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I. The Trial of G. B. at a Court of Oyer and Terminer, Held in Salem, 1692

Glad should I have been, if I had never known the name of this man, or never had this occasion to mention so much as the first letters of his name. But the Government requiring some account of his trial to be inserted in this book, it becomes me with all obedience to submit unto the order.

1. This G. B. was indicted for witchcraft, and in the prosecution of the charge against him, he was accused by eight of the confessing witches as being a head actor at some of their hellish rendezvous, and once had the promise of being a king in Satan's kingdom, now going to be erected. He was accused by nine persons of extraordinary lifting, and such feats of strength as could not be done without a diabolical assistance. And for other such things he was accused, until about thirty testimonies were brought in against him. Nor were these judged the half of what might have been considered for his conviction. However, they were enough to fix the character of a witch upon him according to the rules of reasoning, by which the judicious Gaule1, in that case directed.

II. The Court being sensible that the testimonies of the parties bewitched used to have a room among the suspicions or presumptions, brought in against one indicted for witchcraft, there were now heard the testimonies of several persons, who were most notoriously bewitched and every day tortured by invisible hands. And these now all charged the spectres of G. B. to have a share in their torments.

At the examination of this G. B. the bewitched people were grievously harassed with preternatural mischiefs which could not possibly be dissembled. And they still ascribed it unto the endeavors of G. B. to kill them. And now upon his trial, one of the bewitched persons testified that in her agonies a little black-haired man came to her saying his name was B., and bidding her set her hand unto a book which he showed unto her; and bragging that he was a conjurer above the ordinary rank of witches; that he often persecuted her with the offer of that book, saying, she should be well and fear nobody, if she would but sign it; but he inflicted cruel pains and hurts upon her, because of her denying to do so.

[p.135]The testimonies of the other sufferers concurred with these. And it was remarkable that, whereas biting was one of the ways which the witches used for the vexing of the sufferers, when they cried out of G. B. biting them, the print of the teeth would be seen on the flesh of the complainers, and just such a set of teeth as G. B.'s would then appear upon them, which could be distinguished from those of some other men.

Others of them testified that in their torments, G. B. tempted them to go unto a Sacrament, unto which they perceived him with a sound of trumpet summoning other witches, who quickly after the sound would come from all quarters to the rendezvous. One of them falling into a kind of trance afterwards affirmed that G. B. had carried her into a very high mountain, where he showed her mighty and glorious kingdoms, and said, he would give them all to her, if she would write in his book. But she told him they were none of his to give, and refused the motions, enduring much misery for that refusal.

It cost the Court a wonderful deal of trouble to hear the testimonies of the sufferers, for when they were going to give in their depositions they would for a long time be taken with fits that made them incapable of saying anything. The Chief Judge asked the prisoner who he thought hindered these witnesses from giving their testimonies. And he answered he supposed it was the Devil. That honorable person then replied: How come the Devil so loathe to have any testimony borne against you? Which cast him into very great confusion.

III. Several of the bewitched had given in their testimony that they had been troubled with the apparitions of two women, who said that they were G. B.'s two wives, and that he had been the death of them; and that the Magistrates must be told of it, before whom, if B. upon his trial denied it, they did not know but that they should appear again in the court. Now, G. B. had been infamous for the barbarous usage of his two successive wives, all the country over. Moreover, it was testified, the spectre of G. B. threatening of the sufferers told them, he had killed (besides others) Mrs. Lawson and her daughter, Ann.1 And it was noted that these were the virtuous wife and daughter of one at whom this G. B. might have a prejudice for his being serviceable at Salem village, from whence he himself had in ill terms removed some years before; and that, when they died, which was long since, there were some odd circumstances about them, which made some of the attendants there suspect something of witchcraft, though none imagined from which quarter it should come.

Well, G. B. being now upon his trial, one of the bewitched Persons was cast into horror at the ghosts of B.'s two deceased wives then appearing before him, and crying for vengeance against him. Hereupon several of the bewitched persons were successively called in, who all now knowing what the former had seen and said, concurred in their horror of the apparition, which they affirmed that he had before him. But he, though much appalled, utterly denied that he discerned anything of it; nor was it any part of his conviction.

