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During the witchcraft excitement at Salem, in the year 1692, no man of that day did more to expose the wicked character of the examinations and convictions than Thomas Brattle, of Boston. His good sense, and regard for truth and justice, are shown in a letter written at that time, though not published for more than a century later. It is found in the fifth volume of the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the writer thus mentions Elizabeth Knapp’s case: -

I cannot but admire [wonder] that these afflicted persons should be so much countenanced and encouraged in their accusations as they are: I often think of the Groton woman, that was afflicted, an account of which we have in print [in Mr. Willard's sermon], and is a most certain truth, not to be doubted of. I shall only say, that there was as much ground, in the hour of it, to countenance the said Groton woman, and to apprehend and imprison, on her accusations, as there is now to countenance these afflicted persons, and to apprehend and imprison on their accusations. But furthermore, it is worthy of our deepest consideration, that in the conclusion, (after multitudes have been imprisoned, and many have been put to death), these afflicted persons should own that all was a mere fancy and delusion of the devil's, as the Groton woman did own and acknowledge with respect to herself; if, I say, in after times, this be acknowledged by them, how can the justices, judges, or any else concerned in these matters, look back upon these things without the greatest of sorrow and grief imaginable? I confess to you, it makes me tremble when I seriously consider of this thing. I have heard that the chief judge has expressed himself very hardly of the accused woman at Groton, as though he believed her to be a witch to this day: but by such as knew the said woman, this is judged a very uncharitable opinion of the said judge, and I do not understand that any are proselyted thereto. (Pages 73, 74.)

Thomas Hutchinson, in the "History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay" (Boston, 1767), refers to this case and says: -

In 1671, Elizabeth Knapp, another ventriloqua, alarmed the people of Groton in much the same manner as Ann Cole had done those of Hartford; but her daemon was not so cunning, for instead of confining himself to old women, he rail'd at the good minister of the town and other persons of good character, and the people could not then be prevailed on to believe him, but believed the girl, when she confessed she had been deluded, and that the devil had tormented her in the shape of good persons; and so she escaped the punishment due to her fraud and imposture. (ii. 17.)

Samuel G. Drake, in his "Annals of Witchcraft in New England " (Boston, 1869), also mentions the case of Elizabeth Knapp, and says: -

This Story has been given to show how, in those Times, a tolerably severe Case of Hysterics could be magnified by those who had an exceedingly large Maggot of Credulity in their Brains. Groton is only thirty-three Miles from Boston, but the Story, in travelling even that short Distance, had no Doubt swollen into such Proportions, as to have but a faint Likeness to the Original.

The Condition of Elizabeth Knap was probably very similar to that of Elizabeth Barton (the Holy Maid of Kent), who, for her Pretensions to Inspiration, "Convulsions and strange Motions of Body," was put to Death in the Time of Henry the Eighth, 1584. (Pages 132, 133.)

John Willard, who was hung as a witch at Salem on August 19, 1692, had previously lived in Groton. The papers relating to his arrest and trial are still on file in the office of the clerk of the courts for Essex County at Salem, and give many particulars of the unfortunate affair. They are found in the first volume of "Witchcraft Papers," and numbered from 91 to 107 inclusive. The trial was held before a special term of the Court of Oyer and Terminer, of which the records are now lost.

A warrant for Willard's arrest was issued on May 10, 1692, addressed "To the Constable of Salem" and put in the hands of John Putnam, Jr., who made a return dated May 12, that he "went to the house of the Vsuall abode of John Willards and made search for him, and in seuerall other houses and places butt could not find him; and his relatione and friends then gaue mee accompt that to theire best knowledge he was ffleed."

Seven indictments were found against him, and the original copies of four of them are still in existence. These all charge him with practising his sorceries on various spinsters

According to Robert Calef, in his "More Wonders of the Invisible World " (London, 1700): -


John Willard, had been imployed to fetch in several that were accused; but taking dissatisfaction from his being sent, to fetch up some that he had better thoughts of, he declined the Service, and presently after he himself was accused of the same Crime, and that with such vehemency, that they sent after him to apprehend him; he had made his Escape as far as Nashawag, about 40 Miles from Salem; yet 'tis said those Accusers did then presently tell the exact time, saying, now Willard is taken. (Page 104.)

It will be noticed that Calef leaves it to be inferred that Willard was arrested at Nashawag, which is another form of Nashua, and an old name of Lancaster. The Nashua River is sometimes called the Nashawag, in the early records of Groton. Mr. Upham, in his "Salem Witchcraft" (Boston, 1867), says definitely that Willard "was seized in Groton" (ii. 173); but I do not find his authority for the statement. Lancaster may have been the place of his arrest. Willard had previously lived at Groton, which was then a frontier town; and after his flight from Salem he would naturally have gone thither.

