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3 corrections, most recently by LaurieRampling - Show corrections

WITCHCRAFT.

The modern and extraordinary trial in Somersetshire, and some observations in the public papers a short time since, so excited curio- sity and occasioned inquiry on the subject of witch- craft, that the following observation« and statements cannot fail to be read with interest, perhaps a

melancholy interest, at the present moment :-  

" The first formal trial of any importance, which   we find recorded, is that of the witches of War- bois, which took place in 1593. Their accusation was founded on circumstances which, however improbable and ridiculous they may now appear, were in those days sufficiently criminal to ensure the condemnation of three harmless individuals. The following particulars of this are copied from Dr. Hutchinson's ' Historical Essay concerning Witchcraft,' chap. 7.

" ' Three persons-old Samuel and his wife, and Agnes Samuel, their daughter, were condemned at Huntingdon by Mr. Justice Fenner, April 4, 1593, for witching, as was supposed, five of Mr. Throg- morton's children, seven servants, the lady Crom- well, and the gaoler's man, &c. The father and daughter, indeed, maintained tlieir innocence to the last, but the old woman confessed. It ought to be observed, that this prosecution was not grounded upon any previous acts of sorcery that these people had been taken in, but upon experiments and charms, which the prosecutors compelled them to use, and tried upon them.

" ' One of Mr.Throgmorton's daughter's had fits, and was ill; but there was no signs or thought of witchcraft, till this old mother Samuel, living near them, came in to see her, and sate in the chimney corner, with a black knit cap on her head ; and when the child in her fit saw her, she said that she looked like an old witch, and from that time took a fancy that she had bewitched her. After that, the other children had the same fears and fancies, and     fits like her's. After this, the Lady Cromwell, to whose husband these Samuels were tenants, came to Mr. Throgmorton's house. She sent for the old woman, and called her witch, and abused her, and pulled off her kercher, and cut off some of her grey hair, and gave it to Mrs. Throgmorton to burn for a charm. At night this lady-as was very likely she should, after such an ill day's work -dreamt of mother Samuel and her cat, and fell into fits ; and about a year and a quarter after died. It was stated further on the trial that there were nine spirits or familiars that belonged to these people, and called mother Samuel their old dame. Two of their names I have forgot, but the other seven Pluck, Hardname, Catch, three Smacs (that were cousins), and Blew. Their children were said to talk with these spirits in their fits. The standers by, however, neither saw any shapes, nor heard any voices, but only understood what the spirits said by the children's answer's, and by

what the children told them afterwards.

" ' The old woman confessed ; but, I pray, take notice how her confession was drawn from her. For about two years after the first accusation, she main- tained her innocence strictly, and said they were wanton children. By long ill usage, her husband on one side swearing at and beating her; and on the other side, Mrs Throgmorton and the children scratching, and trying unfair tricks, and keeping her from her own house amongst his children, -for, contrary to all other cases, her presence was their preservation,-I reckon her health was so impaired, that one night she was vapoured to that degree, that they thought the devil was in her.

" ' Then observe how very forcibly they drew her confession from her. The children with tears begged that she would confess. They said they should be well if she confessed, and   they would forgive her from the bottom of their hearts ; and besides that, they would entreat their parents and their friends, so much as in them lay, clearly to forgive and forget all that had passed. Still this would not do. She would not confess, she said, what was not true. But Mr. Throgmorton prevailed with to charge the spirit in the name of God, that tbey might have no more fits. She yielded to him, and then the children grew well. This surprised the poor woman, and very likely made her believe, that all had really proceeded from her ill tongue ; and having been told so often that if she would but confess, all would be well, and they forgive her she cried and confessed ; but in a day or two she denied all again. Then Mr. Throgmor- ton was angry, and threatened to carry her before the Bishop at Bugden ; and upon condition that she might not be carried thither, she promised to confess again, provided it might be to Mr. Throg- morton alone; but he secretly placed people under the window, to hear what she said ; and by this threatening promise and contrivance he gained a

second confession.'

" But this confession was not sufficient for the tender and scrupulous conduct of Mr.Throgmorton. He, consequently, invented a charm, which he de- clared had been revealed to him by spirits ; and so great was the influence which he had gained over the mind of the poor old woman, that he made her repeat it ' a hundred times over.' It was as fol- lows:-'I charge thee, the devil, as I love thee, and am a witch, and guilty of this matter, that thou suffer these children to be well at present.'

