January 14, 1699 Witches

On January 14, 1699, Massachusetts observed a day of fasting for wrongly persecuting the “witches” of the earlier period

In 1692, a series of “witch trials” took place in the area now occupied by Danvers, Ipswich, Andover and Salem, Massachusetts.

The familiar version of the story begins with a slave named Tituba, often described as being black or of mixed race, though court documents from her trial describe her as “Indian woman, servant.”  5 men and 14 women were hanged as witches on Gallows Hill, as many as 17 more dying in the tiny, freezing stone compartments that passed for jail cells. One man, 81 year old Giles Cory, was “pressed” to death over two full days, as rocks were heaped on his chest to extract his “confession”.  Knowing that his possessions were forfeit to his tormentors should he confess, his only response was “more weight”.

Courts of “Oyer and Terminer” (to hear and determine) were disbanded by Governor Sir salem-witch-trialsWilliam Phipps, somewhere around the time when his own wife was accused of witchcraft.  This is the story as it’s commonly told, but the real origin of the late 17th century witchcraft hysteria started in Boston, four years earlier.

The conflict which took place in Ireland between 1641 and 1653 pitted native Irish Catholics against English and Scottish Protestant colonists, and their supporters.  Over 500,000 Irish were killed by the English and another 300,000 sold as slaves during this period, while Ireland’s population fell from 1,500,000 to 600,000 in a single decade. By the mid 1600s, the Irish constituted most of the slaves sold to the Caribbean islands of Antigua and Montserrat.  About 70% of the entire population of Montserrat at this time, were Irish slaves.

Goodwife Ann “Goody” Glover and her family were among these white slaves, shipped to Barbados in the 1650s during the Irish Confederate Wars.  Her husband was apparently killed in Barbados for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith, while Ann either escaped or was released, depending on which version of the story you believe.  By 1680, Ann and her daughter landed in Massachusetts, where the pair worked as housekeepers for the Boston family of John Goodwin.

In 1688, 13 year old Martha, one of the Goodwin girls, accused the younger Glover of stealing fabric.  Ann’s daughter ran out in tears, which earned Martha a rebuke from Ann Glover.  Four of the five Goodwin children soon began to writhe and carry on in a manner which would become familiar four years later.  Their doctor concluded that “nothing but a hellish Witchcraft could be the origin of these maladies.”

There was no small amount of anti-Catholic bigotry in the trial that followed. Cotton Mather, the socially and politically influential New England Puritan minister called Glover “a scandalous old Irishwoman, very poor, a Roman Catholick and obstinate in idolatry.”

During interrogation, Glover supposedly told Mather that she prayed to a “host of spirits”, possibly representing Catholic saints.  Mather argued that small doll-like figures found in her home represented these spirits, which were, in fact, demons.

Glover’s Gaelic was far better than her English, and the two “Gaelic speakers” hired to translate probably made some of it up as they went along.  Most damning was Ann’s inability to complete the Lord’s Prayer.  As a Catholic, she was either unable or unwilling to complete the prayer with the Protestant doxology, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen”, which doesn’t exist in the Catholic recitation.

That proved to be the final straw.  The court convicted Goodwife Ann Glover of witchcraft and sentenced her to be hanged, the sentence carried out before a jeering crowd on November 16th, 1688.  She was the last person be hanged for witchcraft in the city of Boston.

salemwitchhangedRobert Calef, a Boston merchant who knew her, said “Goody Glover was a despised, crazy, poor old woman, an Irish Catholick who was tried for afflicting the Goodwin children. Her behavior at her trial was like that of one distracted. They did her cruel. The proof against her was wholly deficient. The jury brought her guilty. She was hung. She died a Catholick.”  After the hanging, a contemporary wrote that the crowd wanted to destroy her cat as well, “but Mr. Calef would not permit it”.

A decade after the Glover execution, Cotton Mather was still carrying on against “idolatrous Roman Catholicks.”

Goody Glover’s execution would be overshadowed by the witchcraft hysteria unfolding farther up Massachusetts’ North Shore, four years later.

Sometime in the 1830s, the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne added the “W” to his name, distancing himself from his twice-great grandfather and Salem witch trial judge, John Hathorne.  None of it did a lick of good for the poor collection of oddballs and outcasts whoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA would not survive the witchcraft hysteria of 1692.

On January 14, 1699, Massachusetts observed a day of fasting for wrongly persecuting the “witches” of the earlier period.  The state formally apologized for the whole mess 258 years later, in 1957.  In 1988, 300 years to the day after her hanging, Boston City Council proclaimed November 16 as “Goody Glover Day”.   Apparently, we can’t be too hasty about these things.