Superstition and Witchcraft

Jane Kent’s stubborn bargaining situation with Mr. Chamblet came at a bad time.

Clearly hankering for some free bacon, Jane attempted to make a deal with a Mr. Chamblet for two pigs. However, she refused to pay him the money up front, so Chamblet refused to deliver her swine. Apparently the pigs were also bewitched by Jane, according to this account. When Jane did not get her pigs for free, Mr. Chamblet noticed a while after that his daughter, Elizabeth, fell ill. Bodily swelling and discoloration of the skin was observed, and she later died. After this, Chamblet’s wife was said to have been bewitched, and to find a cure, Chamblet visited the local doctor. He was advised to take “a quart of his wives (sic) water” (Old Bailey) –  which I gather refers to urine – her fingernails, and some of her hair. He would boil all of these ingredients together (gross). When he did this, the wife allegedly heard Jane Kent’s voice screaming outside the house. The next day, Jane Kent was swollen and bloated. An outside party also observed Jane Kent and noticed a teat on her back and strange holes behind her ears. A carriage driver refused to carry her because his carriage flipped over. Jane gave evidence that she was a good woman and went to church, and the Jury ultimately found her not guilty.

Obviously Jane Kent took no part in Elizabeth’s disease and death. But the fact that she and Chamblet had a bad exchange soon before Elizabeth’s death qualified her to be a witch. Chamblet clearly had a great disliking for Jane, so it was easy for him to instantly put the blame on her for his daughter’s sickness. In a time where witchcraft accusations were easily believed, Chamblet found a sweet opportunity to screw someone over for a minor inconvenience and to enact excess punishment for something she didn’t do to reciprocate for his anguish over his daughter’s death. The outside parties that were involved – the woman and the coach – serve as examples of people who would be better off supporting the accuser than sympathizing with the accused. If they would have taken Jane’s side, then they would be greatly subjected to persecutions against them for being affiliated with or even being a witch.

The Superstition in this society and time dictated the fates of many wrongly persecuted people. Not only was it superstition, however, but stupidity and ignorance of the laws of nature and a misconstruing of religious text. In Ankarloo and Clarke’s Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, it is stated that “witchcraft delusions were, in short, the malady of weak minds. Those believing themselves bewitched or possessed were victims of their own naiveté” (Ankarloo, Clarke 200). People were reveling in the mass belief in the devilish as a way of attempting to confront and control their fears, but hundreds of innocent people’s lives were sacrificed to this foolish endeavor. What has allowed these practices to continue and grow is the acceptance of superstition by higher powers, such as judicial officials and priests and kings. Burr states in his work that “nurtured tenderly through the years [supersitions] have reached that growth which knows no killing frost” (52). This can be applied to Jane Kent’s case because those outside parties who had no choice but to comply with Chamblet’s allegations follow this trend. Superstitions have been so widely accepted for so long by so many that for one or two people to stand up against it would render them helpless at the feet of a superstitious jury.

Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

A True Ghost Story, or Three Nights in a Haunted House and a Brief Sketch of Superstition|magick#highlight


Enough with the Superstitions already!

Richard Derderian

Group #6 Assignment

            For this assignment, I chose to examine the grand larceny trial of Mary Poole from the thirteenth of December, 1699.  In this trial, a Gypsie by the name of Mary Poole was indicted for allegedly stealing seven Pounds ten Shillings from Mr. Richard Walburton on January 12th, 1699.  The details of the case are quite comical.  Mr. Walburton claimed that Poole somehow teleported his money out of his pocket and into her own.  She lied to him and told him that his servants were going to “put him out of his place”, and that if he gave her six-pence, she would make sure he had a good way of living.  She obviously did this as a means of getting him to give her more money, something she does several more times.  Mr. Walburton simply spent all his money to watch something as mind-numbing as juggling.  Another man claimed to have been robbed by Ms. Poole, but was simply the victim of a simple coin trick.  The last of the witnesses claims that she bewitched his horse.  He says this because his horse happened to fall forty yards after he had Whipped Ms. Poole, which naturally, would lead anyone to assume that this simple girl is a witch.  Other than these three main witnesses, there were a number of others that claimed to have been “juggled” out of their money.  Since she had little to say for herself, the Jury found her guilty and she was branded.