" Dreadful was the havoc committed amongst those unfortunate persons, whose age, poverty, and infirmities marked them as fit objects for suspicion. From the accession of James the First, in the se- cond year of the 17th century, to that of Anne, in the first year of the 18th, every item of a rigorous     statate was acted upon and enforced with the most severe vigilance ; and, however incredible it may appear, the enormous sum of three thousand one hun- dred and ninety-two individuals were condemned and executed in Great Britain alone, for the crimes of witchcraft, sorcery, or conjuration. That the reader may have some idea of the expeditious and summary manner in which these unfortunate creatures were disposed of, and of the frivolous circumstances which were deemed worthy of arraignment before a public tribunal, we transcribe a few cases from a chronolo- gical table, prefixed to the last edition of 'Dr. Hut   chinson's Historical Essay.'

" 1613. Fifteen indicted at Lancaster, and twelve

executed.

"1615. Mary Smith hanged at Lynn, in Norfolk.

She died very pious and resigned, and believed her-

self a witch.

" 1618. There were two hanged at Lincoln, upon an indictment of bewitching the Earl of Rutland's children. One old woman confessed that she rubbed one of the Lady Catherine's handkerchiefs upon her cat Rutterkin, and bade her fly and go ; whereupon the cat whined and cried mew, by which she under- stood that Rutterkin had no power over that young lady. Now, what should a cat cry but mew ? (quoth the doctor.) And could the poor silly woman have been suffered to interpret that to her own destruc-

" * The following is a specimen of one of tbese

delectable dialogues ; it took place between the fa-   miliar Smac, and Mistress Joan, the eldest daugh- ter of Throgmorton, about sixteen years of age : 'Mistress Joan : From whence carne you, Mr. Smac,   and what news do you bring ? Smac : I come from fighting.-Mistress Joan : With whom, I pray ? Smac : with Pluck.-Mistress Joan : Where did you fight, I pray? Smac : In my old dame's bakehouse (which is an old house in old mother Samuel's yard), and we fought with great cowl-staves last night.- Mistress Joan : And who got the mastery, I pray ? Smac : I did, for I broke Pluck's head.-Mistress Joan : I would that he had broke your head also. Smac : Is this all the thanks I shall get for my la- bour ?-Mistress Joan : Why do you look for thanks at my hands? I would you were all banged up, one against the other, and dame and all, for you are all naught ; but it is no matter. I do not well to curse you ; for God, I trust, will defend me from you all.' This exquisite piece of natural eloquence was deli- vered in evidence before au English Judge, anno Domini, 1590, and went far towards tbe condemna-, tion of the unfortunate delinquents."

tion, if she had not been in the hands of fools ? And, therefore (he continues) though many odd things were sworn by the country people ; and though the two were hanged ; and though there stands now in Bettesworth Church marble statues of these chil- dren, with an inscription, importing that they died in their infancy by wicked practices,-notwithstand-

ing all these things, I say, I do not believe a word

of it.

. " 1622. Edward Fairfax, of Fuyston, in tho fo- rest of Knaresborough, Esq. at York assizes, prose- cuted six of his neighbours for supposed withcraft upon his children. The common facts of imps and fits, and apparitions of the suspected witches wero deposed, and the grand jury found the bills, and tho judge heard what the witnesses bad to say ; but having a certificate of the sober behaviour of the ac- cused persons, bo directed the ju.y so well that they

acquitted them.

" 1634. Mothor Jackson condemned in London. " 1645. Fifteen condemned at Chelmsford, in Essex, and hanged ; some at Chelmsford, and some at Manningtree ; another died in gaol, another as going to execution* One was hanged at Cambridgo the same year. She kept a tame frog, and it was sworn to be her imp. In this and the following year many were hanged at Bury St, Edmund's, in Suf- folk. I have been told near forty at the several times of the execution, and as many more in the county

as made up three score.

" 1646. Many hanged at Huntingdon, two of whom were Elizabeth Wood and John Winnick.

" 1649. Oue at Gloucester, convicted for having sucked a sow, in tho form of a little black creature.

Great numbers burnt in Scotland in thoso-unsettlod ' times. Mr. Ady sailh many thousands.

