In the autumn of 1671 a case of so-called witchcraft occurred at Groton, and the Reverend Samuel Willard, at that time the minister of the town, gave much attention and study to it. He wrote a long letter to Cotton Mather, giving the minutest details of the case, and Dr. Mather refers to it in his “Magnalia Christi Americana" (book vi. chapter vii. page 67). Two years later Mr. Willard published a volume of sermons entitled “Useful Instructions for a professing People in Times of great Security and Degeneracy: delivered in several Sermons on Solemn Occasions." It consists [Page 6] of three sermons, of which one was preached in consequence of this supposed manifestation of the Devil. The fame or notoriety of the case evidently had spread far and wide throughout the colony. Mr. Willard says:
There is a voice in it to the whole Land, but in a more especial manner to poor Groton: it is not a Judgement afar off, but it is near us, yea among us, God hath in his wisdome singled out this poor Town out of all others in this Wilderness, to dispense such an amazing Providence in, and therefore let us make a more near and special use of it: Let us look upon our selves to be set up as a Beacon upon a Hill by this Providence, and let those that hear what hath been done among us, hear also of the good effects, and reformation it hath wrought among us.The victim of the witchcraft was one Elizabeth Knapp, who had the long train of symptoms which were then usually ascribed to the personal influence of the Evil One, but which nowadays would constitute a well-marked case of hysteria. She was the daughter of James and Elizabeth (Warren) Knapp, and born at Watertown, on April 21, 1655. Her father's house-lot was situated on the west side of Main Street, at the southerly end of the village; and the family were living, doubtless, on that site when the daughter was seized with the symptoms.
The original letter of Mr. Willard, describing the case, is still preserved, and is found numbered 3 in the second volume of the "Mather Papers" now at the Boston Public Library. It is written in a very small, cramped hand, and contained in four pages of manuscript, which is extremely difficult to read. It has been printed in the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, volume viii., fourth series, pages 555-570; but the present copy is made independently of that one, and varies slightly from it. The letter is as follows: -
THIS poore & miserable object, about a fortnight before shee was taken, wee observed to carry herselfe in a strange & unwonted manner, sometimes shee would give sudden shriekes, & if wee enquired a Reason, would alwayes put it off with some excuse, & then would burst forth into immoderate & extravagant laughter, in such wise, as some times shee fell onto the ground with it: I my selfe observed oftentimes a strange change in here countenance, but could not suspect the true reason, but coneived shee might bee ill, & therefore divers times enquired how shee did, & shee alwayes answered well; which made mee wonder: but the tragedye began to unfold itselfe upon Munday, Octob. 30. 71, after this manner (as I received by credible information, being that day my selfe gon from home).
In the evening, a little before shee went to bed, sitting by the fire, shee cryed out, oh my legs! & clapt her hand on them, immediately oh my breast! & removed her hands thither; & forthwith, oh I am strangled, & put her hands on her throat: those that observed her could not see what to make of it; whither shee was in earnest or dissembled, & in this manner they left her (excepting the person that lay with her) complaining of her breath being stopt: The next day shee was in a strange frame, (as was observed by divers) sometimes weeping, sometimes laughing, & many foolish & apish gestures. In the evening, going into the cellar, shee shrieked suddenly, & being enquired of the cause, shee answered, that shee saw 2 persons in the cellar; whereupon some went downe with her to search, but found none; shee also looking with them; at last shee turned her head, & looking one way stedfastly, used the expression, what cheere old man? which, they that were with her tooke for a fansye, & soe ceased; afterwards (the same evening,) the rest of the family being in bed, shee was (as one lying in the roome saw, & shee herselfe also afterwards related) suddenly throwne downe into the midst of the floore with violence, & taken with a violent fit, whereupon the whole family was raised, & with much adoe was shee kept out of the fire from destroying herselfe after which time she was followed with fits from thence till the sabbath day; in which shee was violent in bodily motions, leapings, strainings & strange agitations, scarce to bee held in bounds by the strength of 3 or 4: violent alsoe in roarings & screamings, [Page 8] representing a dark resemblance of hellish torments, & frequently using in these fits divers words, sometimes crying out money, money, sometimes, sin & misery with other words.