            The allegation featured in this trial suggests that people projected much of their own stupidity onto people that were simply more clever than they were.  I don’t want to sound too harsh, but if you get cheated out of your money by a coin trick, you probably deserve it.  These people believed in a sect of witchcraft that remained within the laws of physics.  If juggling is a form of witchcraft, I fear that the word gullible is just not strong enough to describe the complexity of ineptness that the people involved in this trial were suffering from.  As far as connecting this trail to the readings, I found several places where this case could be applied.  From Scaife’s True Ghost Story, I found a quote that is very interesting when it is related to the court system rather than the religious institutions:  “The temples of antiquity, in whose shades and recesses the priests were supposed to do wonders, were prostituted to superstition, the Hebrew race alone keeping its religion pure.”  (Scaife Pg. 45)  I found this interesting and relatable because if you think of this quote as referring to the court system, you can see how the notion of witchcraft had lowered the high standards of justice down to superstition and here-say.  As far as the historical survey from Ankarloo and Clarke, we need look no further than the following to gain a new perspective on the trial I am exploring.  “With confidence rising amongst opinion-makers as to the orderliness and controllability of nature and society, it is no surprise that the wits and literati of post-Restoration England should disparage those mired in ‘superstition’.” (Ankarloo and Clarke Pg. 205)  This quote, referring to the criticism of the Alice Molland witch-trial of 1685, sheds light on the changing opinions regarding the trial process of witches.  I think this quote can be seen as the start of a change of thinking regarding witches.  This quote is saying that we have understand nature, and since we can understand nature we can come to reasonable conclusions about certain acts instead of just assuming that they are supernatural happenings, the likes such acts are always committed by a witch.  This article helps us to understand that there was a change in rationale occurring during this time period and that not everyone was stuck on the supernatural notions we find in examining my trial.

Jane Kent: Kid Killer, Pig Enchanter, or Unlucky Lady

The trial I have chosen to analyze is that of Jane Kent. In 1682 60-year-old Jane Kent was accused by of witchcraft by a man who was “selling” her swine. After the man refused to give Jane 2 pigs, (because she would not pay for them in advance), the man claimed that the pigs were bewitched. He then claimed that his 5-year-old daughter became ill under the enchantment of Jane. Her body became swollen, discolored, and then she died. The girl’s mother then fell ill. Under the instruction of a “doctor,” the husband took some of his wife’s hair and nails, boiled them down, and claims to have heard the scream of Jane Kent, “as if she were murdered.” The day after this “potion concoction” occurred, Jane was said to have been swollen and bloated.  A woman that searched Kent swore to have seen a teat on her back and strange holes behind her ears, and a Coach-man swore that Kent overthrew his coach. In defense, Jane Kent provided evidence that she had “lived honestly, and was a great pains-taker, and that she went to Church” (Jane Kent). Despite the many claims against her, the jury found Kent not guilty.

These allegations against  Kent suggest that people believed witches were able to manipulate nature using witchcraft. The beginning of “A True Ghost Story” states that, “Few things have influenced and controlled the destiny of man so largely as superstition.” Superstitions surrounding witchcraft were especially prominent in New England, when the Puritans migrated there to establish religious order. The need to make this establishment got out of hand when Puritans began using their “beliefs” to persecute innocent people. In Kent’s case, religion may have just saved her life. In her defense she is explained as a regular churchgoer. The fact that this evidence was relevant to the case shows how religion was used as a basis for persecution and justification of superstition. In “Witchcraft and Magic” it is written that “Protestants took delight in exposing false miracles as Popish impostures, pagan leftovers or vulgar errors; but they affirmed true supernatural manifestations.” The Puritan’s “delight” in disproving pagan miracles, but using their own superstitious beliefs to justify the persecution of people was hypocrisy that brought about disdain for religious-based superstition. Personally, I was surprised to see that Jane was not found guilty by the jury. Having read about people who were burned at the stake for much less caused me to believe that Jane would also be found guilty. Either the Enlightenment ideas of thinking for oneself and using logic and reason played a part in the jury’s decision, or they thought Jane’s church-going habits were enough to prove her innocent.

