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Witch Craft

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Around the seventeenth century, the belief in witches and witch craft was almost everywhere. The Church of Rome, more than three hundred years ago, allowed punishments for the use of witch craft and after that thousands of suspected people were burned alive, drowned or hanged. In the sixteenth century, more than one hundred thousand accused and convicted people burned in the flames, in Germany. In England, enlightened men adopted the belief. The famous Sir Matthew Hale, who flourished during the civil war, the commonwealth and the period of the restoration of monarchy, repeatedly sentenced persons to death accused of witch craft. The Puritans brought the belief with them to America. They established laws for the punishment of witches, and before 1648, four people had suffered death for the supposed offence, in the neighborhood of Boston. The ministers of the gospel there were shadowed by the delusion, and because of their powerful social influence, they did more to foster the wild excitement and produce the distressing results of what is known in history as "Salem witch craft," than all others.

In 1688, a wayward daughter of John Goodwin of Boston, about thirteen years of age, accused a servant girl of stealing some of the family linen. The servant's mother, a "wild Irish woman" and a Roman Catholic, impassioned disapproval the accuser as a false witness. The young girl, in revenge, pretended to be bewitched by the Irish woman. Some others of her family followed her example. They would alternately become deaf, dumb and blind, bark like dogs and purr like cats, but none of them lost their appetites or sleep. The Rev. Cotton Mather, a simple and conceited minister rushed to Goodwin's house to ease the witchery by prayer. Wonderful were the supposed effects of his desire. The devil was controlled by them for the time. Then four other ministers of Boston and one of Salem, as superstitious as himself, joined Mather they spent a whole day in the house of the "afflicted" in fasting and prayer, the result of which was the delivery of one of the family from the power of the witch. This was enough proof for the minds of the ministers that there must be a witch in the case, and these ignorant minister prosecuted the ignorant Irish woman as such. She was confused before the court, and spoke sometimes in her native Irish language, which nobody could understand, and which her accusers and judges explain into involuntary confession. Mather and his office associates had the satisfaction of seeing the poor old Irish woman hanged as a witch.

Misunderstanding poeple ridiculed Mather. He defended his cause by the claim of so called facts. He called the afflicted daughter of Goodwin to his study, when the artful girl thoroughly deceived him. The devil would allow her to read "Quaker books, the Common Prayer and Popish books," but a prayer from the lips of Mather, or the reading of a chapter of the Bible threw her into upset. The simple minister believed all he saw and heard, and cried from his ministry, with outstretched arms and loud voice, "Witch craft is the most nefarious high-treason against the Majesty on High. A witch is not to be endured in heaven or on earth." Mather's main point on the subject was scattered broadcast among the people by means of the printing-press, and with it went out his past of the events in the Goodwin family, which led to greater tragedies in the spring and summer of 1692, when an widespread disease similar to epilepsy broke out in Danvers then a part of Salem, and spread fast. The physicians could neither control or cure it, and with the lecture and statements of Mather before them, they quickly inscribed the disorder to the work of witches.

A niece and daughter of the parish minister at Danvers were first sick. Their strange and undependable actions frightened other young women, who soon exposed the same symptoms, such as epilepsy and irregular swellings in the throat, absolutely produced by rage. A belief quickly spread over Salem and throughout the region that evil spirits having ministering servants on earth had been permitted to overshadow the land with a bad visitation. Terror took placed of the minds of nearly all the people, and the awfulness made the disorder spread widely.

Other old and ill favored women now shared with the Irish woman in the suspicion of being witches, and several of them were publicly accused and imprisoned. The afflicted, under the influence of the witch craft, declared to see the forms of their tormentors with their inner vision, and would immediately accuse some individual seen. At length the afflicted and the accused became so numerous that no person was safe from suspicion and its consequences. Even those who were active in the prosecutions became objects of suspicion. A judge who had presided at the blame of several people, becoming convinced of the unjust of the proceedings and protesting against it, was himself accused and suffered a lot. A chief, who had arrested many and refused to arrest any more, was accused, condemned and hanged. Neither age, sex or condition were considered. Sir William Phipps, the governor of Massachusetts, his lieutenant-governor, the near relations of the Mathers, and learned and distinguished men who had promoted the terrible trick by concur in the proceedings against accused people, became things of suspicion. The governor's wife, Lady Phipps, one of the purest and best of women, was accused of being a witch. The sons of Governor Bradstreet were bound to fly to avoid the danger of false accusations, and near relatives of the Mathers were imprisoned on similar charges. Hate, revenge and rapacity often obliged people to accuse others who were innocent; and when some statement of the accused would move the court and people in favor of the prisoner, the accuser would seriously declared that he saw the devil standing beside the victim whispering the touching words in his or her ear. The foolish statement would be believed by the judges on the bench. Some, terrified and with the hope of saving their lives or avoiding the horror of being in a prison, would falsely accuse their friends and family, while others, moved by the same instinct and hopes, would falsely confess themselves to be witches.

When the ministers in church and state found themselves in danger, they thought of the golden rule, and suspected they had been acting unfair toward others. They carefully expressed their doubts of the policy and justice of further proceedings against accused people. A citizen of Andover, who was accused, smater and more confident than governor and minister, immediately caused the arrest of his accuser on a charge of untruth of character, and laid his damages at five thousand dollars. The effect of this act was wonderful. The public mind was in sympathy with it. The spell was instantly broken,



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