This shows how he indulged himself in forms of expression that misled him. His letter to "the Judges" means, I suppose, that written to Richards; and he had so accustomed his mind to the attempt to make the Advice of the Ministers bear this construction, as to deceive himself. That document does not say a word, much less, protest, against the "admission" of that evidence: it was not designed, and was not understood by any, at the time, to have that bearing, but only to urge suggestions of caution, in its use and management. Charity to him requires us to receive his declaration in the Diary as subject to the modifications he himself connects with it, and to mean no more than we find expressed in the letter to Richards and in the Advice. But, if he really had deluded himself into the idea that he had protested against the admission of spectral evidence, he has not succeeded, probably, in deluding any other persons than his son Samuel, who repeated the language of the Diary, and our Reviewer.
The question, I finally repeat, is as to the admission of that species of evidence, at all, in any stage, in any form, to any extent. Cotton Mather never, in any public writing, "denounced the admission" of it, never advised its absolute exclusion; but, on the contrary recognised it as a ground of "presumption." Increase Mather stated that the "Devil's accusations," which he considered spectral evidence really to be, "may be so far regarded as to cause an enquiry into the truth of things." These are the facts of history, and not to be moved from their foundation in the public record of that day. There is no reason to doubt that all the Ministers, in the early stages of the delusion, concurred in these views. All partook of the "awe," mentioned by Mather, which filled the minds of Juries, Judges, and the people, whenever this kind of testimony was introduced. No matter how nor when, whether as "presumption" to build other evidence upon or as a cause for further "enquiry," nothing could stand against it. Character, reason, common sense, were swept away. So long as it was suffered to come in, any how, or to be credited at all, the horrid fanaticism and its horrible consequences continued. When it was wholly excluded, the reign of terror and of death ceased.
COTTON MATHER AND THE PRELIMINARY EXAMINATIONS. JOHN PROCTOR. GEORGE BURROUGHS.
The spectral evidence was admitted; and the examinations and trials went on. The question now arises, what was Cotton Mather's attitude towards them? The scrutiny as to the meaning of his words is exhausted; and now we are to interpret his actions. They speak louder and clearer than words. Let us, in the first place, make the proper distinction between the Examinations, on the arrest of the prisoners and leading to their commitment, and the Trials. The first Warrants were issued on the twenty-ninth of February, 1692; and the parties arrested were brought before the Magistrates the next day. Arrests and Examinations occurred, at short intervals, during three months, when the first trial was had; and they were continued, from time to time, long after, while the Special Court was in operation. They were, in some respects, more important than the Trials. Almost all the evidence, finally adduced before the Jury, was taken by the examining Magistrates; and being mostly in the form of carefully written depositions, it was simply reproduced, and sworn to, before the Court. Further, as no Counsel was allowed the Prisoners, the Trials were quite summary affairs. Hutchinson says, no difficulty was experienced; and the results were quickly reached, in every case but that of Rebecca Nurse.
These two stages in the proceedings became confounded in the public apprehension, and have been borne down by tradition, indiscriminately, under the name of Trials. It was the succession, at brief intervals, through a long period, of these Examinations, that wrought the great excitement through the country, which met Phips on his arrival; and which is so graphically described by Cotton Mather, as a "dreadful ferment." He says he was not present at any of the Trials. Was he present at any of the Examinations? The considerations that belong to the solution of this question are the following:
When the special interest he must have taken in them is brought to mind, from the turn of his prevalent thoughts and speculations, exhibited in all his writings, and from the propensity he ever manifested to put himself in a position to observe and study such things, it may be supposed he would not have foregone opportunities like those presented in the scenes before the Magistrates. While all other people, Ministers especially, were flocking to them, it is difficult to conclude that he held back. That he attended some of them is, perhaps, to be inferred from the distinctive character of his language that he never attended a Trial. The description given, in his Life of Phips, of what was exhibited and declared by the "afflicted children," at the Examinations, exhibits a minuteness and vividness, seeming to have come from an eye-witness; but there is not a particular word or syllable, I think, in the account, from which an inference, either way, can be drawn whether, or not, he was present at them, personally. This is observable, I repeat, inasmuch as he was careful to say that he was not present at the Trials.
The Examinations, being of a character to arrest universal attention, and from the extraordinary nature of their incidents, as viewed by that generation, having attractions, all but irresistible, it is not surprising that, as incidentally appears, Magistrates and Ministers came to them, from all quarters. No local occurrences, in the history of this country, ever awakened such a deep, awe-inspiring, and amazed interest. It can hardly be doubted that he was attracted to them. Can any other inference be drawn from the passage already quoted, from his Diary, that he felt called, "as a herald of the Lord's Kingdom, now approaching," to give personal attendance, in "the horrible enchantments and possessions broke forth at Salem Village?" There was a large concourse of Magistrates and Ministers, particularly, on the twenty-fourth of March, when Deodat Lawson preached his famous Sermon, after the Examination of Rebecca Nurse; on the eleventh of April, when the Governor and Council themselves conducted the Examination of John Proctor and others; and, on the ninth of May, when Stoughton, from Dorchester, and Sewall, from Boston, sat with the local Magistrates, and the Rev. George Burroughs was brought before them. It is strange, indeed, if Mather was not present, especially on the last occasion; and it may appear, as we advance, that it is almost due to his reputation to suppose that he was there, and thus became qualified and authorized to pass the judgment he afterwards did.
Local tradition, of less value, in some respects, for reasons given in my book, in reference to this affair than most others, but still of much weight, has identified Cotton Mather with these scenes. The family, of which John Proctor was the head, has continued to this day in the occupancy of his lands. Always respectable in their social position, they have perpetuated his marked traits of intellect and character. They have been strong men, as the phrase is, in their day, of each generation; and have constantly cherished in honor the memory of their noble progenitor, who bravely breasted, in defence of his wife, the fierce fanaticism of his age, and fell a victim to its fury and his own manly fidelity and integrity. They have preserved, as much as any family, a knowledge of the great tragedy; and it has been a tradition among them that Cotton Mather took an active part in the prosecution of Proctor. The representative of the family, in our day, a man of vigorous faculties, of liberal education, academical and legal, and much interested in antiquarian and genealogical enquiries, John W. Proctor, presided at the Centennial Celebration, in Danvers, on the fifteenth of June, 1852; and in his Address, expressed, no doubt, a transmitted sentiment—although, as has generally been done, confounding the Examinations with the Trials—in stating that Cotton Mather rendered himself conspicuous in the proceedings against his ancestor.
Cotton Mather was the leading champion of the Judges. In his Diary, he says: "I saw, in most of the Judges, a most charming instance of prudence and patience; and I know the exemplary prayer and anguish of soul, wherewith they had sought the direction of heaven, above most other people; whom I generally saw enchanted into a raging, railing, scandalous and unreasonable disposition, as the distress increased upon us. For this cause, though I could not allow the principles that some of the Judges had espoused, yet I could not but speak honorably of their persons, on all occasions; and my compassion upon the sight of their difficulties, raised by my journeys to Salem, the chief seat of those diabolical vexations, caused me yet more to do so."
How, as he had not been present at any of the Trials, could he have given this commendation of the bearing of the Judges, based, as he says, upon what he had witnessed in visits to Salem? I can think of but one way in which his statements can be reconciled. Five of the eight Judges (Saltonstall's seat being vacant) Stoughton, Sewall, Gedney, Corwin and Hathorne, severally, at different times, sat as Magistrates, at the Examinations, which occasions were accompanied with vexations and perplexities, calling for prudence and patience, much more than the Trials. It is due, therefore, to Mather to suppose that he had frequented the Examinations, and, thus acquired a right to speak of the deportment of the Judges, "upon the sight of their difficulties."
Much of the evidence given by the "afflicted children," at the Examinations, can hardly be accounted for except as drawn from ideas suggested by Mather, on the spot, so as to reach their ears. In the testimony of Susannah Sheldon, against John Willard, on the ninth of May, is the following singular statement: "There appeared to me a Shining White man." She represents it as a good and friendly angel, or spirit, accompanied by another "angel from Heaven," protecting her against the spectre of John Willard.
Prefixed to the London Edition of the Cases of Conscience, printed in 1862, is a narrative, by Deodat Lawson, of some remarkable things he saw and heard, connected with the witchcraft transactions at Salem Village. In it, is the following statement: "The first of April, Mercy Lewis saw in her fit, a white man, and was with him in a glorious place, which had no candles nor sun, yet was full of light and brightness; where was a great multitude in white glittering robes; and they sung the Song in Revelation, v., 9, and the one hundred and tenth Psalm, and the one hundred and forty-ninth Psalm; and said with herself, 'How long shall I stay here?' 'Let me be along with you!' She was loth to leave the place; and grieved that she could tarry no longer. This White man hath appeared several times to some of them, and given them notice how long it should be before they had another fit, which was, some times, a day, or day and half, or more or less. It hath fallen out accordingly."