On wednesday, being in the time of intermission questioned about the case shee was in, with reference to the cause or occasion of it, shee seemed to impeach one of the neighbors, a person (I doubt not) of sincere uprightnesse before God, as though either shee, or the devill in her likenesse & habit, particularly her riding hood, had come downe the chimney, stricken her that night shee was first taken violently, which was the occasion of her being cast into the floore; whereupon those about her sent to request the person to come to her, who coming unwittingly, was at the first assaulted by her stranglye, for though her eyes were (as it were) sealed up (as they were alwayes, or for the most part, in those fits, & soe continue in them all to this day) shee yet knew her very touch from any other, though no voice were uttered, & discovered it evidently by her gestures, soe powerfull were Satans suggestions in her, yet afterward God was pleased to vindicate the case & justifye the innocent, even to remove jealousyes from the spirits of the party concerned, & satisfaction of the by standers; for after shee had gon to prayer with her, shee confessed that she beleeved Satan had deluded her, & hath never since complained of any such apparition or disturbance from the person. These fits continuing, (though with intermission) divers, (when they had opportunity) pressed upon her to declare what might bee the true & real occasion of these amazing fits. Shee used many tergiversations & excuses, pretending shee would to this & that young person, who coming, she put it off to another, till at the last, on thurdsday night, shee brake forth into a large confession in the presence of many, the substance whereof amounted to thus much:
That the devill had oftentimes appeared to her, presenting the treaty of a Covenant, & preffering largely to her: viz, such things as suted her youthfull fancye, money, silkes, fine cloaths, ease from labor to show her the whole world, &c: that it had bin then 3 yeers since his first appearance, occasioned by her discontent: That at first his apparitions had bin more rare, but lately more frequent; yea those few weekes that shee had dwelt with us almost constant, that shee seldome went out of one roome into another, but hee appeared to her urging of her: & that hee had presented her a booke written with blood of covenants made by others with him, & told her such & such (of some wherof we hope better things) had a name there; [Page 9] that hee urged upon her constant temptations to murder her parents, her neighbors, our children, especially the youngest, tempting her to throw it into the fire, on the hearth, into the oven; & that once hee put a bill hooke into her hand, to murder my selfe, persuading her I was asleep, but coming about it, shee met me on the staires at which shee was affrighted,the time I remember well, & observd a strange frame in her countenance & saw she endeavered to hide something, but I knew not what, neither did I at all suspect any such matter; & that often he persuaded her to make away with herselfe & once she was going to drowne herselfe in the well, for, looking into it, shee saw such sights as allured her, & was gotten within the curbe, & was by God's providence prevented, many other like things shee related, too tedious to recollect: but being pressed to declare whither she had not consented to a covenant with the Devill, shee with solemne assertions denyed it, yea asserted that shee had never soe much as consented to discorse with him, nor had ever but once before that night used the expession, What cheere, old man? & this argument shee used, that the providence of God had ordered it soe, that all his apparitions had bin frightfull to her; yet this shee acknowledged, (which seemed contradictorye, viz :) that when shee came to our house to schoole, before such time as shee dwelt with us, shee delayed her going home in the evening, till it was darke, (which wee observed) upon his persuasion to have his company home, & that shee could not, when hee appeared, but goe to him; one evident testimony wherof wee can say somthing to, viz. the night before the Thanksgiving, Octob. 19. shee was with another maid that boarded in the house, where both of them saw the appearance of a mans head & shoulders, with a great white neckcloath, looking in at the window, at which they came up affrighted both into the chamber, where the rest of us were, they declaring the case, one of us went downe to see who it might bee, but shee ran immediately out of the doore before him, which shee hath since confessed, was the Devill coming to her; shee also acknowledged the reason of her former sudden shriekings, was from a sudden apparition, & that the devill put these excuses into her mouth, & bit her soe to say, & hurried her into those violent (but shee saith feigned & forced) laughters: shee then also complained against herselfe of many sins, disobedience to parents, neglect of attendance upon ordinances, attempts to murder herselfe & others; but this particular of a covenant shee utterly disclaimed: which relation seemed faire, [Page 10] especially in that it was attended with bitter teares, selfe condemnations, good counsells given to all about her, especially the youth then present, & an earnest desire of prayers: shee sent to Lancaster for Mr. Rowlandson, who came & prayed with her, & gave her serious counsells; but shee was still followed, all this notwithstanding, with these fits: & in this state (coming home on fryday) I found her; but could get nothing from her, whenever I came in presence shee fell into those fits, concerning which fits, I find this noteworthy, shee knew & understood what was spoken to her, but could not answer, nor use any other words but the forementioned, money, &c: as long as the fit continued, for when shee came out of it, shee could give a relation of all that had been spoken to her: shee was demanded a reason why shee used those words in her fits, & signifyed that the Devill presented her with such things, to tempt her, & with sin & miserye, to terrifye her; shee also declared that shee had seene the Devills in their hellish shapes, & more Devills then any one there ever saw men in the world. Many of these things I heard her declare on Saturday at night:
On the Sabbath the Physitian came, who judged a maine point of her distempr to be naturall, arising from the foulnesse of her stomacke, & corruptnesse of her blood, occasioning fumes in her braine, & strange fansyes; whereupon (in order to further tryall & administration) shee was removed home, & the succeeding weeke shee tooke physicke, & was not in such violence handled in her fits as before; but enjoyed an intermission, & gave some hopes of recovery; in which intermission shee was altogether sencelesse (as to our discoverye) of her state, held under securitye, & hardnesse of heart, professing shee had no trouble upon her spirits, shee cried satan had left her: A solemne day was kept with her, yet it had then, (as I apprehend,) little efficacy upon her; shee that day again expressed hopes that the Devill had left her, but there was little ground to thinke soe, because she remained under such extreame sencelessenesse of her owne estate: & thus shee continued, being exercised with some moderate fits, in which shee used none of the former expressions, but sometimes fainted away, sometimes used some struglings, yet not with extremitye, till the Wednesday following, which day was spent in prayer with her, when her fits something more encreased, & her tongue was for many houres together drawne into a semicircle up to the roofe of her mouth, & not to be remooved, for some tryed with the fingers to doe it: from thence till the sabbath seven [Page 11] night following: she continued alike, only shee added to former confessions, of her twise consenting to travell with the Devill in her company between Groton & Lancaster, who accompanied her in forme of a blacke dog with eyes in his backe, sometimes stopping her horse, sometimes leaping up behind, & keeping her (when she came home with company) 40 rod at least behind, leading her out of the way into a swampe, &c.: but still no conference would shee owne, but urged that the devills quarell with her was because shee would not seale a covenant with him, & that this was the ground of her first being taken. besides this nothing observable came from her, only one morning shee said God is a father, the next morning, God is my father, which words (it is to be feared) were words of presumption, put into her mouth by the adversary.
