Elizabeth Howe: Innocent Mother or Horse Witch?

Elizabeth Jackson Howe, wife of Topsfield farmer James Howe, was convicted of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

Elizabeth Howe, whose maiden name was Jackson, was born near Rowley, England in 1635 to William and Joanna Jackson.

The Jackson family immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony sometime in the 1630s or 1640s with others from their old community in England. Some sources state the family arrived in 1638 aboard the ship John of London but the family is not on the ship’s passenger list.

The Jacksons were some of the earliest settlers of the newly established parish, called Rowley, which was named after the community’s hometown in England.

In 1643, William Jackson and his family were awarded a house lot near the meetinghouse, on what is now Bradford Street, along with one and a half acres of land. William became a farmer and by 1652 he owned twelve acres and was appointed overseer of the commons.

On April 13, 1658, Elizabeth Jackson married James Howe, Jr. They had six children together and lived on a farm on what is now Linebrook Road in Topsfield, near Ipswich. The family faced many hardships when James later went blind at the age of 50.

Elizabeth Howe's Memorial Marker, Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Salem, Mass, November 2015. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks

Elizabeth Howe’s Memorial Marker, Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Salem, Mass, November 2015. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks

Much like other Salem Witch Trials victims, such as Bridget Bishop and Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Howe had been accused of witchcraft before.

In 1682, Elizabeth Howe was accused of bewitching the 10-year-old daughter of Samuel and Ruth Perley. After a disagreement between the Howes and the Perleys, the girl began suffering from fits and felt that she was being pricked by pins.

A doctor was summoned to diagnose the girl and he determined that she was bewitched. The young girl stated it was Elizabeth Howe who bewitched her. The girl continued to suffer for a few years and then died. Although Elizabeth was named as a witch, she was never arrested or brought up on charges.

According to an article in the Essex Institute Historical Collections periodical, prior to this incident, Howe was well liked in her community and it was this disagreement between Perley and Howe that damaged her reputation:

“The Elizabeth How of Ipswich, who was also executed with Mrs. Wildes, seems to have been a very inoffensive woman, and lost her life, perhaps, through a difference existing between her and a Timothy and Deborah Perley of that town, and the accusation of one Hannah Perley, probably a daughter, whose brother, in the presence of Rev. Samuel Phillips of Rowley, (and who attests the fact) once told his sister, ‘Goodwife How is a witch, say she is a witch,’ and was very properly rebuked by the Pastor at the time for his wickedness, especially as the sister had just cleared Mrs. Howe of any witchcraft then practiced against herself.”

Sometime after the girl’s death, Elizabeth Howe, who lived near the border of Ipswich, wanted to join a church in Ipswich but feared the rumors about her being a witch would prevent her from being admitted. She enlisted the help of a local woman, the wife of Joseph Strafford, to help her join the church. The woman provided testimony on her behalf but Samuel Perley and Isaac Foster still blocked her admittance based on the suspicion that she was a witch.

This event only strengthened the rumors that Howe was a witch and soon strange stories about Howe bewitching horses and farm animals began to circulate.

A decade later, in the May of 1692, Elizabeth Howe was accused of witchcraft by the afflicted girls in Salem Village. An arrest warrant was issued on May 29 and she was apprehended by Topsfield constable, Ephraim Wildes, that same day.

On May 31, Howe was brought to Ingersoll Tavern in Salem Village for her pre-trial examination. She was questioned by Judge John Hathorne and Judge Jonathan Corwin and the short examination was recorded by Reverend Samuel Parris.

The moment Howe stepped into the court room, the afflicted girls began to suffer fits. Mary Walcott and Abigail Williams immediately stated that Howe had hurt them multiple times that month. The judges quickly questioned her about these accusations and her previous one:

Mary Walcott said that this woman the examinant had pinched her & choked this month. Ann Putnam said she had hurt her three times.
[Magistrate]:What say you to this charge? Here are them that charge you with witchcraft
[Howe]: It it was the last moment I was to live, God knows I am innocent of any thing in this nature.
[Magistrate]: Did not you take notice that now when you looked upon Mercy Lewis she was struck down?.
[Howe]: I cannot help it.
[Magistrate]: You are charged here; what doe you say?
[Howe]: I am innocent of any thing of this nature.
[Magistrate]: Is this the first time that ever you were accused?
[Howe]: Yes Sir.
[Magistrate]: Do not you know that one at Ipswich hath accused you?
[Howe]: This is the first time that ever I heard of it
[Magistrate]: You say that you never heard of these folks before
Mercy Lewis at length spoke and charged this woman with hurting and pinching her: And then Abigail Williams cried she hath hurt me a great many times, a great while and she hath brought me the book. Ann Putnam had a pin stuck in her hand
[Magistrate]: What do you say to this?
[Howe]: I cannot help it.
[Magistrate]: What consent have you given?
Mary Warren cried out she was pricked
Abigail Williams cried out that she was pinched, and great prints were seen in her arm.
[Magistrate]: Have not you seen some apparition?
[Howe]: No, never in all my life
[Magistrate]: Those that have confessed, they tell us they used images & pins, now tell us what you have used.
[Howe]: You would not have me confess that which I know not
She looked upon Mary Warren, and said Warren violently fell down.
Mary Warren & Ann Putman said they saw this woman upon her. Susannah Sheldon saith this was the woman that carried her yesterday to the pond. Susannah Sheldon carried to the examinant in a fit & was well upon grasping her arm.
[Magistrate]: You said you never heard before of these people
[Howe]:Not before the warrant was served upon me last Sabbath day
John Indian cried out ‘O she bites,’ and fell into a grievous fit, & so carried to her in his fit & was well upon her grasping him.
[Magistrate]: What do you say to these things, they cannot come to you?
[Howe]: Sir. I am not able to give account of it
[Magistrate]: Cannot you tell what keeps them off from your body?
[Howe]: I cannot tell, I know not what it is?
[Magistrate]: That is strange that you should do these things & not be able to tell how.

After the examination, Howe was indicted on two charges of witchcraft against Mercy Lewis and Mary Walcott and was led back to jail.

While Howe was imprisoned, probably either in the Salem jail or the Ipswich jail, her husband and daughters came to visit her twice a week, according to Charles W. Upham in his book Salem Witchcraft:

“James How, as has been stated, was stricken with blindness. He had two daughters, Mary and Abigail. Although their farm was out of the line of the public-roads, travel very difficult, and they must have encountered many hardships, annoyances, and, it is to be feared, sometimes unfeeling treatment by the way, one of them accompanied their father, twice every week, to visit their mother in her prison-walls. They came on horseback; she managing the bridle, and guiding him by the hand after alighting. Their humble means were exhausted in these offices of reverence and affection. One of the noble girls made her way to Boston, sought out the Governor, and implored a reprieve for her mother; but in vain. The sight of these young women, leading their blind father to comfort and provide for their ‘honored mother, – as innocent,’ as they declared her to be, ‘of the crime charged, as any person in the world,’ so faithful and constant in their filial love and duty, relieved the horrors of the scene; and it ought to be held in perpetual remembrance. The shame of that day is not, and will not be, forgotten; neither should its beauty and glory.”

When Howe’s trial began on June 29, a number of her neighbors and old rivals showed up to give testimony against her. The witnesses who testified against her were: Timothy Perley, Deborah Perley, Samuel Perley, Isaac Cummings, Sr., Isaac Cummings, Jr., Mary Cummings, Francis Lane, John Howe, Jacob Foster, Joseph Strafford, Thomas Andrews, Sarah Andrews, Sarah Bibber and Nehemiah Abbott.

Title page of "A Short History of the Salem Witchcraft Trials" by Martin Van Buren Perley, circa 1911

Title page of “A Short History of the Salem Witchcraft Trials” by Martin Van Buren Perley, circa 1911

During Samuel Perley’s testimony, he told the story about Howe allegedly bewitching his daughter ten years earlier:

“We having a daughter about ten years of age being in a sorrowful condition this #[falling ought] being soon after a falling out that had been between James Howe and his wife and #[and] myself our daughter told us that it was James Howe’s wife that afflicted her both night and day some times complaining of being pricked with pins and sometimes falling down into dreadful fits and often said ‘I could never afflict a dog as Goody Howe afflicts me.’ My wife and I did often chide her for naming Goody Howe being loth her name should be defamed but our daughter would tell us that though we would not believe her now yet you will know it one day we went to several doctors and they: told us that she was under an evil hand: our daughter told us that when she came near the fire or water this witch pulls me in and was often sorely burnt and she would tell us what clothes she wore and would say there she goes and there she goes and now she is gone into the oven and at these sights falling down into dreadful fits and thus our daughter continuing about two or three years constantly affirming to the last that this Goody Howe that is now seized was the cause of her sorrows and so pined away to skin and bone and ended her sorrowful life, and this we can attest upon oath.”

Perley also told the story about when Howe tried to join the Ipswich church. He said when the church officials asked him to provide testimony either for or against Howe, he responded by telling them the story about his daughter. After Howe was denied admittance to the church based on his testimony, Perley then claimed that his cow suddenly went mad and ran into a pond and drowned itself and he believed Howe had bewitched it.

