Tuesday, March 6, 2012

John Alden's Account of His Witch Trial Examination

John Alden Jr. accused by a child
John Alden Jr. was the son of Mayflower pilgrim John Alden and a merchant from Boston who suddenly found himself caught up in the Salem Witch Trials when he was accused of witchcraft by a local child during a business trip to Salem in May of 1692.

After he was accused, police officials brought Alden to the Salem court for questioning. Alden wrote his own account of this examination and the events of the courtroom that day, during which he suggested the afflicted girls at the center of the hysteria, whom he referred to as “wenches,” were merely pretending to be bewitched and also said they were being prompted by a man standing behind them to name Alden as a witch:

"Those Wenches being present, who plaid their jugling tricks,
falling down, crying out, and staring in Peoples Faces; the Magi-
strates demanded of them several times, who it was of all the People
in the Room that hurt them? one of these Accusers pointed several
times at one Captain Hill , there present, but spake nothing; the
same Accuser had a Man standing at her back to hold her up; he
stooped down to her Ear, then she cried out, Aldin , Aldin afflicted
her; one of the Magistrates asked her if she had ever seen Aldin,
she answered no, he asked her how she knew it was Aldin ? She
said, the Man told her so."

Although the girls had never met Alden before and had never seen him, his name was not unfamiliar to them thanks to several rumors around town that Alden was secretly supplying the French military and Wabanaki Indians with ammunition and supplies during the French and Indian Wars. As some of the afflicted girls lost their parents in this war, many historians speculate that since the girls believed Alden may have profited off of a war that killed their parents, it made him a potential target. This theory is supported by the fact that during the examination, one of the girls outright accuses Alden of selling supplies to the Indians as well as fathering illegitimate children with Indian women:

“Then all were ordered to go down into the Street, where a Ring
was made; and the same Accuser cried out, “there stands Aldin , a
bold fellow with his Hat on before the Judges, he sells Powder and
Shot to the Indians and French, and lies with the Indian Squaes,
and has Indian Papooses.”

Realizing the danger he was in, Alden held no hope for a fair trial and sought other means of escaping his fate. After being held in a Boston jail for over four months, Alden managed to escape the jail in September with the help of some of his friends and fled immediately for New York where several other accused witches were hiding out.

It wasn't until the witch trial hysteria began to die down that winter that Alden declared "the public had reclaimed the use of its reason” and decided to go back to Salem and post bail. He finally appeared in court on April 25, after the hangings had stopped, and his case was dismissed.

Sources:

University of Virginia; Important Person in the Salem Court Records
http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/people?group.num=all&mbio.num=mb45

University of Virginia; Salem Witch Trial; John Alden
http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/texts/tei/BoySal1R?div_id=n6&term=&name=lewmer

"The Salem Witch Trials”; Lori Lee Wilson; 1997

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