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Witchcraft Hysteria


    The Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer of Witches, was written by Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer in 1487 and first published in Speyer, Germany.

    The Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer of Witches, was written by Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer in 1487 and first published in Speyer, Germany.

    see also: 1542 Laws of Witchcraft

    Compiled by Julian D. Keithahn

    The New Englanders are a people of God settled in those which were once the Devil’s territories; and it may be supposed that the Devil was exceedingly disturbed when he perceived such a people accomplishing the promise of old made unto our blessed Jesus, that He should have the utmost parts of the earth for his possession. The Devil thus irritated, immediately tried all sorts of methods to overturn this poor plantation and we have now with horror seen the discovery of such a plot. An Army of Devils is horribly broke in upon Salem, which is the center and, after a sort, the first born of our English settlements.
    Cotton Mather

    Although the fear of witchcraft was quite prevalent in the seventeenth century in both New England and Europe, it reached it’s peak in 1692 with the witchcraft trials of Salem, Massachusetts. In that year, twenty people were publicly executed. Among them was my ancestor, Mary Towne Estey.

    Of the twenty executed, five others were related one way or another. There were also several others that bore witness to the alleged witches. The five executed were:

    • 1. Rebecca Towne Nurse, sister of Mary Towne Estey.
    • 2. Susanna North Martin, wife of George Martin and stepmother of ancestor Hannah Martin.
    • 3. Elizabeth Jackson Howe, wife of James Howe who was the brother of ancestor John Howe.
    • 4. Sarah Averill Wildes, sister of ancestor William Averill.
    • 5. John Proctor, son of ancestor John Proctor Sr.

    Among the witnesses to the acts of witchcraft were ancestors John Hussey and his wife Rebecca Perkins Hussey. They attested the truth of being eye witnesses of at least a score of stones thrown (Lithobolia).

    Ancestor John Howe testified on June 30, 1692 at the trial of his sister-in-law that by refusing to accompany her to her examination for witchcraft, some of his cattle were bewitched to death, leaping three or four feet high, turning around, squeaking, falling, and dying. When trying to cut off an ear (it was believed that if you threw the ear of a bewitched animal into a fire, the first person that came to the fire was a witch) the hand holding his knife was taken numb and remained so for several days. He suspected Elizabeth to be the cause.

    Ancestor Deacon Issac Cummings also testified against Elizabeth Howe by claiming that after refusing to lend his mare to Elizabeth’s husband, the mare within a day or two was taken in a strange condition. The beast seemed much abused: being bruised as if she had been running over rocks. She was also marked where the bridle went as if burnt with a red-hot bridle.

    Elizabeth Howe was convicted and hung on July 19th, 1692 on the Boston Commons. The testimony list was not the only convicting evidence.

    Mary Estey was accused and executed by hanging on September 22, 1692 on the Boston Commons. Besides the testimony of accusers and confessors, another proof used in identifying witches was to search the accused for teats on other parts of their body (used to suckle the Devil). On Mary was an “excrescence” (an abnormal outgrowth like a wart) which the examiners called a teat.

    Before Mary was put to death, she wrote the following petition:

    To the Honorable Judge and Bench now sitting in Judicature in Salem and the Reverend Ministers, humbly sheweth, That whereas your humble poor Petitioner being Condemned to die, doth humbly beg of you, to take it into your Judicious and Pious Consideration, that your poor and humble Petitioner knowing of my own Innocency (Blessed be the Lord for it) and seeing plainly the Wiles and Subtilty of my Accusers, by my self, cannot judge charitably of others, that are going the same way with my self, if the Lord step not mightily in. I was confined a whole Month on the same account that I am condemned now for, and then cleared by the Afflicted persons, as some of your Honours know, and in two days time I was cried out upon by them, and have been confined, and now am condemned to die. The Lord above knows my Innocency then, and likewise doth now, as at the great day will be known to Men and Angels. I Petition to your Honours not for my own Life, for I know I must die, and my appointed time is set; but the Lord he knows it is, if it be possible, no more Innocent Blood be shed, which undoubtedly cannot be avoided in the way and course you go in. I question not, but your Honours do to the utmost of your powers, in the discovery and detecting of Witchcraft and Witches, and would not be guilty of Innocent Blood for the world; but by my own Innocency I know you are in the wrong way. The Lord in his infinite Mercy direct you in this great work, if it be his blessed will, that Innocent Blood not be shed; I would humbly beg of you, that your Honours would be pleased to Examine some of those confessing Witches, I being confident there are several of them have belyed themselves and others, as will appear, if not in this World, I am sure in the World to come, whither I am going; and I question not, but yourselves will see an alteration in these things: they say, my self and others having made a League with the Devil, we cannot confess. I know and the Lord he knows (as will shortly appear) they bely me, and so I question not but they do others; the Lord alone, who is the searcher of all hearts, knows that as I shall answer it at the Tribunal Seat, that I know not the least thing of Witchcraft, therefore I cannot,I durst not bely my own Soul. I beg your Honours not to deny this my humble Petition, from a poor dying Innocent person, and I question not but the Lord will give a blessing to your Endeavors.

    Mary Estey

    Five years later, the people of Massachusetts recognized that Mary Estey had been innocent and that they had unjustly executed her. They claimed that “such grounds (for her conviction and execution) were then laid down to proceed upon, which were too slender to evidence the crime they were brought to prove.” The Puritans realized that they had succumbed to hysteria and lost their way and been driven into evil deeds- “we walked in the clouds, and we could not see our way.”

    *this historical account graciously donated to me by old friend and genealogist extraordinaire Mr. J. Keithahn, a direct descendant of Mary Towne Estey. –many thanks “Jay”!