In the case of Margaret Rule, in Boston, the year after the Salem Delusion, of which it is not to be questioned that Mather had the management, this same "White" Spirit is made to figure; and also, in another instance. Mather alludes to the "glorious and signal deliverance of that poor damsel," Mercy Short, six months before. "Indeed," says he, "Margaret's case was, in several points, less remarkable than Mercy's; and in some other things the entertainment did a little vary." Margaret, Mercy, and the "afflicted children" at Salem Village, all had their "White Angel," as thus stated by Mather: "Not only in the Swedish, but also in the Salem Witchcraft, the enchanted people have talked much of a White Spirit, from whence they received marvellous assistances in their miseries. What lately befell Mercy Short, from the communications of such a Spirit, hath been the just wonder of us all; but by such a Spirit was Margaret Rule now also visited. She says that she could never see his face; but that she had a frequent view of his bright, shining and glorious garments; he stood by her bed-side, continually, heartening and comforting her, and counselling her to maintain her faith and hope in God, and never comply with the temptations of her adversaries."—Calef, 3, 8.
This appearance of the "White and Shining," Spirit, or "White Angel," exercising a good and friendly influence, was entirely out of the line of ordinary spectral manifestations; constituted a speciality in the cases mentioned; and seems to have originated in the same source. Let it, then, be considered that Cotton Mather's favorite precedent, which was urged upon Sir William Phips, and which Mather brought to the notice of Richards, and was so fond of citing in his writings, had a "White Angel." In his account of the "most horrid outrage, committed in Sweedland by Devils, by the help of witches," we find the following: "Some of the children talked much of a White Angel, which did use to forbid them, what the Devil had bid them to do, and assure them that these things would not last long; but that what had been done was permitted for the wickedness of the people. This White Angel would sometimes rescue the children, from going in with the witches."—Wonders, 50.
Mr. Hale also notices this feature of the Salem Trials—that the witnesses swore to "representations of heavenly beauty, white men."
Mather brought the story of this witchcraft "in Sweedland," before the public, in America; he had the book that contained it; and was active in giving it circulation. There can be little doubt that he was the channel through which it found its way to the girls in the hamlet of Salem Village. He was, it is evident, intimate with Parris. How far the latter received his ideas from him, is, as yet, unknown. That they were involved in the same responsibility is clear from the fact that Parris fell back upon him for protection, and relied upon him, as his champion, throughout his controversy with his people, occasioned by the witchcraft transactions.
When these considerations are duly weighed, in connection with his language in the passage of his Diary, just quoted—"I saw a most charming instance of prudence and patience" in the Judges: "My compassion upon the sight of their difficulties," "raised by my journeys to Salem, the chief seat of those diabolical vexations"—it seems necessary to infer, that his opportunities of seeing all this, on the occasions of his "journeys to Salem," must have been afforded by attending the Examinations, held by the Magistrates who were also Judges; as it is established, by his own averment, that he never saw them on the Bench of the Court, at the Jury-trials. It is, therefore, rendered certain, by his own language and by all the facts belonging to the subject, that the purpose of his "journeys to Salem" was to attend the Examinations. We are, indeed, shut up to this conclusion.
The Examinations were going on from the first of March, far into the Summer of 1692. There is no intimation that either of the Mathers uttered a syllable against the course pursued in them, before or after the middle of May, when the Government passed into their almost exclusive possession. All the way through, spectral evidence was admitted, without restraint or a symptom of misgiving, on their part; and, whether present or absent, they could not but have known all that was going on.
Cotton Mather's "journeys to Salem," must have been frequent. If only made two or three times, he would have said so, as he speaks of them in an apologetic passage and when trying to represent his agency to have been as little as the truth would allow.
The Reviewer states that the journeys were made for another purpose. He states it positively and absolutely. "He made visits to Salem, as we shall presently see, for quite another purpose than that which has been alleged." This language surprised me, as it had wholly escaped my researches; and the surprise was accompanied with pleasure, for I supposed there must be some foundation for the declaration. I looked eagerly for the disclosure about to be made, in some document, now, for the first time, to be brought to light, from "original sources," such as he, in a subsequent passage, informs us, Mr. Longfellow has had access to. Great was my disappointment, to find that the Reviewer, notwithstanding his promise to let us know the "other purpose" of Mather's visits to Salem, has not given us a single syllable of information to that effect, but has endeavored to palm off, upon the readers of the North American Review, a pure fiction of his own brain, a mere conjecture, as baseless as it is absurd. He says that Mather made his visits to Salem, as the "spiritual comforter" of John Proctor and John Willard!
He further says, in support of this statement, "that Proctor and Willard had been confined several months in the Boston Jail, and there, doubtless, made Mr. Mather's acquaintance, as he was an habitual visitor of the prison." This hardly accounts for "journeys to Salem," during those months. Salem was not exactly in Mr. Mather's way from his house in Boston to the Jail in Boston.
As only a few days over four months elapsed between Proctor's being put into the Boston Jail and his execution, deducting the "several months" he spent there, but little time remained, after his transfer to the Salem Jail, for Mather's "journeys to Salem," for the purpose of administering spiritual consolation to him. So far as making his "acquaintance," while in Boston Jail is regarded, upon the same ground it might be affirmed that he was the spiritual adviser of the Prisoners generally; for most of those, who suffered, were in Boston Jail as long as Proctor; and he visited them all alike.
The Reviewer adduces not a particle of evidence to prove his absolute statement, nor even to countenance the idea; but, as is his custom, he transforms a conjecture into an established fact. On a bare surmise, he builds an argument, and treats the whole, basis and superstructure, as History. To show, more particularly, how he thus makes History, I must follow this matter up a little further. Brattle, in his Account of the Witchcraft in the County of Essex, 1692, has this paragraph, after stating that the persons executed "went out of the world, not only with as great protestations, but also with as great shows, of innocency, as men could do:" "They protested their innocency as in the presence of the great God, whom forthwith they were to appear before: they wished, and declared their wish, that their blood might be the last innocent blood shed upon that account. With great affection, they entreated Mr. C. M. to pray with them: they prayed that God would discover what witchcrafts were among us: they forgave their accusers: they spake without reflection on Jury and Judges, for bringing them in guilty and condemning them: [they prayed earnestly for pardon for all other sins, and for an interest in the precious blood of our dear Redeemer:] and seemed to be very sincere, upright, and sensible of their circumstances on all accounts; especially Proctor and Willard, whose whole management of themselves, from the Jail to the Gallows, [and whilst at the Gallows,] was very affecting and melting to the hearts of some considerable spectators, whom I could mention to you:—[but they are executed and so I leave them.]"—Massachusetts Historical Collections, I., v., 68.
The Reviewer cites this paragraph, omitting the clauses I have placed within brackets, without any indication of the omissions. The first of the omitted clauses is a dying declaration of the innocence of the sufferers, as to the crime alleged. The second proves that they "managed themselves" after, as well as before, reaching the Gallows, and to their dying moment—seeming to preclude the idea that their exercises of prayer and preparation were directed or guided by any spiritual adviser. The last is an emphatic and natural expression of Brattle's feelings and judgment on the occasion.
The Reviewer follows his citation, thus: "Mr. Brattle mentions no other person than Mr. C. M. as the comforter and friend of the sufferers, especially Proctor and Willard." "In the above statement we trace the character of their spiritual counsellor." "We now see the object of Mr. Mather's visits to Salem." "Would these persons have asked Mr. Mather to be their spiritual comforter, if he had been the agent, as has been alleged, of bringing them into their sad condition?"
In other forms of language and other connections, he speaks of Mr. Mather's presence, at these executions, as "the performance of a sad duty to Proctor and Willard," and represents Brattle as calling him "the spiritual adviser of the persons condemned." All this he asserts as proved and admitted fact; and the whole rests upon the foregoing mutilated paragraph of Brattle.
Let the reader thoroughly examine and consider that paragraph, and then judge of this Reviewer's claim to establish History. The word "affection," was used much at that time to signify earnest desire. "They"—that is, the persons then about to die, namely, the Rev. George Burroughs, an humble, laborious, devoted Minister of the Gospel; John Proctor, the owner of valuable farms and head of a large family; John Willard, a young married man of most respectable connections; George Jacobs, an early settler, land-holder, and a grandfather, of great age, with flowing white locks, sustained, as he walked, by two staffs or crutches; and Martha Carrier, the wife of a farmer in Andover, with a family of children, some of them quite young—"entreated Mr. C. M. to pray with them." Why did they have to "entreat" him, if he had come all the way from Boston for that purpose? They all had Ministers near at hand—Carrier had two Ministers, either or both of whom would have been prompt to come, if persons suffering for the imputed crime of witchcraft had been allowed to have the attendance of "spiritual comforters," at their executions. If Mather had prayed with them, Brattle would have said so. His language is equivalent to a statement, that "Mr. C. M." was reluctant, if he did not absolutely refuse to do it; and the only legitimate inferences from the whole passage are, that the sufferers did their own praying,—from Brattle's account of their dying prayers, they did it well—and that without "spiritual comforter," "adviser," or "friend," in the last dread hour, they were left to the "management of themselves."
