University of Virginia Library

The Author's Defence.

'Tis, as I remember, the Learned Scribonius,[104] who Reports, that One of his Acquaintance, devoutly making his Prayers on the behalf of a Person molested by Evil Spirits, received from those Evil Spirits an horrible Blow over the Face: And I may my self Expect not few or small Buffetings from Evil Spirits, for the Endeavours wherewith I am now going to Encounter them. I am far from Insensible, That at this Extraordinary Time of the Devils Coming down in Great Wrath upon us, there are too many Tongues and Hearts thereby Set on Fire of Hell; that the various Opinions about the Witchcrafts which of Later Time have Troubled us, are maintained by some with so much Cloudy Fury, as if they could never be sufficiently Stated, unless written in the Liquor wherewith Witches use to write their Covenants; and that he who becomes an Author at such a Time, had need be Fenced with Iron, and the Staff of a Spear. The unaccountable Frowardness, Asperity, Untreatableness, and Inconsistency of many persons, every Day gives a Visible Exposition of that passage, An Evil Spirit from the Lord came upon Saul; and Illustration of that Story, There met him two Possessed with Devils, exceeding Fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. To send abroad a Book, among such Readers, were a very unadvised Thing, if a man had not such Reasons to give, as I can bring, for such an Undertaking. Briefly, I hope it cannot be said, They are all so; No, I hope the Body of this People, are yet in such a Temper, as to be capable of Applying their Thoughts, to make a Right Use of the Stupendous and prodigious Things that are happening among us: and because I


was concern'd, when I saw that no Abler Hand Emitted any Essayes to Engage the Minds of this People in such Holy, Pious, Fruitful Improvements, as God would have to be made of His Amazing Dispensations now upon us, Therefore it is, that One of the Least among the Children of New-England, has here done, what is done. None, but the Father, who sees in Secret, knows the Heart-breaking Exercises, wherewith I have Composed what is now going to be Exposed, Lest I should in any One Thing miss of Doing my Designed Service for His Glory, and for His People; But I am now somewhat comfortably Assured of His favourable Acceptance; and, I will not Fear; what can a Satan do unto me!

Having Performed Something of what God Required, in labouring to suit His Words unto His Works, at this Day among us, and therewithal handled a Theme that has been sometimes counted not unworthy the Pen, even of a King, it will easily be perceived, that some subordinate Ends have been considered in these Endeavours.

I have indeed set my self to Countermine the whole Plot of the Devil against New-England,[105] in every Branch of it, as far as one of my Darkness can comprehend such a Work of Darkness. I may add, that I have herein also aimed at the Information and Satisfaction of Good men in another Countrey, a Thousand Leagues off, where I have, it may be, More, or however, more Considerable Friends, than in My Own;[106] And I do what I can to have that Countrey, now as well as alwayes, in the best Terms with My Own. But while I am


doing these things, I have been driven a little to do something likewise for My self; I mean, by taking off the false Reports and hard Censures about my Opinion in these matters, the Parters Portion, which my pursuit of Peace has procured me among the Keen. My hitherto Unvaried Thoughts are here Published; and, I believe, they will be owned by most of the Ministers of God in these Colonies; nor can amends be well made me, for the wrong done me, by other sorts of Representations.

In fine, For the Dogmatical part of my Discourse, I want no Defence; for the Historical part of it, I have a very Great One. The Lieutenant-Governour of New-England, having perused it, has done me the Honour of giving me a Shield,[107] under the Umbrage whereof I now dare to walk Abroad.


Reverend and Dear Sir,

You Very much Gratify'd me, as well as put a kind Respect upon me, when you put into my hands, Your Elaborate and most seasonable Discourse, entituled, The Wonders of the Invisible World. And having now Perused so fruitful and happy a Composure, upon such a Subject, at this Juncture of Time, and considering the Place that I Hold in the Court of Oyer and Terminer, still Labouring and Proceeding in the Trial of the persons Accused and Convicted for Witchcraft, I find that I am more nearly and highly concerned than as a meer Ordinary Reader, to Express my Obligation and Thankfulness to you for so great Pains; and cannot but hold my self many ways bound, even to the utmost of what is proper for me, in my present Publick Capacity, to declare my Singular Approbation thereof. Such is Your Design, most plainly expressed throughout the whole; such Your Zeal for God, Your Enmity to Satan and his Kingdom, Your Faithfulness and Compassion to this poor people; Such the Vigour, but yet great Temper of your Spirit; Such your Instruction and Counsel, your Care of Truth, Your Wisdom and Dexterity in allaying and moderating that among us, which needs it; Such your Clear Discerning of Divine Providences and Periods, now running on apace towards their Glorious Issues in the World; and finally, Such your Good News of The Shortness of the Devils Time, That all Good Men must needs Desire the making of this your Dis


course Publick to the World; and will greatly Rejoyce that the Spirit of the Lord has thus Enabled you to Lift up a Standard against the Infernal Enemy, that hath been Coming in like a Flood upon us. I do therefore make it my particular and Earnest Request unto you, that as soon as may be, you will Commit the same unto the Press accordingly. I am,

Your Assured Friend,
William Stoughton.

