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immediate agency of the devil in those affairs; and perhaps there were some real witches."*
I have cited these testimonies, for the purpose of showing, at one view, how general, and I might almost say universal, was the belief in witchcraft, one hundred and fifty years ago. Cotton Mather was not singular, in his opinions on this subject. He would have been singular, had he indulged other opinions. He spoke the truth, when he said, in his reply to Calef: “I know not that I have ever advanced any opinion, in the matter of witchcraft, but what all the ministers of the Lord that I know of in the world, whether English, or Scotch, or French, or Dutch (and I know manyj are of the same opinion with me." p. 42. If there was any difference between Mr. Mather and his cotemporaries, it was perhaps this, that owing to his natural credulity, and love of the marvellous, he was more sincere and earnest in his belief, than some of them ;-a fact of considerable importance in this inquiry, and which, if duly considered, will go, not to inculpate, but rather to excuse him.
President Quincy charges upon Cotton Mather, as he had done upon his father, “the responsibility of being the chief cause and promoter” of the alleged witchcrafts in New England. He had an “efficient agency in producing and prolonging the excitement” on that subject. He “connected his name and fame inseparably with that excitement, as its chief cause, agent, believer and justifier.” pp. 63, 65. The excitement here referred to is, without doubt, that commonly spoken of as “ the Salem witchcraft,” which occurred in 1692. Of this Cotton Mather is alleged to have been“ the chief cause, promoter, agent, and justifier." He exerted “an efficient agency in producing and prolonging it.” This certainly is a heavy charge to be brought against a learned and reputable minister of the gospel, who has been long dead. Let us spend a few moments in inquiring as to its justness and truth.
We have seen that, in the days of Cotton Mather, the belief in witchcraft was universal in New England, as indeed it seems to have been all over the world. He did not originate this belief. He merely fell in with the general current of thought and feeling, which had prevailed here from the first settlement of the country
It must be remembered, too, that the cases of witchcraft at Sa
* See Upham on Witchcraft, p. 218.
lem were not regarded, at the time of their occurrence, as a new or unheard-of thing. Accounts of witches in England, and in other parts of Europe, had been often published, and the stories and books were widely circulated. Then there had been cases of supposed witchcraft in New England, for almost half a century before the disturbances at Salem. There was a case at Springfield, as early as 1645; and another at Charlestown immediately after, which resulted in the execution of the supposed witch. The next that suffered were a woman in Dorchester, and another in Cambridge, both of whom died protesting their innocence. In 1655, a Mrs. Hibbins, the widow of one who had been an assistant or counsellor, was executed at Boston. There were three executed at Springfield nearly at the same time, one of whom confessed herself guilty of the crime alleged. In 1662, there were three executed at Hartford; one of them on her own confession. There was a case at Salisbury, in 1669; another at Groton, in 1671; a third at Hampton, in 1673; and a fourth at Newbury, in 1679. In 1682, there were two cases in New Hampshire; and in the next two years, there were two more cases on Connecticut river. These latter cases varied much in their circumstances, and in none of them were the supposed offenders executed.*
There was a notable case of supposed witchcraft in the family of a Mr. Goodwin in Boston, in the year 1688. The alleged offender was an old Irish woman, by the name of Glover. She was tried before Chief Justice Dudley (afterwards Gov. Dudley), and was condemned and executed. This case is affirmed by Rev. Mr. Upham, of Salem, to have been “ brought about by the management” of Cotton Mather ;t but a more unfounded accusation, perhaps, never was uttered. It is expressly contradicted by the testimony of Mr. Goodwin, the father of the afflicted children. “Let the world be informed," says he, “ that when one of my children had been laboring under sad circumstances from the invisible world, for about a quarter of a year, I desired the ministers of Boston and Charlestown to keep a day of prayer at my house, if so be deliverance might be obtained. Mr. Čotton Mather was the last of the ministers that I spoke to on that occasion; and though, by
* See Hale's “Modest Inquiry,” etc. p. 17; and Hutchinson's Hist. of Mass., Vol. II. p. 22. † Lectures on Witchcraft, p. 107. SECOND SERIES, VOL. VII. NO. I.
reason of some necessary business, he could not attend, yet he came to my house in the morning of that day, and tarried about half an hour, and went to prayer with us before any other minister came. Never, before now, had I the least acquaintance with him.” How, then, could this case have been “ brought about by the management” of Cotton Mather? The child had now been afflicted full three months, during which time Mr. Mather had not once visited the house, or had the slightest acquaintance with the family. Mr. Goodwin goes on to say, that after several months more, another fast was kept at his house; but denies that the ministers ever gave him “ the least advice, directly or indirectly” as to the prosecution of the Irish woman, who was supposed to be the tormentor of his children.*
The idea that this case of witchcraft was “brought about by the management of Cotton Mather, is further contradicted by the supposition of Mr. Peabody, that the troubles in Mr. Goodwin's family grew out of a quarrel between his eldest daughter, and the poor old Irish woman, who was afterwards accused and executed as a witch.t If such was the origin of the troubles in question, Mr. Mather, surely, could have had no hand in them. He did not excite the quarrel between the daughter and the Irish woman, or persuade the former to be revenged on the latter, by bringing her into danger as a witch.
