Thursday, October 23, 2008

Witchcraft ancestry

It's been amazing to hear from readers who also share a link with an ancestor accused of witchcraft. Author John Putnam Demos tracked 139 cases of witchcraft in 17th century New England (excepting the Salem trials). Given the large families colonial settlers seemed to have, it makes sense that there are many descendants of accused witches today.

The earliest case was Jane Hawkins of Boston, accused in 1638; the last was an unnamed female in the 1680s, possibly in Salem. Demos tracked the 1600s only--the last witch trial in the U.S. took place in 1706, when Grace Sherwood underwent the dunking trial at what is today Virginia Beach.

Her thumbs were tied to her big toes, arching her back, and then she was tossed into the river. She floated...which meant she was guilty. But instead of being executed, Sherwood was imprisoned for eight years and then released. She was actually given a posthumous gubernatorial pardon two years ago!

Demos's book with a chart of all the trials is Entertaining Satan. He has a new one out this year that I am putting on my wish list.

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