The Goodwin Witch Trials - Witchcraze! Persecution of Witches

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

The Goodwin Witch Trials
Witchcraze! Persecution of Witches

The Goodwin witch trials of Boston in 1688, like the Salem witch trials, also involved bewitched children but have failed to grip the public imagination in the same manner as the Salem Village trials.

There are two versions of what precipitated the Goodwin crisis. According to one, the family accused a Mrs Glover, their Irish washerwoman, of stealing their linens; she denied their accusations, responding with a curse. Alternatively, the eldest Goodwin child, a 13-year-old girl, asked the laundress about some missing linens and the laundress retorted with what is described as “very bad language.”

This daughter began to have fits, quickly followed by her sister and two brothers. The children were struck deaf, dumb, and blind, alternately; their tongues were thrust dramatically out and then pulled back with a snap, like a retractable cord. Physicians were called in but to no avail.

Mr Goodwin requested that the town clergy fast and pray for his family. Cotton Mather the witch-hunter was called in to observe. His observations were published as Memorable Providences Related to Witchcraft in Boston, 1689, influencing the Salem witch-trial judges. Most of what is known about the case derives from Mather’s writings. He was not sympathetic to the laundress, describing her as the “daughter of a scandalous Irishwoman.”

The washerwoman was arrested and brought to trial where she claimed that although she understood English well enough, she was unable to speak anything but Gaelic, her native tongue. (Mather claimed her spoken English was previously perfectly functional.) She then claimed that another witch had placed a spell on her to prevent her from communicating. (This other witch apparently counting on the court not to obtain an interpreter.)

It was a moot point; there was no need to talk: the laundress was made to touch one of the Goodwin children in court and the child immediately fell into a fit, tantamount during that era to proof of witchcraft.

The laundress’ residence was then searched and rag poppets discovered. She then confessed to bewitching the Goodwin children via those dolls. The judges interviewed her for hours and ordered the self-professed Roman Catholic to recite the Pater Noster in Latin, which she did except for one or two clauses. She was found guilty of witchcraft; physicians decided she was not insane and she was condemned to hang. Cotton Mather personally accompanied her to the gallows.