When the paragraph is taken in connection with the relations of Brattle to Mather, not approving of his course in public affairs, but, at the same time, delicately situated, being associated with him in important public interests and leading circles, the conclusion seems probable that he meant, in an indirect mode of expression, to notice the fact that Mather refused to pray with the sufferers on the occasion. In fact, we know that Nicholas Noyes, who was Proctor's Minister, refused to pray with him, unless he would confess. Mather and Noyes were intimately united by personal and professional ties of friendship and communion, and probably would not run counter to each other, at such a time, and in the presence of such a multitude of Ministers and people.
It is to be regarded exclusively as illustrating the shocking character of the whole procedure of the witchcraft prosecutions, and not as a personally harsh or cruel thing, that Noyes or Mather was unwilling to pray with persons, at their public executions, who stood convicted of being confederates of the Devil, and who, refusing to confess, retained that character to the last. Ministers, like them, believing that the convicts were malefactors of a far different and deeper dye than ordinary human crime could impart, rebels against God, apostates from Christ, sons of Belial, recruits of the Devil's army, sworn in allegiance to his Kingdom, baptized into his church, beyond the reach of hope and prayer, could hardly be expected to pray with them. To join them in prayer was impossible. To go through the forms of united prayer would have been incongruous with the occasion, and not more inconsistent with the convictions of the Ministers, than repugnant to the conscious innocence and natural sensibilities of the sufferers. Condemned, unconfessing, unrepentant witches might be prayed for, or at, but not with.
The superior greatness of mind of Burroughs and his fellow sufferers, the true spirit of Christian forgiveness elevating them above a sense of the errors and wrongs of which they were the victims, are beautifully and gloriously shown in their earnestly wishing and entreating Noyes and Mather to pray with them. They pitied their delusion, and were desirous, in that last hour, to regard them and all others as their brethren, and bow with them before the Father of all. The request they made of Christian Ministers, who, at the moment, regarded them as in league with the Devil, might not be exactly logical; a failure to comply with it is not a just matter of reproach; but the fact that it was repeated with earnestness, "entreated with affection," shows that the last pulsations of their hearts were quickened by a holy and heavenly Love.
The Reviewer asks: "Were those five persons executed that day without any spiritual adviser?" There is no evidence, I think, to show that a Minister ever accompanied, in that character, persons convicted of witchcraft, at the place of execution. All that can be gathered from Brattle's account is, that, on the occasion to which he is referring, the sufferers themselves offered public prayers. We know that Martha Corey, at a subsequent execution, pronounced a prayer that made a deep impression on the assembled multitude. Mr. Burroughs's prayer is particularly spoken of. So, also, in England, when the Reverend Mr. Lewis, an Episcopal clergyman, eighty years of age, and who, for fifty years, had been Vicar of Brandeston, in the County of Suffolk, was executed for alleged witchcraft, the venerable man read his own funeral service, according to the forms of his Church, "committing his own body to the ground, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life."
This whole story of the spiritual relation between Mather and Proctor is a bare fiction, entirely in conflict with all tradition and all probability, without a shadow of support in any document adduced by the Reviewer; and yet he would have it received as an established fact, and incorporated, as such, in history. Liberties, like this, cannot be allowed.
Sewall's Diary, at the date of the nineteenth of August, 1692, has this entry: "This day George Burrough, John Willard, John Proctor, Martha Carrier, and George Jacobs were executed at Salem, a very great number of spectators being present. Mr. Cotton Mather was there, Mr. Sims, Hale, Noyes, Cheever, etc. All of them said they were innocent, Carrier and all. Mr. Mather says they all died by a righteous sentence. Mr. Burrough, by his Speech, Prayer, protestation of his innocence, did much move unthinking persons, which occasioned the speaking hardly concerning his being executed."
It is quite remarkable that Cotton Mather should have gone directly home to Boston, after the execution, and made himself noticeable by proclaiming such a harsh sentiment against all the sufferers, if he had just been performing friendly offices to them, as "spiritual adviser, counsellor, and comforter." Clergymen, called to such melancholy and affecting functions, do not usually emerge from them in the frame of mind exhibited in the language ascribed to Mather, by Sewall. It shows, at any rate, that Mather felt sure that Proctor went out of the world, an unrepenting, unconfessing wizard, and, therefore, not a fit subject for a Christian Minister to unite with in prayer.
One other remark, by the way. The account Sewall gives of the impression made by Burroughs, on the spectators, now first brought to light, in print, is singularly confirmatory of what Calef says on the subject.
My chief purpose, however, in citing this passage from Sewall's Diary, is this. Mather was not present at the Trial of Burroughs. If he was not present at his Examination before the Magistrates, how could he have spoken, as he did, of the righteousness of his sentence? There had been no Report or publication, in any way, of the evidence; and he could only have received a competent knowledge of it from personal presence, on one or the other of those occasions. He could not have been justified in so confident and absolute a judgment, by mere hearsay. If that had been the source of his information, he would have modified his language accordingly.
There is one other item to be considered, in treating the question of Mather's connection with the Examinations of the Prisoners, before the Magistrates.
When Proctor was awaiting his trial, during the short period, previous to that event, that he was in the Salem Jail, he had addressed a letter to "Mr. Mather, Mr. Allen, Mr. Moody, Mr. Willard and Mr. Baily," all Ministers, begging them to intercede, in behalf of himself and fellow-prisoners, to secure to them better treatment, especially a fairer trial than they could have in Salem, where such a violent excitement had been wrought up against them. From the character of the letter, it is evident that it was addressed to them in the hope and belief that they were accessible, to such an appeal. But one of the Mathers is named. They were associate Ministers of the same Church. Although the father was President of the College at Cambridge, he resided in Boston, and was in the active exercise of his ministry there. The question is, Which of them is meant? In my book, I expressed the opinion that it was Increase, the father. The Reviewer says it was Cotton, the son. It is a fair question; and every person can form a judgment upon it. The other persons named, comprising the rest of the Ministers then connected with the Boston Churches, are severally, more or less, indicated by what has come to us, as not having gone to extremes, in support of the witchcraft prosecutions.
Increase Mather was commonly regarded, upon whatever grounds, as not going so far as his son, in that direction. The name, "Mr. Mather," heads the list. From his standing, as presiding over the College and the Clergy, it was proper to give him this position. His age and seniority of settlement, also entitled him to it. Usage, and all general considerations of propriety, require us to assume that by "Mr. Mather," the elder is meant. Cotton Mather, being the youngest of the Boston Ministers, would not be likely to be the first named, in such a list. Besides, he was considered, as he himself complains, as the "doer of all the hard things, that were done, in the prosecution of the witchcraft." Whoever concludes that Increase Mather was the person, in Proctor's mind, will appreciate the fact that Cotton Mather is omitted in the list. It proves that Proctor considered him beyond the reach of all appeals, in behalf of accused persons; and tends to confirm the tradition, in the family, that his course towards Proctor, when under examination, either before the Magistrates or in Court, had indicated a fixed and absolute prejudice or conviction against him. This Letter of Proctor's, printed in my book, [ii., 310] utterly disperses the visionary fabric of the Reviewer's fancy, that Cotton Mather was his "spiritual adviser," counselling him in frequent visits to the Salem Jail. It denounces, in unreserved language, "the Magistrates, Ministers, Juries," as under the "delusion of the Devil, which we can term no other, by reason we know, in our own consciences, we are all innocent persons;" and is couched in a bold, outspoken and trenchant style, that would have shocked and incensed Cotton Mather to the highest possible degree. It is absolutely certain, that if Cotton Mather had been Proctor's "friend and counsellor," a more prudent and cautious tone and style would have been given to the whole document.
In concluding the considerations that render it probable that Cotton Mather had much to do with the Examinations, it may be said, in general, that he vindicates the course taken at them, in language that seems to identify himself with them, and to prove that he could not have been opposed to the methods used in them.
COTTON MATHER AND THE WITCHCRAFT TRIALS. THE EXECUTIONS.
I now proceed to examine Cotton Mather's connection with the Trials at Salem. It is fully admitted that he did not personally attend any of them. His averment to this effect does not allow the supposition that he could have deceived himself, on such a point. In his letter to Richards, as has been seen, he expressed his great disappointment in not being well enough to accompany him to this first Session of the Special Court; and the tenor of the passage proves that he had fully expected and designed to be present, at the trials, generally. Whether the same bodily indisposition continued to forbid his attendance at its successive adjournments, we cannot obtain information.
The first point of connection I can find between him and the trials, is brought to view in a meeting of certain Ministers, after executions had taken place, and while trials were pending.
