occasions. Curiously coinciding with outbreaks of consumptions. Whole families would be taken and Vampires blamed.
Rather than being put on trial and tortured or hung, Vampires were desecrated after death. Their hearts cut out, burned, and the ashes mixed with water to be fed to the remaining family as a cure.
Other suspected (already dead and in their graves) vampires were beheaded, had organs removed, and suffered mutilation. Presumably, so they couldn’t rise again and claim more victims.
Horror and Fantasy Author – Also writing as K.T. McQueen. Love Western Horror, cowboy boots, my cactus Collin, & my Demon Cat.
Moths – I hate moths, the way they flutter at your face!