The Jurors for our Sovereigne Lord and Lady the King & Queen presents that John Willard of Salem Village in the County of Essex husband the Eighteenth day of May in the ffourth year of the Reigne of our Sovereigne Lord and Lady William & Mary by the Grace of God of England Scottland ffrance & Ireland King & Queen Defenders of the ffaith &c: Divers other Dayes & times as well before as after, certaine detestable arts called Witchcrafts & Sorceries wickedly & feloniously hath vsed, Practised & Exercised at & within the Towne of Salem in the County of Essex aforesaid in. vpon. and agt one Mercy Lewis of Salem Village aforesaid in the County aforesaid single woman by which said wicked arts the said Mercy Lewis the said Eighteenth Day of May in the ffourth year abovesaid and divers other Dayes & times as well before as after was & is hurt, tortured afflicted consumed Pined wasted & tormented, against the Peace of our Sovereigne Lord & Lady the King & Queen. and against the forme of the Statute in that case made & Provided

Witnesses:
Mercy Lewis
Abigail Williams
Mary Walcott
Susanna Sheldon
Ann Puttnam Senior
Ann Puttnam Junior
Elizabeth Hubbard

Another warrant was issued on May 15, 1692: "To The Marshall of the County of Essex or to the Constables in Salem or any other Marshal or Marshalls Constable or Constables within this their Majes Colony or Terretory of the Massachusetts in New England.

This warrant was "To be prosecuted according to the direction of Constable John putnam of Salem Village who goes with the same."

The following endorsement is made on the paper: -

I haue apprehended John Wilard of Salam Veleg acorden to the tener of this warant and brought him before your worsheps Date 18 May 1692

by me. John Putnam Constoble of Salam

The Deposition of Samuel Parris aged about 39 years, & Nathanell Ingersoll aged about fifty & eight yeares & also Thomas Putman aged about fourty yeares all of Salem -testifyeth & saith that Eliz: Hubbard, Mary Warren & Ann Putman & John Indian were exceedingly tortured at the examination of John Willard of Salem Husbandman, before the honoured Magistrates the 18 May 1692 & also that upon his looking upon Eliz: Hubbard she was knockt down, & also that some of the afflicted & particularly Susannah Sheldon then & there testifyed that they saw a black man whispering him in the ear, & that said Sheldon could not come near to said Willard but was knockt down, and also that Mary Warren in a fit being carried to him the said Willard she said Warren was presently well upon his grasping her arm, & farther that severall of the afflicted also then testified, that divers of those he had murthered then rose up against him, & farther that he could by no means rightly repeat the Lords Prayer though he made manifold assayes.

Mr. Samuel Parris and Nathanael Ingersoll and: Thomas Putnam did uppon the oath which they had taken did before us the Juris of inquest owne this thar testimony: this 3 day of June: 92:

Sworn in Court by Mr Parris & Tho: Putman

June the 3 1692:

Sarah Vibber aged 36 yeares or thear abouts testifie and saith the be for Jno: Welard was exammend at the uilleg I being in Left Engorsols Chambor I saw the aporition of john willard com to mary wolcot & marcy luis & hurt them griuosly & almost choked Them Then I tould of it & emediatly the said wiliard fel upon me & tormented me greuesly & pinched me. & threw me down

Sarah uibber: ownid this har testimony before us the Jurriars for Inqwest: this 3 of June: 1692

Jurat in Curia
The deposition of Lydia Necols aged 46 yeares and of Margaret Knight aged 20 yeares who testefy and say.

That the wife of John Willard being at her fathers house when the said Willard liued at Groten she made a lamentable complaynt how cruelty her husband had beaten her. she thought her selfe that she should neuer recouer of the blows he had giuen her: the next morninge he was got into a litle hole vnder the stayres and then she thought some thinge extra ordinary had befallen him then he ran out at the doore: and ran up. a steep hill almost impossible for any man to run vp: as she sayd: then she tooke her mare and rid away. fearing some euil had ben intended agaynst her. and when she came to the house of Henery or Beniamin Willard she told how it was with her and the sayd Henery Willard or both went to looke after him and met him comeinge in a strange distracted frame

The deposition of Thomas Baly aged 36 yeares who testefieth and sayth.

