Posted by Maggie MacLean 1.13.2008
Accused Witch in BostonIt seems that when we think of witches we automatically think of Salem, but colonial Boston experienced a number of witchcraft episodes during the seventeenth century. Witchcraft involves the use of supernatural powers such as clairvoyancy, invisibility, flying, and the ability to kill at a distance. A witch is usually viewed as one who manipulates unexplainable forces through spells and other rituals.
Belief in witchcraft was prevalent in Europe, and scores of people had been convicted and put to death in England during the 1640s. Stories of those proceedings reached the New World, and led the people of Boston to fear for their own safety.
"If any man or woman be a witch (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit) they shall be put to death." That was the law in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and also part of the teachings of the Colony's ministers.
Margaret Jones was the first person to be executed as a witch in New England, and she was hanged in Boston, not Salem. Three other women—Ann Hibbens, Alice Lake, and Mary Glover—were tried, convicted, and executed for the crime of witchcraft. Several others were charged and narrowly escaped punishment.
The colonists lived in unfamiliar and dangerous surroundings, and they sought to find the cause of unexplained events. They began to look at their neighbors and fellow church members with suspicion, looking for some hidden meaning in their actions—in such minds began the delusion of witchcraft.
Like many women of her day, Margaret Jones was skilled in making cooling drinks and soothing remedies from herbs and berries. She was said to be a healer. For years, she had freely given her time and her skill to help sick friends and neighbors, but soon there were whisperings. How did she create such magical cures? Was she communing with Satan?
Soon the whisperings reached the ears of the magistrates of the General Court. Early in the spring of 1648, Margaret and her husband, who was also accused of witchcraft, were arrested and thrown into the Boston Jail. The jailors undressed and examined her, and insisted they saw the mark of a witch on her body.
Among the evidence against her was that she caused illness in people she disliked. "She was found to have such a malignant touch as many persons, men, women, and children, whom she stroked or touched with any affection or displeasure, were taken with deafness, vomiting, or other violent pains or sickness."
The following order was added to the court records:
This court being desirous that the same course which hath been taken in England for the discovery of witches, by watching, may also be taken here with the witch now in question, & therefore do order that a strict watch be set about her every night, & that her husband be confined in a private room, & watched also.And so in Boston, a witch-watcher was appointed. One night, he peered into the dirty room where Mrs. Jones was confined, and reported that he saw a child in her arms. When he entered the room, the child ran into another room, and then vanished into thin air. This was enough to prove that she was under the influence of evil.
In vain, she protested that her cures were simple herb teas, but no one who confessed to being a witch was put to death. Those who denied the accusations and fought to clear their names were hanged. And so she was found guilty, and sentenced, and led over to the hanging-place.
On June 25, 1648, Margaret Jones was hanged. On the day and hour of her death, there was a violent thunderstorm in Connecticut, which blew down many trees. The Bay colonists took that as further evidence of her guilt.
When her husband was released, he begged the captain of the ship Welcome for passage to Barbados, so he could escape. But the captain refused, because he was the husband of a witch. A few hours later, the ship began to roll and pitch. There were 80 horses on board, and their constant movement must have caused the ship's strange motion. But the captain and crew thought the ship had been bewitched, and Mr. Jones was once again jailed. He was eventually released.