Friday, October 31, 2014

Hauntings, death, monsters, and witches

© 2014 Christy K Robinson

This article is copyrighted. Copying, even to your genealogy pages, is prohibited by US and international law. You may "share" it with the URL link because it preserves the author's copyright notice and the source of the article.  
All rights reserved. This book or blog article, or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Heretic burnings at Guernsey during 1550s, the time of the parents of
Anne Hutchinson and John Winthrop, and grandparents of the Dyers.
If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you know that Mary Dyer was a woman who believed and lived in the Light of God. Because she believed in eternal life, death was nothing to be feared—in fact, she willingly laid down her own life to bring religious liberty to the oppressed.

However, Mary and William Dyer lived in an extremely superstitious, hyper-religious, brutal era. It wasn’t only the individuals who might have been cursed by a witch, but the entire community that feared them. Educated and illiterate people alike believed that their theocratic society as a whole had to purge evil, and to be pure and holy, which would hasten the Second Coming of Christ. (Why do you think the village of Naumkeag was renamed Salem? It was the New Jerusalem, the holy city of God.) Boston was to be “The City Upon a Hill” in Gov. John Winthrop’s sermon, that term taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. They believed that God demanded perfection of them before he could trust them not to pollute the Holy City in heaven.

On the European continent in the early 17th century, 30,000 innocent men and women were burned to death, believed to be witches. In England, hundreds of people, almost all them women, were tried, tortured, and hanged as witches, even though they were church members minding their own business. Midwives and healers were susceptible to accusations of witchcraft. If your patient recovered unexpectedly, or died, it must be because of the intervention of the devil.

In America, witch trials and executions took place 50 and 60 years before the famous Salem outbreak, in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The Puritan Americans didn’t officially believe in ghosts because spirits went immediately to heaven or hell—but they did believe in ghosts, because Gov. John Winthrop wrote of spirits haunting the place where a ship had blown up because some drunken sailors shot a pistol into kegs of gunpowder.

John Winthrop’s Journal, January 1644:
“Captain Chaddock [Englishman who had previously stolen a French ship] having bought from the French a pinnace of about 30 tons, he manned and fitted her to go to Trinidad, and riding before Boston ready to depart, and eight men aboard her, one striking with a pistol, two barrels of powder took fire and blew her up: five of the men being in the cabin were destroyed, and the other three being in the other part were much scorched and hurt, but got into their boat and were saved. The captain himself was then on shore at Boston. It is observable that these men making no use of the sudden loss of three of their company, but falling to drinking, etc., that very evening this judgment came thus upon them. It is also to be observed that two vessels have thus been blown up in our harbor, and both belonging to such as despised us and the ordinance of God amongst us.”
From the Tor Even Mathisen photo website,

Governor Winthrop usually saw the wrath of God in disasters that befell “unrepentant sinners” such as these. But there’s more! About two weeks later, unexplained lights appeared in the sky where the ship had been.

“About midnight, three men, coming in a boat to Boston, saw two lights arise out of the water near the north point of the town cove, in form like a man, and went at a small distance to the town, and so to the south point, and there vanished away. They saw them about a quarter of an hour, being between the town and the governor's garden. The like was seen by many, a week after, arising about Castle Island and in one fifth of an hour came to John Gallop's point.”
Rev. Davenport of New Haven reported that a ghost ship appeared in the clouds as a message from God that their ship, their investments, and of course, their beloved family members who were passengers, had been lost at sea. Read The Ghost Ship of 1647

Every natural history event (comet, meteor, eclipse, earthquake, severe weather) was considered a message from God, or manifestation of a curse on unbelievers. (But that’s never been limited to the 17th century: after catastrophic earthquakes and tsunamis, we’ve heard people talk about the devastation being the judgment of God upon unrepentant pagans. I had to edit sermons and articles of that false teaching at one point in my career.)

 Neither Anne Hutchinson nor Mary Dyer were formally charged as witches, but there were murmurs about them, particularly after they both had tragic pregnancies amid charges of heresy. Mary’s anencephalic/spina bifida miscarriage, and Anne’s molar mass were called monsters. There’s so much interest in that, even today, that the “monster” article is the most-read piece in this blog.

