July 9 (June 29, o.s.)

Connecticut: Jonathan Selleck, commissioner in Stamford, writes early in the morning to magistrate Nathan Gold in Fairfield and describes his examination of Katharine Branch the previous day and how she was stricken with fits after being dismissed and had to be kept overnight at his house. Her fits continued all night, and have not stopped by the time he writes, but he assures Gold that as soon as they stop he will question her about what she saw in them.

Regarding Goody Miller, one of the people Kate named repeatedly in her fits, the authorities in Bedford, New York, where she moved to be with her brothers, refuse to either examine her themselves or send her back to Connecticut for questioning. Selleck writes to Gold that he doesn’t know why they are being so obstinate, but he suspects Miller’s brothers, who have considerable influence in Bedford, are exerting pressure to keep her out of the investigation. Abram Ambler, acting magistrate in Bedford, told Sergeant Westcott that he knew what would happen to Miller if she were sent to Connecticut and wouldn’t let her go. John Pell, a Westchester County judge, said he would consult with James Graham, the attorney general of New York, about the possibility of sending Miller to Connecticut, but Selleck has since received a letter from Bedford saying that Graham didn’t want to encourage proceedings against Miller. He sends this letter along to Gold and suggests that the Fairfield County authorities appeal to the governor of New York to order Miller sent to Connecticut. He regrets the difficulty in getting Miller to appear and be examined, because he suspects all the people named by Kate are guilty and wishes they could all be examined to better ascertain their guilt or innocence.

Around 9:00 a.m., after Selleck writes his letter to Gold, Kate comes out of her fits and Selleck questions her about what she saw in them. She says that on her way home she met Goody Miller riding on a black cat, and upon being brought back she saw Goody Miller, Elizabeth Clawson, Mercy Disborough, and a woman and a girl from Fairfield. Clawson in particular afflicted her terribly, and she talked to the girl and learned that her name was Hannah Harvey, the woman was her mother, Mary Harvey, and her grandmother was one Goody Staples. This is basically what she had said when she cried out in her fits during the night.

Massachusetts: The Court of Oyer and Terminer reconvenes in the morning to continue the trial of Sarah Good which began the preceding day. The prosecutor, Thomas Newton, now calls witnesses to give testimony about previous encounters with Good that suggest a history of witchcraft on her part. Many of these witnesses tell stories about situations when an argument with Good was soon followed by the death or sickness of cattle. Others talk about more recent events involving the torments of the afflicted girls of Salem Village, which were seen by many Village residents.

After Newton rests his case, Good is given the opportunity to defend herself. She argues that Newton has not actually established his case by the testimony of two direct witnesses, as the law requires to prove witchcraft, since spectral evidence doesn’t count, and she further notes that a great deal of the evidence against her came from Samuel Parris’s Indian slave Tituba, whose standing to testify is questionable at best.

When Good is done with her defense the jury leaves to deliberate. When they return, the verdict is guilty.

With Good’s trial complete, Newton presents his next case, against Susannah Martin of Amesbury, to the grand jury. He only presents a small portion of the material he has accumulated against her, including two depositions describing past behavior suggestive of witchcraft and testimony given by Samuel Parris and some of the afflicted girls. This is nevertheless sufficient for the grand jury to issue indictments against Martin, and her trial begins immediately.

As has now become standard practice for Newton, he begins the trial by calling the afflicted girls to the stand. Their testimony about Martin’s spectral tortures is frequently interrupted by apparent instances of said tortures, but the judges patiently draw their stories out. Some adult witnesses to earlier instances of spectral attacks also testify. The rest of Newton’s case consists primarily of accusations of past witchcraft from neighbors and acquaintances of Martin’s. These accusations resemble those leveled against prior defendants, mainly revolving around the apparent supernatural consequences of angering Martin, particularly loss of livestock. In addition to these accounts, Newton introduces into evidence the report of the jury of women who examined Martin’s body at the first session of the court on June 2, when they noted that her bosom appeared full the first time they examined her but lank the second time, implying that she had been sucked by an animal familiar in between.

Martin’s only defense is that she has led a “virtuous and holy life,” and therefore couldn’t be a witch, but most of the observers who know her are unimpressed, given her bad reputation and the longstanding rumors about her. The jury wastes no time in convicting her.

The next trial Newton presents is of Rebecca Nurse, another woman accused of witchcraft early on.  Nurse differs from the other defendants so far, however, in that she and her family have aggressively fought back against the charges ever since she was first accused.  While she languished in jail in Boston her family rounded up considerable evidence supporting her innocence and attacking the credibility of her accusers, and 39 residents of Salem Town have signed a petition circulated by her husband Francis attesting to her good name and behavior as long as they have known her.  Among the signers are several members of the Putnam family, which has been heavily involved in the witchcraft proceedings on behalf of the afflicted girls (one of whom is a Putnam herself).

Nevertheless, Nurse’s trial begins with the testimony against her of the same afflicted girls, including Ann Putnam.  Adult witnesses, including Ann’s father Sergeant Thomas Putnam, also testify in support of the girls’ accounts.  The confessed witches Deliverance Hobbs, her stepdaughter Abigail, and Mary Warren then testify that they have seen Nurse at meetings of witches led by the infamous clergyman George Burroughs and that she acted as a deacon at these meetings, distributing the infernal bread and wine that took the place of the Eucharist.  When they enter the courtroom, Nurse is heard to remark, “What, do these persons give in evidence against me now?  They used to come among us.”  Finally, Sarah Holton gives the only story of past witchcraft on Nurse’s part presented at the trial.  She says that three years earlier her pigs got into Nurse’s field, leading to an unpleasant confrontation, after which Holton’s husband Benjamin began to experience fits much like the ones suffered by the afflicted girls recently.  After a few months of this suffering, he died, and the doctor who was with him couldn’t figure out what he had died of.

Once Newton rests his case, Nurse begins her defense.  She presents the aforementioned petition along with statements questioning the credibility of her accusers and other statements giving alternative explanations for deaths she is alleged to have spectrally caused.  Another statement she submits is by Nathaniel Putnam, uncle of Sergeant Thomas Putnam, who attests to her good character in terms similar to those of the petition, which he did not sign.  In addition to this evidence, she also argues that the Devil could have been appearing to the afflicted girls by taking on her form without her consent or knowledge, an argument that has been rejected by Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton, chief justice of the court, but which was accepted by the ministers who gave their opinion on the trials to the Council on June 15.

After Nurse finishes her defense, the jury leaves to deliberate.  When they return, they announce their verdict: not guilty.

The afflicted girls immediately cry out, and the judges, surprised and confused by this unexpected result, confer awkwardly among themselves about what to do now.  Eventually, Stoughton turns to the jury and, while insisting that he will not impose on them, asks them to consider Nurse’s remark on the entrance of the confessed witches Deliverance and Abigail Hobbs, which he considers an implicit confession of guilt (interpreting Nurse’s statement that they “used to come among us” to refer to the witch meetings about which the confessors subsequently testified).  The jurors go back out to confer some more, but are unable to come to an agreement about how to interpret this statement.  The foreman, Thomas Fiske, asks that Nurse be allowed to explain what she meant, and the judges grant the request and bring the jury back into the courtroom.  When they ask Nurse, however, she seems distracted, and does not answer.  This silence convinces the wavering jurors, including Fiske, of her guilt, and they accordingly change their verdict.

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Published in: on July 9, 2008 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on July 9 (June 29, o.s.)  
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