Monday, February 6, 2012

The Accused Witches of Gloucester

A lithograph of Gloucester, circa 1836
Not all of the accused witches of the Salem Witch Trials actually lived in Salem. A number of the accused also came from nearby towns such as Salisbury, Ipswich, Andover, Topsfield and Gloucester.

Andover and Gloucester had more accused witches than any other towns outside of Salem. A total of nine Gloucester women were accused of witchcraft during the hysteria of 1692: Esther Elwell, Margaret Prince, Elizabeth Dicer, Joan Penney, Phoebe Day, Mary Rowe, Rachel Vinson, Abigail Rowe and Rebecca Dike. 

Not much is known about these cases since many of the records have been lost. What we do know is that the accusations began in September of 1692, when Gloucester resident Ebenezer Babson asked some of the afflicted Salem village girls to visit his mother, Eleanor, who was complaining of spectral visions of Indians and French soldiers. Upon visiting Eleanor, the girls accused Margaret Prince and Elizabeth Dicer of bewitching her. Around the same time, four more women were accused: Mary Rowe, Phoebe Day and Rachel Vinson, although it is not known who accused them, and Joan Penney, who was accused by Zebulon Hill, a former Gloucester resident who had recently moved to Salem town.

Shortly after, in October or November, James Stevens, a deacon of the local church and lieutenant in the militia, sent for the afflicted girls of Salem village to name the witch he believed was bewitching his sister Mary Fitch, wife of John Fitch. The girls named Rebecca Dike, Esther Elwell and Abigail Rowe.

It's interesting to note that, much like the accused of Salem, the accused women of Gloucester were also either prominent, wealthy citizens or trouble-makers or relatives of other accused witches.

The Accused:

Esther Elwell (Elwell's witchcraft case was featured on an episode of the popular NBC genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? after actress Sarah Jessica Parker discovered she is descended from Elwell); her maiden name was Dutch and she was from a prominent family that lived at the Harbor in an area known as Dutch's Slough. She later married a wealthy man named Samuel Elwell. Her mother, Ruth Dutch, had also once been accused of witchcraft, although it is not known when.

Rebecca Dike: her maiden name was Dolliver and she married a man named Richard Dike who held a large amount of land in Gloucester. Rebecca was neighbors with the in-laws of the Stevens family, the Eveleths, and had many problems with them.

Abigail Rowe was the 15-year-old daughter of Hugh and Mary Prince Rowe of Little Good Harbor. The family had a large amount of land in the Little Good Harbor area. Abigail's mother and her grandmother, Margaret Prince, were also accused. 

Petition from the accused held in Ipswich
Mary Prince Rowe was the mother of Abigail Rowe and daughter of Margaret Prince. She was held at a jail in Ipswich, along with Elizabeth Dicer and Joan Penney. Their names appear on an undated petition asking to be released on bail until their trial.

Margaret Prince was the grandmother of Abigail Rowe and mother of Mary Prince Rowe. She was known for being troublesome and having a sharp tongue.

Rachel Vinson was the widow of William Vinson who's first wife had also been accused of witchcraft along with Ruth Dutch.

Phoebe Day's maiden name was Wildes and she was related to Sarah Wildes, of Topsfield, who was hanged for witchcraft on July 19, 1692 in Salem.

Elizabeth Dicer had been fined thirteen times in the past for calling Mary English's mother a “black-mouthed witch and a thief.”
 
Joan Penney had numerous squabbles with neighbors over land and had also been brought to court a number of times for such crimes as wearing a silk scarf and “breach of sabbath” after she carried bushels of corn on her way to church.

Fortunately for the accused, it appears that these cases never went to trial because the use of spectral evidence was banned in October of 1692, giving prosecutors little evidence to go on, and the special court set up to hear the Salem Witchcraft cases was disbanded. In November, public officials set up the Superior Court of Judicature to hear the remaining witchcraft cases but between January and May of 1693, most of the accused were released due to a lack of evidence or tried and found not guilty.

Sources:

"The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England"; Carol F. Karlsen; 1998

"The Salem Witch Trials: a Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege”; Marilynne K. Roach; 2004

"The Geography and Genealogy of Gloucester Witchcraft"; Jedediah Drolet:  http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/saxon-salem/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=salem/texts/bios.xml&style=salem/xsl/dynaxml.xsl&chunk.id=b44&clear-stylesheet-cache=yes

 

University of Virginia; Salem Witch Trials; Massachusetts Archives: Superior Court of Judicature Witchcraft Trials (January - May 1693), Cases Heard: http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/archives/SCJ.xml

 

Wicked Local: Sarah Jessica Parker Traces Her Roots Back to Gloucester, Salem Witch Trials: http://www.wickedlocal.com/gloucester/newsnow/x1336914261/Sarah-Jessica-Parker-traces-her-roots-back-to-Gloucester-Salem-Witch-Trials#axzz1lR4QXWye

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