Here are the links to my articles about the unknown, unseen world as the Dyers, Hutchinsons, and Winthrops knew it.
There’s more—much more!—in the books Mary Dyer Illuminated (Vol. 1) and Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (Vol. 2). The stories of the unexplained phenomena came from the journals of John Winthrop, books, court records, and letters from eyewitnesses of the events. Find out more about the FIVE-STAR REVIEWS by historians, English professors, other discerning readers, and how to order the books at this link:
Christmas is coming: these books (or Kindle editions) would make fantastic gifts.

Christy K Robinson is author of the books:
·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018) 
The latest book is a biography
of Anne Hutchinson

This article's short URL

Monday, October 13, 2014

Significant Ancestry

I'm pleased to present a guest writer, editor, author, and friend, Dr. Ken Horn, a 12th-generation descendant of William and Mary Dyer. Thank you so much, Ken!

© 2014 by Ken Horn
Statehouse in Boston, with Hutchinson statue on the left,
and Dyer statue on the right.
The statues face the Boston Common.

Anyone who seriously attempts to trace his or her family history knows the longing to follow the family name far into the past, and also to find an ancestor who somehow made a significant contribution to the world.
Alas, I can only trace my Horn family name back four generations. Even though I have serious genealogists in my family, they have not been able to reach any further into the Horn history than my great-great grandparents Samuel A. and Mary Ann Horn. That side of my family does have very successful people who appear in local histories and were recognized as fine Christians. (This includes Samuel A.) That’s important and I value it. But few will ever read the scant information available on their lives.

I turn to my mother’s side of the family to find the more-than-satisfying significance of ancestry I had hoped for—an ancestor whom history has not forgotten.

There are far too many deserving women whose contributions have been forgotten by history. Mary Barrett Dyer is not one of those. But she paid a dear price to be remembered. I will not repeat Mary’s history—it is familiar to readers of this blog. She died a martyr. But Mary Dyer was far more than just a Quaker doing Quaker-type things, for which she suffered. She willingly gave her life, making both a religious statement and a civil, human one. As has often been noted, Mary struck a blow in 1660 that has resounded down the corridors of time to our own day—a significant blow that helped those who lived after her gain civil and moral rights to act according to their consciences.

Though history has not forgotten her—and she even has her own statue at the Boston Statehouse and elsewhere—most people know little of the significance of her life. It is monumental … definitely worthy of the memorials erected to her.

Mary Dyer was my ninth great-grandmother. (That's grandmother with nine “greats” in front of it, for twelve generations.)

Unfortunately, when I was at the Boston Statehouse I didn't know that she was my ancestor. Thus, I took a picture of the statue but failed to get one of myself standing next to it.

I plan to return to Boston to get that shot. I also plan to find and photograph the other monuments to her, including the statue at Friends Center in Philadelphia. That institution’s website shows how the Friends recognize the importance of her contribution: “The sculpture of Mary Dyer represents the Quaker ideal of committed action grounded in quiet and worship. Her presence at the entrance of the building silently conveys to all who pass through Friends Center’s doors that it is a place of both conviction and contemplation.”

Dyer statue at Philadelphia Friends Center
 The statue at the Friends Center is intentionally identical to the one near Boston Common. In the 1950s a bill of the General Court of Massachusetts authorized “the construction and erection of an appropriate statue of Mary Dyer, who was hanged on Boston Common in the year 1660 because she chose the death penalty rather than abandon the principles of freedom of speech and conscience.”

I belong to a religious tradition that values the contributions of women. The weekly magazine I edited for nearly eighteen years published an annual women's edition and many other articles about women—both clergy and lay—who excelled in ministry and community service.

Many women have followed Mary’s grand example, mostly on a far smaller scale. Few have had such lasting influence. 

As difficult as it has been to trace some of my ancestors on my father’s side, imagine my delight when I discovered that my ancestry includes two of the most influential Christian women in American history: Mary Dyer and Mary’s friend and mentor Anne Marbury Hutchinson (my tenth great-grandmother) who made her own significant contribution. I am descended from both through my eighth great-grandparents, Mary’s son Samuel Dyer and Anne’s granddaughter through Edward Hutchinson, also named Anne.

