THE SALEM WITCHES
"You recollect, my dear children," said Grandfather, "that we took leave of the chair in 1692, while it was occupied by Sir William Phips. This fortunate treasure-seeker, you will remember, had come over from England, with King William's commission, to be governor of Massachusetts. Within the limits of this province were now included the old colony of Plymouth, and the territories of Maine and Nova Scotia. Sir William Phips had likewise brought a new charter from the king, which served instead of a constitution, and set forth the method in which the province was to be governed."
"Did the new charter allow the people all their former liberties?" inquired Laurence.
"No," replied Grandfather. "Under the first charter, the people had been the source of all power. Winthrop, Endicott, Bradstreet, and the rest of them had been governors by the choice of the people, without any interference of the king. But henceforth the governor was to hold his station solely by the king's appointment and during his pleasure; and the same was the case with the lieutenant-governor and some other high officers. The people, however, were still allowed to choose representatives; and the governor's council was chosen by the General Court."
"Would the inhabitants have elected Sir William Phips," asked Laurence, "if the choice of governor had been left to them?"
"He might probably have been a successful candidate," answered Grandfather; "for his adventures and military enterprises had gained him a sort of renown, which always goes a great way with the people. And he had many popular characteristics,--being a kind warm-hearted man, not ashamed of his low origin nor haughty in his present elevation. Soon after his arrival, he proved that he did not blush to recognize his former associates."
"How was that?" inquired Charley.
"He made a grand festival at his new brick house,” said Grandfather, "and invited all the ship-carpenters of Boston to be his guests. At the head of the table, in our great chair, sat Sir William Phips himself, treating these hard-handed men as his brethren, cracking jokes with them, and talking familiarly about old times. I know not whether he wore his embroidered dress; but I rather choose to imagine that he had on a suit of rough clothes, such as he used to labor in while he was Phips the ship-carpenter."
"An aristocrat need not be ashamed of the trade," observed Laurence; "for the Czar Peter the Great once served an apprenticeship to it."
"Did Sir William Phips make as good a governor as he was a ship- carpenter?" asked Charley.
"History says but little about his merits as a ship-carpenter," answered Grandfather; " but, as a governor, a great deal of fault was found with him. Almost as soon as he assumed the government, he became engaged in a very frightful business, which might have perplexed a wiser and better cultivated head than his. This was the witchcraft delusion."
And here Grandfather gave his auditors such details of this melancholy affair as he thought it fit for them to know. They shuddered to hear that a frenzy, which led to the death of many innocent persons, had originated in the wicked arts of a few children. They belonged to the Rev. Mr. Parris, minister of Salem. These children complained of being pinched and pricked with pins, and otherwise tormented by the shapes of men and women, who were supposed to have power to haunt them invisibly, both in darkness and daylight. Often in the midst of their family and friends the children would pretend to be seized with strange convulsions, and would cry out that the witches were afflicting them.
These stories spread abroad, and caused great tumult and alarm. From the foundation of New England, it had been the custom of the inhabitants, in all matters of doubt and difficulty, to look to their ministers for counsel. So they did now; but, unfortunately, the ministers and wise men were more deluded than the illiterate people. Cotton Mather, a very learned and eminent clergyman, believed that the whole country was full of witches and wizards, who had given up their hopes of heaven, and signed a covenant with the evil one.
Nobody could be certain that his nearest neighbor or most intimate friend was not guilty of this imaginary crime. The number of those who pretended to be afflicted by witchcraft grew daily more numerous; and they bore testimony against many of the best and worthiest people. A minister, named George Burroughs, was among the accused. In the months of August and September, 1692, he and nineteen other innocent men and women were put to death. The place of execution was a high hill, on the outskirts of Salem; so that many of the sufferers, as they stood beneath the gallows, could discern their own habitations in the town.
The martyrdom of these guiltless persons seemed only to increase the madness. The afflicted now grew bolder in their accusations. Many people of rank and wealth were either thrown into prison or compelled to flee for their lives. Among these were two sons of .old Simon Bradstreet, the last of the Puritan governors. Mr. Willard, a pious minister of Boston, was cried out upon as a wizard in open court. Mrs. Hale, the wife of the minister of Beverly, was likewise accused. Philip English, a rich merchant of Salem, found it necessary to take flight, leaving his property and business in confusion. But a short time afterwards, the Salem people were glad to invite him back.
"The boldest thing that the accusers did," continued Grandfather, "was to cry out against the governor's own beloved wife. Yes, the lady of Sir William Phips was accused of being a witch and of flying through the air to attend witch-meetings. When the governor heard this he probably trembled, so that our great chair shook beneath him."
"Dear Grandfather," cried little Alice, clinging closer to his knee, "is it true that witches ever come in the night-time to frighten little children?"
"No, no, dear little Alice," replied Grandfather. "Even if there were any witches, they would flee away from the presence of a pure-hearted child. But there are none; and our forefathers soon became convinced that they had been led into a terrible delusion. All the prisoners on account of witchcraft were set free. But the innocent dead could not be restored to life and the hill where they were executed will always remind people of the saddest and most humiliating passage in our history."
Grandfather then said that the next remarkable event, while Sir William Phips remained in the chair, was the arrival at Boston of an English fleet in 1698. It brought an army which was intended for the conquest of Canada. But a malignant disease, more fatal than the smallpox, broke out among the soldiers and sailors, and destroyed the greater part of them. The infection spread into the town of Boston, and made much havoc there. This dreadful sickness caused the governor and Sir Francis Wheeler, who was commander of the British forces, to give up all thoughts of attacking Canada.
"Soon after this," said Grandfather, "Sir William Phips quarrelled with the captain of an English frigate, and also with the collector of Boston. Being a man of violent temper, he gave each of them a sound beating with his cane."
"He was a bold fellow," observed Charley, who was himself somewhat addicted to a similar mode or settling disputes.
"More bold than wise," replied Grandfather; "for complaints were carried to the king, and Sir William Phips was summoned to England to make the best answer he could. Accordingly he went to London, where, in 1695, he was seized with a malignant fever, of which he died. Had he lived longer, he would probably have gone again in search of sunken treasure. He had heard of a Spanish ship, which was cast away in 1502, during the lifetime of Columbus. Bovadilla, Roldan, and many other Spaniards were lost in her, together with the immense wealth of which they had robbed the South American kings."
"Why, Grandfather!" exclaimed Laurence, "what magnificent ideas the governor had! Only think of recovering all that old treasure which had lain almost two centuries under the sea! Methinks Sir William Phips ought to have been buried in the ocean when he died, so that he might have gone down among the sunken ships and cargoes of treasure which he was always dreaming about in his lifetime."
"He was buried in one of the crowded cemeteries of London," said Grandfather. "As he left no children, his estate was inherited by his nephew, from whom is descended the present Marquis of Normandy. The noble Marquis is not aware, perhaps, that the prosperity of his family originated in the successful enterprise of a New England ship- carpenter."