Another Perley relative, Deborah Perley, also gave testimony against Howe concerning Samuel Perley’s daughter:

“Further Deborah Perley testifieth and as concerning Hannah Perley, Samuel Perley’s daughter, that was so sore: afflicted her mother and she coming to our house Hannah Perley being suddenly scared and said ‘There’s that woman, she goes into the oven and out again,’ and then fell in to a dreadful fit and when I have asked her when she said that woman what woman she meant she told me James Howe’s wife sometime Hannah Perley went along with me to James Howe’s and soon fell in to a fit. Goody Howe was very loving to her and when the girl and I came away I asked her why she talked so of Goody Howe being she was so loving to her she told me that if I were afflicted as she was that I would talk as bad of her as she did at another time I saw Goody Howe and Hannah Perley together and they were very loving together and after Goody Howe was gone I asked her why she was so loving to Goody Howe when they were together she told me that she was afraid to do other wise for then Goody Howe would kill her.”

Deborah and her husband, Timothy, also claimed that Howe bewitched their cows and prevented them from giving any milk but said the cows recovered within a few days.

Although numerous people came to the court to provide testimony against Elizabeth Howe, a number of people spoke in her defense too. The people who testified in her defense were: James Howe, Sr., Joseph and Mary Knowlton, Edward Payson, Rev. Samuel Phillips, Simon and Mary Chapman, Daniel Warner, John Warner, Sarah Warner and Deborah Hadley.

One of the most important testimonies was that of the minister of Rowley, Reverend Samuel Phillips. Phillips testified that he visited Hannah Perley when she was afflicted and she had recanted her accusation against Howe in front of him. He also testified that he personally witnessed Hannah’s brother trying to persuade Hannah to name Howe as a witch:

“When we were in the house the child had one of her fits but made no mention of Goodwife Howe; & when the fit was over & she come to herself, Goodwife Howe, went to the child and took her by the hand & asked her whether she had ever done her any hurt. And she answered ‘no, never and if I did complain of you in my fits I know not that I did so.’ I further can affirm upon oath that young Samuel Pearly, brother to the afflicted girl looking out of a chamber window (I and the afflicted child being without doors together) and say to his sister say Goodwife Howe is a witch, say she is a witch & the child spoke not a word that way, but I looked up to the window where the youth stood & rebuked him for his boldness to stir up his sister to accuse the said Goodwife Howe where as she had cleared her from doing any hurt to his sister in both our hearing, & I added no wonder that the child in her fits did mention Goodwife Howe, when her nearest relations were so frequent in expressing their suspicions in the child’s hearing when she was out of her fits, that the said Goodwife Howe, was an instrument of mischief to the child.”

Another witness, Edward Payson, testified that he was also present with Rev. Phillips during the conversation between Howe and Hannah Perley and confirmed that Hannah Perley stated Howe had never done anything to hurt her.

Even though Phillips seemed to clear the air concerning Hannah Perley’s bewitching, other neighbors, particularly the Cummings family, told the court more incriminating stories.

Isaac Cummings, Sr., testified that eight years before, Howe had asked to borrow his horse, which he refused. The next day the horse seemed ill and wouldn’t eat. He stated his brother, Thomas Andrews, came to his house to help and decided the horse must have a stomach ache.

To help ease the animal’s pain, they tried an old folk remedy, which involved lighting a pipe of tobacco and “put it in to the fundement of the mare.” A blue flame suddenly shot out of the pipe, lit the hair on the horse’s buttocks on fire and shot up to the roof where it almost burned down the barn.

Modern day science would suggest that the sick horse was probably gassy and that the embers from the pipe lit the methane on fire but the colonists didn’t have this kind of scientific knowledge at the time and instead chalked this event up to witchcraft.

Cummings said they put the fire out and left the horse alone. The next day, Cummings returned to his barn with his neighbor who suggested he cut off a piece of the horse (probably a piece of hair) and burn it to see if the horse was bewitched. As they spoke these words Cummings said he saw the horse suddenly fall down dead in front of him.

Mary Cummings, Isaac’s wife, also testified that when she was asked by the Ipswich church officials to provide written testimony for or against Howe, she wrote about the horse incident. Shortly after, her son’s horse went missing and when it returned, it also appeared bewitched and was bruised and injured.