I suspecting the truth of her former storye, pressed, whether shee never verbally promised to covenant with him, which shee stoutly denyed: only acknowledged that shee had had some thoughts soe to doe: but on the forenamed Nov. 26. shee was again with violence & extremity seized by her fits, in such wise that 6 persons could hardly hold her, but shee leaped & skipped about the house proforce roaring, & yelling extreamly, & fetching deadly sighs, as if her heartstrings would have broken, & looking wth a frightfull aspect, to the amazement & astonishment of all the beholders, of which I was an eye witnesse: The Physitian being then agen with her consented that the distemper was Diabolicall, refused further to administer, advised to extraordinary fasting; whereupon some of Gods ministers were sent for: shee meane while continued extreamly tormented night & day, till Tuesday about noon; having this added on Munday & Tuesday morning that shee barked like a dog, & bleated like a calfe, in which her organs were visibly made use of: yea, (as was carefully observed) on Munday night, & Tuesday morning, when ever any came neere the house, though they within heard nothing at all, yet would shee barke till they were come into the house, on Tuesday, about 12 of the clocke, she came out of the fit, which had held her from Sabbath day about the same time, at least 48 howers, with little or no intermission, & then her speech was restored to her, & shee expressed a great seeming sence of her state: many bitter teares, sighings, sobbings, complainings shee uttered, bewailing of many sins fore mentioned, begging prayers, & in the houre of prayer expressing much affection : I then pressed if there were anything behind in reference to the dealings between her & Satan, [Page 12] when she agen professed that shee had related all: & declared that in those fits the devill had assaulted her many wayes, that hee came downe the chimney, & shee essayed to escape him, but was siezed upon by him, that hee sat upon her breast, & used many arguments with her, & that hee urged here at one time with persuasions & promises, of ease, & great matters, told her that shee had done enough in what shee had already confessed, shee might henceforth serve him more securely; anon told hir her time was past, & there was no hopes unlesse shee would serve him; & it was observed in the time of her extremity, once when a little moments respite was granted her of speech, shee advised us to make our peace with God, & use our time better then shee had done, the party advised her also to bethinke herselfe of making her peace, shee replyed, it is too late for me : the next day was solemnized, when we had the presence of Mr. Bulkley, Mr. Rowlandson, & Mr. Estabrooke, whither coming, we found her returned to a sottish & stupid kind of frame, much was prest upon her, but no affection at all discovered; though shee was little or nothing exercised with any fits, & her speech also continued: though a day or two after shee was melancholye & being enquired of a reason, shee complained that shee was grieved that so much pains were taken wth her, & did her no good, but this held her not long: & thus shee remained till Munday, when to some neighbors there present, shee related something more of he converse with the devill, viz. That it had bin 5 yeers or therabouts, since shee first saw him, & declared methodically the sundry apparitions from time to time, till shee was thus dreadfully assaulted, in which, the principall was, that after many assaults, shee had resolved to seale a covenant with Satan, thinking shee had better doe it, then be thus followed by him, that once, when shee lived at Lancaster, he presented himselfe, & desired of her blood, & shee would have done it, but wanted a knife, in the parley shee was prevented by the providence of God interposing my father; a 2nd time in the house hee met her, & presented her a knife, & as she was going about it my father stept in agen & prevented, that when shee sought & enquired for the knife, it was not to bee found, & that afterward shee saw it sticking in the top of the barne, & some other like passages shee agen owned an observable passage which shee also had confessed in her first declaration, but is not there inserted, viz. that the devill had often proffered her his service, but shee accepted not; & once in ptic: to bring her in chips for the fire, [Page 13] shee refused, but when shee came in shee saw them lye by the fire side, & was affraid, & this I remarke, I sitting by the fire spake to her to lay them on, & she turned away in an unwonted manner: she then also declared against herselfe her unprofitable life she had led, & how justly God had thus permitted Satan to handle her, telling them, they little knew what a sad case shee was in. I after asked her concerning these passages, & shee owned the truth of them, & declared that now shee hoped the devill had left her, but being prest whether there were not a covenant, she earnestly professed, that by Gods goodnesse shee had bin prevented from doing that, which shee of herselfe had been ready enough to assent to; & shee thanked God there was no such thing:
The same day shee was agen taken with a new kind of unwonted fitt in which after shee had bin awhile exercised with violence, shee got her a sticke, & went up and downe, thrusting, & pushing, here & there, & anon looking out at a window, & cryed out of a witch appearing in a strange manner in forme of a dog downward, with a womans head, & declared the person, other whiles that shee appeard in her whole likenesse, & described her shape and habit: signifyed that shee went up the chimney & went her way: what impression wee reade in the clay of the chimney, in similitude of a dogs paw, by the operation of Satan, & in the form of a dogs going in the same place she tould of, I shall not conclude, though something there was, as I myselfe saw in the chimney in the same place where shee declared the foot was set to goe up:
In this manner was she handled that night, & the 2 next dayes, using strange gestures, complaining by signes, when shee could not speake explaining that shee was sometimes in the chamber, somet. in the chimney, & anon assaults her, sometimes scratching her breast, beating her sides, strangling her throat, & she did oftentimes seeme to our apprehension as if shee would forthwith bee strangled: She declared that if the party were apprehended shee should forthwith bee well, but never till then; whereupon her father went, & percured the coming of the woman impeached by her, who came downe to her on Thurdsday night, where (being desired to be present) I observed that she was violently handled, & lamentably tormented by the adversarye, & uttered unusual shriekes at the instant of the persons coming in, though her eyes were fast closed: but having experience of such former actings, wee made nothing of it, but waited the issue: God therefore was sought to, to signifye something. whereby the innocent might bee acquitted, or the guilty discovered, [Page 14] & 'hee Answered our prayers, for by 2 evident & cleere mistakes she was cleered, & then all prejudices ceased, & she never more to this day hath impeached her of any apparition: in the fore mentioned allegation of the person, shee also signifyed that somet. the devil alsoe in the likenesse of a little boy appeared together with the person: Fryday was a sad day with her, for shee was sorely handled with fits, which some perceiving pressed that there was something yet behind not discovered by her; & shee after a violent fit, holding her betweene two & 3 houres did first to one, & afterwards to many acknowledge that shee had given of her blood to the Devill, & made a covenant with him, whereupon I was sent for to her; & understanding how things had passed, I found that there was no roome for privacye, in another alredy made by her soe publicke, I therefore examined her concerning the matter; & found her not soe forward to confesse, as shee had bin to others, yet thus much I gathered from her confession:
