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 before a judge for questioning.

Alden wrote his own account of this examination and the events of 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.

"Captain Alden Denounced," illustration published in A Popular History of the United States, Vol 2, circa 1878

“Captain Alden Denounced,” illustration published in A Popular History of the United States, Vol 2, circa 1878

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:

“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 with the help of some of his friends sometime between September 12 and September 16. He 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, 1693, after the hangings had stopped, and his case was dismissed.

“John Alden.” Salem Witch Trials Notable Persons, University of Virginia, 2002,
“John Alden’s Account of His Witch Trial Examination” The Salem Witchcraft Papers, Volume I, University of Virginia,
Norton, May Beth. In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. Vintage Books, 2007

John Alden’s Account of His Witch Trial Examination

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist 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.

7 thoughts on “John Alden’s Account of His Witch Trial Examination

  1. Jeffrey McQueen

    I’m a descendant of John Alden Sr. My ancestor Sarah (Clarke) Rist was also arrested of Witchcraft at the same time as John Alden, Jr. Sarah’s husband Nicholas petitioned for her release which she finally got when the trials ended (with the girls’ accusation of the Governor’s wife). Sarah only lived a couple months after her release. Sarah was elderly and the jail took its toll.

  2. Paige Kerstiens

    I am a Descendant of John Alden Sr. as well. Through Elizabeth (Samson) Pineo, which would be his Great Great Grand Daughter, Pineo was my Great Grandmother’s last name. Very interesting read!

  3. Margaret Taft

    I’m not a direct descendant of this John Alden but a direct descendant of John and Priscilla Alden thru their youngest son David Deacon Alden.

    It took only clicking thru 10 graves to get from my paternal grandmother to John and Priscilla Alden. It’s interesting that my descent is thru only 2 women and 9 men including my father. My 3rd great grandmother was an Alden. The name and Duxbury & Needham Mass places of birth and death made me wonder. So I clicked on her parents and it was very easy. I’ve applied to the Mayflower Society.

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