Increase Mather, in his Cases of Conscience, has the following: "As for the judgment of the Elders in New England, so far as I can learn, they do generally concur with Mr. Perkins and Mr. Bernard. This I know, that, at a meeting of Ministers at Cambridge, August 1, 1692, where were present seven Elders, besides the President of the College, the question then discoursed on, was, whether the Devil may not sometimes have a permission to represent an innocent person as tormenting such as are under diabolical molestations? The answer, which they all concurred in, was in these words, viz. 'That the Devil may sometimes have a permission to represent an innocent person as tormenting such as are under diabolical molestations; but that such things are rare and extraordinary, especially when such matters come before civil judicatures'; and that some of the most eminent Ministers of the land, who were not at that meeting, are of the same judgment, I am assured. And I am also sure that, in cases of this nature, the Priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth. Mal., 2, 7."
What was meant by the quotation from Malachi is left to conjecture. It looks like the notion I have supposed Cotton Mather to have, more or less, cherished, at different times—to have such cases committed to the confidential custody and management of one or more Ministers. Whether Cotton Mather, as well as his father, was at this meeting, is not stated. The expressions "rare and extraordinary" and "sometimes have a permission," and the general style of the language, are like his. At any rate, in referring to the meeting, in his Wonders of the Invisible World, he speaks of the Ministers present "as very pious and learned;" says that they uttered the prevailing sense of others "eminently cautious and judicious;" and declares that they "have both argument and history to countenance them in it."
It is to be noticed, that this opinion of the Ministers, given on the first of August, if it did not authorize the admission, without reserve or limitation, of spectral evidence, in judicial proceedings, reduces the objection to it to an almost inappreciable point.
Observe the date. Already six women, heads of families, many of them of respectable positions in society, all in advanced life, one or two quite aged, and two, at least, of the most eminent Christian character, had suffered death, wholly from spectral evidence, that is, no other testimony was brought against them, as all admit, that could, even then, have convicted them. Twelve days had elapsed since five of them had been executed; in four more days, six others were to be brought to trial, among them the Rev. George Burroughs; and the Ministers pass a vote, under the lead of Increase Mather, and with the express approval of Cotton Mather, that there is very little danger of innocent people suffering, in judicial proceedings, from spectral evidence.
Let us hear no more that the Clergy of New England accepted the doctrines of those writers who had "declared against the admission of spectral testimony;" that "the Magistrates rejected those doctrines;" that "all the evils at Salem, grew out of the position taken by the Magistrates;" and that "it had been well with the twenty victims at Salem, if the Ministers of the Colony, instead of the Lawyers, had determined their fate."
The Clergy of New England did, indeed, entertain great regard for the authority of certain writers, who were considered as, more or less, discrediting spectral evidence. The Mathers professed to concur with them in that judgment; but the ground taken at the meeting on the first of August, as above stated, was, it must be allowed, inconsistent with it. The passages I have given, and shall give, from the writings of Cotton Mather, will illustrate the elaborate ingenuity he displayed in trying to reconcile a respect for the said writers with the admission of that species of evidence, to an extent they were considered as disallowing.
I am indebted to George H. Moore, LL.D., of New York city, for the following important document. John Foster was, at its date, a member of the Council. Hutchinson, who was his grandson, speaks of him [History, ii., 21] as a "merchant of Boston of the first rank," "who had a great share in the management of affairs from 1689 to 1692." In the latter year, he was raised to the Council Board, being named as such in the new Charter; and held his seat, by annual elections, to the close of his life, in 1710. He seems to have belonged to the Church of the Mathers, as the father and son each preached and printed a Sermon on the occasion of his death.
Autograph Letter of COTTON MATHER, on Witchcraft, presented to the Literary and Historical Society, by the Honorable Chief-justice SEWELL.
17^th 6^m, 1692.
"You would know whether I still retain my opinion about y^e horrible Witchcrafts among us, and I acknowledge that I do.
"I do still Think That when there is no further Evidence against a person but only This, That a Spectre in their shape does afflict a neighbour, that Evidence is not enough to convict y^e * * * of Witchcraft.
"That the Divels have a natural power w^ch makes them capable of exhibiting what shape they please I suppose nobody doubts, and I have no absolute promise of God that they shall not exhibit mine.
"It is the opinion generally of all protestant writers that y^e Divel may thus abuse y^e innocent, yea, tis y^e confession of some popish ones. And o^r Honorable Judges are so eminent for their Justice, Wisdom, & Goodness that whatever their own particular sense may bee, yett they will not proceed capitally against any, upon a principle contested with great odds on y^e other side in y^e Learned and Godly world.
"Nevertheless, a very great use is to bee made of y^e Spectral impression upon y^e sufferers. They Justly Introduce, and Determine, an Enquiry into y^e circumstances of y^e person accused; and they strengthen other presumptions.
"When so much use is made of those Things, I believe y^e use for w^ch y^e Great God intends y^m is made. And accordingly you see that y^e Eccellent Judges have had such an Encouraging presence of God with them, as that scarce any, if at all any, have been Tried before them, against whom God has not strangely sent in other, & more Humane & most convincing Testimonies.
"If any persons have been condemned, about whom any of y^e Judges, are not easy in their minds, that y^e Evidence against them, has been satisfactory, it would certainly bee for y^e glory of the whole Transaction to give that person a Reprieve.
"It would make all matters easier if at least Bail were taken for people Accused only by y^e invisible tormentors of y^e poor sufferers and not Blemished by any further Grounds of suspicion against them.
"The odd Effects produced upon the sufferers by y^e look or touch of the accused are things wherein y^e Divels may as much Impose upon some Harmless people as by the Representacon of their shapes.
"My notion of these matters is this. A Suspected and unlawful com'union with a Familiar Spirit, is the Thing enquired after. The communion on the Divel's part, may bee proved, while, for ought I can say, The man may bee Innocent; the Divel may impudently Impose his com'union upon some that care not for his company. But if the com'union on y^e man's part bee proved, then the Business is done.
"I am suspicious Lest y^e Divel may at some time or other, serve us a trick by his constancy for a long while in one way of Dealing. Wee may find the Divel using one constant course in Nineteen several Actions, and yett hee bee too hard for us at last, if wee thence make a Rule to form an Infallible Judgement of a Twentieth. It is o^r singular Happiness That wee are blessed with Judges who are Aware of this Danger.
"For my own part if the Holy God should permitt such a Terrible calamity to befal myself as that a Spectre in my Shape should so molest my neighbourhood, as that they can have no quiet, altho' there should be no other Evidence against me, I should very patiently submit unto a Judgement of Transportation, and all reasonable men would count o^r Judges to Act, as they are like y^e Fathers of y^e public, in such a Judgment. What if such a Thing should be ordered for those whose Guilt is more Dubious, and uncertain, whose presence y^s perpetuates y^e miseries of o^r sufferers? They would cleanse y^e Land of Witchcrafts, and yett also prevent y^e shedding of Innocent Blood, whereof some are so apprehensive of Hazard. If o^r Judges want any Good Bottom, to act thus upon, You know, that besides y^e usual power of Govern^es, to Relax many Judgments of Death, o^r General Court can soon provide a law.
"You see y^e Incoherency of my Thoughts but I hope, you will also some Reasonableness in those Thoughts.
"In the year 1645, a Vast Number of persons in y^e county of Suffolk were apprehended, as Guilty of Witchcraft; whereof, some confessed. The parlament granted a special commission of Oyer & Terminer for y^e Trial of those Witches; in w^ch com'ission, there were a famous Divine or two, M^r Fariclough particularly inserted. That Eccellent man did preach two sermons to y^e Court, before his first sitting on y^e Bench: Wherein having first proved the Existence of Witches, hee afterwards showed y^e Evil of Endeavouring y^e Conviction of any upon Defective Evidence. The Sermon had the Effect that none were Condemned, who could bee saved w^thout an Express Breach of y^e Law; & then tho' 'twas possible some Guilty did Escape, yett the troubles of those places, were, I think Extinguished.
"O^r case is Extraordinary. And so, you and others will pardon y^e Extraordinary Liberty I take to address You on this occasion. But after all, I Entreat you, that whatever you do, you Strengthen y^e Hands of o^r Honourable Judges in y^e Great work before y^m. They are persons, for whom no man living has a greater veneration, than
"S^r, Your Servant C. MATHER.
"For the Honourable JOHN FOSTER, ESQ."
This letter must be considered, I think, as settling the question. It was written two days before the execution of Burroughs, Proctor, and others. It entirely disposes of the assertions of the Reviewer, that Mather "denounced" the "admission" of spectral testimony, and demonstrates the truth of the positions, taken in this article, that he authorized fully its admission, as affording occasion of enquiry and matter of presumption, sufficient, if reinforced by other evidence, to justify conviction. The sentences I have italicised leave no further room for discussion. The language in which the Judges and their conduct of the Trials are spoken of, could not have been stronger. The reference to the course taken in England, in 1645, sheds light upon the suggestions I have made, as to Mather's notion, that one or more Ministers—"a famous Divine or two,"—ought to have been connected, "by authority," with the Court of Oyer and Terminer, in the management of the cases. The idea thrown out, as to Transportation, could hardly, it would seem, but have been apparent to a reflecting person, as utterly impracticable. No convicts or parties under indictment or arrest for the crime of witchcraft, could have been shipped off to any other part of the British dominions. A vessel, with persons on board, with such a stamp upon them, would have been everywhere repelled with as much vehemence and panic, as if freighted with the yellow fever, small-pox, or plague. If the unhappy creatures she bore beneath her hatches, should have been landed in any other part of the then called Christian or civilized world, stigmatized with the charge of witchcraft, they would have met with the halter or the fagot; and scarcely have fared better, if cast upon any savage shore.