That after shee came to dwell with us, one day as shee was alone in a lower roome, all the rest of us being in the chamber, she looked out at the window, & saw the devill in the habit of an old man, coming over a great meadow lying neere the house; & suspecting his designe, shee had thoughts to have gon away; yet at length resolved to tarry it out, & heare what hee had to say to her; when hee came hee demanded of her some of her blood, which shee forthwith consented to, & with a knife cut her finger, hee caught the blood in his hand, & then told her she must write her name in his booke, shee answered, shee could not Write, but hee told her he would direct her hand, & then took a little sharpened sticke, & dipt in the blood, & put it into her hand, & guided it, & shee wrote her name with his helpe: what was the matter shee set her hand to, I could not learne from her; but thus much shee confessed, that the terme of time agreed upon with him was for 7 yeers; one yeere shee was to be faithfull in his service, & then the other six hee would serve her, & make her a witch: shee also related, that the ground of contest between her & the devill which was the occasion of this sad providence, was this, that after her covenant made the devill showed her hell & the damned, & told her if shee were not faithfull to him, shee should goe thither, & bee tormented there; shee desired of him to show her heaven, but hee told her that heaven was an ougly place, & that none went thither but a company of base roagues whom he hated; but if shee would obey him, it should be well with her: [Page 15] but afterward shee considered with herselfe, that the terme of her covenant, was but short, & would soone bee at an end, & shee doubted (for all the devills promises) shee must at last come to the place hee had showne her, & withall, feared, if shee were a witch, shee should bee discovered, & brought to a shamefull end: which was many times a trouble on her spirits; this the Devill perceiving, urged upon her to give him more of her blood, & set her hand agen to his booke, which shee refused to doe, but partly through promises, partly by threatnings, hee brought her at last to a promise that shee would sometime doe it: after which hee left not incessantly to urge her to the performance of it, once hee met her on the staires. & often elsewhere pressing her with vehemencye, but shee still put it off; till the first night shee was taken when the devill came to her, & told her he would not tarry any longer: shee told him shee would not doe it hee Answered shee had done it already, & what further damage would it bee to doe it agen, for shee was his sure enough: she rejoyned shee had done it already, & if shee were his sure enough, what need hee to desire any more of her: whereupon he strucke her the first night, agen more violently the 2nd as is above exprest :
This is the sum of the Relation I then had from her: which at that time seemed to bee methodicall: These things she uttered with great affection, overflowing of teares, & seeming bitternesse: I asked of the Reason of her weeping & bitternesse, shee complained of her sinns, & some in particular, profanation of the sabbath &c: but nothing of this sin of renouncing the goverment of God. & giving herselfe up to the devill: I therfore, (as God helped) applied it to her & asked her whether shee desired not prayers with & for her, shee assented with earnestnesse, & in prayer seemed to bewaile the sin as God helped, then in the aggravation of it, & afterward declared a desire to rely on the power & mercy of God in Christ: shee then also declared, that the Devill had deceived her concerning those persons impeached by her, that hee had in their likenesse or resemblance tormented her, persuading her that it was they, that they bare her a spleen, but he loved her, & would free her from them, & pressed on her to endeavor to bring them forth to the censure of the law.
In this case I left her; but (not being satisfied in some things) I promised to visit her agen the next day which accordingly I did, but coming to her, I found her (though her speech still remained) in a case sad enough, her teares dryed up, & sences stupifyed, & (as was observed) when I [Page 16] could get nothing from her, & therfore applyed myselfe in counsell to her, shee regarded it not, but fixed her eye steadfastly upon a place, as shee was wont when the Devill presented himselfe to her, which was a griefe to her parents, & brought mee to a stand; in the condition I left her:
The next day, being the Sabbath, whither upon any hint given her, or any advantage Satan tooke by it upon her, shee sent for mee in hast at noone, coming to her, shee immediately with teares told me that shee had belied the Devill, in saying shee had given him of her blood: &c: professed that the most of the apparitions shee had spoken of were but fansyes, as images represented in a dreame; earnestly entreated me to beleeve her, called God to witnesse to her assertion, I told her I would willingly hope the best, & beleeve what I had any good grounds to apprehend; if therefore shee would tell a more methodicall relation than the former, it would be well, but if otherwise, she must bee content that every one should censure according to their apprehension, shee promised soe to doe, & expressed a desire that all that would might heare her; that as they had heard soe many lyes & untruths, they might now heare the truth, & engaged that in the evening shee would doe it; I then repaired to her, & divers more then went; shee then declared thus much, that the Devill had sometimes appeared to her; that the occasion of it was her discontent, that her condition displeased her, her labor was burdensome to her, shee was neither content to bee at home nor abroad; & had oftentime strong persuasions to practice in witchcraft, had often wished the Devill would come to her at such & such times, & resolved that if hee would, shee would give herselfe up to him soule & body: but (though hee had oft times appeared to her, yet) at such times hee had not discovered himselfe, and therfore shee had bin preserved from such a thing: I declared a suspicion of the truth of the relation, & gave her some Reasons; but by Reason of the company did not say much, neither could anything further be gotten from her: but the next day I went to her, & opened my mind to her alone, & left it with her, declared (among other things) that shee had used preposterous courses, & therfore it was no marvell that shee had bin led into such contradictions, & tendered her all the helpe I could, if shee would make use of me, & more privately relate any weighty & serious case of Conscience to me, shee promised me shee would if shee knew any thing, but said that then shee knew nothing at all; but stood to the story shee had told the foregoing evening: & indeed what to make [Page 17] of these things I at present know not, but am waiting till God (if hee see meet) wind up the story, & make a more cleere discoverye.
