- Historic Sites
Day By Day In A Colonial Town
How Hadley, Massachusetts, (incorporated 1661) coped with wolves, drunks, Indians, witches, and the laws of God and man.
December 1983 | Volume 35, Issue 1
In 1674 another Mary Parsons, this one of Northampton, was accused of familiarity with the Devil and of having caused the death of Mary Bartlett. The accused was a respectable woman and the wife of one of Northampton’s richest citizens, but according to Judd, she was proud and high-spirited to a point that had excited the ill will of her neighbors. At the preliminary hearing she vehemently asserted her innocence, whereupon the magistrate appointed a “jury of soberized, chaste women to make a diligent search upon the body of Mary Parsons, whether any marks of witchcraft might appear.” Suspicious marks were discovered, and she was sent to Boston for trial but there found innocent and discharged.
An odd and unexplained preface to this case is a court record of 1680 stating that Anne Belding, a sixteen-year-old girl, pleaded guilty to purposes and practices against the body and life of Mary Webster and was fined one pound. And an even stranger postscript is thus told in the words of Cotton Mather: “Mr. Philip Smith, aged about fifty years, deacon of a church in Hadley, and a man of devotion, sanctity and gravity, was … in the winter of 1684 murdered with a hideous witchcraft. He was, by his office, concerned about relieving the indigencies of a wretched woman in the town, who being dissatisfied at some of his just cares about her, expressed herself unto him in such a manner, that he declared himself henceforth apprehensive of receiving mischief at her hands.” Deacon Smith’s fears seemed to be verified when he became “very valetudinarious. … Galley pots of medicine were unaccountably emptied; audible scratchings were made about the bed, when his hands and feet lay wholly still, or were held by others. … Some of the young men of the town being out of their wits at the strange calamities … went to give disturbance to the woman thus complained of; and all the while they were disturbing her, he was at ease, and slept as a weary man. Mr. Smith dies; the jury that viewed his corpse, found a swelling on the breast, his back full of bruises, and several holes that seemed made with awls. … This was the end of a good man.”
“Give disturbance” strikes one as a rather mild way of putting it when we learn from another contemporary that “a number of brisk lads tried an experiment on the old woman. Having dragged her out of the house, they hung her up until she was nearly dead, let her down, rolled her some time in the snow, and at last buried her in it, and there left her; but she survived, and the melancholy man died.”
This was the last of the valley’s witchcraft trials. The old superstitions were dying out, and when a Northampton man accused a neighbor of bewitching him, the magistrate, instead of entering the complaint, is said to have ordered the accuser to be whipped ten stripes on the spot.