We have seen how our Reviewer makes, let us now see how he unmakes, history.
Robert Calef, in his book entitled More Wonders of the Invisible World, Part V., under the head of "An impartial account of the most memorable matters of fact, touching the supposed Witchcraft in New England," [p. 103,] says: "Mr. Burroughs was carried in a cart, with the others, through the streets of Salem to execution. When he was upon the ladder, he made a speech for the clearing of his innocency, with such solemn and serious expressions, as were to the admiration of all present; his prayer (which he concluded by repeating the Lord's prayer) was so well worded, and uttered with such composedness, and such (at least seeming) fervency of spirit, as was very affecting, and drew tears from many, so that it seemed to some that the spectators would hinder the execution. The accusers said the black man stood and dictated to him. As soon as he was turned off, Mr. Cotton Mather, being mounted upon a horse, addressed himself to the people, partly to declare that he (Burroughs) was no ordained Minister, and partly to possess the people of his guilt, saying that the Devil has often been transformed into an Angel of Light; and this somewhat appeased the people; and the executions went on. When he was cut down, he was dragged by the halter to a hole, or grave, between the rocks, about two feet deep, his shirt and breeches being pulled off, and an old pair of trowsers of one executed, put on his lower parts; he was so put in, together with Willard and Carrier, that one of his hands and his chin, and a foot of one of them, were left uncovered."
The Reviewer undertakes to set aside this statement; to erase it altogether from the record; and to throw it from the belief and memory of mankind. But this cannot be done, but by an arbitrary process, that would wipe out all the facts of all history, and leave the whole Past an utter blank. If any record has passed the final ordeal, this has. It is beyond the reach of denial; and no power on earth can start the solid foundation on which it stands. It consists of distinct, plainly stated averments, which, as a whole, or severally, if not true, and known to be true, might have been denied, or questioned, at the time. Not disputed, nor controverted, then, it never can be. If not true to the letter, so far as Cotton Mather is concerned, hundreds, nay thousands, were at hand, who would have contradicted it. Certificates without number, like that of John Goodwin, would have been procured to invalidate it. Consisting of specifications, in detail, if there had been in it the minutest item that could have admitted contradiction, it would have been seized upon, and used with the utmost eagerness to break the force of the statement. It was printed at London, in 1700, in a volume accredited there, and immediately put into circulation here, twenty-eight years before the death of Mather. He had a copy of it, now in possession of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and wrote on the inside of the front cover, "My desire is, that mine adversary had written a book," etc. His father, the President of Harvard University, had a copy; for the book was burned in the College-square. Everything contributed to call universal attention to it. Its author was known, avowed, and his name printed on the title page; he lived in the same town with Mather; and was in all respects a responsible man.
No attempt was made, at the time, nor at any time, until now, to overthrow the statement or disprove any of its specifications.
Let us see how the Reviewer undertakes to controvert it. As to Mather's being on horseback, the argument seems to be, that it was customary, then, for people to travel in that way!
The harangue to the people to prevail upon them to pay no heed to the composed, devout, and forgiving deportment of the sufferers, because the Devil often appeared as an Angel of Light, sounded strangely from one who had attended the prisoners as their "spiritual comforter and friend." It was a queer conclusion of his services of consolation and pastoral offices, to proclaim to the crowd, that the truly Christian expressions of the persons in his charge were all a diabolical sham. One would have thought, if he accompanied them in the capacity alleged, he would have dismounted before ascending the hill, and tenderly waited upon them, side by side, holding them by the hand and sustaining them by his arm, as they approached the fatal ladder; and that his last benedictions, upon their departing souls, would have been in somewhat different language. That language was entirely natural, however, believing, as he did, that they were all guilty of the unpardonable sin, in its blackest dye; that, obstinately refusing to confess, they were reprobates, sunk far below the ordinary level of human crime, beyond the pale of sympathy or prayer, enemies of God, in covenant with the Devil, and firebrands of Hell. All this he believed. Of course, he could not pray with, and could hardly be expected to pray for, them. The language ascribed to him by Calef, expressed his honest convictions; bears the stamp of credibility; was not denied or disavowed, then; and cannot be discredited, now.
If those sufferers, wearing the resplendent aspect of faith, forgiveness, and piety, in their dying hour, were, in reality, "the Devil appearing as the Angel of Light," nobody but the Reviewer is to blame for charging Mather with being his "spiritual adviser and counsellor."
The Reviewer says that the horse Mather rode on that occasion, "has been tramping through history, for nearly two centuries. It is time that he be reined up." Not having been reined up by Mather, it is in vain for the Reviewer to attempt it. Mazeppa, on his wild steed, was not more powerless. The "man on horseback," described by Calef, will go tramping on through all the centuries to come, as through the "nearly two centuries" that have passed.
To discredit another part of the statement of Calef, the Reviewer cites the Description and History of Salem, by the Rev. William Bentley, in the Sixth Volume of the First Series of the Massachusetts Historical Collections, printed in 1800, quoting the following passage: "It was said that the bodies were not properly buried; but, upon an examination of the ground, the graves were found of the usual depth, and remains of the bodies, and of the wood in which they were interred."
At the time when this was written, there was a tradition to that effect. But it is understood that, early in this century, an examination was made of the spot, pointed out by the tradition upon which Bentley had relied, and nothing was found to sustain it. It is apparent that this tradition was, to some extent, incorrect, because it is quite certain that three, and probably most, of the bodies were recovered by their friends, at the time; but chiefly because it is believed, on sufficient grounds, that the locality, indicated in the tradition that had reached Doctor Bentley, was, in 1692, covered by the original forest. Of course, a passage through woods, to a spot, even now, after the trees have been wholly removed from the hill and all its sides, so very difficult of access, would not have been encountered; neither can it be supposed that an open area would have been elaborately prepared for the place of execution, in the midst of a forest, entirely shut in from observation, by surrounding trees, with their thick foliage, in that season of the year. If seclusion had been the object, a wooded spot might have been found, near at hand, on level areas, anywhere in the neighborhood of the town. But it was not a secluded, but a conspicuous, place that was sought; not only an elevated, but an open, theatre for the awe-inspiring spectacle, displaying to the whole people and world—to use the language employed by Mather, in the Advice of the Ministers and in one of his letters to Richards—the "Success" of the Court, in "extinguishing that horrible witchcraft."
Another tradition, brought down through a family, ever since residing on the same spot, in the neighborhood, and from the longevity of its successive heads, passing through but few memories, and for that reason highly deserving of credit, is, that its representative, at that time, lent his aid in the removal of the bodies of the victims, in the night, and secretly, across the river, in a boat. The recollections of the transaction are preserved in considerable detail. From the locality, it is quite certain that the bodies were brought to it from the southern end of Witch-hill. From a recently-discovered letter of Dr. Holyoke, mentioned in my book [ii., 377], it appears that the executions must have taken place there. The earth is so thin, scattered between projecting ledges of rock, which, indeed, cover much of the surface, that few trees probably ever grew there; and a bare, elevated platform afforded a conspicuous site, and room for the purpose. These conclusions, to which recent discoveries and explorations have led, remarkably confirm Calef's statements. From Sheriff Corwin's Return, we know that the first victim was buried "in the place" where she was executed; and it may be supposed all the rest were. The soil is shallow, near the brow of the precipice and between the clefts of the rock.
The Reviewer desires to know my authority for saying that the ground, where Burroughs was buried, "was trampled down by the mob." I presume that when, less than five weeks afterwards, eight more persons were hanged there, belonging to respectable families in what are now Peabody, Marblehead, Topsfield, Rowley and Andover, as well as Salem, and a spectacle again presented to which crowds flocked from all quarters, and to which many particularly interested must have been drawn, besides those from the populous neighborhood, especially if men "on horseback" mingled in the throng, the ground must have been considerably trampled upon. Poor Burroughs had been suddenly torn from his family and home, more than a hundred miles away; there were no immediate connections, here, who would have been likely to recover his remains; and, it is therefore probable, they had been left where they were thrown, near the foot of the gallows.
There is one point upon which the Reviewer is certain he has "demolished" Calef. The latter speaks of the victims as having been hanged, one after another. The Reviewer says, the mode of execution was to have them "swung off at once;" and further uses this argument: "Calef himself furnishes us with evidence that such was the practice in Salem, where eight persons were hanged thirty-six days later. He says, 'After the execution, Mr. Noyes, turning him to the bodies, said—What a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of Hell hanging there.'"
