Monday, September 29, 2014

Thomas Whaples, a Witchcraft Trial...Sidetracking Can Be Worthwhile

Recently my husband was out at Mount Emblem Cemetery in Elmhurst, Illinois, with his sister. They were visiting their parents' and uncle and aunt's graves. I didn't tag along, but sent a text message to Bob, I mentioned it would be nice to get an image of uncle Jim and aunt Jean's headstone. Several times in the past couple years, Bob and I have been out there and couldn't locate Jim and Jean's grave site even though we had the cemetery map with an X marking the spot. It is one of those flat-to-the-ground markers and it is easy to miss it in a huge area.


Bob looking up and down one of many rows
of flat-to-the-ground grave markers.
Anyway, on Sunday, Bob and his sister found the grave marker and did get a picture. I added it to Find A Grave with just barebones information... At least it is out there, right? [Find A Grave Memorial# 136529196]

Well, instead of getting off the Find A Grave website so I could continue getting organized for my annual trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I decided to search for Bob's mother's family name of WHAPLES on the site. How many more are listed on the site in USA? Lots. I skimmed through the list and found a few contributors. They are descendants of the Whaples ancestors and not just casual contributors going for quantity of graves uploaded to Find A Grave. I noted these contributors so I can make contact after I come back from my trip.

With that done, I decided to try out a handy Google tip I learned on that Saturday from speaker Lisa Louise Cooke at an all-day conference in Naperville. I searched for "Thomas Whaples [between the dates of] 1600...1650." What could I lose? I've already spent time looking through Find A Grave. Why not practice my googling?

I haven't spent much time researching my husband's family because I am so involved with my side. Yet, I have to admit sidetracking is worthwhile when I come across something interesting, my curiosity disturbs my placid genealogy lake...like ripples after a stone is thrown into the pond. My sidetracking moves in ripples.

Because of the research done by others and a DAR application, I am confident I am on the right track, but I haven't seen the proof myself. That doesn't stop me from following a lead. All the signs are pointing to Thomas, born around 1625 in England. I don't know when or how old he was when he came to the colonies. All I know is he was part of the Puritans in Wethersfield, Connecticut, and in August of 1668, Thomas gave testimony against Katherine Harrison for being a witch or displaying tendencies towards the act. Because of a copyright law, I am unable to publish a picture of the handwritten testimony in seventeenth-century script, but you can find the image at the Connecticut State Library "click here." (It is part of the Samuel Wyllys Papers.) Below is a transcript of Thomas Whaples's testimony:

Tho: waples aged about 50: years testefieth that Katherin/ the late wife of Jon Harison deacesed. was noted lier/ and did report shed had read mr Lillies book in England/ and one that did spin more then he doth judge could be/ spun without some unlawful help: with yarn did not/ well prosper /as mrs caller sd\ and that the said Katerin told fortune/ matters that weare in future times to be a accomplish{torn}/ and evill conver=/ =sation. And further the said Tho: waples testefieth/ that Gooddy Greenesmith did before her condemna/ =tion accuse Katherin Harrison to be a witch dated/ the 7: of August 1668: Thomas T waples/ his mark/ sworn & exhibited in court octobr by John Allyn Secry/


From Thomas's testimony in 1668, we find he was said to be about 50 years old. Record accounts I've seen put his birth/baptism as 1625. I would guess age 43 could be considered "about" 50. While at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I'll be on the British Isles floor where I can do a little hunting and gathering of Whaples. That should be fun.
I was fascinated reading about Thomas Whaples, an ancestor of my husband, who was part of this historic trial. What drove people to testify against their neighbor or friend and with seemingly frivolous reasons to prove she was a witch!
There are more testimonies for that trial lasting about two years. The transcripts are from people of Wethersfield, Connecticut who were neighbors and friends. The range in accusations are quite interesting, too. I can't understand how anyone would have been convicted of witchcraft by such testimony. Click here to see the testimonies and transcriptions. [Copyright laws keep me from displaying them.] On the right side of the webpage you can click on any name to read their testimony. 

After I found those testimonies, I was curious if anyone had written anything on whether or not Catherine had been convicted and executed. I found an "extract" I can share with you about the trial. I also have a couple links to a PDF file of the full article.


