April 3 (March 24, o.s.)

Massachusetts: The examination of accused witch Rebecca Nurse begins at 10:00 am in the Salem Village meetinghouse. John Hale, minister in neighboring Beverly, opens the proceedings with a prayer. The presiding magistrate, John Hathorne, begins the interrogation by asking the afflicted girls Ann Putnam and Abigail Williams if Nurse has been one of their tormentors. They answer that she has, and Ann falls into a fit immediately. Hathorne then asks Nurse about the reports of Ann Carr Putnam, mother of the afflicted girl, that she has bewitched her as well, and presents a statement by Edward Putnam, uncle of the younger Ann, describing her fits and blaming them on Nurse. Despite this evidence against her, Nurse maintains her innocence.

Ann Carr Putnam then cries out, asking Nurse if she did not “bring the black man” with her to get her to “tempt God and die.” Nurse responds by saying “Oh, Lord help me” and spreading her hands, at which the afflicted fall into terrible fits. Hathorne, noting this, points out to Nurse the close connection between her movements and the fits of the afflicted, and when the seventeen-year-old girls Mary Walcott and Betty Hubbard accuse her specifically of hurting them he pointedly asks her how she responds to being accused by “two grown persons” (i.e., two people over the age of 14 whose testimony can therefore be entered in court). He asks how she see the torments of the afflicted and still “stand with dry eyes.” She nevertheless staunchly maintains her innocence.

The afflicted girls now claim to see spectral birds around Nurse and “the black man” whispering in her ear. Hathorne asks her in response if she has any familiarity with “familiar spirits” such as the alleged birds, to which she replies that she has “none but with God alone.” He questions her about her recent illness, which has prompted some gossip in the community, and about whether she has any wounds or has ever been “tempted to witchcraft”; she remains resolute in her protestations of innocence. He notes that it is sad that she, a church member, has been accused of witchcraft, and Mrs. Bathshua Pope, one of the afflicted, cries out “a sad thing, sure enough,” whereupon the afflicted fall again into terrible fits. Ann Carr Putnam is particularly badly tormented, and her husband Thomas asks for permission to carry her out of the meetinghouse, which is granted. Once she is outside the building her torments cease.

Hathorne continues to question Nurse, asking her if she thinks the suffering of the afflicted is “voluntary or involuntary.” Nurse seems confused by the question and tries to evade it, but eventually answers that she does not think they “suffer against their wills,” though she does think they are bewitched. Hathorne then asks her why she thinks the victims have so closely mimicked her movements, and when she can’t answer satisfactorily he asks Samuel Parris, the Salem Village minister, to read his notes on Ann Carr Putnam’s fits. Nurse responds that she can’t help it and suggests that the Devil may have been appearing in her form to torment the sufferers. Hathorne, having no further questions, ends the examination and Nurse is taken off to jail in Salem Town.

The examination of Dorothy Good, the young daughter of the previously accused Sarah Good, follows. The afflicted are enormously affected by every movement of the child, and fall into terrible fits whenever she does so much as look at them. They also accuse her of biting them, and show marks that they claim are from being bitten by little teeth as proof.

Separately from the investigations, Giles Corey, husband of accused witch Martha Corey, deposes before the magistrates that after his wife was formally accused on March 19 he was strangely prevented from praying the way he usually did, and that his wife often got up after he had gone to bed and knelt by the heart, as if to pray, but he couldn’t hear her say anything.

In the afternoon, after the examinations have concluded, Deodat Lawson, the former minister in Salem Village who has come up from Boston to investigate the witchcraft crisis, gives the regularly scheduled sermon in place of his successor Samuel Parris. He preaches on the subject of Satan’s constant attempts to corrupt and undermine God’s plan for His covenanted people. He says that while Satan, like all beings, is ultimately under the control of God and can do no more than God allows, since he is an angel, though a fallen one, he has powers beyond those of any mere mortal to effect his evil designs, and can therefore attack people spectrally, rather than just in physical manifestations. His preferred instruments for doing so are witches, with whom he contracts to afflict others to conceal his own involvement, and anyone and everyone is vulnerable to being compromised in this way, even church members.

Although this is a grim picture of the sufferings of the Salem Village community, Lawson offers some hope for overcoming the village’s troubles. He notes that this must all ultimately be part of God’s plan, and that God’s purpose in sending these afflictions is undoubtedly to force His people to return to following His path, from which they had recently deviated in various ways. One way that he points out specifically is by the use of occult practices such as countermagic, which has indeed been used by some in the village to discover witches. Lawson denounces this sort of practice as a dangerous opening through which Satan can work his wiles. He also denounces both the abuse of witchcraft allegations to settle private scores and the dismissal of them as personal vendettas, reminding his listeners that even false accusations were part of God’s plan for punishing His people for their sins. He exhorts the residents of the village to have compassion for the afflicted and unite to combat Satan’s influence by any means necessary, and closes by emphasizing that God will undoubtedly save them from their troubles provided they repent of their sins.

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Published in: on April 3, 2008 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] Massachusetts: Samuel Parris, responding to his predecessor Deodat Lawson’s sermon on March 24 condemning the use of countermagic, admonishes his neighbor Mary Sibley in church for having […]


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