The argument is, eight were hanging there together, after the execution; therefore, they must have been swung off at the same moment!
This is a kind of reasoning with which—to adopt Mather's expression in describing diabolical horrors, capital trials, and condemnations to death—we are "entertained" throughout by the Reviewer. The truth is, we have no particular knowledge of the machinery, or its operations, at these executions. A "halter," a "ladder," a "gallows," a "hangman," are spoken of. The expression used for the final act is, "turned off." There is no shadow of evidence to contradict Calef. The probabilities seem to be against the supposition of a structure, on a scale so large, as to allow room for eight persons to be turned off at once. The outstretching branches from large trees, on the borders of the clearing, would have served the purpose, and a ladder, connected with a simple frame, might have been passed from tree to tree.
The Regicides, thirty years before, had been executed in England in the method Calef understood to have been used here. Hugh Peters was carried to execution with Judge Cook. The latter suffered first; and when Peters ascended the ladder, turning to the officer of the law, he uttered these memorable words, exhibiting a state of the faculties, a grandeur of bearing, and a force and felicity of language and illustration, all the circumstances considered, not surpassed in the records of Christian heroism or true eloquence: "Sir, you have slain one of the servants of God, before mine eyes, and have made me to behold it, on purpose to terrify and discourage me; but God hath made it an ordinance unto me, for my strengthening and encouragement."
While the trials were going on, Mather made use of his pulpit to influence the public mind, already wrought up to frenzy, to greater heights of fanaticism, by portraying, in his own peculiar style, the out-breaking battle between the Church and the Devil. On the day before Burroughs, who was regarded as the head of the Church, and General of the forces, of Satan, was brought to the Bar, Mather preached a Sermon from the text, Rev., xii., 12. "Wo to the inhabitants of the earth, and of the Sea! for the Devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth he hath but a short time." It is thickly interspersed with such passages as these: "Now, at last, the Devils are, (if I may so speak), in Person come down upon us, with such a wrath, as is most justly much, and will quickly be more, the astonishment of the world." "There is little room for hope, that the great wrath of the Devil will not prove the ruin of our poor New England, in particular. I believe there never was a poor plantation more pursued by the wrath of the Devil than our poor New England." "We may truly say, Tis the hour and power of darkness. But, though the wrath be so great, the time is but short: when we are perplexed with the wrath of the Devil, the word of our God, at the same time, unto us, is that in Rom., xvi., 20. 'The God of Peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.' Shortly, didst thou say, dearest Lord? O gladsome word! Amen, even so, come Lord! Lord Jesus, come quickly! We shall never be rid of this troublesome Devil, till thou do come to chain him up."—Wonders, etc.
There is much in the Sermon that relates to the sins of the people, generally, and some allusions to the difficulties that encompass the subject of diabolical appearances; but the witchcraft in Salem is portrayed in colors, which none but a thorough believer in all that was there brought forward, could apply; the whole train of ideas and exhortations is calculated to inflame the imaginations and passions of the people; and it is closed by "An hortatory and necessary Address to a country now extraordinarily alarum'd by the Wrath of the Devil." In this Address, he goes, at length, into the horrible witchcraft at Salem Village. "Such," says he, "is the descent of the Devil, at this day, upon ourselves, that I may truly tell you, the walls of the whole world are broken down." He enumerates, as undoubtedly true, in detail, all that was said by the "afflicted children" and "confessing witches." He says of the reputed witches: "They each of them have their spectres or devils, commissioned by them, and representing of them, to be the engines of their malice." Such expressions as these are scattered over the pages, "wicked spectres," "diabolical spectres," "owners of spectres," "spectre's hands," "spectral book," etc.
And yet it is stated, by the Reviewer, that Mather was opposed to spectral evidence, and denounced it! He gave currency to it, in the popular faith, during the whole period, while the trials and executions were going on, more than any other man.
He preached another Sermon, of the same kind, entitled, The Devil Discovered.
After the trials by the Special Court were over, and that body had been forbidden to meet on the day to which it had adjourned, he addressed another letter to John Richards, one of its members, dated "Dec. 14th, 1692," to be found in the Mather Papers, p. 397. It is a characteristic document, and, in some points of view, commendable. Its purpose was to induce Richards to consent to a measure he was desirous of introducing into his pastoral administration, to which Richards and one other member of his Church had manifested repugnance. Cotton Mather was in advance of his times, in liberality of views, relating to denominational matters. He desired to open the door to the Ordinances, particularly Baptism, wider than was the prevalent practice. He urges his sentiments upon Richards in earnest and fitting tones; but resorts, also, to flattering, and what may be called coaxing, tones. He calls him, "My ever-honored Richards," "Dearest Sir," "my dear Major," and reminds him of the public and constant support he had given to his official conduct: "I have signalized my perpetual respects before the whole world." In this letter, he refers to the Salem witchcraft prosecutions, and pronounces unqualified approval and high encomiums upon Richards's share in the proceedings, as one of the Judges. "God has made more than an ordinary use of your honorable hand," in "the extinguishing" of "that horrible witchcraft," into which "the Devils have been baptizing so many of our miserable neighbors." This language is hardly consistent with a serious, substantial, considerable, or indeed with any, disapprobation of the proceedings of the Court.
 Transactions of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec—Octavo, Quebec, 1831—ii., 313-316.
LETTER TO STEPHEN SEWALL. "WONDERS OF THE INVISIBLE WORLD." ITS ORIGIN AND DESIGN. COTTON MATHER'S ACCOUNT OF THE TRIALS.
I come now to the examination of matters of interest and importance, not only as illustrating the part acted by Mather in the witchcraft affair, but as bearing upon the public history of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, at that time.
The reader is requested carefully to examine the following letter, addressed by Cotton Mather to Stephen Sewall, Clerk of the Court at Salem.
"BOSTON, Sept. 20, 1692.
"MY DEAR AND MY VERY OBLIGING STEPHEN,
"It is my hap, to bee continually * * * with all sorts of objections, and objectors against the * * * work now doing at Salem, and it is my further good hap, to do some little Service for God and you, in my encounters.
"But, that I may be the more capable to assist, in lifting up a standard against the infernal enemy, I must renew my most IMPORTUNATE REQUEST, that would please quickly to perform, what you kindly promised, of giving me a narrative of the evidence given in at the trials of half a dozen, or if you please, a dozen, of the principal witches, that have been condemned. I know 'twill cost you some time; but when you are sensible of the benefit that will follow, I know you will not think much of that cost, and my own willingness to expose myself unto the utmost for the defence of my friends with you, makes me presume to plead something of merit, to be considered.
"I shall be content, if you draw up the desired narrative by way of letter to me, or at least, let it not come without a letter, wherein you shall, if you can, intimate over again, what you have sometimes told me, of the awe, which is upon the hearts of your Juries, with * * * unto the validity of the spectral evidences.
"Please also to * * * some of your observations about the confessors, and the credibility of what they assert; or about things evidently preternatural in the witchcrafts, and whatever else you may account an entertainment, for an inquisitive person, that entirely loves you, and Salem. Nay, though I will never lay aside the character which I mentioned in my last words, yet, I am willing that, when you write, you should imagine me as obstinate a Sadducee and witch-advocate, as any among us: address me as one that believed nothing reasonable; and when you have so knocked me down, in a spectre so unlike me, you will enable me to box it about, among my neighbors, till it come, I know not where at last.
"But assure yourself, as I shall not wittingly make what you write prejudicial to any worthy design, which those two excellent persons, Mr. Hale and Mr. Noyes, may have in hand, so you shall find that I shall be,
"Sir, your grateful friend, C. MATHER."
"P. S. That which very much strengthens the charms of the request, which this letter makes you, is that his Excellency, the Governor, laid his positive commands upon me to desire this favor of you; and the truth is, there are some of his circumstances with reference to this affair, which I need not mention, that call for the expediting of your kindness, kindness, I say, for such it will be esteemed, as well by him, as by your servant, C. MATHER."
The point, on which the Reviewer raises an objection to the statement in my book, in reference to this letter, is, as to the antecedent of "it," in the expression, "box it about." The opinion I gave was that it referred to the document requested to be sent by Sewall. The Reviewer says it refers to "a Spectre," in the preceding line, or as he expresses it, "the fallen Spectre of Sadduceeism." Every one can judge for himself on inspection of the passage. After all, it is a mere quibbling about words, for the meaning remains substantially the same. Indeed, that which he gives is more to my purpose. Let it go, that Mather desired the document, and intended to use it, to break down all objectors to the work then doing in Salem. Whoever disapproved of such proceedings, or intimated any doubt concerning the popular notions about witchcraft, were called "Sadducees and witch-advocates." These terms were used by Mather, on all occasions, as marks of opprobrium, to stigmatize and make odious such persons. If they could once be silenced, witchcraft demonstrations and prosecutions might be continued, without impediment or restraint, until they should "come," no one could tell "where, at last." "The fallen Spectre of Sadduceeism" was to be the trophy of Mather's victory; and Sewall's letter was to be the weapon to lay it low.
