In the United States, the first witch trial is believed to have occurred in Springfield, Mass., in 1645. A fervor for hunting witches led to an increase in prosecutions in New England, and New York, in the 1650s and 1666s. Women would be accused of witchcraft within New York’s colonial borders into the mid-1700s. Some of these trials would have a lasting impact on the colony and the country.
The 1650s was not an easy time to be a woman, especially if a neighbor held a personal grudge. In East Hampton, Long Island in 1657 Elizabeth “Goody” Garlick was accused of witchcraft, after 16-year-old Elizabeth Gardiner Howell became ill and suffered fevered dreams and delusions.
It was alleged that Garlick was seen dressed in black standing at the foot of her sick bed before she passed away. One of the tell-tale signs of witchcraft was said to be the appearance of a witch in dreams. The town justices held hearings for three weeks taking thirteen witness depositions against Elizabeth Garlick.
Elizabeth Gardiner Howell’s mother swore she was with her daughter when the visions were seen. Goodwife Simmons swore she was there too and the sickly Elizabeth had told her Garlick had pricked her with pins. Eleven other residents came forward with various claims. Garlick used her witchcraft to poison their breastmilk and cause their children to become ill or die. She had used her witchcraft to cause injury or death to various farm animals.
Despite the large number of complaints against her, the judges noticed that one person in particular was a witness mentioned in a majority of the complaints – a woman named Davis. Although she did not testify against Garlick, through the testimony of others Davis claimed that Garlick was a witch Among her crimes were causing the death of two children, another to vanish, a man to die, a pig and her piglets to die during birthing, and an ox to break a leg.
The local judicial panel sent the Garlick case to the Particular Court of Connecticut (at this time, Long Island was a part of Connecticut) in Hartford. There a panel of magistrates, headed by John Winthrop the Younger, found Elizabeth Garlick not guilty. Soon after the trail, Elizbeth’s husband sued Goody Davis for defamation. Elizabeth Garlick and her husband continued to live in East Hampton. Goody Davis died shortly after Garlick’s trial.
In a 2012 article in the Smithsonian Magazine, John Hanc suggested Elizabeth Garlick may have been spared by Winthrop who later became governor of the colony. Hanc says Winthrop was a skeptic when it came to magic, the role the devil played in magic, and the ability of ordinary people to practice magic. Winthrop tended to believe accused witches were living violating societal norms, not laws. In the Garlick decision, Winthrop told the townspeople of East Hampton to act neighborly towards one another.
This essay is the second in a series of three about witchcraft accusations in New York. You can read the first here.
Photo: Statue at a Salem, MA museum.