" 1653. Catherine Huxley, hanged at Worces- ter, and Jane Lakeland, either hanged or burnt at

Ipswich.

" 1664. Alien Hudson and Doll Dilby, tried at York, Alice Hudson, said she received money.from the devil, ten shillings at a timo. About this pe- riod, Mary Johnson was tried at Hertford, and hanged. She said the devil appeared to her, cleaned her hearth of ashes, and bunted hogs out of tho corn. She could not help laughing, she said, to

see how he feazod them about I

" But the most remarkable trial on record, is that which took place before Lord Chief Justice Hale, at Bury St. Edmund's, anno 1661. One would have imagined that so eminent a scholar, and so good a man, would have discouraged rather than fostered this cruel and abominable delusion. But it was otberwiao decreed, and this celebrated character, whoso piety and theological reading (it has been well observed) seemed only to have the effect of rendering him credulous and unrelenting, followed close! v in the footsteps of his bigoted predecessors.

" Amy Duny and Rose Cullender stood indicted for practising tho arts of sorcery and witchcraft ; and several witnesses gave evidence as to tho crimes im- puted to thom. The prosecutors appear to have evinced great zeal and eagerness in their proceed- ings. They laid thirteen indictments against the prisoners, comprehending many charges, founded on facts performed, njt immediately previous to their apprehension, but so long os any of the witnesses could remember. The sum of all the evidence given is briefly as follows :-Against Amy Duny it was sworn, that she once said, ' That the divel would not let her rest until she were revenged ou one Cor- nelius Sandwell's wife ;' that she told the said Sand well's wife, that if she did not fetch home her geese from the common they would be destroyed-and they were destroyed; that, if Cornelius Sandwell (whose tenant slie was) did not repair the chimney of her house it would fall-and it did fall. Then there was terrible testimony concerning a firkin of fish, which went far to prove the bewitching abilities of poor Amy. Mrs.Cornelius Sandwell's brother had sent her a firkin of fine Yarmouth herrings as a pre- sent ; but when she went to fetch it, the sailors told her that they believed the devil was in it, for it leaped into the sea, and was gone ; and, as Mrs. Sandwell very sagely concluded, all this happened at the instigation of Amy Duny. JohnSoames (ano- ther witness) deposed ' that he had three carts to carry corn. One of them wrenched Amy Duny's house, upon which she came out in a rage, and threatened ;-that this same cart was afterwards overturned twice or thrice that day ;-that the cart was also bet fast in a gatehuad, although they could perceive that it did not touch the posts." But tho most material evidence was that deposed by Dorothy Dunnett, whose children theso unhappy prisoners: Wdre said to have bewitched. They were afflicted with fits (the usual malady) which Amy Duny and Rose Cullender liad positively and plainly predicted. There was also a charge for bewitching one Susan Chandler, ' who looked very thin, and felt a prick- ing, like pins, in her stomach.' This evidence, with more of a like character, having been circumstan- tially detailed, the Judge and Jury were very much inclined to doubt its veracity ; and there was a pause in the proceedings. It was resolved, how- ever, that the caso .should be referred to ' Sir Tho- mas Browne,' of Norwich, the famous physician of his time,' who was then in Court. This was accord- ingly done, and Sir Thomas declared it was his opi- nion, * that the devil, in such cases, did work upon the hodies of men and women, upon a natural foun- dation, (that is) to stir up and excite such humours superabounding in their bodies to a great excess, whereby he did, in an extraordinary manner, afflict them with such distempers as their bodies were most subject to, as particularly appeared in the children of Dorothy Dünnet ; for he conceived that these swounding fits were natural, and nothing else but that they call the mather, but only heightened to a great excess by the subtlety of the devil co-opora« ting with the malice of these which we term witches, at whose instance be doth the villanies.' This at once decided the point, in the minds of all but Lord Hale, who still had his doubts ; but he proceeded in such fear, and with so much caution, that be would uot so much as sum up the evidence, but left it to tim jury, with a prayer, ' That the great God of

Heaven would direct their hearts in this weighty

matter.'

" The consequence of this irresolution in the Chief Justice was fatal to the prisoners, for in less than half an hour the jury brought thom in guilty upon all the thiiteen several indictments ; and they were condemn d and executed-declaring their innocence to the last."-Morning Advertiser.

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