Each of the paragraphs of this letter demonstrates the position Mather occupied, and the part he had taken, in the transactions at Salem. Mr. Hale had acted, up to this time, earnestly with Noyes and Parris; and the letter shows that Mather had the sympathies and the interests of a cooperator with them, and in their "designs." Every person of honorable feelings can judge for himself of the suggestion to Sewall, to be a partner in a false representation to the public, by addressing Mather "in a spectre so unlike" him—that is, in a character which he, Sewall, knew, as well as Mather, to be wholly contrary to the truth. Blinded, active, and vehement, as the Clerk of the Court had been, in carrying on the prosecutions, it is gratifying to find reason to conclude that he was not so utterly lost to self-respect as to comply with the jesuitical request, or lend himself to any such false connivance.
The letter was written at the height of the fury of the delusion, immediately upon a Session of the Court, at which all tried had been condemned, eight of whom suffered two days after its date. Any number of others were under sentence of death. The letter was a renewal of "a most importunate request."
I cite it, here, at this stage of the examination of the subject, particularly on account of the postscript. Every one has been led to suppose that "His Excellency, the Governor," who had laid such "positive commands" upon Mather to obtain the desired document from Sewall, was Sir William Phips. The avowed purpose of Mather, in seeking it, was to put it into circulation—to "box it about"—thereby to produce an effect, to the putting down of Sadduceeism, or all further opposition to witchcraft prosecutions. He, undoubtedly, contemplated making it a part of his book, the Wonders of the Invisible World, printed, the next year, in London. The statement made by him always was, that he wrote that book in compliance with orders laid upon him to that effect by "His Excellency, the Governor." The imprimatur, in conspicuous type, in front of one of the editions of the book, is "Published by the special command of his Excellency, the Governor of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England."
On the sixteenth of September, Sir William Phips had notified the Council of his going to the eastward; and that body was adjourned to the fourteenth of October. From his habitual promptness, and the pressing exigency of affairs in the neighborhood of the Kennebec, it is to be presumed that he left immediately; and, as it was expected to be a longer absence than usual, it can hardly be doubted that, as on the first of August, he formally, by a written instrument, passed the Government over to Stoughton. At any rate, while he was away from his Province proper, the Deputy necessarily acceded to the Executive functions.
In the Sewall Diary we find the following: "SEPT. 21. A petition is sent to Town, in behalf of Dorcas Hoar, who now confesses. Accordingly, an order is sent to the Sheriff to forbear her execution, notwithstanding her being in the Warrant to die to-morrow. This is the first condemned person who has confessed."
The granting of this reprieve was an executive act, that would seem to have belonged to the functions of the person filling the office of Governor; and Phips being absent, it could only have been performed by Stoughton, and shows, therefore, that he, at that time, acted as Governor. As such, he was, by custom and etiquette, addressed—"His Excellency." The next day, eight were executed, four of them having been sentenced on the ninth of September, and four on the seventeenth, which was on Saturday. The whole eight were included, as is to be inferred from the foregoing entry, and is otherwise known, in the same Warrant, which could not, therefore, have been made out before the nineteenth. The next day, Mather wrote the letter to Sewall; and the language, in its Postscript, may have referred to Stoughton; particularly this clause: "There are some of his circumstances, with reference to this affair." As Phips had, from the first, left all the proceedings with the Chief-justice, who had presided at all the trials, and was, by universal acknowledgment, especially responsible for all the proceedings and results, the words of Mather are much more applicable to Stoughton than to Phips.
Upon receiving these "importunate requests" from Mather, proposing such a form of reply, to be used in such a way, Sewall thought it best to adopt the course indicated in the following entry, in the Diary of his brother, the Judge: "THURSDAY, SEPT. 22, 1692. William Stoughton, Esq., John Hathorne, Esq., Mr. Cotton Mather, and Capt. John Higginson, with my brother St. were at our house, speaking about publishing some trials of the witches."
It appears that Stephen Sewall, instead of answering Mather's letter in writing, went directly to Boston, accompanied by Hathorne and Higginson, and met Mather and Stoughton at the house of the Judge. No other Minister was present; and Judge Sewall was not Mather's parishioner. The whole matter was there talked over. The project Mather had been contemplating was matured; and arrangements made with Stephen Sewall, who had them in his custody, to send to Mather the Records of the trials; and, thus provided, he proceeded, without further delay, in obedience to the commands laid upon him by "his Excellency," to prepare for the press, The Wonders of the Invisible World, which was designed to send to the shades, "Sadduceeism," to extirpate "witch-advocates," and to leave the course clear for the indefinite continuance of the prosecutions, until, as Stoughton expressed it, "the land was cleared" of all witches.
The presence of the Deputy-governor, at this private conference, shows the prominent part he bore in the movement, and corroborates, what is inferrible from the dates, that he was "His Excellency, the Governor," referred to in the documents connected with this transaction. It is observable, by the way, that the references are always to the official character and title, and not to the name of the person, whether Phips or Stoughton.
I now proceed to examine the book, written and brought forward, under these circumstances and for this purpose. It contains much of which I shall avail myself, to illustrate the position and the views of Mather, at the time. The length to which this article is extended, by the method I have adopted of quoting documents so fully, is regretted; but it seems necessary, in order to meet the interest that has been awakened in the subject, by the article in the North American Review, to make the enquiry as thorough as possible.
Only a part of the work is devoted to the main purpose for which it was ostensibly and avowedly designed. That I shall first notice. It is introduced as follows: "I shall no longer detain my reader from his expected entertainment, in a brief account of the Trials which have passed upon some of the Malefactors lately executed at Salem, for the witchcrafts whereof they stood convicted. For my own part, I was not present at any of them; nor ever had I any personal prejudice at the persons thus brought upon the Stage; much less, at the surviving relations of those persons, with and for whom I would be as hearty a mourner, as any man living in the world: The Lord comfort them! But having received a command so to do, I can do no other than shortly relate the chief Matters of Fact, which occurred in the trials of some that were executed; in an abridgement collected out of the Court Papers, on this occasion put into my hands. You are to take the Truth, just as it was."—Wonders of the Invisible World, p. 54.
He singles out five cases and declares: "I report matters not as an Advocate, but as an Historian."
After further prefacing his account, by relating, A modern instance of Witches, discovered and condemned, in a trial before that celebrated Judge, Sir Matthew Hale, he comes to the trial of George Burroughs. He spreads out, without reserve, the spectral evidence, given in this as in all the cases, and without the least intimation of objection from himself, or any one else, to its being admitted, as, "with other things to render it credible" enough for the purpose of conviction. Any one reading his account, and at the same time examining the documents on file, will be able to appreciate how far he was justified in saying, that he reported it in the spirit of an historian rather than an advocate.
Let, us, first, see what the "Court papers, put into his hands," amounted to; as we find them in the files.
"The Deposition of Simon Willard, aged about 42 years, saith: I being at Saco, in the year 1689, some in Capt. Ed. Sargent's garrison were speaking of Mr. George Burroughs his great strength, saying he could take a barrel of molasses out of a canoe or boat, alone; and that he could take it in his hands, or arms, out of the canoe or boat, and carry it, and set it on the shore: and Mr. Burroughs being there, said that he had carried one barrel of molasses or cider out of a canoe, that had like to have done him a displeasure; said Mr. Burroughs intimated, as if he did not want strength to do it, but the disadvantage of the shore was such, that, his foot slipping in the sand, he had liked to have strained his leg."
Willard was uncertain whether Burroughs had stated it to be molasses or cider. John Brown testified about a "barrel of cider." Burroughs denied the statement, as to the molasses, thereby impliedly admitting that he had so carried a barrel of cider.
Samuel Webber testified that, seven or eight years before, Burroughs told him that, by putting his fingers into the bung of a barrel of molasses, he had lifted it up, and "carried it round him, and set it down again."
Parris, in his notes of this trial, not in the files, says that "Capt. Wormwood testified about the gun and the molasses." But the papers on file give the name as "Capt. W^m Wormall," and represents that he, referring to the gun, "swore" that he "saw George Burroughs raise it from the ground." His testimony, with this exception, was merely confirmatory, in general terms, of another deposition of Simon Willard, to the effect, that Burroughs, in explanation of one of the stories about his great strength, showed him how he held a gun of "about seven foot barrel," by taking it "in his hand behind the lock," and holding it out; Willard further stating that he did not see him "hold it out then," and that he, Willard, so taking the gun with both hands, could not hold it out long enough to take sight. The testimony, throughout, was thus loose and conflicting, almost wholly mere hearsay, of no value, logically or legally. All that was really proved being what Burroughs admitted, that is, as to the cider.