This Dyer blog has provided a rich source of reliable information about my ancestor Mary. I also discovered another rich, and enjoyable, source.

I took Christy Robinson's novels about Mary Barrett Dyer with me on a recent international trip and devoured them both. Mary Dyer Illuminated and MaryDyer: For Such a Time as This were both page-turners for me.
Dyer statue in Boston
The three Dyers books are found at

I seldom read fiction, but Christy’s writing is presented on a framework of reliable, detailed history, so there is abundant information to be gleaned … and in an entertaining way. I felt the time I invested in these books was well worthwhile. Christy’s compelling narrative greatly aided in making Mary a real person to me. These are fascinating books that deserve a much-expanded exposure. They are simply outstanding, a feast for lovers of history and good writing. 

My quest for significance in ancestry has been successful. Mary Barrett Dyer and Anne Marbury Hutchinson have made important marks in our world. 

I’ll continue my search for ancestors, valuing each name, and the life of each one that served God and made some contribution—large or small—in his or her area of influence.

Those of you who are my distant cousins, in the Dyer and/or Hutchinson lineage, can share in this kindred sense of fulfillment.
We should all take the fact of this relationship as a challenge—to serve God and do some good in this world.
Peggy and Ken Horn
 Dr. Ken Horn is an ordained minister in the Assemblies of God, and recently retired as editor of their international magazine, Pentecostal Evangel. This is the second article he's kindly written for this Dyer blog. The first was Where Paths Diverge: The Great Quaker Debate.

The Dyers books include Anne Hutchinson and her son Edward Hutchinson as major characters. Anne appears in Volume I, and Edward is an integral character in Volumes I and II, including having the last word of the final chapter.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Life sketch of Katherine Marbury Scott

The Quaker's righteous indignation and uppity-female speech scarred her for life. 

© 2014 Christy K Robinson

This article is copyrighted. Copying, even to your genealogy pages, is prohibited by US and international law. You may "share" it with the URL link because it preserves the author's copyright notice and the source of the article.  
All rights reserved. This book or blog article, or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

How Commonwealth England perceived Quakers in 1655
From time to time, I post a life sketch of people who were important members of 17th-century England and New England, and whose lives or influence intersected with the lives of William and Mary Dyer.

Katherine Marbury, the younger sibling of the famous Anne Marbury Hutchinson, was born between about 1607-1610 as one of 15 or 20 children of Rev. Francis Marbury and Bridget Dryden Marbury. Not all of the children survived infancy or childhood. (The dates and numbers of children vary by genealogical records. One record had Katherine’s birth date six years after her father’s death.) Some records give Katherine’s birthplace as Alford, Lincolnshire, but their family had moved to London by 1605, and her father died there in 1611. Perhaps one of her educated siblings taught Katherine to read and write. Many women could read, but few could write, and Katherine did write.

Katherine married Richard Scott in 1632 in Hertfordshire, about 28 miles northwest of London. In May or June 1634, they set sail with Anne and William Hutchinson on the Griffin, moving their households and children to Boston to follow their minister, Rev. John Cotton, who had emigrated the year before. The Church of England was making life dangerous for dissenters like Cotton.

The Scotts owned two lots, behind Roger Williams'
cove-side lots.
The Hutchinsons settled in Boston; the Scotts moved first to Ipswich, near Salem, where they would have been exposed to the teachings of Rev. Roger Williams. There, they also would have been well acquainted with Gov. John Endecott and John Winthrop, Jr. When Roger Williams fled to what would become Providence Plantations, Rhode Island, to escape Puritan persecution, the Scotts also moved. Richard wrote the Compact that Providence founders signed. Their house plot backed up to Roger Williams’ property. And they, like other original settlers, had other parcels of farmland, pasture, woods, and marsh nearby, the better to make use of natural resources.  