It was not many dayes ere shee was hurried agen into violent fits after a different manner, being taken agen speechlesse, & using all endeavores to make away with herselfe, & doe mischiefe unto others; striking those that held her; spitting in their faces; & if at any time shee had done any harme or frightened them shee would laugh immediately; which fits held her sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, few occasions shee had of speech, but when shee could speake, shee complained of a hard heart, counselled some to beware of sin, for that had brought her to this, bewailed that soe many prayers had bin put up for her, & shee still so hard hearted, & no more good wrought upon her; but being asked whither shee were willing to repent, shaked her head, & said nothing. Thus shee continued till the next sabbath in the afternoone; on which day in the morning, being somthing better then at other times, shee had but little company tarryed with her in the afternoon; when the Devill began to make more full discoverye of himselfe:
It had bin a question before, whither shee might properly bee called a Demoniacke, or person possessed of the Devill, but it was then put out of Question: hee began (as the persons with her testifye) by drawing her tongue out of her mouth most frightfully to an extraordinary length & greatnesse, & many amazing postures of her bodye; & then by speaking, vocally in her, whereupon her father, & another neighbor were called from the meeting, on whom, (as soon as they came in,) he railed, calling them roagues, charging them for folly in going to heare a blacke roague, who told them nothing but a parcell of lyes, & deceived them, & many like expressions. after exercise I was called, but understood not the occasion, till I came, & heard the same voice, a grum, low, yet audible voice it was, the first salutation I had was, oh ! you are a great roague, I was at the first somthing daunted & amazed, & many reluctances I had upon my spirits, which brought mee to a silence and amazement in my spirits, till at last God heard my groanes & gave me both refreshment in Christ, & courage: I then called for a light, to see whither it might not appeare a counterfiet, and observed not any of her organs to moove, the voice was hollow, as if it issued out of her throat; hee then agen called me great blacke roague, I challenged him to make it appear; but all the Answer was, you tell the people a company of lyes : I reflected on myselfe, & could not but [Page 18] magnifye the goodnesse of God not to suffer Satan to bespatter the names of his people, with those sins which hee himselfe hath pardoned in the blood of Christ.
I Answered, Satan, thou art a lyar, and a deceiver, & God will vindicate his owne truth one day: hee Answered nothing directly, but said, I am not Satan, I am a pretty blacke boy; this is my pretty girle; I have bin here a great while, I sat still, and Answered nothing to these expressions; but when hee directed himselfe to mee agen, oh! you blacke roague, I doe not love you: I replyed through God's grace, I hate thee; hee rejoyned, but you had better love mee; these manner of expressions filled some of the company there present with great consternation, others put on boldnesse to speake to him, at which I was displeased, & advised them to see their call cleere, fearing least by his policye, & many apish expressions hee used, hee might insinuate himselfe, & raise in them a fearlessenesse of spirit of him: I no sooner turned my backe to goe to the fire, but he called out agen, where is that blacke roague gon: I seeing little good to bee done by discorse, & questioning many things in my mind concerning it, I desired the company to joyne in prayer unto God; when wee went about that duty & were kneeled downe, with a voice louder then before something, hee cryed out, hold your tongue, hold your tongue, get you gon you blacke roague, what are you going to doe, you have nothing to doe with me, &c: but through Gods goodnesse was silenced, &, shee lay quiet during the time of prayer, but as soone as it was ended, began afresh, using the former expressions, at which some ventured to speake to him: Though I thinke imprudentlye: one told him, God had him in chaines, hee replyed, for all my chaine, I can knocke thee on the head when I please: hee said hee would carry her away that night. Another Answered, but God is stronger than thou, He presently rejoyned, that 's a ly, I am stronger than God: at which blasphemy I agen advised them to bee wary of speaking, counselled them to get serious parsons to watch with her, & left her, commending her to God:
On Tuesday following shee confessed that the Devill entred into her the 2nd night after her first taking, that when shee was going to bed, hee entred in (as shee conceived) at her mouth, & had bin in her ever since, & professed, that if there were ever a Devill in the world, there was one in her, but in what manner he spake in her she could not tell: On Wednesday night, shee must forthwith be carried downe to the bay in all hast, shee should never be well, till an assembly of [Page 19] ministers was met together to pray with & for her, & in particular Mr. Cobbet: her friends advised with me about it; I signifyed to them, that I apprehended, Satan never made any good motion, but it was out of season, & that it was not a thing now fiezable, the season being then extreame cold; & the snow deepe, that if shee had bin taken in the woods with her fits shee must needs perish: On friday in the evening shee was taken agen violently, & then the former voice (for the sound) was heard in her agen, not speaking, but imitating the crowing of a cocke, accompanied with many other gestures, some violent, some ridiculous, which occasioned my going to her, where by signes she signifyed that the Devill threatened to carry her away that night, God was agen then sought for her. & when in prayer, that expression was used, the God had prooved Satan a liar, in preserving her once when hee had threatned to carry her away that night, & was entreated soe to doe agen, the same voice, which had ceased 2 dayes before, was agen heard by the by-standers 5 times distinctly to cry out, oh you are a roague, and then ceased: but the whole time of prayer, sometimes by violence of fits sometimes by noises shee made, shee drouned her owne hearing from receiving our petition, as she afterwards confessed:
Since that time shee hath continued for the most part speechlesse, her fits coming upon her sometimes often, sometimes with greater intermission, & with great varietyes in the manner of them, sometimes by violence, sometimes by making her sicke, but (through Gods goodnesse) soe abated in violence, that now one person can as well rule her, as formerly 4 or 5: She is observed alwayes to fall into her fits when any strangers goe to visit her, & the more goe the more violent are her fits: as to the frame of her spirits hee hath bin more averse lately to good counsell than heretofore, yet sometime shee signifyes a desire of the companye of ministers.
