A Declaration on Witchcraft in New England

Sir William Phips (16--)

We judge that, in the prosecution of these and all such witchcrafts, there is a need of a vey critical and exquisite caution, lest by too much credulity for things received only upon the devil's authority, there be a door opened for a long train of miserable consequences, and Satan get an advantage over us, for we should not be ignorant of his devices.

As in complaints upon witchcrafts, there may be matters of enquiry which do not amount unto matters of presumption, and there may be matters of presumption which yet may not be reckoned matters of conviction. So, 'tis necessary that all proceedings thereabout be managed with an exceeding tenderness towards those that may be complained of, especially if they have been persons formerly of an unblemished reputation.

When the first enquiry is made into the circumstances of such as may lie under any just suspicion of witchcraft, we would wish that there be admitted as little as is possible of such noise, company, and openness as may too hastily expose them that are examined, and that there may be nothing used as a test for the trial of the suspected, the lawfulness whereof may be doubted among the people of God; but that the directions given by such judicious writers as Perkins and Bernard be consulted in such a case.

Presumptions, whereupon persons may be committed -- and, much more, convictions whereupon persons may be condemned as guilty of witchcrafts -- ought certainly to be more considerable than barely the accused person's being represented by a spectre to the afflicted, inasmuch as it is an undoubted and notorious thing that a daemon may, by God's permission, appear to ill purpose in the shape of an innocent -- yea, a virtuous man. Nor can we esteem alterations made in the sufferers by a look or touch of the accused to be an infallible evidence of guilt, but frequently liable to be abused by the devil's legerdemains.

We know not whether some remarkable affronts given to the devils, by our disbelieving of those testimonies whose whole force and strength is from them alone, may not put a period unto the progress of a direful calamity begun upon us, in the accusation of some many persons, whereof, we hope, some are yet clear from the great transgression laid unto their charge.