Magazine article American Heritage

Bewitched

Magazine article American Heritage

Bewitched

Article excerpt

On June 15 Margaret Jones of Charlestown became the first person in Massachusetts to be executed for witchcraft. She was New England's second such victim; the first had been Alse (or Alice) Young of Windsor, Connecticut, hanged on May 26,1647. Little is known about Alice Young. As early as 1638, however, Dorothy Talbye was hanged in Boston for killing her child at the behest (as she admitted) of Satan.

The evidence against Jones, as recorded in Gov. John Winthrop's diary, was strong. Her "malignant touch" could cause illness in people she disliked. She practiced as a healer, and her medicines "were harmless, as aniseed, liquors, etc., yet had extraordinary violent effects." She sometimes put a curse on those who refused her services, "and accordingly their diseases and hurts continued . . . beyond the apprehension of all physicians and surgeons." She also performed feats of prophecy and clairvoyance.

By itself this assortment of talents was not enough to convict Jones. Physical evidence of trafficking with the devil was needed. One widely respected scholar had written, "Witches have ordinarily a familiar, or spirit, which appeareth to them, sometimes in one shape and sometimes in another; as in the shape of a man, woman, boy, dog, cat, foal, hare, rat, toad, etc." Accordingly, in May the General Court ordered Jones and her husband, Thomas (who was also accused), to be confined in separate rooms and watched around the clock. This investigative method had been used with evident success during a recent outbreak of witchcraft in England, where two hundred witches were killed between 1645 and 1647.

Sure enough, relates Winthrop, "in the clear day-light, there was seen in her arms . . . a little child, which ran from her into another room, and the officer following it, it was vanished." A strip search yielded further corroboration. The same scholar had told how witches "hash some big or little teat upon their body, and in some secret place, where [an imp] sucketh them. …

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