October 18 (October 8, o.s.)

Massachusetts: Thomas Brattle, a prominent Boston merchant, writes a letter about the witch trials in Salem.  Although ostensibly addressed to an unnamed minister, the letter is really intended to circulate in manuscript among elite circles in Boston.  In it Brattle gives a scathing account of the conduct of the trials.  In addition to criticizing the Court of Oyer and Terminer’s reliance on the testimony of afflicted persons and confessed witches, which has become increasingly controversial of late, he directly challenges the judges’ handling of many aspects of the cases, particularly their notable deference to high-status accusees, who are often put under house arrest rather than being taken to jail and in some cases have not been arrested at all despite the complaints against them.  Some, notably Elizabeth Cary, Philip English, and John Alden, have escaped from prison without the judges making much effort to recapture them.  In addition to these suggestions of bias on the part of the judges, Brattle notes that questions are arising about some of the confessions used by the court, and he also lists several prominent figures in the colony who have expressed (private) doubts about the trials, including the former governor Simon Bradstreet and Nathaniel Saltonstall, a former member of the Court of Oyer and Terminer itself.  He mentions his own minister, Samuel Willard of the Third Church in Boston, as a particularly “solicitous and industrious” figure whose proposals for how to deal with the crisis (which Brattle doesn’t detail but which presumably are more in line with his own way of managing the apparent afflictions of his servant Elizabeth Knapp twenty years earlier, when he successfully stuck with prayer rather than running to the authorities with accusations) would have prevented much of the trouble caused by the court’s handling of it.  Willard’s own book criticizing the trials has been circulating in manuscript in the same circles targeted by Brattle’s letter.

New Mexico: Governor Vargas, camped at Pecos Pueblo, hears in the morning from the interpreter Pedro Hidalgo that the people of Pecos would like him to appoint officials for them, as the Spanish governors did before the 1680 revolt.  Vargas agrees, and meets with the people.  He tells them to freely elect whomever they wish as officials, which they do.  He then administers oaths of office to the officials.

The morning weather is bad, with rain and snow continuing until about 2:00 pm.  Despite the harsh conditions, Vargas and his men depart from Pecos around 3:00 pm, continuing to Galisteo Pueblo, which they find abandoned but with most of its walls still standing.  They camp there for the night.

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Published in: on October 18, 2008 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] Boston merchant who wrote a widely circulated letter attacking the Court of Oyer and Terminer on October 8, and Increase Mather, a prominent Boston minister who has become increasingly skeptical recently […]


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