superstition fades

The trial of Maggie Nattrass was for the attempt to set fire to an occupied house for the second time. Nattrass was accused of this crime because of several fires that occurred in the house. Oddly enough, no one ever saw the fires, which had already been put out by the time the witnesses arrived to the location of the incident (Old Bailey). Susan Chipperfield, said in a testimony that the defendant, Nattrass, once told her “I don’t know, I am bewitched, everything I touch seems to catch on fire” (Bailey). But another testimony by Henry Brown, a builder that was a friend of the prosecutor, said “the blankets were smoldering – I asked her why she did it – she said ‘ I don’t know how I did it; I did not do it willingly’ –I said before the Magistraitet hat she appeared to be out of her mind – I asked her whether she had any illness; I thought she seemed insane – I think so still; I don’t think a sane person would have acted as she did” (Bailey). The testimony of Brown was well enough to blame the fires on Nattrass’ insanity. She was found not guilty of the felony arson charge she faced. Mr. Justice Hawkins declared that she was not guilty of intent to injure another because only objects were burned, but he also said that a separate trial may be in order to charge Nattrass with destroying “goods” (Bailey).

This case doesn’t mention witchcraft in the narrative but the suspiciousness of the fires is enough for Nattrass to think, if only for a second, that she was bewitched. The testimony of Henry Brown was apparently enough to throw out the chance of witchcraft and sorcery. This relates to what Lewis Scaife said in a Brief Sketch of Superstition, by the 1700s, “Sciences stepped forward and declared that it would investigate the superstition and wonderful claims of the magicians the rife, and as soon as the existing conditions were pronounced false the clouds were pushed further back and the light of the truth began to shine once more on a benighted world” (pp. 46-47). Nattrass’ trial was held in 1886 so this trial could be proof of the ongoing societal shift toward science as an explanation and away from superstition.

In George Burr’s Narrative of the Witchcraft Cases there is also a disturbance with fire that is not pointedly related to witchcraft. This fire is more suspicious than the fire in the case of Nattrass. This witness states there was a fire caused by lightening hitting the chimney of their home and setting leanto aflame. Philip Delano said that during the fire he felt a “violent heat upon his body,” though his clothes were not burned (Burr; 15). This does not have a direct correlation to witchcraft but the account of Delano is suspicious so it is included in this narrative with Burr saying that he will leave it to the reader to decide if they believe it is a supernatural occurrence; probably because this was published in 1914, the times had changed and science overwhelmed superstition.

Witchcraft as Evidence against Mary Poole

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:

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.

Senselessness and Sensationalism in Salem

Let me preface this post by saying, I thought I had posted it 2 weeks ago.  Apparently, my window timed out and instead of posting, it vanished.  Hooray!  Now on to the goods.

On July 3rd, 1695, one Miss Elizabeth Johnson was put on trial for witchcraft.  The most hilarious part of that sentence, is that she wasn’t even accused of witchcraft, but of felony theft.  She convinced a young girl that she had magical powers and could locate treasure for her, but that the girl needed to gather up all her valuables and hide them in order for her Egyptian dark magic to locate the treasure.  She then took the valuables and left while young Miss Richardson looked for the treasure in the basement.

This basically sounds like a case of a woman who made up a silly story to con a little girl.  Shady? Yes.  Witchcraft?  No.  The kicker here is the irony that the thief was acquitted based on the fact that she was A)not an actual Egyptian B)found to know nothing about magic.  Her crime of theft was pardoned because they discovered she wasn’t an actual witch.

