Phips orders Inquisition
by Jeff Provine
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Day in Alternate History. Please note that the opinions expressed in
this post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
On October 12th 1692,
to Digg our site.on this day Phips orders Inquisition. Upon his
confirmation as Governor of the Massachusetts colony on May 4, 1692,
William Phips found a state of uproar. Settlers hungry for land to feed
their growing families pushed north and westward into the frontier,
provoking attacks from the Indians.
Internally, panic had seized the town of Salem and seemed to be spreading
as witchcraft had violently found its way into the colony.
"What sort of evidence would they use to "prove"
someone a witch?" - reader's commentsOn May 29, he ordered a Court
of Oyer and Terminer to settle the matter. He appointed judges to listen
to the accusations promoted by girls afflicted with seizures and weigh
their opinions against the supposed witches. By June 8, Bridget Bishop was
the first witch convicted, later to be hanged. While Phips, the former sea
captain, anticipated the court to be the end of witchcraft, it only spread
more panic. Suspicions arose that the fear of witches brought false
accusations that led to great advantages when the accusers seized valuable
"Witch proofs: body markings, cold "parts", the ole
dunking test (which actually was designed that people didn't drown),
placing crosses upon their skin, saying the Lord's Prayer and
stammering... " - author's responseThrough the summer, witch after
witch was accused and many were hanged. Several died in prison and others
while undergoing torture to secure confessions. After all, if a witch were
to confess, the soul might be saved while the body was punished. Better an
innocent soul to be in Heaven than a guilty person freely walking the
earth under the Devil's domain. While the puritanical logic seemed sound,
the system came under increasing question.
The Mathers, Cotton and his father Increase, were some of the first to
speak up over the questions of "spectral evidence" used in the court. As
early as June 15, Cotton Mather, wrote to the court warning of hearing
testimony that was "spectral", or simply dreams and visions made by the
accuser that could so easily be fabricated. His advice was mostly ignored,
though the name was held in esteem. Cotton is often understood as
something of the beginning of the crackdown on witchcraft by the
publication of his book Remarkable Providences in 1688, which brought the
notion of warning dreams to the minds of so many.
"Mind over Matter. The accuser didn't mind and the
accused didn't matter - especially if he or she had something that the
accuser wanted." - reader's commentsOn October 3, Increase Mather,
who was President of Harvard College, publically denounced spectral
evidence. When he had heard the opinion of Mather, Phips decided that the
rampant trials had gone so far as madness. He placed a moratorium on
proceedings and cited the "danger some of their innocent subjects might be
exposed to" based on this lack of evidence that may simply have been
fear-mongering by the accusers in a letter to the Privy Council of the
Crown. In same letter, he outlined his plan to begin a new system of
finding and judging witches.
"Have you forgotten about the Glorious Revolutiion?
Not only would he have been sacked, he may have been drawn and quartered,
along with causing an out-right revolt against the Crown (as appointing
authority)from the Rhode Island Colony" - reader's commentsThe same
day, October 12, Phips asked Cotton Mather to head an inquisition to
establish a logical and "scientiffik" method of determining witchcraft.
Cotton agreed, and the formal study of witch-hunting came to the colony.
Initially, Cotton worked on the cases at hand, advising the Court of Oyer
and Terminer until its dissolution weeks later. By the end of the month,
most of the prisoners were released and higher court proceedings ruled
further accused witches innocent. Several witches, however, were proven
In 1683, Cotton published Wonders of the Invisible World, a guide to his
methods of witch-catching. He drew upon numerous sources including
first-hand accounts from Salem as well as Glanvill's Saducismus
Triumphatus. Cases against witches could only be drawn on concrete
grounds, of which Cotton gave numerous examples. Over the next year, the
hysteria of witchcraft settled to vigilance, and Cotton's investigators
traveled throughout the colony researching potential Sabbats, familiars,
and unruly women suspected of cavorting with evil powers.
Through the eighteenth century, the numbers of witches found among
colonists would dwindle, especially as laws limiting the powers of women
were enacted. The investigators gradually shifted their attention to
obvious witches in the shaman of the Indians. In numerous altercations,
these shamans would fall under assassination, attack, and arrest to end
their devilish ways. In the times leading up to the Revolution, the
investigators used their skills to root out rebel spies among the
Loyalists, leading to a brutal covert war of military intelligence. The
American victory ended the work of Mather's Investigators, and lingering
anger over their dominance aided in the passing of many parts of the Bill
of Rights, especially in the First (which legalized white magic as
religious practice), Fifth, and Seventh Amendments.
says in reality Phips simply shut down the witch hunt. He prohibited
arrests and worked toward the pardon of many supposed witches. When the
courts were dissolved, the hysteria died away, leaving a lingering spirit of
guilt. August 26, 1706, Ann Putnam Jr, who was not one of the first but one
of the loudest accusers, stood before Salem Village church and asked
forgiveness for her part in what had been a very dark prank.
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Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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