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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/24

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14
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Everything was made to contribute to the orthodox view of possession. On one occasion, when a cart conveying eight condemned persons to the place of execution stuck fast in the mire, some of the possessed declared that they saw the devil trying to prevent the punishment of his associates. Confessions of witchcraft abounded; but the way in which these confessions were obtained is touchingly exhibited in a statement afterward made by several women. In explaining the reasons why, when charged with afflicting sick persons, they made a false confession, they said:

. . . "By reason of that suddain surprizal, we knowing ourselves altogether Innocent of that Crime, we were all exceedingly astonished and amazed, and consternated and affrighted even out of our Reason; and our nearest and dearest Relations, seeing us in that dreadful condition, and knowing our great danger, apprehending that there was no other way to save our lives, . . . out of tender. . . pitty perswaded us to confess what we did confess. And indeed that Confession, that it is said we made, was no other than what was suggested to us by some Gentlemen; they telling us, that we were Witches, and they knew it, and we knew it, and they knew that we knew it, which made us think that it was so; and our understanding, our reason, and our faculties almost gone, we were not capable of judging our condition; as also the hard measures they used with us, rendred us uncapable of making our Defence, but said anything and everything which they desired, and most of what we said, was in effect a consenting to what they said."[1] . . .

Case after case, in which hysteria, fanaticism, cruelty, injustice, and trickery played their part, was followed up to the scaffold. In a short time twenty persons had been put to a cruel death, and the number of the accused grew larger and larger. The highest position and the noblest character formed no barrier. Daily the possessed became more bold, more tricky, and more wild. No plea availed anything. In behalf of several women, whose lives had been of the purest and gentlest, petitions were presented, but to no effect. A Scriptural text was always ready to aid in the repression of mercy: it was remembered that "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light," and above all resounded the Old Testament injunction, which had sent such multitudes in Europe to the torture-chamber and the stake, "Ye shall not suffer a witch to live."

Such clergymen as Noyes, Parris, and Mather, aided by such judges as Stoughton and Hathorn, left nothing undone to stimulate these proceedings. The great Cotton Mather based upon this outbreak of disease thus treated his famous book, "Wonders of

  1. See Calef, in Drake, vol. iii, pp. 56, 57; also vol. iii, pp. 38-46; also Upham.