The trial I found most interesting was against Mary Poole, who was accused of grand larceny and whose trial took place on the 13th of December, 1699. Although she was on trail for stealing “Seven Pounds Ten Shillings in Monies Numbred,” accusations of witchcraft were factored into her trial as evidence, which seems sort of unusual (Old Bailey).
The defendant was Mary Poole, “a Gypsie, of the Parish of St. Giles in the Fields,” and she was accused of stealing money from Richard Walburton (OB). Walburton claimed that “She showed him some Juggling Tricks, till she had Juggled away his Money” and that she distracted him by telling him that the previous owners of his house had hidden valuables in the backyard (OB). While he went to look for this treasure, Mary Poole escaped with his money.
Two witnesses provided further testimony as evidence of Poole’s thievery. One witness claimed that he saw the defendant talking to his daughter in court and his daughter had money laying on the counter. Afraid Poole would take it, he went and picked it up, but once he had done so, “the Prisoner seeing that, desired him to cross her hand with a piece of Silver” (OB). He agreed, and once the money was gone, he was “put … in such a Consternation, that he had not power to cry out or stop her, but let her go away with the Money” (OB). No explanation is given as to why this particular witness agreed to “cross her hand with a piece of silver” or why, considering she was in court at the time, he was powerless to stop her, but the powerlessness to resist her request seems consistent with the powerlessness others claimed to have in the face of witches around the same time. Even though she was not yet accused of being a witch, this ability to make men powerless alluded to witchcraft. For example, in the Salem witch trial of Susanna Martin seven years earlier in the US, a man named Bernard Peache testified that Martin had “took hold of his Deponents Feet, and drawing his Body up into an Heap, she lay upon him near Two Hours; in all which time he could neither speak nor stirr” (Burr, 231). Poole, like the accused witch Susanna Martin, was believed to possess the power to sway and control men, setting up the witchcraft accusation that would follow. This seems to suggest that people who believed in witchcraft during the Enlightenment believed that witches had the power to take complete control over other people.
Following the first gentleman’s accusation, a second unnamed gentleman recalled that seven years before, when he was riding his horse, Poole chased him and was approaching faster than his horse could move. Attempting to distance himself from her, he turned back and attempted to whip her and rode away as fast as he could. He didn’t get far, however, before his horse fell and she overtook him (OB). At this point “he said, he thought she was a Witch, and had bewitched him and his Horse” (OB). It is worth noting that the witness that accused her of witchcraft did not mention anything at all about Poole’s alleged thievery. The fact that the accusation of witchcraft against her was deemed significant enough to occupy nearly 1/3 of the record of the trial seems to imply that it may have factored heavily into the final verdict, and was at least as significant as evidence concerning the crime she was actually being accused of.
Poole’s alleged manipulation of the gentleman’s horse seems reminiscent of Martin’s alleged manipulation of John Allen’s oxen, where it was claimed Martin caused the oxen to flee from the owner, swim to the sea and drown (Burr, 231). Apparently, it was believed that witches not only had power over men, but over animals as well.
Following the witness’s account of her witchcraft, it is stated that “divers other People … said they had been Juggled out of their Money by her” (OB). Poole had little to no defense. Having “little to say for her self, the Jury found her Guilty” of grand larceny.
What makes this trial interesting is the way that the evidence of one crime (witchcraft) was used as compelling enough evidence to get Poole convicted of a seemingly unrelated crime: larceny. What this seems to indicate is that during the Enlightenment, accusations of witchcraft were not only strong enough to convict people of the crime of witchcraft (allowing people enact forms of social revenge), but it was also strong enough of an accusation that it constituted evidence in cases unrelated to witchcraft and could therefore be used to make the prosecution’s case stronger in the absence of concrete evidence related to the crime itself. Presumably, the logic was that if a person was a witch, they would be committing other crimes as well. Although it may seem ridiculous in our time, it seems likely that accusations of witchcraft held such sway in both Salem, Massachusetts and during trials at Old Bailey because “belief in the supernatural” was seen as affirmed by “the Book of God’s Word and the Book of God’s Works” (Ankerloo, et al.). At this time denying the existence of witchcraft was thought to be sacrilegious. Because of this and the sway of religion in both America and England, claims of witchcraft were taken seriously in courts of law, unfortunately so for Mary Poole, who may have gone free had witchcraft not been presented as evidence against her and alluded to by the first witness.
Proceedings of the Old Bailey: Mary Poole, Larceny: http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t16991213a-2&div=t16991213a-2&terms=witch#highlight
Ankarloo, Bengt, and Stuart Clark. Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Vol. 5. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1999.
Burr, George Lincoln. Narrative of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706,. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1914.