On January 16, 1638, Gov. John Winthrop wrote, “At Providence things grow still worse; for a sister of Mrs. Hutchinson, the wife of one Scott, being infected with Anabaptistry, and going last year to live in Providence, Mr. Williams was taken (or rather emboldened) by her to make open profession thereof, and accordingly was rebaptized by one Holyman, a poor man late of Salem.” There is no other evidence that Katharine Scott had, or wished to have, any influence upon Roger Williams. They never agreed, and upon two occasions Roger Williams had her, with other wives of his neighbors, arrested, but he did not carry his suits to a conclusion before the Court. Source: Stephen F. Peckham, "Richard Scott and his Wife Catharine Marbury, and Some of Their Descendants," New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. 60 (1906):170

From 1638 to 1642, when William Hutchinson died and Anne moved away, Katherine and Richard didn’t live far from her older sister. It was 28 miles by land, but it would have been a quick trip by water. Anne, a midwife, would have been welcome assistance as Katherine’s first children were born. Katherine herself may have been a midwife, since it was their mother who trained her daughters to the profession.

In any case, Katherine’s family was growing. She gave birth to nine children, and most survived to adulthood. Two of the girls, Mary Scott Holder, and Patience Scott Beere, are said by Quaker historians to have accompanied Quakers on speaking missions to Boston. Because of their youth, and possibly because of their cousin Edward Hutchinson’s legal influence in Boston, they were confined at the jailer’s home instead of in the prison, until their fees and fines were paid. Both girls, at age 11 and 16, accompanied Mary Dyer on her walks from Providence to Boston, knowing from their own and their mother’s experience that they risked whippings, forced labor, or even death.

But I’ve jumped forward several years. Let’s go back to the 1650s.

In 1650, Richard Scott’s property taxes were second only to Benedict Arnold, which means that he was a wealthy man. His initial profession was shoemaker (his father was a London clothier), but he must have become wealthy by real estate transactions, farming, and perhaps sea trading. Though Katherine Marbury had aristocratic roots, her father was a poor clergyman and teacher, the father of many children, and died when she was a toddler. Katherine would not have brought money to the marriage. That tells us that Richard Scott must have worked hard, bought some indentured servants, and taken some risks that paid off.

Richard may have sailed to England in 1654, and become a Quaker there. Most people think that he became a Quaker Friend, though, in 1656, when the first missionaries sailed to America and the Scotts provided hospitality to them in their home in Providence. Surely there must have been transatlantic correspondence for the Scotts, who were Baptists, to embrace such a change so early. The Scotts are considered to be the first Quaker converts in New England.

Among the first missionaries were Quakers from England and Barbados, and one of them, Christopher Holder, fell in love with the teenage Mary Scott, who was still too young to marry. Holder, John Rous, and John Copeland traveled New England to preach their faith, and to disrupt the Puritan services. When they were beaten nearly to death, or starved in prison and released, they came back to Providence and Newport, Rhode Island, for sanctuary and recuperation.

In June 1658, Katherine Scott wrote a protest letter to John Winthrop, Jr., governor at Hartford, Connecticut, about the Quaker persecution there. Unfortunately, Winthrop was away and didn’t receive her letter for months.

For the hand of John Winthrop called Governor, at Harvard in New England, there deliver with trust.
Providence, this 17 June 1658
John Winthrop, — Think it not hard to be called so, seeing Jesus, our Savior and Governor, and all that were made honorable by him, that are recorded in Scripture, were called so. I have writ to thee before, but never heard whether they came to thy hand; my last, it may be, may trouble thee, concerning my son; but truly I had not propounded it to thee but to satisfy his mind, and to prevent his going where we did more disaffect; but I hear no more of his mind that way. I hope his mind is taken up with the thing which is the most necessary, and first to seek his kingdom, &c. Therefore let you be burred in silence: but my later request I must revise, and that is only out of true love and pity to thee, that thou mayest be free, and not troubled, as I have heard thy father was, upon his death bed, at the banishment of my dear sister Hutchinson and others. I am sure they have a sad cup to drink, that are drunk with the blood of the saints.
O my friend, as thou lovest the prosperity of thy soul and the good of thy posterity, take heed of having thy hand, or heart, or tongue lifted up against those persons that the wise yet foolish world in scorn calls Quakers: for they are the messengers of the Lord of Hosts, which he hath in his large love and pity sent into these parts, to gather together his outcasts and the distressed of the children of Israel: and they shall accomplish the work, let the rage of men be never so great: take heed of hindering of them, for no weapon formed against them shall prosper. It is given to them not only to believe, but to suffer, &c., but woe to them by whom they suffer.
O my friend, try all things, and weigh it by the balance of the sanctuary: how can you try without hearing of them, for the ear tries words as the mouth tastes meat. I dare not but bear witness against the unjust and cruel laws of my countrymen in this land: for cursed are all they that cometh not out to help the Lord against the mighty; and all that are not with him are against him, &c. Woe be to men that gather and not by the Lord, & cover with a covering, and not with his Holy Spirit: which woe I desire thou mayest escape.
Katherine Scott