Even Elizabeth’s brother-in-law, John Howe, provided testimony against her, telling the court that he believed Elizabeth bewitched his pig after he refused to visit her in jail after her arrest, according to court records:

“The Testimony of John How aged about 50 years said that on that day that my brother James his wife was carried to Salem farms upon examination she was at my [house] and would a have me to go with her to Salem farms I told her that if she had been sent for upon almost any a count but witchcraft I would a have gone with her but on that a count I would not for ten pounds: but said I ‘If you are a witch, tell me how long you have been a witch and what mischief you have done and then I will go with you’ for said I to her ‘You have been accused by Samuel Perley’s child and suspected by Daken Cumins for witchcraft;’ she seemed to be angry with me: still she asked me to come on the morrow I told her I did not know but I might come tomorrow but my cousins called me to go to Ipswich on the morrow and came home about sun set: and standing near my door talking with one of my neighbors: I had a sow with six small pigs in the yard the sow was as well so far as I know as ever: on a sudden she leaped up about three or four foot high and turned about and gave one squeak and fell down dead. I told my neighbor that was with me I thought my sow was bewitched: for said I think she is dead he laughed at me. but it proved true for she fell down dead: he bed me ‘Cut off her ear’ the which I did and my hand I had my knife in was so numb and full of pain that night and several days after that I could not do any work and is not wholy well now and I suspected no other person but my said sister Elizabeth How”

The accusation that Elizabeth Howe bewitched her neighbor’s animals was a very common complaint in her trial. Two other neighbors, Jacob Foster and Nehemiah Abbott, also testified that Howe bewitched their animals after a disagreement with her.

Abbott testified that after his ox got into Howe’s yard one day, Howe said she hoped the ox choked to death. Shortly after the ox choked to death on a turnip. He also said that when Howe’s daughter asked to borrow his horse and he refused, the horse suddenly became ill as if it had been bewitched. Abbott also claimed one of his cows then became ill and when he put the sick cow in his barn to rest, the stall railings collapsed and the cow escaped and had to be chased down.

Foster testified that Howe bewitched his horse after his father, Isaac Foster, refused to allow Howe to join the church in Ipswich years ago, according to court records:

“The deposition of Jacob Foster aged about 29 years this deponant saith that some years ago Goodwife Howe, the wife of James Howe, was about to join with the church of Ipswich, my father was an instrumental means of her being denied admission. Quickly after my mare was turned out to grass on the Tuesday and on Thursday I went to seek my mare to go to lecture. I sought my mare and could not find her. I sought all Friday and found her not on Saturday. I sought till noon & I found my mare standing leaning with her buttocks against a tree. I hit her with a small whip, she gave a heave from a tree and fell back to the tree again then I took off her fetters and struck her again. She did the same again then I set my shoulder to her side and thrust her off from the tree and moved her feet then she went home and leaped into the pasture and my mare looked as if she had been miserably beaten and abused.”

Yet another piece of damning evidence came from the lengthy testimony of Joseph Strafford who told the court about how Elizabeth bewitched his wife into helping her join the church in Ipswich:

“When my wife came home, my wife told me that she was much startled to see Goody Howe [waiting at her house] but she took her by the hand and said ‘Goody Strafford, I believe that you are not ignorant of the great scandal that I lie under upon the evil report that is raised upon me about Samuel Perley’s child’ and other things Joseph Strafford saith that after this his wife was taken beyond reason and all persuasion to take the part of this woman…”

Strafford claimed when Howe tried to join the church, church officials held a meeting and Howe bewitched his wife into attending the meeting. A few days later, Strafford said his son began behaving as if he was also bewitched and his wife fell into a strange trance:

“The Saturday after that my wife was taken after a raving frenzy manner expressing in a raging manner that Goody Howe must come into the church and that she was a precious saint and though she were condemned before men she was justified before God and continued in this frame for the space of three or four hours after that my wife fell into a kind of a trance for the space of two or three minutes. She then coming to herself opened her eye and said that ‘I was mistaken.’ No answer was made by the standards by and again she said ‘Ha! I was mistaken.’ Major Appleton’s wife standing by said ‘Wherein art mistaken?’ ‘I was mistaken,’ said she ‘For I thought Goody Howe had been a precious saint of God but now I see she is a witch for she hath bewitched me and my child and we shall never be well till there is testimony for her that she may be taken into the church’…”

Howe family farm, illustration published in "A Short History of the Salem Village Witchcraft Trials," circa 1911

Howe family farm, illustration published in “A Short History of the Salem Village Witchcraft Trials,” circa 1911

After all of this evidence was heard, Elizabeth Howe was found guilty and sentenced to death. She was hanged at or near Gallows Hill in Salem town on July 19, 1692.

As a convicted witch, Howe was not allowed a christian burial in consecrated ground and was most likely buried in an unmarked grave somewhere at the execution site.

