The Salem Accused

Photo of grey squirrel with ginger tail
This squirrel with the red tail was part of my yard’s population for a while. But, I have hawks…

 

Mary Osgood Confession

 

My Foster ancestors settled in Massachusetts, some in the town of Salem. I don’t know that I have any direct descendancy from those involved in this famous event. But the Foster name comes up. As the story below relates, Mary Osgood was charged with tormenting a Rose Foster; also among the victims of this early hysteria was an Ann Foster, who died in jail. I feel the topic is worth a few analytical paragraphs. After all, the victims are often casually referred to as the “Salem witches”.

There is a strange sort of transmogrification, where feminism and political correctness join to color the story. Witches somehow, within our culture, much fueled by TV shows and books, are used to represent a kind of female power. The idea of the witch becomes iconic. At the same time, the notion of a protected class, a marginalized minority (and American history is rich in the marginalizing of minorities), gets woven in.

And what happens to justice?

An important lesson, for the times we live in, falls by the wayside. These people were not witches, a thing that doesn’t exist (while we make allowance for adopted religious practices). So we can’t “champion” their cause, by superimposing onto it pop culture and political creeds, resulting in an odd presumption of guilt. Our ancestors would not have wished to be told, “You’re a witch, and that’s okay!” They would have asked that their innocence be shouted from the rooftops.

Thus, the salient point, about application of the legal process: the case was not prosecutable. It would have been necessary to determine the validity of the charges first, before undertaking to bring them. The trials preceded on a circular basis: People made accusations against individuals; due to those accusations, the accused were brought to trial, to have the charges “proven” by the testimony of the accusers. There is a present danger of the same sorts of proceedings; and a bandying about, lately, of the term “witch hunt”. The fantasies the Salem accusers indulged were a product of those things culturally available to them; nothing unimaginable occurred, even in their heads.

So let’s bear this in mind—in the world of fiction, witches can be admirable characters, and carry the role of empowered feminist icon, or beleaguered minority, or both. The accused of Salem were ordinary people, innocent of the charges made against them, and murdered by the system.

 


 

The examination and confession (September 8, 1692) of Mary Osgood, wife of Capt. Osgood, of Andover, taken before John Hawthorne and Majesties’ justices. She confesses, that about eleven years ago, when she was in a melancholy state and condition, she used to walk abroad in her orchard; and upon a certain time she saw the appearance of a cat at the end of the house, which she yet thought was a real cat. However, at that time it diverted her from praying to God, and instead thereof she prayed to the devil, about which time she made covenant with the devil, who, as a black man, came to her and presented her with a book, upon which she laid her finger, and that left a red spot; and that upon her sinning the devil told her he was her god and that she should serve and worship him; and she believes she consented to it. She says further, that about two years ago she was carried through the air in company with Deacon Frye’s wife, Ebenezer Barker’s wife, and Goody Tyler, to Five Mile Pond, where she was baptized by the devil, who dipped her face in water, made her renounce her former baptism, and told her she must be his, soul and body, forever, and that she must serve him, which she promised to do.

She says the renouncing of her first baptism was after her dipping, and that she was transported again through the air in company with the aforenamed persons, in the same manner as she went, and believes they were carried upon a pole.

Q. How many persons were on the pole?

A. As I have said before; viz.: four persons and no more, but whom she had named above. She confesses she has afflicted three persons: John Sawdy, Martha Sprague and Rose Foster; and that she did it by pinching her bedclothes and giving consent, the devil should do it in her shape, and that the devil could not do it without her consent. She confesses the afflicting persons in the court by the glance of the eye. She says, as she was coming down to Salem to be examined, she and the rest of the company stopped at Mr. Phillip’s to refresh themselves up, and the afflicted persons, being behind them on the road, came just as she was mounting again, and were then afflicted and cried out upon her, so that she was forced to stay until they were all passed, and said she only looked that way towards them.

Q. Do you know the devil can take the shape of an innocent person and afflict?

A. I believe he cannot.

Q. Who taught you this way of witchcraft?

A. Satan; and that he taught her abundance of satisfaction and quietness in her future state, but never performed anything, and that she has lived more miserably and more discontented than ever before. She confesses further that she herself, in company with Goody Parker, Goody Tyler and Goody Dean, had a meeting at Moses Tyler’s house last Monday night, to afflict, and that she and Goody Dean carried the shape of Mr. Dean, the minister, between them, to make persons believe that Mr. Dean was afflicted.

Q. What hindered you from accomplishing what you intended?

A. The Lord would not suffer it so to be; that the devil should afflict in an innocent person’s shape.

Q. Have you been at any other witch meetings?

A. I know nothing thereof, and I shall answer in the presence of God and his people, but said that the black man stood before her and told her that what she had confessed was a lie; notwithstanding she said that what she had confessed was true, and thereto put her hand. Her husband, being present, was asked if he judged his wife to be any way discomposed. He answered that, having lived with her so long, he doth not judge her to be any way discomposed, but has cause to believe what she has said is true. When Mistress Osgood was first called, she afflicted Martha Sprague and Rose Foster by the glance of her eyes, and recovered them out of their fits by the touch of her hand. Mary (Foster) Lacey and Betty Johnson and Hannah Part [probably Post] saw Mistress Osgood afflicting Sprague and Foster. The said Hannah Post and Mary Lacey and Betty Johnson, Jun., and Rose Foster and Mary Richardson were afflicted by Mistress Osgood in the time of their examination and recovered by her touching of their hands.

‘I’ underwritten, being appointed by authority to take this examination, do testify upon oath, taken in court, that this is a true copy of, the substance of it, to the best of my knowledge, January 5, 1692-3. The above Mary Osgood was examined before their majesty’s justices of the peace in Salem.

John Higginson, Just. Pac.

 

Source: Foster Genealogy, Frederick Clifton Pierce, 1899.

(Mary Osgood was released, and died in 1710; the John Hawthorne mentioned, was the G2 grandfather of author Nathaniel Hawthorne.)

 

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