In the year 1658, at the south fork of Long Island, there was a small fishing and farming settlement called Easthampton.
Recently settled by English Puritans (by way of New England), it was governed by a small group of village aldermen, which was headed by Lord Lion Gardiner, a former British military engineer who faithfully served English King Charles 1st during the Pequot War (1636-1638).
Gardiner was the wealthiest man in what is now the town of East Hampton. He became principal magistrate of the English colony shortly after the Pequot War ended and purchased an island (named after him) at Suffolk County’s east end. Although East Hampton was directly and legally connected to Connecticut during these days, Gardiner’s Island was given a private charter, which made it entirely independent from both Connecticut and New York Colonies. Lord Gardiner and all his heirs were hence only subject to the English monarchy.
One of Lion Gardiner’s tenant farmers, Faulke Davis, witnessed the certification to Gardiner’s land deed to purchase Gardiner’s Island in 1639. Davis was considered a hard working and rugged Puritan, allegedly from Wales, who sailed to Connecticut at about the same time as his employer Lion Gardiner just a few years before. The illiterate Davis thus tended to Lord Gardiner’s gardens on the Lord’s island manor, before purchasing his own land in East and South Hampton.
But, whereas Lion Gardiner was described as an honorable, sagacious, patient and open- minded, Faulke was described as impulsive, irritable and untrustworthy. Faulke left Gardiner’s Island with his then wife “Goody” (for “Good-wife”) Davis for East Hampton in the early 1640s, where he purchased land. In 1654, East Hampton town records indicate that Faulke was found guilty (along with his son and their neighbor) for public lewdness. Davis was placed in the village pillory for several days by an East Hampton tribunal.
Goody Davis had also worked at Lord Gardiner’s Island home (concurrently with her husband) as a maid and house-servant. When the Davis’s relocated to East Hampton Village, she was a weaver. Her descendants would bring the family business to Brookhaven Town, after her death. Goody Davis was well-known and respected enough to gave instruction at the loom to her fellow townsfolk.
But there was trouble brewing in Long Island’s Hamptons in the late 1650s. The government there was a theocracy. There was no separation of church and state (in Puritan circles) and crimes against God, were (in the plainest statutory sense) crimes against the government. Offenders could be brutally beaten, tortured and imprisoned for various religious transgressions deemed criminal – many to the point of death.
Puritan society in both the 1500s and 1600s was a society predicated on religious fanaticism, small-mindedness and extreme superstition. Puritan societies and settlements were entirely patriarchal ones, which minimized the social and intellectual contributions of women and gave primary legal control and social positions to men and their sons. Puritan society was also ripe for gossip, litigiousness and social discord.
Witches were widely believed by Puritans to be evil agents of the Devil, which had to be expunged from society. In February of 1658, a daughter of Lord Lion Gardiner became seriously ill. She was 16-year old Elizabeth Gardiner Howell, a newlywed and a new mother. Elizabeth was married to young Arthur Howell, also a Puritan. One afternoon in early February, Mrs. Elizabeth Howell was stricken with a fever. Arthur was not home, but, simply by chance, a friend of his (Samuel Parsons) came by his house to pay him a visit.
Elizabeth complained to Samuel Parsons she had a terrific headache, according to Kerri Ann Flanagan-Brosky’s 2017 article, “East Hampton Witch Trial of 1658.” At this point, Samuel Parsons quietly excused himself from the Howell’s house and, saying he would return later, left the home. Subsequently, Arthur Howell returned home with another pal of his, one William Russell. Artie found Elizabeth sitting by the fireplace, wearing a blanket. She told her husband that she was ill and that she also thought she had a fever.
In the Puritan world and culture, God and the preternatural governed every bit of Puritan lives. The Devil and God were to be found everywhere. Signs of God’s power and presence and the Devil’s deception and cruelty readily made themselves visible in various ways. Such examples were people’s health status, the weather, blights by insects and disease, or a neighbor’s wealth, or lack thereof. All fell into the category of metaphysical judgment. Elizabeth Howell’s headache and fever were to be explained primarily by spiritual and divine causes, with the scientific and empirical ones taking a backseat. And Elizabeth Howell would be the first one ringing this bell.