I Live by Neighbours that force me to produce these Undeserved Lines. But now, as when Mr. Wilson,[108] beholding a great Muster of Souldiers, had it by a Gentleman then present said unto him, “Sir, I'l tell you a great Thing: here is a mighty Body of People; and there is not Seven of them all but what Loves Mr. Wilson;” that Gracious Man presently and pleasantly Reply'd, “Sir, I'll tell you as good a thing as that; here is a mighty Body of People, and there is not so much as One among them all, but Mr. Wilson Loves him.” Somewhat so: 'Tis possible that among this Body of People there may be few that Love the Writer of this Book; but give me leave to boast so far, there is not one among all this Body of People, whom this Mather would not Study to Serve, as well as to Love. With such a Spirit of Love, is the Book now before us written: I appeal to all this World; and if this World will deny me the Right of acknowledging so much, I Appeal to the Other, that it is Not written with an Evil Spirit: for which cause I shall not wonder, if Evil Spirits be Exasperated by what is Written, as the Sadducees doubtless were with what was Discoursed in the Days of our Saviour. I only Demand the Justice, that others Read it, with the same Spirit where-with I writ it.[109]

But 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;[110] 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,[111] I can do no other than shortly Relate the Chief Matters of fact, which occurr'd in the Trials of some that were Executed, in an Abridgment collected out of the Court-Papers, on this occasion put into my Hands.[112] You are to take the Truth, just as it was; and the Truth will hurt no good man. There might have been more of these, if my Book would not thereby have been swollen too big; and if some other worthy hands did not perhaps intend something further in these Collections;[113] for which cause I have only singled out Four or Five, which may serve to Illustrate the way of dealing, wherein Witchcrafts use to be concerned; and I Report matters not as an Advocate but as an Historian.

They were some of the Gracious Words inserted in the Advice, which many of the Neighbouring Ministers did this Summer humbly lay before our Honorable Judges, “We cannot but with all thankfulness acknowledge the success which the Merciful God has given unto the Sedulous and Assiduous endeavours of Our Honourable Rulers, to detect the abominable Witchcrafts which have been committed in the Country; Humbly Praying that the discovery of those mysterious and mischievous wickednesses, may be perfected.”[114] If in the midst of the many Dissatisfactions among us, the publication of these Trials may promote such a pious Thankfulness unto God, for Justice being so far executed among us, I shall Re


joyce that God is Glorified; and pray that no wrong steps of ours may ever sully any of His Glorious Works.[115]



Wilhelm Adolf Scribonius, a Hessian scholar, is best known in the literature of witchcraft as the chief advocate of the water ordeal (see p. 21, above) for the detection of witches. This story is told on ff. 82-83 of his Physiologia Sagarum (Marburg, 1588 — the full title is De Sagarum Natura et Potestate, deque his recte cognoscendis et puniendis Physiologia), and in English by Baxter, Worlds of Spirits, p. 104.


As to this “plot of the Devil,” see Mather's own words (Wonders, pp. 16-19, 25, not here reprinted): “we have been advised... that a Malefactor, accused of Witchcraft as well as Murder, and Executed in this place more than Forty Years ago, did then give Notice of An Horrible Plot against the Country by Witchcraft, and a Foundation of Witchcraft then laid, which if it were not seasonably discovered would probably Blow up, and pull down all the Churches in the Country.” “We have now with Horror,” he adds, “seen the Discovery of such a Witchcraft!” and from the confessions at Salem he learns that “at prodigious Witch-Meetings the Wretches have proceeded so far as to Concert and Consult the Methods of Rooting out the Christian Religion from this Country” and setting up instead of it a “Diabolism.” Not even this is all: “it may be fear'd that, in the Horrible Tempest which is now upon ourselves, the design of the Devil is to sink that Happy Settlement of Government wherewith Almighty God has graciously enclined Their Majesties to favour us.”


It is of England, of course, that he speaks.


As to Lieutenant-Governor Stoughton, head of the court which had tried the witch cases, see above, p. 183 and note 2, and pp. 196-201. His “shield” means the following letter.


Doubtless the Rev. John Wilson (d. 1667), the first minister of Boston.


There now follow the miscellaneous matters described in the introduction, making up more than half of his volume.


He must at least have been present at some of the examinations (like those described by Lawson) preceding the trials; for in his Diary (I. 151), commending the judges, he adds, “and my Compassion, upon the Sight of their Difficulties, raised by my Journeyes to Salem, the chief Seat of these diabolical Vexations, caused mee yett more to do so.” From attending the trials he had excused himself (see the letter mentioned on p. 194, note 5) on the score of ill health.


From the governor; see above, p. 194, and p. 250.


See introduction.


Meaning, doubtless, Hale and Noyes. See p. 206, above.


This is the second paragraph in the reply of the ministers of Boston, June 15, 1692, to the request of the governor and Council for advice. (See p. 194, above.) It was drawn up by Cotton Mather himself.


What next follows, very cleverly ensuring a friendly attitude toward the Salem court, is an account of the English witch-trial of 1664 before Sir Matthew Hale. It is abridged from the well-known booklet (A Tryal of Witches at the Assizes held at Bury St. Edmonds, etc.) published at London in 1682, which had been a guide to the Salem judges (see p. 416, below).