As the warm summer air of 1692 Puritan New England yielded to the chilly winter winds of Massachussetts, the community of Salem had plunged itself into mass hysteria in what would become one of the most notorious set of trials ever to be held in an American courtroom: The Salem Witch Trials.
By the spring of the following year, twenty individuals would be executed for the crime of witchcraft. Of the twenty, fourteen of them were women, and all but one were sentenced to death by hanging. Five others, including two infant children, died in prison.
Though as many as 60,000 people have been estimated to have died from witch trials between the 1500-1799, the Salem witch trials stand out because they were a rarity on the American continent.
Interestingly, once news broke of the Salem trials, American colonists seemed to have very little stomach for the activities that took place in Massachusetts and in 1695, Thomas Maule, a noted Quaker, publicly criticized the handling of the trials by the Puritan leaders, writing, “it were better that one hundred Witches should live, than that one person be put to death for a witch, which is not a Witch”.
For publishing his writings, Maule was imprisoned twelve months before being released.
Despite the majority of Americans being horrified by the atrocities of New England, others saw the land’s newfound fascination with witch trials as an opportunity to levy revenge.
According to an 1893 article published in the Southport Leader, North Carolina came very close to having a witch hunt of their own.
As the story goes, in June 1703 Deborah Bouthier of Albemarle County, North Carolina, became ill with what felt like sharp pins being jabbed into her feet and legs.
According to Hope Thompson, “Deborah tried to relieve her pain by soaking her feet in hot water for 24 hours. By the next day the pain had ceased in her feet but she was tormented with terrible stomach pains. Neighbors and family that came by to help tend to Deborah’s needs also became ill with stomach pains.”
Being in great agony, Deborah Bouthier began blaming her pains on a nearby neighbor, a respected woman named Susannah Evans, whom she accused of having bewitched her.
“She begged Thomas to have Susannah investigated and examined to prevent her from doing more mischief to others. Deborah continued to blame Susannah for her terrible affliction until she died a month later,” writes Thompson.
True to his wife’s dying request, the following day, Thomas Bouthier filed a suit against Evans for bewitching and killing his wife, accusing Evans of “by the assistance of the devil, afflict with mortal pains, the body of the said Deborah Bourthier… diabolically and maliciously bewitch several other of her majesty’s liege subjects against the peace of our said sovereign lady the queen.”
With a member of juror serving a sea captain and being familiar with the atrocities that had just transpired in New England, the jury made it clear and in no uncertain terms that the accusation was baseless — going so far to use the word “ignoramus” to describe the suit.
“Wee of ye jury find no bill and ye person Ignoramus. It is ordered that ye said Susannah Evans be acquitted.”
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