It is now October, that month to celebrate All Things Spooky. And what says "spooky" quite like New England witchcraft? Here is an excerpt from Increase Mather's "Remarkable Providences Illustrative of the Earlier Days of American Colonisation," giving one man's account of a Massachusetts plague of poltergeists, with all the proper demonic trimmings:
As there have been several persons vexed with evil spirits, so divers houses have been woefully haunted by them. In the year 1679, the house of William Morse, in Newberry in New-England, was strangely disquieted by a daemon. After those troubles began, he did, by the advice of friends, write down the particulars of those unusual accidents. And the account which he giveth thereof is as followeth: —
On December 3, in the night time, he and his wife heard a noise upon the roof of their house, as if sticks and stones had been thrown against it with great violence; whereupon he rose out of his bed, but could see nothing. Locking the doors fast, he returned to bed again. About midnight they heard an hog making a great noise in the house, so that the man rose again, and found a great hog in the house; the door being shut; but upon the opening of the door it ran out.
On December 8, in the morning, there were five great stones and bricks by an invisible hand thrown in at the west end of the house while the man's wife was making the bed; the bedstead was lifted up from the floor, and the bedstaff flung out of the window, and a cat was hurled at her; a long staff danced up and down in the chimney; a burnt brick, and a piece of a weather-board, were thrown in at the window. The man, at his going to bed, put out his lamp, but in the morning found that the saveall of it was taken away, and yet it was unaccountably brought into its former place. On the same day the long staff, but now spoken of, was hang'd up by a line, and swung to and fro; the man's wife laid it in the fire, but she could not hold it there, inasmuch as it would forcibly fly out; yet after much ado, with joynt strength they made it to burn. A shingle flew from the window, though no body near it; many sticks came in at the same place, only one of these was so scragged that it could enter the hole but a little way, whereupon the man pusht it out; a great rail likewise was thrust in at the window, so as to break the glass.
At another time an iron crook that was hanged on a nail, violently flew up and down; also a chair flew about, and at last lighted on the table where victuals stood ready for them to eat, and was likely to spoil all, only by a nimble catching they saved some of their meal with the loss of the rest and the overturning of their table.
People were sometimes barricado'd out of doors, when as yet there was nobody to do it; and a chest was removed from place to place, no hand touching it. Their keys being tied together, one was taken from the rest, and the remaining two would fly about making a loud noise by knocking against each other. But the greatest part of this devil's feats were his mischievous ones, wherein indeed he was sometimes antick enough too, and therein the chief sufferers were, the man and his wife, and his grandson. The man especially had his share in these diabolical molestations. For one while they could not eat their suppers quietly, but had the ashes on the hearth before their eyes thrown into their victuals, yea, and upon their heads and clothes, insomuch that they were forced up into their chamber, and yet they had no rest there; for one of the man's shoes being left below, it was filled with ashes and coals, and thrown up after them. Their light was beaten out, and, they being laid in their bed with their little boy between them, a great stone (from the floor of the loft)weighing above three pounds was thrown upon the man's stomach, and he turning it down upon the floor, it was once more thrown upon him. A box and a board were likewise thrown upon them all: and a bag of hops was taken out of their chest, therewith they were beaten, till some of the hops were scattered on the floor, where the bag was then laid and left.
In another evening, when they sat by the fire, the ashes were so whirled at them, that they could neither eat their meat nor endure the house. A peel struck the man in the face. An apron hanging by the fire was flung upon it, and singed before they could snatch it off. The man being at prayer with his family, a beesom gave him a blow on his head behind, and fell down before his face.
On another day, when they were winnowing of barley, some hard dirt was thrown in, hitting the man on the head, and both the man and his wife on the back; and when they had made themselves clean, they essayed to fill their half-bushel; but the foul corn was in spite of them often cast in amongst the clean, and the man, being divers times thus abused, was forced to give over what he was about.
On January 23 (in particular), the man had an iron pin twice thrown at him, and his inkhorn was taken away from him while he was writing; and when by all his seeking it he could not find it, at last he saw it drop out of the air down by the fire. A piece of leather was twice thrown at him; and a shoe was laid upon his shoulder, which he catching at, was suddenly rapt from him. An handful of ashes was thrown at his face, and upon his clothes; and the shoe was then clapt upon his head, and upon it he clapt his hand, holding it so fast, that somewhat unseen pulled him with it backward on the floor.
On the next day at night, as they were going to bed, a lost ladder was thrown against the door, and their light put out; and when the man was a bed, he was beaten with an heavy pair of leather breeches, and pull'd by the hair of his head and beard, pinched and scratched, and his bed-board was taken away from him. Yet more: in the next night, when the man was likewise a bed, his bedboard did rise out of its place, notwithstanding his putting forth all his strength to keep it in; one of his awls was brought out of the next room into his bed, and did prick him; the clothes wherewith he hoped to save his head from blows, were violently pluckt from thence. Within a night or two after, the man and his wife received both of them a blow upon their heads, but it was so dark that they could not see the stone which gave it. The man had his cap pulled off from his head while he sat by the fire.