But finally in 1658, the Quaker missionaries’ repeated disobedience in Massachusetts Bay Colony was too much for Gov. Endecott. He and the magistrates of the court sentenced the three Quaker men to have their right ears cropped as previously threatened.

The hearts of Boston residents were softening because of the severity of punishment of Quakers, who were other (possibly misguided but not heretical) Christians. They saw their neighbors fined, their stock or crops confiscated, and lives threatened, yet the Quaker numbers grew exponentially.

The court decided to execute judgment on the three Quaker men secretly, inside the prison and away from the public. They wanted to punish the Quakers and banish them without arousing sympathy. The method of ear amputation involved binding the prisoner’s head to a post and then slicing off the ear, or sometimes the prisoner’s head was locked in the pillory and his ears nailed to the board and later sliced off. It was not a common punishment, but three Puritans had been cropped in 1637 by Church of England officials. Perhaps Endecott thought this was a fitting revenge, 21 years later. William Dyer referred to that episode in a 1659 letter, so it was at the top of their minds, and exemplified cruelty.

Quaker historian George Bishop wrote,
"And Katharine Scott, of the Town of Providence, in the Jurisdiction of Rhode Island (a Mother of many Children, one that had lived with her Husband, of Unblameable Conversation, and a Grave, Sober, Ancient Woman, and of good Breeding, as to the Outward, as Men account) coming to see the Execution of John Copeland, Christopher Holder, and John Rouse, all single young men, their ears cut off the 7th of the 7th month [7 Sept.] 1658, by order of John Endicott, Gov., whose ears you cut off, and saying upon their doing it privately, -- That it was evident they were going to act the Works of Darkness, or else they would have brought them forth Publickly, and have declared their Offence, that others may hear and fear. -- Ye committed her to Prison, and gave her Ten Cruel Stripes with a threefold corded knotted Whip, with that Cruelty in the Execution, as to others, on the second Day of the eighth Month [2 October], 1658. Tho' ye confessed, when ye had her before you, that for ought ye knew, she had been of an Unblameable Conversation; and tho' some of you knew her Father, and called him Mr. Marbury [Mister was a term of respect], and that she had been well-bred (as among Men) and had so lived, and that she was the Mother of many Children; yet ye whipped her for all that, and moreover told her -- That ye were likely to have a Law to Hang her, if She came thither again -- To which she answered, --If God call us, Wo be to us, if we come not; and I question not, but he whom we love, which will make us not to count our Lives dear unto ourselves for the sake of his Name, -- To which our Governor, John Endicott replied, --And we shall be as ready to take away your lives, as ye shall be to lay them down. --... '

Whips left skin flayed,
sometimes down to the bone,
resulting in horrific scars.
I chose not to
post modern photos in this article.
"The whip used for these cruel Executions is not of whip cord, as in England, but of dried guts, such as the Base [bass] of the Viols, and the three knots at the end, which many times the Hangman lays on with both his hands, and must needs be of most violent Torture and exercise of the Body."

Katherine knew that private punishments were against the law, because executions and whippings were meant as a warning to the public not to err. She publicly protested the wrongdoing of Gov. Endecott and his deputies on two points: that they were cruelly torturing the Quakers, and that they were going about it against their own laws. Her protest, made worse because a woman was accusing men, resulted in her being cast into the prison for a month, as well as being publicly exposed, nude to her waist, and whipped 10 stripes with the triple knots, which was a common punishment for lawbreakers.

Katherine was about 50 years old. She knew exactly what she was doing, and what the consequences would be. In 21st-century language, she was telling them, “Bring it on!” 