On Thursday last, in the evening, shee came a season to her speech, & (as I received from them with her) agen disouned a Covenant with the Devill, disouned that relation about the knife fore mentioned, declared the occasion of her fits to bee discontent, owned the temptations to murder; declared that though the devill had power of her body, shee hoped hee should not of her soule, that she had rather continue soe speechlesse, then have her speech, & make no better use of it then formerly shee had, expressed that shee was sometimes disposed to doe mischiefe, & was as if some had laid hold of her to enforce her to it, & had double strength to her owne, that shee knew not whither the devill [Page 20] were in her or no if hee were shee knew not when or how he entered; that when shee was taken speechlesse, she fared as if a string was tyed about the roots of her tongue, & reached doune into her vitalls & pulled her tongue downe, & then most when shee strove to speake:
On Fryday, in the evening shee was taken wth a passion of weeping, & sighing, which held her till late in the night, at length she sent for me; but then unseasonablenesse of the weather, & my owne bodily indisposednesse prevented: I went the next morning, when shee strove to speake somthing but could not, but was taken with her fits, which held her as long as I tarried, which was more then an houre, & I left her in them: & thus she continues speechlesse to this instant, Jan. 15. & followed with fits: concerning which state of hers I shall suspend my owne Judgment, & willingly leave it to the censure of those that are more learned, aged, & Judicious: only I shall leave my thoughts in resp. of 2 or 3 questions which have risen about her: viz.
1. Whither her distemper be reale or counterfiet: I shall say no more to that but this, the great strength appearing in them, & great weaknesse after them, will disclaime the contrary opinion: for tho a person may counterfiet much yet such a strength is beyond the force of dissimulation:
2. Whither her distemper bee naturall or Diabolicall, I suppose the premises will strongly enough conclude the latter, yet I will adde these 2 further arguments:
1. the actings of convulsion, which these come nearest to, are (as parsons acquainted with them observe) in many, yea the most essentiall parts of them quite contrary to these actings:3. Whither the Devill did really speake in her: to that point which some have much doubted of, thus much I will say to countermand this apprehension:
2. Shee hath no wayes wasted in body, or strength by all these fits, though soe dreadfulle, but gathered flesh exceedinglye, & hath her naturall strength when her fits are off, for the most part:
1. The manner of expression I diligently observed, & could not perceive any organ, any instrument of speech (which the philosopher makes mention of) to have any motion at all, yea her mouth was sometimes shut without opening sometimes open without shutting or moving, & then both I & others saw her tongue (as it used to bee when shee was in some fits, when speechlesse) turned up circularly to the roofe of her mouth.
2. the labial letters, divers of which were used by her, viz. B. M. P. which cannot bee naturally expressed without motion of the lips, which must needs come within our ken, if observed, were uttered without any such motion, [Page 21] shee had used only Lingualls, Gutturalls &c: the matter might have bin more suspicious:
3. the reviling termes then used, were such as shee never used before nor since, in all this time of her being thus taken: yea, hath bin alwayes observed to speake respectively concerning mee;
4. They were expressions which the devill (by her confession) aspersed mee, & others withall, in the houre of temptation, particularly shee had freely acknowledged that the Devill was wont to appear to her in the house of God & divert her mind, & charge her shee should not give eare to what the Blacke coated roage spake:
5. wee observed when the voice spake, her throat was swelled formidably as big at least as ones fist: These arguments I shall leave to the censure of the Judicious:
4. whither shee have covenanted with the Devill or noe: I thinke this is a case unanswerable, her declarations have been soe contradictorye, one to another, that wee know not what to make of them & her condition is such as administers many doubts; charity would hope the best, love would alsoe feare the worst, but thus much is cleare, shee is an object of pitye, & I desire that all that heare of her would compassionate her forlorne state, Shee is (I question not) a subject of hope, & thererfore all meanes ought to bee used for her recoverye, Shee is a monument of divine severitye, & the Lord grant that all that see or heare, may feare & tremble: Amen.
I cannot but admire [wonder] that these afflicted persons should be so much countenanced and encouraged in their accusations as they are: I often think of the Groton woman, that was afflicted, an account of which we have in print [in Mr. Willard's sermon], and is a [Page 22] most certain truth, not to be doubted of. I shall only say, that there was as much ground, in the hour of it, to countenance the said Groton woman, and to apprehend and imprison, on her accusations, as there is now to countenance these afflicted persons, and to apprehend and imprison on their accusations. But furthermore, it is worthy of our deepest consideration, that in the conclusion, (after multitudes have been imprisoned, and many have been put to death), these afflicted persons should own that all was a mere fancy and delusion of the devil's, as the Groton woman did own and acknowledge with respect to herself; if, I say, in after times, this be acknowledged by them, how can the justices, judges, or any else concerned in these matters, look back upon these things without the greatest of sorrow and grief imaginable? I confess to you, it makes me tremble when I seriously consider of this thing. I have heard that the chief judge has expressed himself very hardly of the accused woman at Groton, as though he believed her to be a witch to this day: but by such as knew the said woman, this is judged a very uncharitable opinion of the said judge, and I do not understand that any are proselyted thereto. (Pages 73, 74.)Thomas Hutchinson, in the "History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay" (Boston, 1767), refers to this case and says: -
In 1671, Elizabeth Knapp, another ventriloqua, alarmed the people of Groton in much the same manner as Ann Cole had done those of Hartford; but her daemon was not so cunning, for instead of confining himself to old women, he rail'd at the good minister of the town and other persons of good character, and the people could not then be prevailed on to believe him, but believed the girl, when she confessed she had been deluded, and that the devil had tormented her in the shape of good persons; and so she escaped the punishment due to her fraud and imposture. (ii. 17.)Samuel G. Drake, in his "Annals of Witchcraft in New England " (Boston, 1869), also mentions the case of Elizabeth Knapp, and says: -
[Page 23] This Story has been given to show how, in those Times, a tolerably severe Case of Hysterics could be magnified by those who had an exceedingly large Maggot of Credulity in their Brains. Groton is only thirty-three Miles from Boston, but the Story, in travelling even that short Distance, had no Doubt swollen into such Proportions, as to have but a faint Likeness to the Original.John Willard, who was hung as a witch at Salem on August 19, 1692, had previously lived in Groton. The papers relating to his arrest and trial are still on file in the office of the clerk of the courts for Essex County at Salem, and give many particulars of the unfortunate affair. They are found in the first volume of "Witchcraft Papers," and numbered from 91 to 107 inclusive. The trial was held before a special term of the Court of Oyer and Terminer, of which the records are now lost.