But, in the statement made by him to Willard, at Saco, as deposed by the latter, he mentioned a circumstance, namely, the straining of his leg, which, if not true, could easily have been disproved, that demonstrated the effort to have been made, and the feat accomplished, by the natural exercise of muscular power. If preternatural force had aided him, it would have been supplied in sufficient quantity to have prevented such a mishap. To convey the impression that the exhibitions of strength ascribed to Burroughs were proofs of diabolical assistance, and demonstrations that he was guilty of the crime of witchcraft, Mather says "he was a very puny man, yet he had often done things beyond the strength of a giant." There is nothing to justify the application of the word "puny" to him, except that he was of small stature. Such persons are often very strong. Burroughs had, from his college days, been noted for gymnastic exercises. There is nothing, I repeat, to justify the use of the word, by Mather, in the sense he designed to convey, of bodily weakness.
The truth is, that his extraordinary muscular power, as exhibited in such feats as lifting the barrel of cider, was the topic of neighborhood talk; and there was much variation, as is usual in such cases, some having it a barrel of cider, and some, of molasses. There is, among the Court papers, a Memorandum, in Mr. George Burroughs trial, beside the written evidences. One item is the testimony of Thomas Evans, "that he carried out barrels of molasses, meat, &c., out of a canoe, whilst his mate went to the fort for hands to help out with." Here we see another variation of the story. The amount of it is, that, while the mate thought assistance needed, and went to get it, Burroughs concluded to do the work himself. If the Prisoner had been allowed Counsel; or any discernment been left in the Judges, the whole of this evidence would have been thrown out of account, as without foundation and frivolous in its character; yet Increase Mather, who was present, was entirely carried away with it, and declared that, upon it alone, if on the Bench or in the jury-box, he would have convicted the Prisoner.
It is quite doubtful, however, whether the above testimony of Evans was given in, at the trial; for the next clause, in the same paragraph, is Sarah Wilson's confession, that: "The night before Mr. Burroughs was executed, there was a great meeting of the witches, nigh Sargeant Chandlers, that Mr. Burroughs was there, and they had the sacrament, and after they had done, he took leave, and bid them stand to their faith, and not own any thing. Martha Tyler saith the same with Sarah Wilson, and several others."
The testimony of these two confessing witches, "and several others," relating, as it did, to what was alleged to have happened "the night before Mr. Burroughs was executed," could not have been given at his trial, nor until after his death. Yet, as but three other confessing witches are mentioned in the files of this case, Mather must have relied upon this Memorandum to make up the "eight" said, by him, to have testified, "in the prosecution of the charge" against Burroughs. Hale, misled, perhaps, by the Memorandum, uses the indefinite expression "seven or eight." We know that one of the confessing witches, who had given evidence against Burroughs, retracted it before the Court, previous to his execution; but Mather makes no mention of that fact.
To go back to the barrel Mr. Burroughs lifted. I have stated the substance of the whole testimony relating to the point. Mather characterizes it, thus, in his report of the trial: "There was evidence likewise brought in, that he made nothing of taking up whole barrels, filled with molasses or cider, in very disadvantageous positions, and carrying them off, through the most difficult places, out of a canoe to the shore."
He made up this statement, as its substance and phraseology show, from Willard's deposition, then lying before him. In his use of that part of the evidence, in particular, as of the whole evidence, generally, the reader can judge whether he exhibited the spirit of an historian or of an advocate; and whether there was any thing to justify his expression, "made nothing of."
Any one scrutinizing the evidence, which, strange to say, was allowed to come in on a trial for witchcraft, relating to alleged misunderstandings between Burroughs and his two wives, involved in an alienation between him and some of the relations of the last, will see that it amounts to nothing more than the scandals incident to imbittered parish quarrels, and inevitably engendered in such a state of credulity and malevolence, as the witchcraft prosecutions produced. Yet our "historian," in his report of the case, says: "Now G. B. had been infamous, for the barbarous usage of his two successive wives, all the country over."
In my book, in connection with another piece of evidence in the papers, given, like that of the confessing witches just referred to, long after Burroughs's execution, I expressed surprise that the irregularity of putting such testimony among the documents belonging to the trial, escaped the notice of Hutchinson, eminent jurist as he was, and also of Calef. The Reviewer represents this remark as one of my "very grave and unsupported charges against the honesty of Cotton Mather." I said nothing about Mather in connection with that point, but expressed strong disapprobation of the conduct of the official persons who procured the deposition to be made, and of those having the custody of the papers. The Reviewer, imagining that my censure was levelled at Mather, and resolved to defend him, through thick and thin, denies that the document in question was "surreptitiously foisted in." But there it was, when Mather had the papers, and there it now is,—its date a month after Burroughs was in his rocky grave. The Reviewer says that if I had looked to the end of Mather's notice of the document, or observed the brackets in which it was enclosed, I would have seen that Mather says that the paper was not used at the trial. I stated the fact, expressly, and gave Mather's explanation "that the man was overpersuaded by others to be out of the way upon George Burroughs's trial." [ii., 300, 303] I found no fault with Mather, in connection with the paper; and am not answerable, at all, for the snarl in which the Reviewer's mind has become entangled, in his eagerness to assail my book.
I ask a little further attention to this matter, because it affords an illustration of Mather's singular, but characteristic, method of putting things, often deceiving others, and sometimes, perhaps, himself. I quote the paragraph from his report of the trial of Burroughs, in the Wonders of the Invisible World, p. 64: "There were two testimonies, that G. B. with only putting the fore-finger of his right hand into the muzzle of an heavy gun, a fowling-piece of about six or seven foot barrel, did lift up the gun, and hold it out at arms end; a gun which the deponents, though strong men, could not, with both hands, lift up, and hold out, at the butt end, as is usual. Indeed, one of these witnesses was overpersuaded by some persons to be out of the way, upon G. B.'s trial; but he came afterwards, with sorrow for his withdraw; and gave in his testimony; nor were either of these witnesses made use of as evidences in the trial."
The Reviewer says that Mather included the above paragraph in "brackets," to apprise the reader that the evidence, to which it relates, was not given at the trial. It is true that the brackets are found in the Boston edition: but they are omitted, in the London edition, of the same year, 1693. If it was thought expedient to prevent misunderstanding, or preserve the appearance of fairness, here, the precaution was not provided for the English reader. He was left to receive the impression from the opening words, "there were two testimonies," that they were given at the trial, and to run the luck of having it removed by the latter part of the paragraph. The whole thing is so stated as to mystify and obscure. There were "two" testimonies; "one" is said not to have been presented; and then, that neither was presented. The reader, not knowing what to make of it, is liable to carry off nothing distinctly, except that, somehow, "there were testimonies" brought to bear against Burroughs; whereas not a syllable of it came before the Court.
Never going out of my way to criticise Cotton Mather, nor breaking the thread of my story for that purpose, I did not, in my book, call attention to this paragraph, as to its bearing upon him, but the strange use the Reviewer has made of it against me, compels its examination, in detail.
What right had Mather to insert this paragraph, at all, in his report of the trial of George Burroughs? It refers to extra-judicial and gratuitous statements that had nothing to do with the trial, made a month after Burroughs had passed out of Court and out of the world, beyond the reach of all tribunals and all Magistrates. It was not true that "there were two testimonies" to the facts alleged, at the trial, which, and which alone, Mather was professing to report. It is not a sufficient justification, that he contradicted, in the last clause, what he said in the first. This was one of Mather's artifices, as a writer, protecting himself from responsibility, while leaving an impression.
Mather says there were "two" witnesses of the facts alleged in the paragraph. Upon a careful re-examination of the papers on file, there appears to have been only one, in support of it. It stands solely on the single disposition of Thomas Greenslitt, of the fifteenth of September, 1692. The deponent mentions two other persons, by name, "and some others that are dead," who witnessed the exploit. But no evidence was given by them; and the muzzle story, according to the papers on file, stands upon the deposition of Greenslitt alone. The paragraph gives the idea that Greenslitt put himself out of the way, at the time of the trial of Burroughs; but there is reason to believe that he lived far down in the eastern country, and subsequently came voluntarily to Salem, from his distant home, to be present at the trial of his mother. The deposition was obtained from him in the period between her condemnation and execution. The motives that may have led the prosecutors to think it important to procure, and the probable inducement that led him to give, the deposition are explained in my book [ii., 298]. Greenslitt states that "the gun was of six-foot barrel or thereabouts." Mather reports him as saying "about six or seven foot barrel." The account of the trial of Burroughs, throughout, is charged with extreme prejudice against the Prisoner; and the character of the evidence is exaggerated.
One of the witnesses, in the trial of Bridget Bishop, related a variety of mishaps, such as the stumping of the off-wheel of his cart, the breaking of the gears, and a general coming to pieces of the harness and vehicle, on one occasion; and his not being able, on another, to lift a bag of corn as easily as usual; and he ascribed it all to the witchery of the Prisoner. Mather gives his statement, concluding thus: "Many other pranks of this Bishop this deponent was ready to testify." He endorses every thing, however absurd, especially if resting on spectral evidence, as absolute, unquestionable, and demonstrated facts.