Witches Brew: Part Two

Witches Rakes and RoguesAlice Lake of Dorchester became the second person tried and executed in Boston as a witch. While few details of her offenses survive – she was executed circa 1650 – she had two potent strikes against her: she had committed fornication prior to marriage, and she was reputed to have killed an infant she was carrying.

In 1673, Ann Martin Edmonds, a healer from Lynn with Boston associations, appeared before the Court of Assistants on witchcraft charges, but here the script changes. After hearing the evidence, the Court dismissed the case against Mrs. Edmonds and instead tried her accusers, Samuel and Sarah Bennett of Boston. Ann and her husband, William, were the chief witnesses against the Bennetts; the Court of Assistants ended up fining the Bennetts and ordered them to reimburse the Edmondses for their court expenses.

One of Boston’s most elusive witch suspects is known only as “Mrs. D––.” The English bookseller John Dunton is the source for this story, and because he borrowed so liberally from earlier printed sources, we may never be sure who Mrs. D–– was, or if she even existed. Nevertheless, Dunton gave a vivid account of a woman who played some remarkable tricks and possessed “a bad face, and a worse tongue; and has the report of a Witch”:

Whether she be one or no, I know not, but she has ignorance and malice enough to make her one. And indeed she has done very odd things, but hitherto such as are rather strange than hurtful; yea, some of them are pretty and pleasing; but such as I think cannot be done without the help of the Devil – as for instance, she will take nine sticks, and lay them across, and by mumbling a few words, make them all stand up on end like a pair of nine-pins. But she best have a care, for they that use the Devil’s help to make sport, may quickly come to do mischief. I have been told by some, that she has actually indentured with the Devil; and that he is to do what she would have him for a time, and afterwards he is to have her soul in exchange! What pains poor wretches take to make sure of Hell!

The series concludes here.

Adapted from Witches, Rakes and Rogues: True Stories of Scam, Scandal, Murder, and Mayhem in Boston, 1630–1775.

About D. Brenton Simons

Currently piloting a groundbreaking $55 million “Connecting Families, Advancing History” capital campaign for NEHGS, Brenton Simons has led the Society to major growth in its national services and scope and to its pivotal role in the popular expansion of the genealogical field in America. A staff member since 1993 and President and CEO since 2005, he has developed several of the organization’s most popular services, including its website, member magazine, and special publications imprint. In addition, he is the author of several books, including “Boston Beheld: Antique Town and Country Views” and “Witches, Rakes, and Rogues: True Stories of Scam, Scandal, Murder and Mayhem, 1620-1775,” winner of the 2006 Award of Merit from the Association for State and Local History. Most recently he produced with Atlantic Media a short film on NEHGS, “A Farseeing Vision,” recipient of the 2011 Silver Telly Award. His genealogical articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, The American Genealogist, The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine and elsewhere. A graduate of Boston University, he is a member of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, the American Antiquarian Society, the Club of Odd Volumes, the Society of the Cincinnati, and is a fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

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