Thaumatographia Pneumatica

Cotton Mather

The Ninth Example

Part I

Hoec ipse miserrima vidi.
[These things these wretched eyes beheld.]

Four children of John Goodwin, in Boston, which had enjoyed a religious education, and answered it with a towardly ingenuity--children, indeed, of an exemplary temper and carriage, and an example to all about then for piety, honesty, and industry--were, in the year 1868, arrested by a very stupendous witchcraft.

The eldest of the children--a daughter of about thirteen years old--saw cause to examine the laundress, the daughter of a scandalous Irish woman in the neighborhood, about some linen that was missing, and the woman bestowed very bad language on the child, in her daughter's defense, [after which] the child was immediately taken with odd fits that carried in them something diabolical.

It was not long before one of her sisters, with two of her brothers, were horribly taken with the like fits, which the most experienced physicians pronounced extraordinary and preternatural: One thing that the more confirmed them in this opinion was that all the children were tormented [in] the same part of their bodies, at the same time, tho' their pains flew like swift lightning from one part unto another, and they were kept so far asunder that they neither saw nor heard one another's complaints. At 9 or 10 a-clock at night they had a release from their miseries and slept all night pretty comfortably. But when the day came, they were most miserably handled.

Sometimes they were deaf, sometimes dumb, sometimes blind, and often all this at once. Their tongues would be drawn down their throats and then pulled out upon their chins to a prodigious length. Their mouths were forc'd open to such a wideness that their jaws went out of joint, and anon clap together again with a force like that of a spring lock, and the like would happen to their shoulder blades and their elbows and hand wrists and several of their joints. They would lie in a benumbed condition and be drawn together like those that are ty'd neck and heels, and presently be stretched out--yea, drawn back enormously. They made piteous outcries that they were cut with knives and struck with blows, and the plain prints of the wounds were seen upon them. Their necks would be broken so that their neckbone would seem dissolved unto them that felt after it, and yet, on the sudden, it would become again so stiff that there was no stirring of their heads. Yea, their heads would be twisted almost round, and if the main force of their friends at any time obstructed a dangerous motion which them seemed upon, they would roar exceedingly. And when devotions were performed with them, their hearing was utterly taken from them.

[When] the ministers of Boston and Charlestown, [kept] a day of prayer with fasting, on this occasion, at the troubled house, the youngest of the four children was immediately, happily, finally delivered from all its trouble. But the magistrates, being awakened by the noise of these grievous and horrid occurrences, examined the person who was under the suspicion of having employed these troublesome daemons, and she gave such a wretched account of herself that she was committed unto the [jailer's] custody.

It was not long before this woman (whose name was Glover) was brought upon her trial, but then the court could have no answers from her but in the Irish, which was her native language, although she understood English very well and had accustomed her whole family to none but English in her former conversation. When she pleaded to her indictment, it was with owning and bragging rather than denial of her guilt. And the interpreters, by whom the communication between the bench and the barr was managed, were made sensible that a spell had been laid by another witch on this to prevent her telling tales by confining her to a language which 'twas hoped nobody would understand.

The woman's house being searched, several images (or poppets) or babies made of rags and stuffed with goats' hair were thence produced, and the vile woman confessed that her way to torment the objects of her malice was by wetting her finger with spittle and stroaking [the] little images.

The abused children were then present in the court [and] the woman kept stooping and shrinking as one that was almost prest unto death with a mighty weight upon her. But, one of the images being brought unto her, she oddly and swiftly started up and snatched it into her hand, but she had no sooner snatched it than one of the children fell into sad fits before the whole assembly. The judges had their just apprehension at this, and carefully causing a repition of the experiment, they still found the same event of it, tho' the children saw not when the hand of the witch was laid upon the images.

They asked her "whether she had any to stand by her?" She replied she had and, looking very pertly into the air, she added, "No, he's gone!" and then she acknowledged that she had one, who was her prince, with whom she mentioned I know not what communion. For which cause, the night after, she was heard expostulating with a devil for his thus deserting her, telling him that because he had served her so basely and falsely, she had confessed all.

However, to make all clear, the court appointed five or six physicians to examine her very strictly, whether she was no way crazed in her intellectuals. Divers hours did they spend with her, and in all that while, no discourse came from her but what was agreeable, particularly when they asked her what she thought of her soul she replied, "You ask me a very solemn question and I cannot tell what to say to it." She profest herself a Roman Catholic and could recite her Pater-noster in Latin very readily, but there was one clause or two very hard for her, whereof she said she could not repeat if she "might have all the world."

In the upshot, the doctors returned her compos mentis and sentence of death was passed upon her. Divers days past between her being arraigned and condemned and in this time one Hughes testified that her neighbor (called Howen), who was cruelly bewitched unto death about six years before, laid her death to the charge of this woman and bid her (the said Hughes) to remember this, for within six years their would be occasion to mention it.

One of Hughes' children was presently taken ill in the same woeful manner that Goodwin's was, and particularly the boy, in the night, cried out that a black person with a blue cap in the room tortured him and that they tried with their hand in the bed for to pull out his bowels.

The mother of the boy went unto Glover the day following and asked her why she tortured the poor lad at such a rate. Glover answered, "Because of the wrong [I] had received from [you]" and boasted that she had come at him as a black person with a blue cap and, with her hand in the bed, would have pulled his bowels out, but could not. Hughes denied that she had wronged her, and Glover, then desiring to see the boy, wished him well, upon which he had no more of his indispositions.