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Sir William Phips, who arrived in May as the royal governor under the new charter, was no stranger to New England. Born in 1651 at a hamlet on the Maine coast, just beyond the Kennebec, where his father, a Bristol gunsmith, had become a settler, he had early turned from sheep-herding to ship-carpentry, and then coming up to Boston, where at twenty-two he first learned to read and write, he had by thrift become the master of a vessel and had found a path to fortune in the rescue of lost treasure from Spanish galleons sunken in West Indian waters. These ventures had brought him into partnership with some of the most powerful of English nobles, and even with royalty itself, and his sturdy honesty (or perhaps a wise use of his wealth) won him from the King in 1687 the honor of knighthood and in 1688 appointment as high sheriff of New England. The hostility of Governor Andros brought the sheriffship to nothing; but the English revolution overturned Andros in 1689, and the emancipated colonies made Sir William head of the expedition that conquered Nova Scotia, and then sent him with another against Quebec. Meanwhile President Increase Mather was laboring in England, as the agent of Massachusetts, for the restoration of the ancient charter; and when Sir William (who during his absence had, as his son's convert, become a member of his church) turned up there too, and just in time to support him against the other New England commissioners in accepting from the King what could be got, though not what could be wished, he was the natural nominee for the new governorship.

But the new governor was little trained for such an emergency


as awaited him in New England. What more natural in such a crisis, which to the thought of that day seemed to need the divine more than the statesman, than to turn for counsel to his pastor and patron, or to his colleague the new lieutenant-governor,[80] who had enjoyed precisely that training in theology which seemed now his own chief lack? Stoughton was made chief justice of a special court created by the governor to try the witch-cases,[81] and during the latter's repeated absences[82] at the frontier became the acting governor. The ministers of Boston were “consulted by his Excellency and the Honourable Council” as to the conduct of the trials. Their “Return,” bearing date of June 15, was drawn by Cotton Mather;[83] and it was perhaps now that that divine, who had early (May 31) furnished the judges a body of instructions,[84] was inspired by “the Direction of His Excellency the Governor”[85] to undertake that “Account of the Sufferings brought


upon the Countrey by Witchcraft,” which was ready for submission to Sir William on his return from the east in early October, and with which, under its title of The Wonders of the Invisible World, we must soon make acquaintance. The opening clauses of the governor's letter show plainly the influence of that book;[86] and the change in tone between its earlier and its later portion, and yet more between the letter of October and that of February, is not the least interesting feature of these documents.[87]



William Stoughton (see above, p. 183 and note 2) was of course also a nominee of Mather's. He had not been forward in the revolution which overthrew the Andros government, but he had rallied to it, and Cotton Mather had written his father wishing he might “do anything to restore him to the favor of the country.”


In the last week of May, at his first meetings with the new Council. The court began its sessions at Salem on June 2.


He was present in Boston at meetings of the Council on June 13, 18, July 4, 8, 15, 18, 21, 22, 25, 26, September 5, 12, 16, and again on October 14 (Moore, in American Antiquarian Society, Proceedings, n. s., V. 251 note). Sewall on September 29 notes in his diary: “Governor comes to Town.”


A summary of it may be found on pp. 356-357, below; the full text is appended to Increase Mather's Cases of Conscience (1693) and has been often reprinted, both with that work and in later books. It is Cotton Mather himself (in his life of Phips) who tells us that he drafted it.


In his letter of May 31 to his parishioner John Richards, a member of the court (Mather Papers, pp. 391-397). It is endorsed — with reason — “Mr Cotton Mather, an Essay concerning Witchcraft”; for an essay it really is. A supplement, and an interesting one, is his letter of August 17 to John Foster, a member of the Council (printed by Upham in his Salem Witchcraft and Cotton Mather, pp. 39-40).


It has been questioned (by Upham and again by G. H. Moore) whether “the Governor” whose “commands” Mather alleges (see p. 206) may not be Stoughton instead of Phips; but his discrimination between the two is too clear and too constant to admit the suspicion, and still less can Stoughton and Sewall (see pp. 251, 378) have been inexact. A doubt as to who consulted the clergy must be similarly answered. Yet Stoughton may well have been behind both acts.


His phrases are taken almost bodily from the book (see, in Drake's edition, pp. 102-109, not here reprinted); and his statement as to the methods of the court echoes Mather's. It has been suggested (by Moore) that Mather himself drafted the letter; but neither the style nor the matter of its later portion can be his.