That I being at Groaton some short tyme after John Willard. as the report went, had beaten his wife I went to cal him home and comeinge home with him in the night I heard such a hideous noyse of strang creatures I was much affrighted for I never had heard the like noyse I fearinge they might be some euil spirits I enquired of the said Willard what might it be that made such a hideous noyse the sayd Willard sayd they ware Locust: the next day as I suppose the sayd Willards wife with a younge child and her mother being vpon my mare. ridinge between Groaton Mil and Chensford. they being willing to goe on foote a litle desired me to ride: then I taking my mare being willing to let her feed a litle: there as I remember I aprehend I heard the same noyse agayne where at my mare started and got from me

Jurat in Curia

The testomony of Rebeckah Wilkins aged ninteen years Doe testifie that 29th July at night shee se John Wilard seting in the Conner and hee said that hee wold afflick me that night and forthwith hee ded afflick me: and the nax day I ded se him afflick me soer by Choaking & Polling one ear into Peases the nex day being the Lords day I being Going to meting I se John Wilard and hee afflickted me uery soer

Jurat in Curia

The deposition of Henery Wilknes sen aged 41 yeares who testifieth and sayth that vpon the third of May last John Willard came to my house: and uery earnestly entreated me to go with him to Boston which I at lenght consented to go with him, my Son Daniel comeinge and vnderstandinge I was goinge with him to Boston and seemed to be much troubled that I would go with the sayd Willard: and he sayd he thought it were wel. If the sayd Willard were hanged: which made me admire for I neuer heard such an expression come from him to any one beinge since he came to yeares of discretion, but after I was gone in a few days he was taken sicke: and grew euery day worse & worse where vpon we made aplication to a physitian who affirmed his sicknes was by some preter natural cause & would make no aplication of any phisicke. Some tymes after this our neighbours comeing to visit my son Mercy Lewis came with them and affirmed that she saw the apperition of John Willard aflicting him: quickly after came An Putnam. and she saw the same apperition and then my eldest daughter was taken in a sad manner & the sayd An: saw the sayd Willard aflicting her. at Another tyme mercy lewes and mary Walcott came to visit him, and they saw the same apparition of Willard aflicting him, and this not but a little tyme before his death.

Sworne in Court

John Willard was tried on the 5th of August and hung on the 19th. Three other men and one woman were executed at the same time for witchcraft; one of whom was the Reverend George Burroughs. They all were convicted on the same kind of absurd and flimsy testimony as that given in the depositions against Willard. They were allowed no counsel for defence, and their execution was nothing short of judicial murder. Under the gallows Mr. Burroughs made a speech, declaring his innocence, and also a prayer which he ended by repeating correctly the Lord's Prayer. This produced a great effect on the multitude, as it was then the common belief that a witch or wizard could not say it without blundering. The sympathy of the crowd was so much excited that the leaders of the wicked movement began to fear lest the executions would be prevented; and Cotton Mather, mounted on horseback, addressed the assemblage and told them that the punishment was a righteous one

Mr. Upham, in his "Salem Witchcraft," says: -

John Willard appears to have been an honest and amiable person, an industrious farmer, having a comfortable estate, with a wife and three young children. He was a grandson of Old Bray Wilkins; whether by blood or marriage, I have not been able to ascertain. The indications are that he married a daughter of Thomas or Henry Wilkins, most probably the former, with both of whom he was a joint possessor of lands. He came from Groton; and it is for local antiquaries to discover whether he was a relative of the Rev. Samuel Willard of Boston. If so, the fact would shed much light upon our story. (ii. 321.)

After a careful investigation I cannot discover any kinship between the Reverend Samuel Willard and John, though there may have been a remote one. Lydia Nichols and Margaret Knight, according to their depositions, were acquainted with Henry and Benjamin Willard, of Groton, both sons of the minister, and these men knew John Willard. The Reverend Mr. Willard, who had carefully studied Elizabeth Knapp's case twenty years before the Salem tragedy, evidently believed in the demoniacal origin of witchcraft, though he held moderate views on the subject. In a pamphlet written by him, entitled "Some Miscellany Observations on our present Debates respecting Witchcrafts," and printed in the year 1692, he takes the ground that there are witches in New England, and they ought to be punished.

In passing judgment on the authors of this monstrous delusion, let us not forget the fact that witchcraft was recognized as a crime in the colonial and provincial laws of Massachusetts, following those of England; and let us remember, too, that many of the wisest and best men at that period looked upon it as a sin against God, which should be punished in accordance with the Mosaic law.

Sir William Blackstone, in his "Commentaries on the Laws of England" (Boston, 1818), says:-

To deny the possibility, nay, actual existence of witchcraft and sorcery, is at once flatly to contradict the revealed word of God, in various passages both of the old and new testament: and the thing itself is a truth to which every nation in the world hath in its turn borne testimony, either by examples seemingly well attested, or by prohibitory laws; which at least suppose the possibility of a commerce with evil spirits. (iv. 60.)

End "Witches of Groton" by Dr. Samuel Green.



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