Robert Calef, WitchCraft Confessions

In Salem Witchcraft Trials it was usual for the Accusers to tell of the black Man, or of a Spectre, as being then on the table.

G.L. Lincoln, ed., Narratives of the Witchcraft Case, New York, 1914.  

A Delusion of Satan : The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials by Frances Hill, Karen Armstrong (Introduction). Paperback (October 1997)

Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut, 1647-97 by J. J Taylor


FROM LIBRARY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE, VOLUME 2 Part Vb

Here followeth what account some of those miserable Creatures give of their Confession under their own hands

" We; whose names are under written, inhabitants of Andover, where as that horrible and tremendous judgment beginning at Salem Village, in the year :1692, (by some called witchcraft) first breaking forth at Mr. Pa: ris's house, several young persons being seemingly afflicted, clid accus several persons for afflicting them, and many there believing it so to be we being informed that if a person were sick, the afflicted persons could tell what or who was the cause of that sickness: Joseph Ballard, of Andover (his wife being sick at the same time) he either from himself, or by the advice of others, fetched two of the persons, called the afflicted persons, from Salem Village to Andver: which was the beginning of that dreadful calamity that befell us in Andover. And the authority in Andover, believing the said accusations to be true, sent for the said persons to come together to the meeting~house in Andover (the afflicted persons being there.) After Mr. Barnard had been at prayer, we were blindfolded, and our hands were laid upon the afflicted persons, they being in their fits, and falling into their fits at our coming into their presence (as they said) and some led us and laid our hands upon them, and there they said they were well, and that we were guilty of afflicting of them; whereupon we were all seized as prisoners, by a warrant from a justice of the peace, and forthwith carried to Salem. And by reason of that sudden surprisal, we knowing ourselves altogether innocent of that crime, we were all exceedingly astonishecl and amazed, and affrighted even out of our reason; and our nearest and dearest relations, seeing us in that dreadful condition, and knowing our great danger, apprehending that there was no other way to save our lives, as the case was then circumstanced, but by our confessing ourselves to be such and such persons, as the afflicted represented us to be, they out of tender love and pity persuaded us to confess what we did confess. And indeed that confession, that it is said we made, was no other than what was suggested to us by some gentlemen; they telling us, that we were witches, and they knew it, and we knew it, and they knew that we knew it, which made us think that it was so; and our understanding, our reason and our faculties almost gone, we were not capable of judging our condition; as also the hard measures they used with us rendered us uncapable of making our defence; but said any thing and every thing which they desired; and most of what we said was but in effect a consenting to what they said. Sometime after, when we were better composed, they telling of us what we had confessed, we did profess that we were innocent, and ignorant of such things. And we hearing that Samuel Wardwell had renounced his confession, and quickly after was condemned and executed, some of us were told that we were going after WardwelL

MABY OSGOOD, ABIGAIL BARKEB, MARY TILER, SARAH WILSON, DELIV. DANE, HANNAH TILER."

It may here be further added, concerning those that did confess, that besides that powerful argument, of life (and freedom from hardships, not only promised, but also performed to all that owned their guilt) there are numerous instances, too many to be here inserted, of the tedious examinations before private persons, many hours together; they all that time urging them to confess (and taking turns to persuade them) till the accused were wearied out by being forced to stand so long, or for want of sleep, etc., and so brought to give an assent to what they said; they then asking them, " Were you at such a witch-meeting?" or " Have you signed the devil's book?" etc., upon their replying, "Yes," the whole was drawn into form, as their confession.

But that which did mightily further such confessions was, their nearest and dearest relations urging them to it. These, seeing no other way of escape for them, thought it the best advice that could be given; hence it was that the husbands of some, by counsel often urging, and utmost earnestness, and children upon their knees intreating, have at length prevailed with them to say they were gilty.

April 25, 1693. I'he first superior court was held at Boston, for the county of Suffolk; the judges were the lieutenant Governor, Mr. Danforth, Mr. Richards, and Mr. Sewall, esquires; where(besides the acquitting Mr. John Aldin by proclamation) the most remarkable was, what related to Mary Watkins, who had been a servant, and lived about seven miles from Boston, having formerly accused her mistress of witchcraft, and was supposed to be distracted; she was threatened, if she persisted in such accusations, to be punished. This, with the necessary care to recover her health, had that good effect, that she not only had her health restored, but also wholly acquitted her mistress of any such crimes, and continued in health till the return of the year, and then again falling into melancholy humours, she was found strangling herself: her life being hereby prolonged, she immediately accused herself of being a witch; was carried before a magistrate, and committed. At this court a bill of indictment was brought to the grand jury against her, and her confession upon her examination given in as evidence; but these, not wholly satisfied herewith, sent for her, who gave such account of herself, that they (after they had returned into the court to ask some questions) twelve of them agreed to find ignoramus, but the court was pleased to send them out again, who again at coming in returned it as before. She was continued for some time in prison, etc., and at length was sold to Virginia. About this time the prisoners in all the prisons were released.

