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‘Mary’s Crime’
2: These Detestable Slaves of The Devill: A Concise Guide to Witchcraft in Colonial Virginia, by Carson O. Hudson Jr.
© 2023 James LaFond
The childish and insane accusations of witchcraft in Virginia, to include three ships bound for the Chesapeake Bay, [two for Maryland] with one case heard in a Jamestown Admiralty Court, include charges of being “hagridden.” That a local woman could slip through a keyhole and make a man fly up and down the sea coast, were offered in such sincerity, that one wonders if the accusers were consuming some mind altering fungi, or bed that had grown a toxic mold.
Hudson has done an in depth study of these events chronologically, but not socially. I will do a social study of these events. In the first section propertied people, mostly married couples, will be examined, in regards to the nature of witchcraft accusations among the class of people who owned other humans.
In the second section we will look at people of lower status, unmarried women without a husband or sons to protect them and a single freeman.
Planters Accused of Witchcraft
Any married woman in 1600s Virginia was among the elite. However, a wife was the property of her husband and charges against her would fall on him likewise, as her guardian. There, were, in Virginia, very few single women, as male youths and men vastly outnumbered them in the labor force. Women sold into Virginia were likely to be bought as a wife.
-1. 1626: Joan Wright, midwife, Wife of John, accused, tried and acquitted of witchcraft, evidenced by her left hand and gift for predicting that people and animals in poor health might die.
-2. 1641: Mrs. George Barker and husband sued Jane Rookens for calling her a witch. The court found for the Barkers and Jane’s husband William had to pay the damages.
-3. 1657: Unmarried woman Barbara Wingbrough was tried and acquitted of witchcraft charges leveled by a nutty Puritan drunk. In many respects, a husband, or son, in early plantation society, was the family lawyer.
-4. 1659: Mistress Robinson was slandered as a witch, and her chief accuser, Ann Godby, was found guilty, causing her husband Thomas to pay damages. This inspired an act passed in 1662, protecting husbands from being sued due to their wives “babbling” and “gossip mongering.”
-5. 1671: Hannah, wife of captain Christopher Neal was accused, and investigated, with the bringer of charges recanting and apologizing for being mistaken.
-6. 1675: Captain William Carver, accused the wife of Lazarus Jenkins of witchcraft, likely in order to get property, as he had been involved in disputes with Jenkins. Jane was acquitted. A year later carver would join rebels alongside Nathaniel Bacon and be hung for his crimes.
-7. 1679: Alice Cartwrite, wife of Thomas, was tried and acquitted.
-8. 1694: Phyllis Money, apparently a widow with grown children, was accused by a man of witchcraft [more likely of the crime of spurned advanced] and acquitted. However, her lawsuit went nowhere.
-9. 1695: Henry Dunkin, son in law of Phyllis Money, accused his wife and her daughter of having sex with the devil. She sued and was avoided 40 pounds.
-10. 1695: a Nell Cane was rumored to have ridden people by night. No charges or investigation.
-11. 1695: William Morris [I kid you not] as awarded 500 pounds of tobacco from Mrs. Ann Ball for gossiping that his wife Eleanor was a witch.
-12. John and Anne Byrd were accused of being witches and riding two men, who despite recanting and suggesting they might have dreamed it all, were not assigned damages in the law suit put forth by the Byrds. This points to possible drug use.
-13. 1697 to 1706: Grace Sherwood, wife of a planter, was involved in law suits against folk who named her a witch. This would result in a trial in which she was found guilty based on some kind of mole on her body. She was jailed, not beaten, an apparently released in some unrecorded fashion. She would live to be an old woman and leave property to her three sons. This is the only case of a married woman of the upper class being tried and found guilty, with the verdict set aside.
-14. 1706: Mary Rookes, over the provincial line in North Carolina, was awarded 6 shillings for being defamed as a witch. There is no indication as to her social status or having a husband. However, a person who was not literate, could not file in court. Perhaps Mary was a widow with a son or even a self sufficient woman.
Of 14 Accused
2 women of no known status were accused by gossip but not tried. I would suspect these of being widows, as single women did not set up in plantation Virginia, but became single do to spousal morality.
5 trials
1trial of a single ordinary woman resulted in acquittal
1 of the 4 women of the propertied class was tried, convicted, and then not punished.
The balance of the legal activity merely amounted to scandalous civil suits for damages.
Lower Order Folk Accused of Witchcraft
This will include all single people being transported. Additionally, two women, one with child also accused, that might have been propertied, are included here for balance. We have a total of four social unknowns, that probably fall into a temporary widow slot, and were most likely rescued from charges by a man willing to marry them. Husbands lost wives at a rate that post modern people would find astonishing.
-1. 1634: unknown un named woman tossed over board for witchcraft on the Ark, as described by Father Andrew White
-2. 1654: Katherine Grady “a passenger” meaning a sold person or transported felon was hung for witchcraft after a tempest off the coast of Virginia by a Captain Bennett
-3. 1656: William Harding, apparently a freeman, as he was tried by a jury of 24 freeholders, found guilty, based on charged brought by a Reverend David Lindsey. He was beaten at the post with “ten stripes,” “forever to eb banished from this Country,” and made to pay the court charges. Now, being banished meant he had two months to get to Carolina or Maryland, or plunge into indian country. In either povince, without freedom documents, he could be taken and sold for a vagabond.
-4. 1659: Captain Edward Prescott, of the Sarah Artch, allowed his crew to hang Elizabeth Richardson in order to end a storm. The practice of gross sacrificial witchcraft by his crew, was turned into a charge against Elizabeth. Prescott was brought before a Maryland court, where no witnesses appeared against him and was released.
-5. 1665: Alice Stephens was tried “not acquitted” and disappears from legal records, probably with a new last name.
-6. 1668: An unknown woman and her child were vindicated at the court in Jamestown, when an acusor asked pardon for the slander.
7. 1730: Mary, a servant of John Samford, a woman without even a last name was accused of witchcraft, tried, convicted, carried to “the Common Whipping post, and give her thirty nine lashes on her bare back well laid on.”
There you have it, of 7 single women, servants and a freeman: 3 were killed, 2 were beaten [one banished and the other returned to servitude.] Two were whisked off the historic record, hopefully to some better station in life.
To support Plantation America research and examine annotated and summarized primary source texts go to:
‘In Such Wilde Partes’
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