The Massachusetts State Archive holds the original document, signed by Edward Hutchinson (Anne’s son and Katherine’s nephew), that says,
Petition submitted to the general court by Edward Hutchinson regarding the disposition of fees paid for the release of his aunt and three other Quakers from jail. General court order directing that the fees be taken by the jail keeper until further order. Consented to by the magistrates and deputies.


Katherine and her daughters were released to Edward’s custody, and sent home to Providence to recover. The three earless Quaker men were incarcerated until they could be hustled onto a ship (at their expense, which they refused to pay) and sent to England.

The winter of 1658-59 was a quiet one in the Quaker-versus-Puritan conflict. Most of the original Quaker missionaries went to England or the West Indies to preach, or to heal from their wounds.

In May of 1659, several Quakers heard God’s call for them to go to Boston and take a stand against the bloody laws that so persecuted their brothers and sisters. They left Newport to gather at the home of Richard and Katherine Scott. But as their boat came into the harbor and they transferred to a canoe, one of the women drowned in the sinking of the canoe. They found Sarah Gibbons’ body at low tide the next day, and buried her in the Scotts’ orchard. William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson, and 11-year-old Patience Scott went on to Boston, and Mary Dyer followed a few weeks later. That was the beginning of the end for Robinson and Stephenson, and Mary Dyer was reprieved from the gallows in October 1659.

Katherine sailed (almost surely from Newport, and not Boston, where she’d been banished on pain of death) to England with her daughter Mary Scott, in March or April 1660, to see Mary safely married to the one-eared Christopher Holder in August 1660. (Mary had two children with Holder, and died in 1665.) Katherine came home in September-October 1660. Apparently, she became disenchanted with Quakers on that trip. Rev. Roger Williams said in a letter of September 8, 1660 to Governor John Winthrop Jr.: “What whipping at Boston could not do, conversation with friends in England and their arguments have in great measure drawn her [Katherine Scott] from the Quakers and wholly from their meetings.”

Richard Scott of Providence died before July 1, 1679, at about age 73. He had remained a Quaker until he died. And Katherine must have returned to Quaker beliefs, because her death is noted in Quaker records. She was about 75-80 years old, and died in Newport on May 2, 1687. Her daughter, Patience Scott Beere, lived in Newport, so Katherine may have been living with her daughter’s family after Richard died.

In the book Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This, I speculated (after several years of research and reading hundreds of books and articles) that the Scotts and Dyers were closely connected through the Hutchinson family. Mary journeyed to Boston with two Scott daughters, and she stopped at Providence between her winter at Shelter Island and her May 21, 1660 appearance in Boston. William’s May 27, 1660 letter to the Massachusetts court used bitter words against the nameless people who had helped her on her final journey. (Katherine and Mary Scott were in England, so that would be Richard Scott.) And when the names were provided to John Clarke for the 1663 Rhode Island charter, Richard Scott’s name, though a founder of Providence and an early Rhode Island settler, was conspicuously missing.

Well, conspicuous if you have learned about the lives and accomplishments of a certain set of people in a particular time and place.

This article on Katherine Marbury Scott was first published in the book, The DYERS of London, Boston, & Newport, copyright 2014 by Christy K Robinson. It is available in paperback and Kindle editions.

Christy K Robinson is author of these sites:  

and of these books:

·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018) 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Witches who weren't witches

 © 2014 Christy K Robinson

This article is copyrighted. Copying, even to your genealogy pages, is prohibited by US and international law. You may "share" it with the URL link because it preserves the author's copyright notice and the source of the article.  
All rights reserved. This book or blog article, or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Aren't you glad you aren't the one making history? Making history doesn't seem to have gone well for some of our forebears!

Witchcraft accusations in the 17th century were more often motivated by economics than religious beliefs or superstition. When a woman was left with a desirable farm or business after the passing of her husband, witchcraft charges from envious neighbors or business competitors sometimes followed. The punitive fines and room and board prison costs were a real moneymaker for the colonial governments, and other costs could be satisfied by selling off farm animals, household goods, or the property, or partially relieved by the accused prisoners working at forced labor.