The Condition of Elizabeth Knap was probably very similar to that of Elizabeth Barton (the Holy Maid of Kent), who, for her Pretensions to Inspiration, "Convulsions and strange Motions of Body," was put to Death in the Time of Henry the Eighth, 1584. (Pages 132, 133.)
A warrant for Willard's arrest was issued on May 10, 1692, addressed "To the Constable of Salem" and put in the hands of John Putnam, Jr., who made a return dated May 12, that he "went to the house of the Vsuall abode of John Willards and made search for him, and in seuerall other houses and places butt could not find him; and his relatione and friends then gaue mee accompt that to theire best knowledge he was ffleed."
Seven indictments were found against him, and the original copies of four of them are still in existence. These all charge him with practising his sorceries on various spinsters.
According to Robert Calef, in his "More Wonders of the Invisible World " (London, 1700): -
John Willard, had been imployed to fetch in several that were accused; but taking dissatisfaction from his being sent, to fetch up [Page 24] some that he had better thoughts of, he declined the Service, and presently after he himself was accused of the same Crime, and that with such vehemency, that they sent after him to apprehend him; he had made his Escape as far as Nashawag, about 40 Miles from Salem; yet 'tis said those Accusers did then presently tell the exact time, saying, now Willard is taken. (Page 104.)It will be noticed that Calef leaves it to be inferred that Willard was arrested at Nashawag, which is another form of Nashua, and an old name of Lancaster. The Nashua River is sometimes called the Nashawag, in the early records of Groton. Mr. Upham, in his "Salem Witchcraft" (Boston, 1867), says definitely that Willard "was seized in Groton" (ii. 173); but I do not find his authority for the statement. Lancaster may have been the place of his arrest. Willard had previously lived at Groton, which was then a frontier town; and after his flight from Salem he would naturally have gone thither.
The following are copies of some of the original papers: -
The Jurors for our Sovereigne Lord and Lady the King & Queen presents that John Willard of Salem Village in the County of Essex husband the Eighteenth day of May in the ffourth year of the Reigne of our Sovereigne Lord and Lady William & Mary by the Grace of God of England Scottland ffrance & Ireland King & Queen Defenders of the ffaith &c: Divers other Dayes & times as well before as after, certaine detestable arts called Witchcrafts & Sorceries wickedly & feloniously hath vsed, Practised & Exercised at & within the Towne of Salem in the County of Essex aforesaid in. vpon. and agt one Mercy Lewis of Salem Village aforesaid in the County aforesaid single woman by which said wicked arts the said Mercy Lewis the said Eighteenth Day of May in the ffourth year abovesaid and divers other Dayes & times as well before as after was & is hurt, tortured afflicted consumed Pined wasted & tormented, against the Peace of our Sovereigne Lord & [Page 25] Lady the King & Queen. and against the forme of the Statute in that case made & Provided
Ann Puttnam Senior
Ann Puttnam Junior
This warrant was "To be prosecuted according to the direction of Constable John putnam of Salem Village who goes with the same."
The following endorsement is made on the paper: -
I haue apprehended John Wilard of Salam Veleg acorden to the tener of this warant and brought him before your worsheps Date 18 May 1692John Willard was tried on the 5th of August and hung on the 19th. Three other men and one woman were executed at the same time for witchcraft; one of whom was the Reverend George Burroughs. They all were convicted on the same kind of absurd and flimsy testimony as that given in the depositions against Willard. They were allowed no counsel for defence, and their execution was nothing short of judicial murder. Under the gallows Mr. Burroughs made a speech, declaring his innocence, and also a prayer which he ended by repeating correctly the Lord's Prayer. This produced a great effect on the multitude, as it was then the common belief that a witch or wizard could not say it without blundering. The sympathy of the crowd was so much excited that the leaders of the wicked movement began to fear lest the executions would be prevented; and Cotton Mather, mounted on horseback, addressed the assemblage and told them that the punishment was a righteous one.
by me. John Putnam Constoble of Salam
The Deposition of Samuel Parris aged about 39 years, & Nathanell Ingersoll aged about fifty & eight yeares & also Thomas Putman aged about fourty yeares all of Salem -
testifyeth & saith that Eliz: Hubbard, Mary Warren & Ann Putman & John Indian were exceedingly tortured at the examination of John Willard of Salem Husbandman, before the honoured Magistrates the 18 May 1692 & also that upon his looking upon Eliz: Hubbard she was knockt down, & also that some of the afflicted & particularly Susannah Sheldon then & there testifyed that they saw a black man whispering him in the ear, & that said Sheldon could not come near to said Willard but was knockt down, and also that Mary [Page 26] Warren in a fit being carried to him the said Willard she said Warren was presently well upon his grasping her arm, & farther that severall of the afflicted also then testified, that divers of those he had murthered then rose up against him, & farther that he could by no means rightly repeat the Lords Prayer though he made manifold assayes.