The night following, they went to bed undressed, because of their late disturbances, and the man, wife, boy, presently felt themselves pricked, and upon search, found in the bed a bodkin, a knitting needle, and two sticks picked at both ends; he received also a great blow, as on his thigh, so on his face, which fetched blood; and while he was writing, a candlestick was twice thrown at him; and a great piece of bark fiercely smote him; and a pail of water turned up without hands.
On the 28th of the mentioned month, frozen clods of cow-dung were divers times thrown at the man out of the house in which they were. His wife went to milk the cow, and received a blow on her head; and sitting down at her milking work, had cow-dung divers times thrown into her pail. The man tried to save the milk, by holding a pigg in side-wayes under the cowes belly; but the dung would in for all, and the milk was only made tit for hogs. On that night, ashes were thrown into the porridge which they had made ready for their supper, so as that they coudd not eat it; ashes were likewise often thrown into the man's eyes as he sat by the fire; and an iron hammer flying at him, gave him a great blow on his back. The man's wife going into the cellar for beer, a great iron peel flew and fell after her through the trap-door of the cellar; and going afterwards on the same errand to the same place, the door shut down upon her, and the table came and lay upon the door, and the man was forced to remove it e'er his wife could be released from where she was. On the following day, while he was writing, a dish went out of its place, leapt into the pale, and cast water upon the man, his paper, his table, and disappointed his procedure in what he was about ; his cap jumpt off from his head, and on again, and the pot-lid leapt off from the pot into the kettle on the fire.
February 2. While he and his boy were eating of cheese, the pieces which he cut were wrested from them, but they were afterwards found upon the table, under an apron and a pair of breeches; and also from the fire arose little sticks and ashes, which flying upon the man and his boy, brought them into an uncomfortable pickle. But as for the boy, which the last passage spoke of, there remains much to be said concerning him and a principal sufferer in these afflictions: for on the 18th of December, he sitting by his grandfather, was hurried into great motions, and the man thereupon took him, and made him stand between his legs; but the chair danced up and down, and had like to have cast both man and boy into the fire; and the child was afterwards flung about in such a manner, as that they feared that his brains would have been beaten out ; and in the evening he was tossed as afore, and the man tried the project of holding him, but ineffectually. The lad was soon put to bed, and they presently heard an huge noise, and demanded what was the matter? and he answered, that his bedstead leaped up and down; and they (i.e. the man and his wife) went up, and at first found all quiet, but before they had been there long, they saw the board by his bed trembling by him, and the bed-clothes flying off him; the latter they laid on immediately, but they were no sooner on than off; so they took him out of his bed for quietness.
December 29. The boy was violently thrown to and fro, only they carried him to the house of a doctor in the town, and there he was free from disturbances; but returning home at night, his former trouble began, and the man taking him by the hand, they were both of them almost tript into the fire. They put him to bed, and he was attended with the same iterated loss of his clothes, shaking off his bed-board, and noises that he had in his last conflict; they took him up, designing to sit by the fire, but the doors clattered, and the chair was thrown at him; wherefore they carried him to the doctors house, and so for that night all was well. The next morning he came home quiet; but as they were doing somewhat, he cried out that he was prickt on the back; they looked, and found a three-tin'd fork sticking strangely there; which being carried to the doctors house, not only the doctor himself said that it was his, but also the doctors servant affirmed it was seen at home after the boy was gone. The boys vexations continuing, they left him at the doctors, where he remained well till awhile after, and then he complained he was pricked; they looked and found an iron spindle sticking below his back : he complained he was pricked still; they looked, and found there a long iron, a bowl of a spoon, and a piece of a pansheard. They lay down by him on the bed, with the light burning, but he was twice thrown from them, and the second time thrown quite under the bed. In the morning the bed was tossed about, with such a creaking noise as was heard to the neighbours. In the afternoon their knives were, one after another, brought, and put into his back, but pulled out by the spectators; only one knife, which was missing, seemed to the standers by to come out of his mouth. He was bidden to read; his book was taken and thrown about several times, at last hitting the boys grandmother on the head. Another time he was thrust out of his chair, and rolled up and down, with outcries, that all things were on fire; yea, he was three times very dangerously thrown into the fire, and preserved by his friends with much ado. The boy also made, for a long time together, a noise like a dog, and like an hen with her chickens, and could not speak rationally.
Particularly, on December 26, he barked like a dog, and clock't like an hen; and after long distraining to speak, said, "There's Powel, I am pinched." His tongue likewise hung out of his mouth, so as that it could by no means be forced in till his fit was over, and then he said 'twas forced out by Powel. He and the house also after this had rest till the 9th of January; at which time the child, because of his intolerable ravings, lying between the man and his wife, was pulled out of bed, and knockt vehemently against the bedstead boards, in a manner very perillous and amazing. In the day-time he was carried away beyond all possibility of their finding him. His grandmother at last saw him creeping on one side, and drag'd him in, where he lay miserable lame; but recovering his speech, he said, that he was carried above the doctor's house, and that Powel carried him; and that the said Powel had him into the barn, throwing him against the cart-wheel there, and then thrusting him out at a hole; and accordingly they found some of the remainders of the threshed barley, which was on the barn-floor, hanging to his clothes.
