Thaumatographia Pneumatica

Cotton Mather

The Seventh Example

Mr. Philip Smith, aged about fifty years -- a son of eminently virtuous parents; a deacon of a church in Hadley; a member of the General Court; a justice in the country court; a select man for the affairs of the town; a lieutenant of the troop; and, which crowns all, a man for devotion, sanctity, gravity, and all that was honest, exceeding exemplary -- was, in the winter of the year 1864, murdered with a hideous witchcraft, that filled all those parts of New England with astonishment.

He was, by his office, concerned about relieving the indigences of a wretched woman in the town, who, being dissatisfied at some of his just cares about her, expressed herself unto him in such a manner that he declared himself thenceforward apprehensive of receiving mischief at her hands.

About the beginning of January he began to be very valetudinarious, laboring under pains that seemed Ischiatick. The bystanders could now see in him one ripening apace for another world, and filled with grace and joy to a high degree. He showed such weanedness from, and weariness of, the world that he knew not (he said) whether he might pray for his continuance here, and such assurance he had of the Divine love unto him that in raptures he would cry out, "Lord, stay thy hand! It is enough! It is more than thy frail servant can bear!" But in the midst of these things he still uttered a hard suspicion that the ill woman who had threatened him had made impressions with enchantments upon him.

While he remained yet of sound mind, he very sedately, but very solemnly, charged his brother to look well after him. Though, he said, he now understood himself, yet he knew not how he might be. "But be sure," said he, "to have a care of me, for you shall see strange things. There shall be wonder in Hadley! I shall not be dead when 'tis thought I am!" His pressed this charge over and over, and afterwards became delirious, upon which he had a speech incessant and voluble and (as was judged) in various languages.

In his distresses he exclaimed much upon the woman aforesaid, and others, as being seen by him in the room, and there was divers times, both in that room and over the whole house, a strong smell of something like musk which once particularly so scented an apple roasting at the fire that it forced them to throw it away.

Some of the young men in the town, being out of their wits at the strange calamities thus upon one of their most beloved neighbors, went three of four times to give disturbance unto the woman thus complained of, and all the while they were disturbing of her, he was at ease and slept as a weary man. Yea, these were the only times that they perceived him to take any sleep in all his illness.

Gally pots of medicines, provided for the sick man, were unaccountably emptied; audible scratchings were made about the bed, when his hands and feet lay wholly still and were held by others. They beheld fire sometimes on the bed, and when the beholders began to discourse of it, it vanished away. Divers people actually felt something often stir in the bed, at a considerable distance from the man -- it seemed as big as a cat, but they could never grasp it. Several trying to lean on the bed's head, though the sick man lay wholly still, the bed would shake so as to knock their heads uncomfortably. A very strong man could not lift the sick man to make him lie more easily, though he applied his utmost strength to it, and yet he could go presently and lift a bed-sted and a bed, and a man lying on it, without any strain to himself at all.

Mr. Smith dies. The jury that viewed his corpse found a swelling on one breast, his privates wounded or burned, his back full of bruises, and several holes that seemed made with awls. After the opinion of all had pronounced him dead, his countenance continued as lively as if he had been alive -- his eyes closed as if in a slumber and his nether jaw not falling down.

Thus he remained from Saturday morning about sunrise 'til Sabbath-day in the afternoon, when those who took him out of the bed found him still warm, though the season was as cold as had almost been known in any age, and a New England winter does not want for cold. On the night following, his countenance was yet fresh as before, but on Monday morning they found the face extremely tumified and discolored. It was black and blue and fresh blood seemed running down his cheek upon the hairs. Divers noises were also heard in the room where the corpse lay, as the clattering of chairs and stools, whereof no account could be given. This was the end of so good a man.

And I could, with unquestionable evidence, relate the tragical deaths of several good men in this land, attended with such preternatural circumstances, which have loudly called upon us all to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.