After the witch trials came to an end in 1693, the colonists began to feel guilty about what had happened during the trials and realized that they may have put innocent people to death.

In 1710, Elizabeth Howe’s daughters, Mary and Abigail, petitioned the General Court in Ipswich asking for compensation for the unjust imprisonment and death of their mother. The petition states:

“Ipswich ye 9 of September, 1710 Whereas ye honored General Court has appointed a committee to consider what damage persons have sustained in their names and estates in the year 1692 by their sufferings in that as was called witchcraft, ye odium whereof was as if they are one of ye worst of mankind, we Mary How and Abigail How: ye only survivors in this family also do groundedly believe that our honored mother Elizabeth How suffered as innocent of the crime charged with as any person in the world, and as to the damage done to our estate we can not give a particular account but this we know that trial of Mrs. Elizabeth Howe our honored father went twice a week ye whole time of her imprisonment to carry her maintenance which was provided with much difficulty and one of us went with him because he could not go alone for want of sight also one journey to Boston for a replevey and for maintenance 5s. money left with her the first coming down 20s. the second time and 40s. so that sometimes more some less yet never under 5s. per week which we know for charge for her and necessary charge for ourselves and horses cannot be less than £20 money yet notwithstanding so that ye name may be repaired we are content if your honors shall allow £12. Yours to serve Mary How Abigail How.”

On September 13, 1710, the committee met in Salem and voted to award Mary and Abigail the £12 they asked for. In 1711, the colony passed a bill officially clearing the names of some of the Salem Witch Trials victims and listed Elizabeth Howe in the bill, at the request of her family.

The surviving members of the Howe family continued to live on the family farm, which was passed down to future generations. While doing research for the book A Short History of the Salem Village Witchcraft Trials in 1911, the author, Martin Van Buren Perley, discovered the former location of James and Elizabeth Howe’s home at the back of the Howe property:

“Thus far and no farther, till one day looking over the ground back of the present residence of Mrs. Eliza Howe Perley, ‘6’ on the map, the writer noticed a peculiar hollow in the otherwise level surface, and to his question, What made it? She replied ‘I don’t know; I have always heard it called Mary’s hole,’ He immediately exclaimed, ‘Mary Howe, daughter of the witch.’ His conclusion: There the surviving daughters, Mary and Abigail, lived, secluded and alone, beneath the shadow of the cruel attainder. After the death of Mary, their home became Mary’s cellar; and when all appearance of a cellar was gone, it became ‘Mary’s hole.’ Today, there is not the slightest vestige of ‘Mary’s hole’; the old home, known only to the saddest pages of New England history, is arable ground.”

This cellar was later excavated in 2006.

Elizabeth Howe’s memorial marker is located at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial in Salem, Mass.

Elizabeth Howe Historical Sites:

Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Address: Liberty Street, Salem, Mass
Admission Price: Free

Ingersoll Tavern
Address: 199 Hobart Street, Danvers, Mass
Admission Price: No admission. Privately owned home

Site of the Salem Witch Trials Executions
Address: Proctor’s Ledge, wooded area between Proctor Street and Pope Street, Salem, Mass

Former Site of the Salem Courthouse
Address: Washington Street (about 100 feet south of Lynde Street), opposite the Masonic Temple, Salem, Mass. Memorial plaque located on Masonic Temple.

Former Site of the James and Elizabeth Howe Homestead
Address: 417 Linebrook Road, Ipswich, Mass

Foster genealogy, Part 1; Frederick Clifton Pierce; 1899
Vital Records of Ipswich, Massachusetts: To the End of the Year 1849, Volume 2, Marriages and Deaths; The Essex Institute; 1910
Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony; Thomas Franklin Waters, Sarah Goodhue, John Wise; 1917
The Wonders of the Invisible World: Being an Account of the Tryals of Several Witches Lately Executed in New-England; Cotton Mather; 1692
A Short History of the Salem Village Witchcraft Trials; Martin Van Buren Perley; 1911
Essex Institute Historical Collections, Volume II; 1860
The Historical Collections of the Topsfield Historical Society, Volume 23; 1918
University of Virginia: Case File for Elizabeth Howe: http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/texts/tei/BoySalCombined?div_id=n72

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the owner and operator of this website and all the articles are written and researched by her. Rebecca is a freelance writer and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

2 thoughts on “Elizabeth Howe: Innocent Mother or Horse Witch?

  1. Rebecca Griffin

    Thank you so much for this article. I am a descendant of Elizabeth Howe. We have records but yours are so much better than our family documents. Thank you. I intend to visit the sites and carry her tue legacy on.


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