Abstract found online "click here"  and  the PDF of full story found online "click here

Author: Liam Connell. published March 2011. Eras;Mar2011, Vol. 12 Issue 2, Special section p1. Academic Journal
'A Great or Notorious Liar': Katherine Harrison and her Neighbours, Wethersfield, Connecticut, 1668 - 1670

Katherine Harrison could not have personally known anyone as feared and hated in their own home town as she was in Wethersfield. This article aims to explain how and why this was so. Although documentation is scarce for many witch trials, there are some for which much crucial information has survived, and we can reconstruct reasonably detailed accounts of what went on. The trial of Katherine Harrison of Wethersfield, Connecticut, at the end of the 1660s is one such case. An array of factors coalesced at the right time in Wethersfield for Katherine to be accused. Her self-proclaimed magical abilities, her socioeconomic background, and most of all, the inter-personal and legal conflicts that she sustained with her neighbours all combined to propel this woman into a very public discussion about witchcraft in 1668-1670. The trial of Katherine Harrison was a vital moment in the development of the legal and theological responses to witchcraft in colonial New England. The outcome was the result of a lengthy process jointly negotiated between legal and religious authorities. This was the earliest documented case in which New England magistrates trying witchcraft sought and received explicit instruction from Puritan ministers on the validity of spectral evidence and the interface between folk magic and witchcraft -- implications that still resonated at the more recognised Salem witch trials almost twenty-five years later. The case also reveals the social dynamics that caused much ambiguity and confusion in this early modern village about an acceptable use of the occult. Finally, it is a striking example of an early modern accused witch whose circumstances coincided with many of the culpable aspects of the witch stereotype -- female, widowed, financially ambiguous, socially arbitrary, and self-assured to the point of combative -- who was not convicted, but who survived, due in no small part to a clergy and magistrate that intervened to effectively save her life.
It is interesting to note how important this trial was (bolded above) compared to the better-known witch trials in Colonial New England. It is also interesting Katherine was accused, convicted, and conviction eventually overturned; she did survive "due in no small part to a clergy and magistrate that intervened to effectively save her life." She was luckier than those who followed in other witch trials. This all took place almost 25 years before the infamous Salem Witch Trials. 
According to Liam Connell, author of article, on page 14 of the pdf, he states that Katherine's reputation was of her own making. Citing a particular instance: "However, the crux of the drama in the Cullick household centered on another female servant, 34-year-old Elizabeth Smith." Elizabeth, neé Bateman, worked with Katherine. (Smith also gave testimony at the trial.) It all stems from Smith hearing about Katherine's claiming she could tell fortunes. She decided to "engage the cunning woman's skill." Connell goes on to write: "The essence of the fortune that Katherine told Elizabeth was 'that her husband's name should be Simon.'" Elizabeth did go on to marry a man named Simon Smith. There is a twist to this because Elizabeth was involved with a man named William Chapman and they were to be married, but Katherine said they shouldn't. Elizabeth thought Katherine had "divined Elizabeth's future" in the fact she would marry Simon Smith.
Captain Cullick was against his servants courting. William Chapman had a "complaint against him taken to the Particular Court at Hartford on 2 March 1654, for trying to marry Elizabeth without Cullick's consent. The court heard the case and decided against Chapman, who was fined five pounds, and was jailed for fourteen days. The court also noted that two other servants in the Cullick house who helped Chapman and Bateman were 'accessories to the disorder.' These were none other than Thomas Waples and William Warren."
It seems, according to Connell "Katherine knew all of this. It thus seems likely that her divination efforts in this case were a successful attempt to break up Elizabeth and William on Cullick's behalf."
The jury's verdict was overturned and the Court of Assistants official response was they "cannot concur...to sentence her to death but do dismiss her from her imprisonment." Connell wrote: "Perhaps the court hoped to find a compromise between infuriating the townspeople by letting Katherine go without charge, and convicting her on grounds they had recently been informed were invalid. But in the end, the court appeased no one. And so very bitter Katherine Harrison departed for Westchester, New York, never to return to Wethersfield."
At the end Connell states: "The central theme in her [Katherine's] case was social control. The fear of control being forcibly removed encouraged a neighbor to retaliate with a particularly potent weapon in seventeenth-century New England –– witchcraft accusation."

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