[p.136]IV. Judicious writers have assigned it a great place in the conviction of witches, when persons are impeached by other notorious witches, to be as ill as themselves, especially if the persons have been much noted for neglecting the worship of God. Now, as there might have been testimonies enough of G. B.'s antipathy to prayer and the other ordinances of God, though by his profession singularly obligated thereunto. So, there now came in against the prisoner the testimonies of several persons, who confessed their own having been horrible witches, and ever since their confessions had been themselves terribly tortured by the devils and other witches, even like the other sufferers, and therein undergone the pains of many deaths for their confessions.

These now testified that G. B. had been at witch-meetings with them, and that he was the person who had seduced and compelled them into the snares of witchcraft, that he promised them fine clothes for doing it, that he brought the afflicting of other people, and that he exhorted them, with the rest of the crew, to bewitch all Salem Village-but to be sure to do it gradually if they would prevail in what they did.

VI. There came in several testimonies relating to the domestic affairs of G. B. which had a very hard aspect upon him, and not only proved him a very ill man but also confirmed the belief of the character which had already been fastened on him.

It was testified: that keeping his two successive wives in a strange kind of slavery, he would when he came home from abroad pretend to tell the talk which any had with them; that he brought them to the point of death by his harsh dealings with his wives, and then made the people about him promise that in case death should happen, they would say nothing of it; that he used all means to make his wives write, sign, seal, and swear a covenant never to reveal any of his secrets; that his wives had privately complained unto the neighbors about frightful apparitions of evil spirits with which their house was sometimes infested and that many such things have beer whispered among the neighborhood.

There were also some other testimonies relating to the death of people whereby the consciences of an impartial jury were convinced that G. B had bewitched the persons mentioned in the complaints.

IX. The jury brought him in guilty But when he came to die, he utterly denied the fact whereof he had beet thus convicted.

[John Gaul, a seventeenth-century English writer on witchcraft.]

[The wife and daughter of the Rev. Deodat Lawson, who succeeded Burroughs as pastor of Salem village. The motive of revenge is implied in the spectral "evidence" the court admits.]

Cotton Mather, 1692

Historical Summary

SPORADIC upsurges of "hexing" in the Pennsylvania Dutch country attest the virility of witchcraft even in the Age of the H-Bomb. But in the Middle Ages witches were universally believed to be malignant beings who practiced all forms of the black art. Fearful persecutions of suspects followed, notably between the fifteenth and the seventeenth centuries. Witchcraft became an easy means of destroying an enemy or confiscating an estate.

On this side of the ocean witches were tried and executed in a number of the colonies, culminating in an unsurpassed ecstasy of witch-hunting in the year 1692, when a score of suspects were put to death in the Massachusetts town of Salem. When, several years earlier, the children of a Boston mason named Goodwin became afflicted with fits, a nervous, tensely suspicious community was thrown into paroxysms of fear. Several rag dolls were found in the house of an old, half-crazy Irish Catholic laundress. She confessed to having stroked them in order to torment her victims, the Goodwin children, and was executed.

At this point Cotton Mather, a leading Puritan minister, stepped into the picture. He brought the oldest Goodwin girl into his own home for observation and reported her every movement. Knowing nothing of child psychology, Mather had the wool pulled over his eyes. It was a field day for juvenile exhibitionism, and it all was solemnly recorded in Mather's Memorable Providences (1689).

The climax of the witchcraft mania occurred in Salem Village. A group of young girls, steeped in West Indian voodoo lore, which they had picked up from two slaves, began to shout that they were "afflicted." They went through all sorts of contortions and acted like creatures possessed. They accused one neighbor after another of torturing them. Most notable of all the victims of their hysterical accusations was the Reverend George Burroughs, whose trial as reported by Cotton Mather in his notorious Wonders of the Invisible World has been included in our anthology. On the scaffold the condemned minister moved the crowd by the obvious sincerity of his remarks. The bystanders muttered. But Cotton Mather hurriedly came forward and satisfied the audience that the execution was an act of justice. This dramatic scene has been reported through the sympathetic eyes of Robert Calef, a clear-sighted opponent of the witch mania, who witheringly attacked Mather in his [p.134] More Wonders of the Invisible World. The adolescents realized that they had the community completely at their mercy. They grew more reckless in their accusations, and the magistrates finally called a halt. Five years afterwards, Judge Samuel Sewall got up in Old South Church and courageously acknowledged his error.

Cotton Mather asserted that there was a "plot of the Devil against New England." Nevertheless, he denied his account of the trials was that of an "advocate" but insisted that he was an "historian." The court placed its imprimatur upon his report of the trials.

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