Who hasn't heard of the Salem witchcraft trials? All of the women and the man who were executed were innocent. None of them worshiped the devil or called on evil spirits to help them. They were church members, participants in the daily work and festivals of the community, and they were falsely accused and hysterically tried.
1647 book by Matthew Hopkins, the
self-titled Witchfinder General.

Today, you’ll meet two little-known women who were caught in the witchcraft hysteria that was never far from the thoughts of English subjects, from the publication of King James’s book Daemonologie in 1597, through the 300 or more women who were tried, tortured, and executed by the Witchfinder General of eastern England in the 1640s, to the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials of the 1690s.

Mary Lee

The superstition of witchcraft manifested itself in both England and America in the 1640s and 1650s.

In 1654, the ship Charity left England for Virginia. The First Anglo-Dutch War had concluded with a treaty early in the year, but piracy and privateering (piracy licensed by government) continued on the American coasts and the Caribbean. Part of the cargo on that voyage was a shipment of carbines (short-barrel muskets that didn’t shoot much further than 100 yards), according to the state papers of John Thurloe, the English secretary of state and the spymaster.

The Charity’s voyage that should have taken eight to ten weeks was stormy, and the ship was forced to fight high seas and adverse winds for longer than expected. Two or three weeks before the vessel entered Chesapeake Bay, the sailors whispered that a witch was on board, and it was she who was attracting the wrath of God. Their gaze rested upon a passenger, Mrs. Mary Lee, a petite, aged widow traveling without escort. (“Aged” could mean anyone older than 40.)

England, after civil wars, political upheaval, the Anglo-Dutch conflict, and the resulting economic depressions, was now in Mary Lee’s rear-view mirror, and she planned to start a new life in Virginia. If she had children, they may have died of epidemic disease or war. But in 1654, she was alone in the world.
Searching a woman for witch's marks.

On this late winter or spring voyage, the sailors demanded that John Bosworth, the Charity’s master, should test Mrs. Lee for witchcraft. The captain at first refused to consent to an interrogation, saying he would put her off the ship at Bermuda, but crosswinds prevented that detour, the ship grew more leaky by the day, and the sailors continued to clamor.

After consulting with passengers Henry Corbin, a 25-year-old emigrant, and Robert Chipson, a merchant, Bosworth yielded to the crew’s demand. (Why did the master of the ship consult with passengers?) The sailors affirmed that Mrs. Lee’s deportment suggested she was a witch. Two seamen, without permission, stripped the elderly woman’s body of all the layers of clothing and modesty that the 17th century afforded, and searched for moles, skin tags—anything that might be a nipple for nursing an imp—and declared they had found witch marks.

During the cold, stormy night, she was left fastened to the capstan (see image of ship), probably naked, and in the morning light it was reported that the marks "for the most part were shrunk into the body." Henry Corbin, a young man from Warwickshire who was not a minister or magistrate, was pressed to interrogate her, and at last, surely hoping to end her torture, the terrified woman confessed she was a witch. 
17th-century merchantman cross section.
The capstan is the post between the first and second masts.
The crew begged the captain to execute Mrs. Lee, but he retreated to his cabin in the roundhouse. They pressed him again, and he said to do what they would, and went back to his cabin. The crew then hanged her, and “when life was extinct,” said the record, they tossed her body in the sea. Was Mrs. Lee’s death from strangling? She was petite, and probably not heavy enough to fall in the noose and break her neck. She had no friends to pull on her feet to hasten her end.  

One might wonder what became of Mary Lee’s possessions, building supplies, furniture, and a year’s worth of foodstuffs to get started in her Virginia plantation life. John Bosworth obviously had no control over his seamen, and feared mutiny. The Charity’s crew may have divided Mrs. Lee’s goods amongst themselves and sold them at the port, or pitched them overboard with her body.

Ann Hibbins

In 1656, Richard Bellingham, an MP in Lincolnshire before he emigrated to New England, a magistrate in Boston, as well as Massachusetts Bay Colony’s former governor and now deputy governor, was strangely silent regarding the witch trial of his sister, Mrs. Ann Hibbins. 