Mr. Samuel Parris and Nathanael Ingersoll and: thomas putnam did uppon the oath which they had taken did before us the Juris of inquest owne this thar testimony: this 3 day of June: 92:
Sworn in Court by Mr Parris & Tho: Putman
june the 3 1692:
Sarah Vibber aged 36 yeares or thear abouts testifie and saith the be for Jno: Welard was exammend at the uilleg I being in Left Engorsols Chambor I saw the aporition of john willard com to mary wolcot & marcy luis & hurt them griuosly & almost choked Them Then I tould of it & emediatly the said wiliard fel upon me & tormented me greuesly & pinched me. & threw me down
Sarah uibber: ownid this har testimony before us the Jurriars for Inqwest: this 3 of June: 1692
Jurat in Curia
The deposition of Lydia Necols aged 46 yeares and of Margaret Knight aged 20 yeares who testefy and say.
That the wife of John Willard being at her fathers house when the said Willard liued at Groten she made a lamentable complaynt how cruelty her husband had beaten her. she thought her selfe that she should neuer recouer of the blows he had giuen her: the next morninge he was got into a litle hole vnder the stayres and then she thought some thinge extra ordinary had befallen him then he ran out at the doore: and ran up. a steep hill almost impossible for any man to run vp: as she sayd: then she tooke her mare and rid away. fearing some euil had ben intended agaynst her. and when she came to the house of Henery or Beniamin Willard she told how it was with her and the sayd Henery Willard or both went to looke after him and met him comeinge in a strange distracted frame
The deposition of Thomas Baly aged 36 yeares who testefieth and sayth.
[Page 27] That I being at Groaton some short tyme after John Willard. as the report went, had beaten his wife I went to cal him home and comeinge home with him in the night I heard such a hideous noyse of strang creatures I was much affrighted for I never had heard the like noyse I fearinge they might be some euil spirits I enquired of the said Willard what might it be that made such a hideous noyse the sayd Willard sayd they ware Locust: the next day as I suppose the sayd Willards wife with a younge child and her mother being vpon my mare. ridinge between Groaton Mil and Chensford. they being willing to goe on foote a litle desired me to ride: then I taking my mare being willing to let her feed a litle: there as I remember I aprehend I heard the same noyse agayne where at my mare started and got from me
Jurat in Curia
The testomony of Rebeckah Wilkins aged ninteen years Doe testifie that 29th July at night shee se John Wilard seting in the Conner and hee said that hee wold afflick me that night and forthwith hee ded afflick me: and the nax day I ded se him afflick me soer by Choaking & Polling one ear into Peases the nex day being the Lords day I being Going to meting I se John Wilard and hee afflickted me uery soer
Jurat in Curia
The deposition of Henery Wilknes sen aged 41 yeares who testifieth and sayth that vpon the third of May last John Willard came to my house: and uery earnestly entreated me to go with him to Boston which I at lenght consented to go with him, my Son Daniel comeinge and vnderstandinge I was goinge with him to Boston and seemed to be much troubled that I would go with the sayd Willard: and he sayd he thought it were wel. If the sayd Willard were hanged: which made me admire for I neuer heard such an expression come from him to any one beinge since he came to yeares of discretion, but after I was gone in a few days he was taken sicke: and grew euery day worse & worse where vpon we made aplication to a physitian who affirmed his sicknes was by some preter natural cause & would make no aplication of any phisicke. Some tymes after this our neighbours comeing to visit my son Mercy Lewis came with them and [Page 28] affirmed that she saw the apperition of John Willard aflicting him: quickly after came An Putnam. and she saw the same apperition and then my eldest daughter was taken in a sad manner & the sayd An: saw the sayd Willard aflicting her. at Another tyme mercy lewes and mary Walcott came to visit him, and they saw the same apparition of Willard aflicting him, and this not but a little tyme before his death.
Sworne in Court
Mr. Upham, in his "Salem Witchcraft," says: -
John Willard appears to have been an honest and amiable person, an industrious farmer, having a comfortable estate, with a wife and three young children. He was a grandson of Old Bray Wilkins; whether by blood or marriage, I have not been able to ascertain. The indications are that he married a daughter of Thomas or Henry Wilkins, most probably the former, with both of whom he was a joint possessor of lands. He came from Groton; and it is for local antiquaries to discover whether he was a relative of the Rev. Samuel Willard of Boston. If so, the fact would shed much light upon our story. (ii. 321.)[Page 29] After a careful investigation I cannot discover any kinship between the Reverend Samuel Willard and John, though there may have been a remote one. Lydia Nichols and Margaret Knight, according to their depositions, were acquainted with Henry and Benjamin Willard, of Groton, both sons of the minister, and these men knew John Willard. The Reverend Mr. Willard, who had carefully studied Elizabeth Knapp's case twenty years before the Salem tragedy, evidently believed in the demoniacal origin of witchcraft, though he held moderate views on the subject. In a pamphlet written by him, entitled "Some Miscellany Observations on our present Debates respecting Witchcrafts," and printed in the year 1692, he takes the ground that there are witches in New England, and they ought to be punished.
In passing judgment on the authors of this monstrous delusion, let us not forget the fact that witchcraft was recognized as a crime in the colonial and provincial laws of Massachusetts, following those of England; and let us remember, too, that many of the wisest and best men at that period looked upon it as a sin against God, which should be punished in accordance with the Mosaic law.
Sir William Blackstone, in his "Commentaries on the Laws of England" (Boston, 1818), says:-
To deny the possibility, nay, actual existence of witchcraft and sorcery, is at once flatly to contradict the revealed word of God, in various passages both of the old and new testament: and the thing itself is a truth to which every nation in the world hath in its turn borne testimony, either by examples seemingly well attested, or by prohibitory laws; which at least suppose the possibility of a commerce with evil spirits. (iv. 60.)