As before remarked, it was in February, 1692, that the strange appearances commenced in what was then called Salem Village (now Danvers), in the family of Rev. Mr. Parris. But that Cotton Mather was“ the chief cause of these appearances, or exerted the slightest agency or instrumentality in producing them, I am sure President Quincy will find it difficult to prove. Mr. Mather had published his “ Memorable Providences relating to Witchcraft,” three years before; but that the book had ever been read in the family of Mr. Parris, or if read, that it had produced the strange appearances and sufferings of his children, there is not the slightest evidence. How should it produce them ? Instead of leading these children to mimic the actions and miseries of other bewitched persons, one would think it must rather deter them from all such practices. I can find no evidence that Mr. Mather had any visible concern, or in
* See the Reply to Calef, p. 62.
fact any concern, with the cases of alleged witchcraft in Salem, until several months after the excitement commenced.
Mr. Upham supposes that there was a connection between the origin of this excitement and the parochial troubles of Mr. Parris; and that the children of Parris “ were acting a part.” “I am constrained,” he says, “ to declare my belief, that this dreadful transaction was introduced and driven on, by wicked perjury, and wilful malice."* If this account of its origin is true, certainly Cotton Mather can no longer be regarded as its chief cause, promoter and agent.”
But Mr. Mather is represented, not only as the cause of the excitement respecting witchcraft, but as greatly desiring it, and rejoicing in it. “I cannot resist the conviction,” says Mr. Upham, “ that he looked upon the Salem trials with secret pleasure.” “He seems to have longed for an opportunity to signalize himself in this particular kind of warfare.'* His “boundless vanity,” says Mr. Bancroft, “ gloried in the assault of the evil angels upon the country.”+ Speaking of the troubles before referred to in the family of Goodwin, Mr. Peabody says: “It was not long before he (Cotton Mather) enjoyed the great felicity of having a case of witchcraft directly under his eye." Again : “Cotton Mather was now in his element. He paid many visits to this poor old lunatic (the Irish woman) after her condemnation, and received vast entertainment from her communications. She described her interviews with the prince of darkness, and her attendance upon his meetings, with a clearness that seems to have filled him with perfect delight.”'I
Were Cotton Mather now living to speak for himself, or could he address us from the other world, I am persuaded he would repel the foregoing representations, as doing great injustice to his character. How do these gentlemen know that Cotton Mather longed for the occurrence of cases of witchcraft; and rejoiced in them when they appeared ; and regarded their terrible, bloody results with secret pleasure ? Believing sincerely in the reality of witchcraft, or that certain individuals were in covenant and commerce with evil spirits, when an instance of this kind was supposed to have occurred, he would feel an interest, both as a Christian and as a philosopher, to in
* Lectures on Witchcraft, pp. 51, 55, 106, 114.
vestigate it with all the scrutiny of which he was capable. But to suppose that he desired the occurrence of these terrible visitations, and rejoiced in them, and contemplated their results with secret satisfaction, even when they terminated in blood, is to contradict not only his most solemn protestations, but the general current of his actions and life. He uniformly spoke of the spring and summer of 1692 as “a very doleful time unto the whole country,” and “the descent of the devils upon so many of the good people of the land," as a “dreadful judgment of heaven.” His son informs us, that“ for a great part of the summer, he did, almost every week, spend a day by himself in the exercises of a secret fast before the Lord," praying, “ not only for his own preservation from the malice and the power of the evil angels, but also for a good issue of the calamities in which he had permitted the evil angels to ensnare the miserable country.”*
And if the general current of one's life is to be regarded as an index of the state of his heart, then Cotton Mather was a benevolent, and not a malevolent, man. He desired the good of his fellow men, and not their hurt. He was liable, like other men, to mistake in the application of means, and to be deluded; , but he sincerely sought to be useful to those around him. But how is this consistent with his longing to witness, and rejoicing in the occurrence, of what he conceived to be the most dreadful of all calamities, perpetrated by the most horrible of all crimes,a crime justly deserving of death by the laws both of God and man.
It is further objected to Cotton Mather, that he favored the prosecutions for witchcraft, countenanced the executions by his presence, and in various ways urged on the terrible work of blood. “In the progress of the superstitious fear, when it amounted to frenzy, and could only be satisfied with blood, he neither blenched nor halted; but attended the courts, watched the progress of invisible agency in the prisons, and joined the multitude in witnessing the executions.”+ When Rev. Mr. Burroughs was executed, he “ rode round in the crowd on horseback, haranguing the people, and saying that it was not to be wondered at that Mr. Burroughs appeared so well, for the devil often transformed himself into an angel of light.”I It is
* Life, p. 45.
† Quincy, Vol. I. p. 64.