Now, let’s compare this to some of the more nonsensical instances of witchcraft.  One of Burr’s accounts detailed a Ms. Bishop that was attributed with making a man’s wagon wheel fall off, appearing to the man in his sleep, causing him to be thrown into a stone wall(which I read: he tripped into because he’s a moron), being thrown into a bank by his house by the same mysterious force(read: still a clumsy moron), and causing his cart to buckle under a weight he could not pick up after(ya think?!).  To top it all off, he accused her of causing his daughter’s death.  Entered into the evidence at trial were ragdolls round in the accused’s house, and women “inspecting” her found an extra nipple, that, when examined later by other women, was gone again!(Either this lady had a wicked zit on her chest, or people are all idiots), (Burr, 228).

I think the best way to explain these kind of events was said by Hobbes, ” ‘The opinion that rude people have of fairies, ghosts and goblins and the power of witches’ was attributed in his Leviathan (1651) to ignorance of how to distinguish ‘dreams’ from ‘sense’. ‘As for witches’, he continued, ‘I think not that their witchcraft is any reall power’, though he approved of the punishment of such imposters for the ‘false beliefe they have, that they can do such mischief,” (Anarkloo and Clarke, 197).  Interestingly enough, right after they quote Hobbes, Anarkloo and Clarke point out that the protestants of the times immediately demonized Hobbes for these views and said his denial of witchcraft clearly proved that he was in league with evil forces.

I guess what it boils down to was that people were looking for a reason to blame things on, be they their own clumsiness, people’s oddities, or even untimely death.  Because they didn’t have a better explanation, and it was at the height of a religious revival, they went with witchcraft and devilry and evil spirits.  Luckily for Elizabeth Johnson that they just saw her as a grifter instead of a witch.

Anarkloo and Clarke,


Trial of Elizabeth Johnson,

Witchcraft to Blame

On February 17th, 1831 William Clark attempted to murder his neighbor Elizabeth Gulliver. Clark the previous night went to her house yelling and asking for a kitchen woman, one who did not exist. Elizabeth Gulliver allowed Clark to search her kitchen, and even with the emptiness of the room in front of him verbally attacked Gulliver that she was lying. Clark finally left the house after Gulliver’s daughter made her way down the stairs and threatened him so that he might leave. The next night Clark returned, pistol in hand, and attempted a single shot at Elizabeth Gulliver, fleeing right after. Although he was not at his house the first time the police tried to find him, the following day they attempted a second time. Clark, pretending to be a woman was soon after arrested. The trial includes the testimonies of: Clark, Elizabeth Gulliver and her daughter, Alexander Shaw a neighbor down the street that witnessed Clark fleeing after he heard gunshots and Daniel Reardon the arresting officer, a psychiatrist doctor, his landord, as well as Clark’s sister. Clark complains over and over again about the voices of the past four years that have invaded his mind and thoughts, a result of witchcraft and sorcery. With the various testimonies, as well as Clark’s sister speaking out about his claim of being overwhelmed with witchcraft and a Doctor that said there was no normalcy in any interaction with Clark, the conclusion to the trial was clear. Clark was found not guilty on the ground of insanity.

Witchcraft always has the way of finding itself into the most insane of cases and usually being where the blame is laid when things go wrong. Even with the obvious mental instability that was shown by Clark, his environment was what led to Witchcraft having been the obvious catalyst for him acting anything but the norm, a scapegoat.

Superstitions are an overwhelming factor in the accusations of Witchcraft. True Ghost Story by Scaife, “Few things have influenced and controlled the destiny of man so largely as superstition. It has often become a part of his religion shaped his habits and governed his life.” Scaife shows how people accused of witchcraft were some what believed to have been steered away from their religion because their actions did not favor that of their religious being. Although Clarke himself was not accused of witchcraft, the superstition stemming from other accusations he was brought up around played an obvious factor. Looking at Ankarloo and Clarke’s historical survey, it states, “The opinion that rude people have of fairies, ghost and goblins and the power of witches’ was attributed in his Leviathan to ignorance of how to distinguish ‘dreams’ from ‘sense’.” In the Clarke case, being able to distinguish between being bewitched or just being insane. Although Clarke may have his accuses, at the end of the day insanity triumphed the disillusionment of witchcraft.