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Witchcraft in New England.


For more than twelve months this mad panic raged. It is just to say that the hideous cruelties which were practised in Europe were not commonly resorted to in the prosecution of American witches. Torture was seldom inflicted to wring confession from the victim. The American test was more humane, and not more foolish, than the European. Those suspected persons who denied their guilt were judged guilty and hanged. Those who confessed were, for the most part, set free. Many hundreds of innocent persons, who scorned to purchase life by falsehood, perished miserably under the fury of an excited people. Giles Corey was pressed to death in Salem for refusing to confess that he was a wizard.

The so-called Salem witchcraft seems to have in reality begun in Boston in 1688. The children of Mr. John Goodwin began to behave in a very strange manner : we are told that they “barked like dogs, mewed like cats, and flew through the air like geese.” Geese often touch their feet to the ground when flying, and we presume the Goodwin children flew in this way. Cotton Mather, the minister at Boston, pronounced these children to be bewitched. A weak old woman, who was a Papist, was accused of the witchcraft, and was executed.

The delusion spread, principally among the children, until the Massachusetts Bay Colony was filled with terror and suspicion. Gallows Hill at Salem, now a tanyard, was the scene of those awful tragedies which have so darkened the fair pages of colonial history.

The fire had been kindled in a moment; it was extinguished as suddenly. The Governor of Massachusetts only gave emphasis to the reaction which had occurred in the public mind, when he abruptly stopped all prosecutions against witches, dismissed all the suspected, pardoned all the condemned. The House of Assembly proclaimed a fast, entreating that God would pardon the errors of his people “in the late tragedy raised by Satan and his instruments.” One of the judges stood up in church in Boston, with boweddown head and sorrowful countenance, while a paper was read, in which he begged the prayers of the congregation, that the innocent blood which he had erringly shed might not be visited on the country or on him. The Salem jury asked forgiveness of God and the community for what they had done under the


of a strong and general delusion.” Poor Mr. Parris was now at a sad discount. He made public acknowledgment of his error. But at his door lay the origin of all this slaughter of the unoffending. His part in the tragedy could not be forgiven. The people would no longer endure his ministry, and demanded his removal. Mr. Parris resigned his charge, and went forth from Salem a broken man.

If the error of New England was great and most lamentable, her repentance was prompt and deep. Five-and-twenty years after she had clothed herself in sackcloth, old women were still burned to death for witchcraft in Great Britain. The year of blood was never repeated in America.



THE Puritans left their native England and came to the “outside of the world,” as they called it, that they might enjoy liberty to worship God according to the way which they deemed right. They had discovered that they themselves were entitled to toleration. They felt that the restraints laid upon them were very unjust and very grievous. But their light as yet led them no further. They had not discovered that people who differed from them were as well entitled to be tolerated as they themselves were. Simple as it seems, men have not all found out even yet that every one of them is fully entitled to think for himself.

Thus it happened that, before the Pilgrims had enjoyed for many years the cheerful liberty of their new home, doctrines raised their heads among them which they felt themselves bound to suppress. One February day there stepped ashore at Boston a young man upon whose coming great issues depended. His name was Roger Williams.

He was a clergyman, “godly and zealous," a man of rare virtue and power. Cromwell admitted him, in later years, to a considerable measure of intimacy. He was the friend of John Milton in the bright days of the poet's youth, ere yet “the ever-during dark” surrounded him. From him Milton acquired his knowledge of the Dutch language. He carried with him to the New World certain strange opinions. Long thought had satisfied him that in regard to religious

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belief and worship man is responsible to God alone. No man, said Williams, is entitled to lay compulsion upon another man in regard to religion. The civil power has to do only with the “bodies and goods and outward estates” of men.

In the domain of conscience God is the only ruler.

New England was not able to receive these sentiments. Williams became minister at Salem, where he was held in high esteem. In time his opinions drew down upon him the unfavorable notice of the authorities. The General Court of Massachusetts brought him to trial for the errors of his belief. His townsmen and congregation deserted him. His wife reproached him bitterly with the evil he was bringing upon his family. Mr. Williams could do no otherwise. He must testify with his latest breath, if need be, against the “soul oppression ” which he saw around him. The court heard him, discovered error in his opinions, declared him guilty, and pronounced upon him sentence of banishment.

All honor to this good and brave, if somewhat eccentric, man !

He of all the men of his time saw most clearly the beauty of absolute freedom in matters of conscience. He went forth from Salem.

He lived during a part of one winter with the sachem Massasoit at Mount Hope. He obtained a grant of land from the Indians, and he founded the State of Rhode Island. Landing one day from a boat in which he explored his new possessions, he climbed a gentle slope, and rested with his companions beside a spring. It seemed to him that the capital of his infant State ought to be here.

He laid the foundations of his city, which he named Providence, in grateful recognition of the power which had guided his uncertain steps.

It is to-day one of the most beautiful and thrifty cities in the Union. His settlement was to be “ a shelter for persons

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