Victim of the Witchcraft Madness
popular belief, no witches were burned at the stake in the
American colonies, but UC historian Terri Premo says instead, they
were hanged and drowned. Most of the trials took place in 17th
century New England, particularly in Salem, Massachusetts, where
19 people, mostly women, were executed.
in witchcraft was not perceived as unusual. The smartest people in
the colonies would blame events on witchcraft. It was connected to
the culture they brought with them from Europe," says Premo.
Even children were jailed for witchcraft and in 1692,
Massachusetts governor William Phips ordered a halt to the trials
when his own wife, Lady Mary Phips, was suspected of witchcraft.
Lydia Gilbert's accusers were is unknown. Whether ignorant gossip or private enmities brought this
ghastly charge upon her, it is impossible to say. That the charge of procuring the death of Henry Stiles
could be brought her seems incredible, when everyone of mature
ages in Windsor must have known that Henry Stiles met his death by
the carelessness of Thomas Allyn, three years before (as a result
of a firearms accident which Allyn had been tried upon). But this charge was brought against her.
was charged with other witchcraft besides this, and it may be that
she was one of those unfortunate women to whom suspicion of
witchcraft clung, for reasons which cannot now be stated. The
evidence upon which Lydia was convicted, and the names of the
witnesses against her, are unknown.
juror's oath, the names of the jury and the names of the
magistrates who heard the case are on record, as well as the
indictment and the verdict. Six
of the magistrates and jurymen were residents of Windsor, five of
Hartford and the rest belonged to Wethersfield. The Court considered the case in a special session
beginning November 28, 1654.
jury brought in the indictment and the records seem to show that
they brought in the verdict as well. These two functions of a jury are separate in our time, but
in 1654 it was not so. This
seems repugnant to our ideas of justice. We should like to hope that the Court proceeded after the
ancient English manner, receiving the indictment from the jury,
hearing the evidence and deciding in accord therewith.
Juror's Oath You
do sware by the Ever living god that you will diligently enquire
and faithfully present to this Court what soe Ever you know to bee
a Breach of any Established Law of this Jurisdictyon so far as may
conuce to the glory of god and the good of the commonwealth as
also what Oreginall offences you shall Judge meete to be
presented, as you expect helpe from god in Jesus Christ.
Lydea GiIburt thou
art heere indited by that name of Lydea Gilburt that not hauing
the feare of god before thy Eyes thou hast of late years or still
dust giue Entertainement to Bather [sic] the greate Enemy of god
and mankinde and by his helpe hast killed the Body of Henry Styles
besides other witchcrafts for which according to the law of god
and the Estableshed law of this Comon wealth thou deservest to
Party aboue mentioned is found guilty of witchcraft by the Jury.
ENGLISH ORIGIN OF THOMAS GILBERT OF BRAINTREE, MASS., AND
WETHERSFIELD, CONN. By Douglas Richardson, M.A.. The American
Genealogist, July 1992
Frederick C. "Witchcraft in the American Colonies,
1647-62" American Quarterly 20 (1968):694-725)
Hanging of a Witch Dog
Bradstreet of Rowley was arrested and tried at Salem in 1652,
"for having familiarity with the devil." In court he
admitted that he "read a book of magic and heard a voice
asking what work I had for him," meaning that he had used
magic to get the devil to talk to him. Bradstreet testified under
oath, "I asked the devil to make a bridge of sand over the
sea, and make a ladder of sand to heaven, then go to God and come
to me no more." The Magistrates found John only guilty of
lying and ordered him to be fined and whipped. He found himself in
another dilemma in 1692, however, when he was accused of
witchcraft. He was indicted for "inciting a dog to afflict
others," which could mean a death sentence during Witch
Times. John ran away and hid in the woods, thus avoiding the
hangman, but the dog he incited to give two teenage girls
"the evil eye," was hanged.
Walk Under a Ladder
superstition from witch-hanging days that persists to this day is
never to walk under a ladder. The reason is that when a witch was
pushed from the ladder at the gallows, she usually dropped under
the ladder, and if you were standing there, this "fire-brand
of hell" might touch you. It was thought that if a witch
touched anything, especially during her last gasp on earth, it
would soon die. Therefore, it was believed that if you walked
under a ladder leaning on the gallows tree even after the witch
had been cut down and disposed of, her curse might still be
lingering there, and you would die within a year.