At another time he fell into a swoon; they forced somewhat refreshing into his mouth, and it was turned out as fast as they put it in; e're long he came to himself, and expressed some willingness to eat, but the meat would forcibly fly out of his mouth; and when he was able to speak, he said Powel would not let him eat. Having found the boy to be best at a neighbours house, the man carried him to his daughters, three miles from his own.
The boy was growing antick as he was on the journey, but before the end of it he made a grievous hollowing; and when he lighted, he threw a great stone at a maid in the house, and fell on eating of ashes. Being at home afterwards, they had rest awhile; but on the 19th of January, in the morning, he swooned, and coming to himself, he roared terribly, and did eat ashes, sticks, rug-yarn. The morning following, there was such a racket with the boy, that the man and his wife took him to bed to them: a bedstaff was thereupon thrown at them, and a chamber-pot with its contents was thrown upon them, and they were severely pinched. The man being about to rise, his clothes were divers times pulled from them, himself thrust out of his bed, and his pillow thrown after him. The lad also would have his clothes plucked off from him in these winter nights, and was wofully dogg'd with such fruits of devilish spite, till it pleased God to shorten the chain of the wicked daemon.
All this while the devil did not use to appear in any visible shape,, only they would think they had hold of the hand that sometimes scratched them; but it would give them the slip. And once the man was discernibly beaten by a fist, and an hand got hold of his wrist, which he saw but could not catch; and the likeness of a blackmore child did appear from under the rugg and blanket, where the man lay, and it would rise up, fall down, nod, and slip under the clothes, when they endeavoured to clasp it, never speaking anything.
Neither were there many words spoken by Satan all this time; only once, having put out their light, they heard a scraping on the boards, and then a piping and drumming on them, which was followed with a voice, singing, "Revenge! Revenge! Sweet is revenge!" And they being well terrified with it, called upon God: the issue of which was, that suddenly, with a mournful note, there were six times over uttered such expressions as, "Alas! me knock no more! me knock no more!" and now all ceased.
The man does, moreover, affirm that a seaman (being a mate of a ship) coming often to visit him told him, that they wronged his wife who suspected her to be guilty of witchcraft; and that the boy (his grandchild) was the cause of this trouble; and that if he would let him have the boy one day, he would warrant him his house should be no more troubled as it had been. To which motion he consented. The mate came the next day betimes, and the boy was with him until night; since which time his house, he saith, has not been molested with evil spirits.
Thus far is the relation concerning the daemon at William Morse his house in Newberry. The true reason of these strange disturbances is as yet not certainly known : some (as has been hinted) did suspect Morse's wife to be guilty of witchcraft.
One of the neighbours took apples, which were brought out of that house, and put them into the fire; upon which, they say, their houses were much disturbed. Another of the neighbours caused an horse-shoe to be nailed before the doors; and as long as it remained so, they could not perswade the suspected person to go into the house; but when the horse-shoe was gone, she presently visited them.
I shall not here inlarge upon the vanity and superstition of those experiments, reserving that for another place; all that I shall say at present is, that the daemons, whom the blind Gentiles of old worshipped, told their servants, that such things as these would very much affect them; yea, and that certain characters, signs, and charms, would render their power ineffectual; and, accordingly, they would become subject, when their own directions were obeyed. It is sport to the devils when they see silly men thus deluded and made fools of by them. Others were apt to think that a seaman, by some suspected to be a conjurer, set the devil on work thus to disquiet Morse's family; or, it may be, some other thing, as yet kept hid in the secrets of all this trouble.
This was not the end of the troubles for the Morse family. That same year, Morse charged the "seaman," a man named Caleb Powell, with bewitching the family. Powell stood trial, but was acquitted. In the following year, Morse's own wife, Elizabeth, was indicted for "having familiarity with the Divil contrary to the peace of our sovereign lord the King." She was convicted of the offense, and sentenced to hang. Fortunately, she was later granted a reprieve by Governor Bradstreet.
The deputies of the court which had convicted Elizabeth Morse took umbrage at this act of clemency, and petitioned to have the case reopened. Additional testimony against Elizabeth was heard in 1681, (her neighbors appear to have long suspected her of witchcraft, possibly due to her calling as a "healer" and midwife,) but the court seems to have taken no further action against Mrs. Morse. The elderly woman died a few years later, undoubtedly worn out by her ordeal.
John Hale, in his 1702 book "A Modest Inquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft," described how on her deathbed, Elizabeth Morse "was in much darkness and trouble of spirit, which occasioned a judicious friend to examine her strictly, whether she had been guilty of witchcraft, but she said no: but the ground of her trouble was some impatient and passionate speeches and actions of hers while in prison, upon the account of her suffering wrongfully; whereby she had provoked the Lord, by putting some contempt upon his word. And in fine, she sought her pardon and comfort from God in Christ, and died so far as I understood, praying to and resting upon God in Christ for salvation."