Ann’s husband, William Hibbins, was a merchant and magistrate, and the Bay Colony’s agent in England for two years. Boston’s First Church of Christ (Puritan) censured Ann in 1641 after a dispute with church members, but it seems that William Hibbins’ position and money were enough to protect her from other charges or punishment. He lost £500 (about £35,000-40,000 in today’s value) in a bad investment in 1654, and died thereafter. Apparently, Mrs. Hibbins, after losing her lifestyle of financial ease and social status, became sarcastic and bitter in her relationships.

But now, aged about 51, because of her “censorious, bitter spirit, always quarreling with her neighbors,” she was brought to the Court of Assistants on a charge of witchcraft. As it was done in England, Mrs. Hibbins’ body was searched for witches’ teats, but none were found. Nor were there any puppets or images in her belongings which might have served as “familiars” for evil spirits. The jury condemned her, but the magistrates set the conviction aside.

But the Bostonians wanted her death, and the General Court tried her for witchcraft. Even the Boston First Church ministers, John Wilson and John Norton, supported Mrs. Hibbins. Rev. Norton was heard to say that she “unhappily guessed that two of her persecutors, whom she saw talking in the street, were talking of her, which cost her her life.” Vocalizing her hunch, which turned out to be true, seemed like paranormal knowledge she’d gained from an evil spirit.

After her conviction, Mrs. Hibbins wrote a will for her three adult sons by her first marriage, who were living in England. The appraisal of her estate was about £320 (£25,000+ in today’s value), so she was not destitute.

Edward Hutchinson (Anne Hutchinson's eldest son), one of her will’s executors, wrote that her will and her speech were quite reasonable and there was no evidence against her. There were several other influential members of the Boston church and courts who supported Hibbins. It seemed that the ministers, the magistrates, and leading men of Boston society were on her side.

Ann Hibbins was hanged not on
a tree, but on a gallows outside
the fortified gate to Boston,
the same gallows on which
Mary Dyer was hanged in 1660.

The General Court records for May 14, 1656 show that:
“The magistrates not receiving the verdict of the jury in Mrs. Hibbins her case, having been on trial for witchcraft, it fell… to the General Court [a superior court, in today’s terms]. Mrs. Ann Hibbins was called forth, appeared at the bar; the indictment against her was read, to which she answered not guilty, and was willing to be tried by God and this Court. The evidences against her were read, the parties witnessing being present, her answers considered on; and the whole Court being met together, by their vote determined that Mrs. Ann Hibbins is guilty of witchcraft, according to the bill of indictment found against her by the jury of life and death.” 

Governor John Endecott delivered her sentence, that Ann Hibbins be hanged. She was executed a month later, on June 17. There aren’t any records of Deputy Governor Bellingham’s participation or whereabouts in the prosecution and execution of his sister. But he was certainly available to brutally accost the first Quaker missionaries who came to New England a year later.

What did Mary Lee and Ann Hibbins have in common?
1. They were both widows without the protection of a husband, though Hibbins should have had the assistance of her powerful brother.
2. They were accused of being witches by superstitious people. They were both interrogated, and strip-searched for witch marks. Mrs. Lee was subjected to physical agony and sleep deprivation to make her confess. Mrs. Hibbins may have escaped the worst of the physical ordeals—but we don’t know for sure.
3. The leaders of their time (Captain Bosworth of the Charity; ministers and magistrates of Boston) seemed more worried about what people thought of them, than their own integrity and stance for justice, against the false accusations and executions of innocent women.
4. They were both caught up in a culture of Puritan zeal. Mrs. Lee was leaving the wreckage of an England nearly destroyed by civil war and its aftermath. Mrs. Hibbins lived in a fanatical theocracy that was financially and politically unstable. The General Court under Governor Endecott’s rule had a regular habit of accusing and brutally punishing, before they hurriedly and after the fact, invented and passed a law for the “crime.”
For a case of an innocent witch executed for "surfing" on an English river, click HERE

Sources: Virginia Carolorum: the Colony Under the Rule of Charles the First, by Edward Duffield Neill (pub 1886, out of copyright), Massachusetts Archives; History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay  by Thomas Hutchinson 

Christy K Robinson is author of these books (click the colored title):
Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)

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