Cotton Mather, in his life of Phips, names as one of the causes of the Proceedings of the Mass. Hist. Soc., second series, I, 348-358) throw a vivid light on the problems then agitating the public mind. They are dated at New York on October 5, and the answers, dated October 11, cannot have reached Boston before the middle of that month. More distinctly than the Boston clergy they reject “spectral evidence.” According to the Anglican rector at New York, John Miller (commenting on Mather's statement as borrowed by the geographer Hermann Moll), “the advice of the established English Minister was also asked and generously given”; “but,” he adds, “they were not so civill as to thank him for it, nor do they here acknowledge it, although it was much to their purpose, and stood them in good stead.” It may be found, however, written out by his own hand in his copy of Moll's Atlas (now in the New York Public Library); and it is summarized at pp. 274-276 of the New York Historical Society's Collections for 1869 and in the edition of Miller's New York considered (1695) by Mr. Paltsits (1903), to whom the editor owes suggestion of the matter. Miller's answers are, indeed, somewhat less credulous than those of his Calvinist colleagues; but (as appears from a “Memorandum” of his own) it is by no means certain that they reached New England.



When I first arrived I found this Province miserably harrassed with a most Horrible witchcraft or Possession of Devills which had broke in upon severall Townes, some scores of poor people were taken with preternaturall torments some scalded with brimstone some had pins stuck in their flesh others hurried into the fire and water and some dragged out of their houses and carried over the tops of trees and hills for many Miles together; it hath been represented to mee much like that of Sweden about thirty years agoe,[88] and there were many committed to prison upon suspicion of Witchcraft before my arrivall. The loud cries and clamours of the friends of the afflicted people with the advice of the Deputy Governor and many others prevailed with mee to give a Commission of Oyer and Terminer for discovering what witchcraft might be at the bottome or whether it were not a possession. The chief Judge in this Commission was the Deputy Governour and the rest were persons of the best prudence and figure that could then be pitched upon. When the Court came to sitt at Salem in the County of Essex they convicted more than twenty persons of being guilty of witchcraft, some of the convicted were such as confessed their Guilt, the Court as I understand began their proceedings with the accusations of the afflicted and then went upon other humane[89] evidences to strengthen that. I was almost the whole time of the proceeding abroad in the service of Their Majesties in the Eastern part of the Country and depended upon the Judgement of the Court as to a right method of proceeding in cases of Witchcraft but when I came home I found many persons in a strange ferment of dissatisfaction which was increased by some hott Spiritts that blew up the flame,[90] but


on enquiring into the matter I found that the Devill had taken upon him the name and shape of severall persons who were doubtless inocent and to my certain knowledge of good reputation for which cause I have now forbidden the committing of any more that shall be accused without unavoydable necessity, and those that have been committed I would shelter from any Proceedings against them wherein there may be the least suspition of any wrong to be done unto the Innocent. I would also wait for any particular directions or commands if their Majesties please to give mee any for the fuller ordering this perplexed affair. I have also put a stop to the printing of any discourses one way or other, that may increase the needless disputes of people upon this occasion, because I saw a likely-hood of kindling an inextinguishable flame if I should admitt any publique and open Contests and I have grieved to see that some who should have done their Majesties and this Province better service have so far taken Councill of Passion as to desire the precipitancy of these matters, these things have been improved by some to give me many interuptions in their Majesties service and in truth none of my vexations have been greater than this, than that their Majesties service has been hereby unhappily clogged, and the Persons who have made soe ill improvement of these matters here are seeking to turne it all upon mee,[91] but I hereby declare that as soon as I came from fighting against their Majesties Enemyes and understood what danger some of their innocent subjects might be exposed to, if the evidence of the afflicted persons only did prevaile either to the committing or trying any of them, I did before


any application was made unto me about it put a stop to the proceedings of the Court and they are now stopt till their Majesties pleasure be known. Sir I beg pardon for giving you all this trouble, the reason is because I know my enemies are seeking to turn it all upon me and I take this liberty because I depend upon your friendship, and desire you will please to give a true understanding of the matter if any thing of this kind be urged or made use of against mee. Because the justnesse of my proceeding herein will bee a sufficient defence. Sir

I am with all imaginable respect Your most humble Servt
William Phips.



That my Lord President be pleased to acquaint his Ma'ty in Councill with the account received from New England from Sir Wm. Phips the Governor there touching Proceedings against severall persons for Witchcraft as appears by the Governor's letter concerning those matters.


May it please yor. Lordshp.