To omit here the mentioning of several wenches in Boston, etc., who pretended to be afflicted, and accused several, the ministers often visiting them, and praying with thern, concerning whose aflliction narratives are in being, in manuscript; not only these, but the generality of those accusers, may have since convinced the ministers, by their vicious courses, that they might err in extending too much charity to them.

The conclusion of the whole in the Massachusetts colony was, Sir William Phips, governor, being called home, before he went he pardoned such as had been condemned, for which they gave about thirty shillings each to the King's attorney.

Before this, the govermnent issued forth the following proclamation:

By the honourable the lieutenant governor, council and assemly of his majesty's province of the Massachusetts-bay in generalcourt assembled.

Whereas, the anger of God is not yet turned away, but his hand is still stretched out against his people in manifold judgments, particularly in drawing out to such a length the troubles of Europe, by a perplexing, war; and more especially respecting ourselves in this province, in that God is pleased still to go on in diminishing our substance, cutting short our harvest, blasting our most promising undertakings more ways than one, unsettling of us, and by his more immediate hand snatching away many out of our embraces by sudden and violent deaths, even at this time when the sword is devouring so many both at home and abroad, and that after many days of public and solemn addressing of him: and although, considering the many sins prevailing in the midst of us, we cannot but wonder at the patience and mercy moderating these rebukes, yet we cannot but also fear that there is something still wanting to accompany our supplieations; and doubtless there are some lparticular sins, which God is angry with our Israel for, that have not been duly seen and resented by us about which God expects to be sought, if ever He turn again our captivity :

Wherefore it is commanded and appointed, that Thursday, the fourteenth of January next, be observed as a day of prayer, with fasting, throughout this province; strictly forbidding all servile labour thereon; that so all God's people may offer up fervent supplications unto him, Ior the preservation and prosperity of his majesty's royal person and government, and success to attend his affairs both at home and abroad; that all iniquity may be put away, which hath stirred God's holy jealousy against this land; that He would shew us what we know not, and help us wherein we have done amiss to do so no more; and especially that whatever mis takes on either hand have been fallen into, either by the body of this people, or any orders of men, referring to the late tragedy, raised among us by Satan and his instruments, through the awful judgment of God, he would humble us therefore, and pardon all the errors of his servants and people, that desire to love his name; that he would remove the rod of the wicked from off the lot of the righteous; that he would bring in the American heathen, and cause them to hear and obey his voice.

Given at Boston, December 17, 1696, in the eighth year of his Majesty's reign.

ISAAC ADDINGETON, Secretary.

Upon the day of the fast, in the full assembly at the south meetinghouse in Boston, one of the honourable judges, who had sat in judicature in Salem, delivered in a paper, and while it was in reading, stood up; but the copy being not to be obtained at present, it can only be reported by memory to this effect, viz., It was to desire the prayers of God's people for him and his; and that God having visited his family, etc., he was apprehensive that he might have fallen into some errors in the matters at Salem, and pray that the guilt of such miscarriages may not be imputed either to the country in general, or to him or his family in particular.

Some, that had been of several juries, have given forth a paper, signed with their own hands, in these words:

"We whose names are under written, being in the year 1692 calied to serve as jurors in court at Salem on trial of many, who were by some suspected guilty of doing acts of witchcraft upon the bodies of sundry persons:

"We confess that we ourselves were not capable to understand, nor able to withstand, the mysterious delusions of the powers of darkness, and prince of the air; but were, for want of know]edge in ourselves, and better information from others, prevailed with to take up with such evidence against the accused, as, on further consideration and better information, we justly fear was insufficient for the touching the lives of any (Duet. xvii. 6), whereby we fear we have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon ourselves and this people of the Lord the guilt of innocent blood; which sin the Lord saith, in Scripture, he would not pardon (II. Kings, xxiv. 4), that is, we suppose, in regard of his temporal judgments. We do therefore hereby signifyto all in general (and to the surviving sufferers in especial) our deep sense of, and sorrow for, our errors, in acting on such evidence to the condemning of any person; and do hereby declare, that we justly fear that we were sadly deluded and mistaken; for which we are much disquieted and distressed in our minds; and do therefore humbly beg forgiveness first of God for Christ's sake, for this our error; and pray that God would not impute the guilt of it to ourselves, nor others; and we also pray that we may be considered candidly, and aright, by the living sufferers, as being then under the power of a strong and general delusion, utterly unacquainted with, and not experienced in, matters of that nature.

"We do heartily ask forgiveness of you all, whom we have justly offended; and do declare, according to our present minds, we would none of us do such things again on such grounds for the whole world j praying you to accept of this in way of satisfaction for our offence, and that you would bless the inheritance of the Lord, that he may be entreated for the land.

Foreman, THOMAS FISK,-----THOMAS PEAREY, SEN.,
WILLIAM FISK, -----------------JOHN PEABODY,
JOHN BATCHELER, ------------THOMAS PERKINS,
THOMAS FISK, JUN., ----------SAMUEL SAYER,
JOHN DANE, --------------------ANDREW ELLIOTT,
JOSEPH EVELITH --------------HENRY HERRICK, SEN,

 

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