For the next three days Elizabeth Howell fell in and out of consciousness and exhibited fits of hysteria. Her parents, husband and friends sat stoically at her bedside to comfort her. Her condition worsened. Elizabeth’s baby was taken from her (at her own behest) and she repeatedly claimed Goody Garlick, an older East Hampton woman, was at the bed’s foot, mocking her and pricking her throat with pins. Elizabeth said she saw an evil black shadow sent by Goody Garlick to her bedroom to intimidate her.
No matter how hard Mrs. Gardiner (Elizabeth Howell’s mother) tried to convince her otherwise, Elizabeth insisted that she was “bewitched” and the specter of Goody Garlick was in her bedchamber. On the third day of Elizabeth Howell’s fever she died, blaming her neighbor Goody Garlick for her own demise. Was this to be believed? During one of Howell’s coughing fits, her friend Goody Simons allegedly picked a pin from the floor she said fell from their Elizabeth’s mouth. Some historians believe this may have been “evidence” to frame up Goody Garlick. It turns out that Goody Simons had (along with Elizabeth Howell) a prior grudge to settle with Goody Garlick.
According to Long Island historians Kerri Ann Flanagan-Brosky and Loretta Orion, Garlick may have been of French ethnicity or have been considered a strong-willed woman and troublemaker. Orion has suggested Goody Garlick may have been a herbalist and healer, and possibly French, which contributed to her East Hampton Village reputation. Goody Garlick had was also said to have publicly snubbed Elizabeth Howell, shortly after her marriage.
Elizabeth Howell died on February 23rd , 1657, but the fallout of her death and accusations were just beginning. An East Hampton inquest was conducted in the case of Goody Garlick’s purported witchcraft. The village elders felt unqualified to bring charges against Garlick, but they were certain of Garlick’s unearthly guilt and complicity. Goody Davis accused Garlick with witchcraft, saying Garlick had killed her infant with the “evil eye,” only moments after paying the baby a compliment. Davis was a woman a generation younger than Garlick. Both had worked for Lion Gardiner at his island estate, prior to moving to East Hampton Village. Was there a prior grudge between Goody Davis and Goody Garlick that was left unsettled?
Goody Davis’ accusations against Goody Garlick began some time after Goody Garlick relocated to East Hampton. From that point forward, Goody Garlick was the village’s incessant scapegoat. Garlick was blamed for hurting the town’s livestock and for the mysterious disappearance of a black child. Yet no one had acted on these numerous allegations directed at Garlick, until the death of Elizabeth Howell, years later. East Hampton magistrates felt they did not have the legal knowledge and expertise to try Garlick for witchcraft, so they forwarded the case to Connecticut. The parent colony had a stronger legal system in place to deal with capital offenses.
Goody Davis’ derisive rumors concerning Goody Garlick would quickly come back to haunt her. Following the preliminary inquest against Garlick at East Hampton, her husband Joshua Garlick filed a libel lawsuit against Goody Davis. Davis would quickly change her accounting of Goody Garlick, publicly declaring (though not under oath) that Goody Garlick had been kind to her over the years. Two weeks after these charges were filed against Davis, she died of unknown causes according to Kerri Ann Flanagan-Brosky. Then, other Puritan women came out against Goody Garlick: several of them swearing under oath to their accusations.
On May 5th , 1658, the Garlick Witchcraft Trial began in Connecticut. Connecticut Governor John Winthrop Junior heard the case. Winthrop was considered a brilliant legal scholar who was not inclined to believe in witchcraft.
A jury of twelve men found Goody Garlick not guilty, due to lack of evidence. They did not however feel Garlick was innocent of the crime. Governor Winthrop charged Goody and her husband Joshua with a large fine. Garlick went back to East Hampton a free woman and she lived to a very old age.
Lord Gardiner and his wife both had prayed to God that their granddaughter would survive Elizabeth (Gardiner) Howell’s death. Arthur Howell’s daughter did in fact survive and also lived a long and healthy life, according to Loretta Orion.
The Davis family of Long Island suffered from the Goody Garlick Witchcraft Trial. Although Faulke Davis remarried after his wife’s (also untimely) death. Faulke Davis was kicked out of the Hamptons for good in March of 1660, after being convicted of trespass against his stepson Robert Dayton (son of Faulke’s new wife Mary’s ex-husband). Faulke relocated to Brookhaven Town (west of East Hampton, on Long Island) and bought land in 1664 in Mount Sinai and in Coram, too. The Davises blossomed and thrived from colonial times in Brookhaven Town to this very day.