John Alden’s Account of His Witch Trial Examination

Captain John Alden Jr., the son of Mayflower pilgrim John Alden, was a merchant from Boston who was accused of witchcraft by a local child during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692.

Alden had stopped at Salem in May on his way home from Quebec where he had arranged the release of British soldiers captured at the Candlemas attack in York, Maine.

After he was accused, police officials brought Alden to the Salem court for questioning. Alden wrote his own account of this examination and the events of the courtroom that day, during which he suggested the afflicted girls at the center of the hysteria, whom he referred to as “wenches,” were merely pretending to be bewitched and also said they were being prompted by a man standing behind them to name Alden as a witch:

“Those wenches being present, who plaid their jugling tricks,
falling down, crying out, and staring in peoples faces; the Magistrates demanded of them several times, who it was of all the people in the room that hurt them? one of these accusers pointed several times at one Captain Hill, there present, but spake nothing; the same accuser had a man standing at her back to hold her up; he stooped down to her ear, then she cried out, Aldin, Aldin afflicted her; one of the Magistrates asked her if she had ever seen Aldin, she answered no, he asked her how she knew it was Aldin? She said, the man told her so.”

Although the girls had never met Alden before and had never seen him, his name was not unfamiliar to them thanks to numerous rumors around town that Alden was supplying the French military and Wabanaki Indians in Maine with ammunition and supplies during the ongoing King William’s War, according to the book “In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692″:

“But the precipitating factor that caused the authorities to finally move against Alden, who, according to one document, had been ‘complained of a long time,’ seems to have been news conveyed to Boston by Elisha Hutchinson on May 19. Two recent escapees from the Indians near Pentagoet had just arrived at Portsmouth, he revealed. They reported that ‘Castene had been at the port whence they came…Expecting to find goods there which he sayd Capt Alden owes him & promist to leave there, but finding none threatens what he will do when he meets him againe.’ The information that their greatest French enemy, Castene, has been ‘promist’ goods by John Alden appears to have been the last straw. Nine days later, John Alden was formally accused of being in league with the devil.”  

One of the afflicted girls, Mercy Lewis, lost her parents in an Indian attack in Maine, prompting many historians to speculate that the girls believed Alden was indirectly responsible for their deaths, as well as the deaths of many others, and accused him of witchcraft in retaliation. This theory is further supported by the fact that during the examination, Alden writes of one of the girls outright accusing him of selling supplies to the Indians as well as fathering illegitimate children with Indian women:

Captain__John_Alden_Denounced_Illustration_by_Charles_Reinhardt_1878

“Captain Alden Denounced” Illustration by Charles Reinhardt, circa 1878

“Then all were ordered to go down into the street, where a ring was made; and the same accuser cried out, ‘there stands Aldin, a bold fellow with his hat on before the judges, he sells powder and shot to the Indians and French, and lies with the Indian squaes, and has Indian papooses.’”

Realizing the danger he was in, Alden held no hope for a fair trial and sought other means of escaping his fate. After being held in a Boston jail for over four months, Alden managed to escape the jail in September with the help of some of his friends and fled immediately for New York where several other accused witches were hiding out.

It wasn’t until the witch trial hysteria began to die down that winter that Alden declared “the public had reclaimed the use of its reason” and decided to go back to Salem and post bail. He finally appeared in court on April 25 of 1693, after the hangings had stopped, and his case was dismissed.

Sources:

University of Virginia; Important Person in the Salem Court Records: http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/people?group.num=all&mbio.num=mb45

University of Virginia; Salem Witch Trial; John Alden: http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/texts/tei/BoySal1R?div_id=n6&term=&name=lewmer

“In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692″; Mary Beth Norton; 2007

“The Salem Witch Trials”; Lori Lee Wilson; 1997


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