The Accused Witches of Gloucester

Not all of the accused witches of the Salem Witch Trials actually lived in Salem. A number of the accused also came from nearby towns such as Salisbury, Ipswich, Andover, Topsfield and Gloucester.

Andover and Gloucester had more accused witches than any other towns outside of Salem. A total of nine Gloucester women were accused of witchcraft during the hysteria of 1692: Esther Elwell, Margaret Prince, Elizabeth Dicer, Joan Penney, Phoebe Day, Mary Rowe, Rachel Vinson, Abigail Rowe and Rebecca Dike.

Not much is known about these cases since many of the records have been lost. What we do know is that the accusations began in September of 1692, when Gloucester resident Ebenezer Babson asked some of the afflicted Salem village girls to visit his mother, Eleanor, who was complaining of spectral visions of Indians and French soldiers. Upon visiting Eleanor, the girls accused Margaret Prince and Elizabeth Dicer of bewitching her. Around the same time, three more women were accused: Mary Rowe, Phoebe Day and Rachel Vinson, although it is not known who accused them.  Joan Penney was also accused in September by Zebulon Hill, a former Gloucester resident who had recently moved to Salem town.

View of the town of Gloucester Mass lithograph by Fitz Henry Lane printed by Pendleton's Lithography in 1836

“View of the town of Gloucester, Mass” lithograph by Fitz Henry Lane printed by Pendleton’s Lithography in 1836

Shortly after, in October or November, James Stevens, a deacon of the local church and lieutenant in the militia, sent for the afflicted girls of Salem village to name the witch he believed was bewitching his sister Mary Fitch, wife of John Fitch. The girls named Rebecca Dike, Esther Elwell and Abigail Rowe.

It’s interesting to note that, much like the accused of Salem, the accused women of Gloucester were also either prominent, wealthy citizens or trouble-makers or relatives of other accused witches.

The Accused:

Esther Elwell: (Elwell’s witchcraft case was featured on an episode of the NBC genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? after actress Sarah Jessica Parker discovered she is descended from Elwell); her maiden name was Dutch and she was from a prominent family that lived at the Harbor in an area known as Dutch’s Slough. She later married a wealthy man named Samuel Elwell. Her mother, Ruth Dutch, had also once been accused of witchcraft, although it is not known when.

Salem_Witch_Trials_Petition_for_Bail_From_Accused_Witches_Ipswich

Petition from the accused held in Ipswich

Rebecca Dike: her maiden name was Dolliver and she married a man named Richard Dike who held a large amount of land in Gloucester. Rebecca was neighbors with the in-laws of the Stevens family, the Eveleths, and had many problems with them.

Abigail Rowe: the 15-year-old daughter of Hugh and Mary Prince Rowe of Little Good Harbor. The family had a large amount of land in the Little Good Harbor area. Abigail’s mother and her grandmother, Margaret Prince, were also accused.

Mary Prince Rowe: the mother of Abigail Rowe and daughter of Margaret Prince. She was held at a jail in Ipswich, along with Elizabeth Dicer and Joan Penney. Their names appear on an undated petition asking to be released on bail until their trial.

Margaret Prince: the grandmother of Abigail Rowe and mother of Mary Prince Rowe. She was known for being troublesome and having a sharp tongue.

Rachel Vinson:  the widow of William Vinson who’s first wife had also been accused of witchcraft along with Ruth Dutch.

Phoebe Day: her maiden name was Wildes and she was related to Sarah Wildes, of Topsfield, who was hanged for witchcraft on July 19, 1692 in Salem.

Elizabeth Dicer: a local woman who had been fined thirteen times in the past for calling Mary English’s mother a “black-mouthed witch and a thief.”

Joan Penney: a local woman who had numerous squabbles with neighbors over land and had also been brought to court a number of times for such crimes as wearing a silk scarf and “breach of sabbath” after she carried bushels of corn on her way to church.

Fortunately for the accused, it appears that these cases never went to trial because the use of spectral evidence was banned in October of 1692, giving prosecutors little evidence to go on, and the special court set up to hear the Salem Witchcraft cases was disbanded.

In November, public officials set up the Superior Court of Judicature to hear the remaining witchcraft cases.

According to court records, Margaret Prince and Elizabeth Dicer were released on their own recognizance on December 15th. It is not clear what happened to the other Gloucester women but between January and May of 1693, most of the remaining accused were either released due to a lack of evidence or tried and found not guilty.

Sources:

“The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England”; Carol F. Karlsen; 1998

“The Salem Witch Trials: a Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege”; Marilynne K. Roach; 2004

“The Geography and Genealogy of Gloucester Witchcraft”; Jedediah Drolet: http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/saxon-salem/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=salem/texts/bios.xml&style=salem/xsl/dynaxml.xsl&chunk.id=b44&clear-stylesheet-cache=yes

University of Virginia; Salem Witch Trials; Massachusetts Archives: Superior Court of Judicature Witchcraft Trials (January – May 1693), Cases Heard: http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/archives/SCJ.xml

Wicked Local: Sarah Jessica Parker Traces Her Roots Back to Gloucester, Salem Witch Trials: http://www.wickedlocal.com/gloucester/newsnow/x1336914261/Sarah-Jessica-Parker-traces-her-roots-back-to-Gloucester-Salem-Witch-Trials#axzz1lR4QXWye


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The Accused Witches of Gloucester — 7 Comments

  1. Pingback: Timeline of the Salem Witch Trials | History of Massachusetts

  2. In Reply to: Re: Salem, Massachusetts Elizabeth AUSTIN b. ~1640 m. William DICER by Jan Jordan of 7473

    NEW INFORMATION
    http://wiborgfamily.net/Tree1/level_4s/lane3_2.htm#ElizabethAustin

    Elizabeth Austin
    Town on Sandy Bay; a History of Rockport, Massachusetts by Marshall W.S. Swan, published in 1980 by Phoenix Publishing, Canaan, Connecticut. The following is taken from page 21.
    “Rockport’s first family faced hardships as well. Down on the Tarrs swooped the scourge of witchcraft, for Cape Ann did not escape ‘the prodigious war made by the spirits of the invisible world.’ Before the battles were over, eleven women were dragged to the bar of justice for assorted ‘diabolical acts.’ In July 1692 the twenty-four-year-old Ebenezer Babson, his aging mother, and bachelor household were beset ‘almost every night’ by skulkers, as the jittery John Emerson wrote to the Mathers in Boston. The ‘devil and his agents’ required some sixty militiamen from Ipswich before they mysteriously evaporated – an episode which later inspired Whittier’s jingly narrative, ‘The Garrison of Cape Ann.’ Subsequently, Babson denounced two of his female neighbors. Others charged included Richard Tarr’s mother-in-law, Elizabeth Austin Dicer, committed to prison in Ipswich. On December 15 he personally signed a bond for yet another local victim. It is the earliest surviving document fixing Richard Tarr as a resident of Gloucester and speaks well for his courage during a time of public hysteria.

    • That’s correct, Tarr’s name is on the bonds for Dicer and Prince. There’s a transcript of their case files on the University of Virginia website if you want to look at them.

  3. Pingback: The Salem Witch Trials | History of Massachusetts