By the Capn. of the Samuell and Henry I gave an account that att my arrivall here I found the Prisons full of people


committed upon suspition of withcraft and that continuall complaints were made to me that many persons were grievously tormented by witches and that they cryed out upon severall persons by name, as the cause of their torments. The number of these complaints increasing every day, by advice of the Lieut Govr. and the Councill I gave a Commission of Oyer and Terminer to try the suspected witches and at that time the generality of the People represented the matter to me as reall witchcraft and gave very strange instances of the same. The first in Commission was the Lieut. Govr. and the rest persons of the best prudence and figure that could then be pitched upon and I depended upon the Court for a right method of proceeding in cases of witchcraft. At that time I went to command the army at the Eastern part of the Province, for the French and Indians had made an attack upon some of our Fronteer Towns. I continued there for some time but when I returned I found people much disatisfied at the proceedings of the Court, for about Twenty persons were condemned and executed of which number some were thought by many persons to be innocent. The Court still proceeded in the same method of trying them, which was by the evidence of the afflicted persons who when they were brought into the Court as soon as the suspected witches looked upon them instantly fell to the ground in strange agonies and grievous torments, but when touched by them upon the arme or some other part of their flesh they immediately revived and came to themselves, upon [which] they made oath that the Prisoner at the Bar did afflict them and that they saw their shape or spectre come from their bodies which put them to such paines and torments: When I enquired into the matter I was enformed by the Judges that they begun with this, but had humane testimony against such as were condemned and undoubted proof of their being witches, but at length I found that the Devill did take upon him the shape of Innocent persons and some were accused of whose innocency I was well assured and many considerable persons of unblameable life and conversation were cried out upon as witches and wizards. The Deputy Govr. notwithstanding persisted vigorously in the same method, to the great disatisfaction and disturbance of the people, until I put an


end to the Court and stopped the proceedings, which I did because I saw many innocent persons might otherwise perish and at that time I thought it my duty to give an account thereof that their Ma'ties pleasure might be signifyed, hoping that for the better ordering thereof the Judges learned in the law in England might give such rules and directions as have been practized in England for proceedings in so difficult and so nice a point; When I put an end to the Court[93] there were at least fifty persons in prison in great misery by reason of the extream cold and their poverty, most of them having only spectre evidence against them, and their mittimusses being defective, I caused some of them to be lett out upon bayle and put the Judges upon considering of a way to reliefe others and prevent them from perishing in prison, upon which some of them were convinced and acknowledged that their former proceedings were too violent and not grounded upon a right foundation but that if they might sit againe, they would proceed after another method, and whereas Mr. Increase Mathew[94] and severall other Divines did give it as their Judgment that the Devill might afflict in the shape of an innocent person and that the look and the touch of the suspected persons was not sufficient proofe against them, these things had not the same stress layd upon them as before, and upon this consideration I permitted a spetiall Superior Court[95] to be held at Salem


in the County of Essex on the third day of January, the Lieut Govr. being Chief Judge. Their method of proceeding being altered, all that were brought to tryall to the number of fifety two, were cleared saving three, and I was enformed by the Kings Attorny Generall that some of the cleared and the condemned were under the same circumstances or that there was the same reason to clear the three condemned as the rest according to his Judgment. The Deputy Govr. signed a Warrant for their speedy execucion and also of five others who were condemned at the former Court of Oyer and terminer, but considering how the matter had been managed I sent a reprieve whereby the execucion was stopped untill their Maj. pleasure be signified and declared. The Lieut. Gov. upon this occasion was inranged and filled with passionate anger and refused to sitt upon the bench in a Superior Court then held at Charles Towne,[96] and indeed hath from the beginning hurried on these matters with great precipitancy and by his warrant hath caused the estates, goods and chattles of the executed to be seized and disposed of without my knowledge or consent. The stop put to the first method of proceedings hath dissipated the blak cloud that threatened this Province with destruccion; for whereas this delusion of the Devill did spread and its dismall effects touched the lives and estates of many of their Ma'ties Subjects and the reputacion of some of the principall persons here,[97] and indeed unhappily clogged and interrupted their Ma'ties affaires which hath been a great vexation to me, I have no new complaints but peoples minds before divided


and distracted by differing opinions concerning this matter are now well composed.

I am Yor. Lordships most faithfull humble Servant
William Phips
[Addressed:] To the Rt. Honble the Earle of Nottingham att Whitehall London
[Indorsed:] R [i. e., received] May 24, 93 abt. Witches[98]



The famous case at Mohra in 1669-1670. Cotton Mather had appended to his Wonders an account of it.




