Alice Parker

The Year: 1692
On May 12, 1692, warrants were issued to apprehend and bring before the magistrates, “Alice Parker, the wife of John Parker, and Ann Pudeator, widow of Salem, widow.” Alice Parker, commonly called Elsie, was the wife of a mariner. Perhaps she had been prone to take melancholy views of the dangers to which seafaring people are exposed.

Salem witch< A Witchcraft Trial Illustration by Howard Pyle (1853–1911) Samuel Shattuck of Salem seems to have been very active in getting up charges of witchcraft against persons in his neighborhood, and on the most absurd and frivolous grounds. Alice Parker had made a friendly call upon his wife, and not long after, one of his children fell sick. He suspected that it was “under an evil hand.”

The Trial
Alice Parker, hearing that Shattuck had been circulating suspicions against her, went to his house. An angry altercation took place between them, and he gave his version of the affair in evidence. There was no one to present the other side. But the whole thing has a one-sided, irrelevant character, in no way bearing on witchcraft. All the gossip, scandal, and tittle-tattle of the neighborhood for twenty years back, in this case as in others, was dug up, and allowed as evidence, however remote from the questions belonging to the trial.

Read Article

Lydia Gilbert

The Year: 1654

Colonial Witches

In the mid 1600s, Thomas Gilbert and his wife, Lydia, lived with Henry Stiles in Windsor, Connecticut. Mr. Stiles was about 52 years of age, which was considered old at the time. Lydia performed many services for Mr. Stiles, such as mending his clothes and tending him when he was sick. How this living arrangement came about is unclear, but from all outward appearances, it was a satisfactory one.

colonial witches
Artist’s Conceptualization of a Witchcraft Trial

In the autumn of 1651, in Windsor, Connecticut, an accident took place during training exercises by a group of local militiamen. Thomas Allyn was carrying his musket in a cocked position and inadvertently hit it against a tree causing it to fire. The bullet struck another trainee, Henry Stiles, and mortally wounded him.

An inquest was held, and Allyn was indicted the following December. At his trial, the jury found him guilty of “homicide by misadventure,” and he was fined 20 pounds for his “sinful neglect and careless carriage.”

It was found that he was to be “bound to his good behavior for a twelve-month period and that he shall not bear arms for the same term.” Thomas Allyn’s father paid a bond of 10 pounds, and Thomas was remanded into his father’s custody for the probationary period.

In the New England colonies, the practice of accusing certain people, mostly women, of witchcraft began in Connecticut in 1647. Between that year and 1654, several people were charged and tried as witches, or for giving entertainment to Satan, as the colonists called the crime.

The colonists tried to find some explanation for accidents that occurred, such as Henry Stiles’ death. Their lives in a new and strange land were precarious, and they needed to understand traumatic events over which they had no control. When cows took strangely ill, when a boat capsized in a sudden storm, when bread failed to rise in the oven or beer went bad in the barrel, they looked for some hidden meaning.

They sometimes looked askance at their neighbors, trying to discover some hidden motivation for causing these events to occur, whether human or supernatural. Witchcraft wouldn’t necessarily be the best explanation, but they believed it was always a possibility.

The typical person accused of being a witch was a woman of middle age. Like Lydia Gilbert, she was married, had children, though widows and childless women were also suspected. Some of them were quite poor, but taken altogether they spanned the entire social spectrum.

Often, accused witches were women who exhibited odd personal behavior, who were quarrelsome with their neighbors, were cantankerous, feisty, angry, and quick to take offense. Is it possible that the colonists disposed of social misfits by bringing such charges against them? And if the defendant was convicted of witchcraft, she was hanged.

Lydia Gilbert was one of those unfortunate women. On November 28, 1654 – three years later – she stood accused of witchcraft and causing the death of Henry Stiles. Six of the jurors at her trial were residents of Windsor, and were well aware that Thomas Allyn had been convicted of killing Stiles. Yet, they charged that she used her abilities as a witch to cause Allyn’s musket to fire!

The Charges:

Thou are here indicted by that name of Lydia Gilbert that not having the fear of God before thy Eyes thou hast of late years or still dust give Entertainment of Satan the great Enemy of God and mankind and by his help hast killed the Body of Henry Styles, besides other witchcrafts, for which according to the law of God and the Established Law of this commonwealth thou Deserves to Die.

The Verdict:
These same jurors then considered the evidence once again to determine if Lydia was guilty, and returned this verdict:

“Ye party above mentioned is found guilty of witchcraft by the Jury.”

Her fate is not written in any known record, but most historians believe that she was hanged at Hartford, Connecticut, in 1655. She may well have gone to her death in the jail yard in Hartford, but more likely she was hanged on the lot at the corner of Albany Avenue and Vine Street in Hartford, where the public gallows is known to have existed.

New England Witches
Lydia, Wife of Thomas Gilbert
The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut

Eunice Goody Cole

The Witch of Hampton
New Englanders in the seventeenth century feared the devil above all else. They believed that natural disasters were caused by a person who was possessed by Old Nick. If their crops failed, if a cow went dry, or if an epidemic struck, they blamed someone in the community, usually an eccentric old person.

William and Eunice Cole first came to New Hampshire as indentured servants from London, England in 1638. They became part of a new colony at Exeter that was being established under the leadership of Reverend John Wheelwright. In 1640, the Coles decided to move to the settlement at nearby Hampton. Wheelwright moved from Exeter to Wells, Maine, but was ousted from there and made a bid for control of Hampton. That left the Coles back under the jurisdiction of the leader they had previously abandoned.

Read Article

Alice Lake

Alice Lake was born in England, and immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony at some point, and settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts. She was the mother of at least five children, all presumably fathered by her only known husband, Henry Lake. In 1651, those children would have been a girl about ten, a boy about seven, a boy about five, a child about three who likely was a boy, and an infant.

In 1651, Alice Lake’s baby died. Later, she told people that she saw the baby. Maybe she did. Or, maybe she grieved so much that her mind allowed her to imagine that she saw her baby to ease her grief. As painful as the death of a loved one is, a mother’s loss of a child is the most difficult.

Read Article