He thinks perhaps of the Baptist preacher, William Milborne, one of the leaders in the later revolution, who on June 25 was called before the Council because of two papers subscribed by him and several others, “containing very high reflections upon the administration of public justice within this their Majesty's Province” (Moore, Notes on Witchcraft, p. 12; Final Notes, p. 72). What seems one of these papers, addressed “to the Grave and Juditious the Generall Assembly of the Province,” has been found (see it in N. E. Hist. and Gen. Register, XXVII. 55, and reprinted by Moore in American Antiquarian Society, Proceedings, n. s., V. 246) and proves a protest against the conviction “upon bare specter testimonie” of “persons of good fame and of unspotted reputation.” It must have been in circulation before the detection of its author, and was very possibly the reason for the consultation of the clergy.


It must be remembered that the new charter, by opening the suffrage to those who were not church members, had greatly strengthened the party opposed to the theocracy — and to the theocracy's governor. More than once it has been said, too, that the Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered.


This letter, with its memorandum, has been printed in the Essex Institute Historical Collections, IX. 86-88, from a copy made in the British archives (“Colonial Entry Book, vol. 62, p. 414,” now C. O. 5: 905, p. 414). It has since been printed also in the Calendar of State Papers, Colonial, 1689-1692 (no. 2551, p. 720), which uses not only this MS. (mistakenly called “an extract”) but another (“Board of Trade, New England, 6, no. 7,” now C. O. 5: 857, no. 7); but the editor has corrected and paraphrased. The last-named MS. (C. O. 5: 857, no. 7) is, however, the original letter; and the present impression has been carefully collated with it at London, many corrections resulting. October 14, in the Essex Institute's reprint, is only a printer's error for October 12. The letter was addressed to William Blathwayt, clerk of the Privy Council, and it is he who added the memorandum (to the Entry Book copy).


It was on October 29, three days after the passage by the General Court of the bill calling for a fast and a convocation of ministers for guidance “as to the witchcrafts,” and, as Judge Sewall tells us (see p. 186, note 1, above) in such “season and manner” that “the Court of Oyer and Terminer count themselves thereby dismissed,” that in the Council, when “Mr. Russel asked whether the Court of Oyer and Terminer should sit, expressing some fear of Inconvenience by its fall,” the “Governour said it must fall.” (Sewall's Diary, I. 368.)


Mather. Undoubtedly an error of the English copyist. The advice meant was that of the twelve ministers of Boston and vicinity on June 15. See introduction.


The Superior Court was created by act of the General Court of the province — of course with the concurrence of the governor — on November 25, 1692; but its session at Salem would, under the law, have come in the next November, and a supplementary act was passed on December 16, providing, “upon consideration that many persons charged capital offenders are now in custody within the county of Essex,” for a court of assize and general jail delivery there on January 3.


For this episode see pp. 382-383.


A “letter from Boston” printed in the British Calendar of State Papers, Colonial, 1693-1696, p. 63, says that “The witchcraft at Salem went on vigorously... until at last members of Council and Justices were accused”; and the Boston merchant Calef in 1697 wrote: “If it be true what was said at the Counsel-board in answer to the commendations of Sir William, for his stopping the proceedings about Witchcraft, viz. That it was high time for him to stop it, his own Lady being accused; if that Assertion were a truth, then New-England may seem to be more beholden to the accusers for accusing of her, and thereby necessitating a stop, than to Sir William” (More Wonders, p. 154). Lady Phips had earned an accusation by daring, in Sir William's absence, herself to issue a warrant for the discharge of an accused woman. The keeper lost his place. (MS. letter quoted by Hutchinson, II. 61, note; the writer had it from the keeper himself and had seen the document.)


This letter is here reprinted from the Massachusetts Historical Society's Proceedings, second ser., I. 340-342, where the original, in the British archives, is described as “America and West Indies, No. 591” and “also in Colonial Entry Book, No. 62, p. 426”; but the Calendar of State Papers, Colonial, 1693-1696, which again prints it, though in abridged form, ascribes it to “America and West Indies, 561, nos. 28, 29,” and mentions the duplicate as “Col. Entry Bk., Vol. LXII, pp. 426-430,” and as “entered as addressed to William Blathwayt.” It may also be found in G. H. Moore's Final Notes on Witchcraft in Massachusetts (New York, 1885), pp. 90-93, with his annotations. Examination at the British Public Record Office shows that the original letter (formerly America and West Indies, 561, no. 28) is now C. O. 5: 51, no. 28, and is plainly addressed to the Earl of Nottingham.