The Witch Trial of 1692
This is a well documented historical fact that placed Arkham in the darkest chapters of New England History. According to the testimonies during the trial the people in Arkham had long suspected that there was someone practizing witchcraft in the area.The number cows catching diseases and odd occurances increased in the region during the years prior to the incident in the Ravine behind Meadow Hill on All Hallows Mass 1690. Add to this that a number of children had gone missing and never been found
The exact details connected with the Ravine incident is still rather unclear. The Town Marshall Heskiel Brown caught a group of men and women in the midst of some kind of celebration. Afterwards the apprehended ones were accused of having communed with Devils and Demons. According to the official records some of the accused admitted to having signed a contract with the own blood. According to the testimonies the contract had been dictated by a dark skinned strangerpresent at the celebration.The dark man had offered magical knowledge in return for signing the contract - so the records tells. Inspired by local woman named Keziah Mason the group had gathered on the Eve all Hallow's Mass 1690. The group convened in a Ravine behind Meadow Hill, outside Arkham. The place was probably chosen because of a geological oddity known as the White Stone that can be found in this very ravine even today. The are reasons to believe that the stone in question were the subject of religious worship among local Indian tribes long before the first Europeans arrived in the Arkham area.
The whole incident occurances during roughly the same time as the infamous Salem witchtrials and there are reasons to believe that the paranoid atmosphere of the Salem traisl might have affcted the Arkhamites. However the whole Arkham affair takes an odd tiwst when unlike the Salem trials it becomes a matter for the Brittish Crown directly - not just a matter for the Town magistrate. The Salem trials were watched over by Govenor Sir William Phips and the Deupty Govenor served as Chief Judge at the trial.. The Salem trials were later on declared as unlawful( it was in 1701) and thus they were soon seen as a mistake by the judicial authorities in both Salem and the govenor's office in Boston. The Arkham trials were never declared unlawful and the presence of certain Crown prosecutor appointed by London Parliment made them unique. The Crown nor the Parliment seldom if ever intefered in common judicial matters in the American colonies. The Arkham trials were an exception.
Most likely London reacted to a secret depeche sent by Govenor's office in Boston during the spring of 1691. the response was an official appointed by the crown with special authroties to conduct a full investigation into the matter of the Arkham incident. The man sent to Arkham was a certain Sir Bartolomew Cunningham - a high ranking judicial expert at the court of St James. Cunningham had more or less carte blance during the investigation of the crime and the questioning of the arrested subjects. Unlike many similair trials Cunningham were never known to use any torture or other physical methods during the interrigation. He also managed to get full confessions from all involved except Keziah Mason. Some say this was due to some extraodinary knowledge pocessed by Cunninghams assitant a certain halfblod Indian named Benjamin Black. little is known about this Benjamin Black, but the story has it that Cunningham met him in short after his arrival in Boston in June 1691. Nothing is ever mentioned about this mysterious character after the trials had been concluded.
Most of the trial proceedings took place during September and October 1692. The accused had then spent almost 2 years in Prison and most of them wer in bad condition. That might explain why Cunningham and Black had very little resistance when recieving the full confessions from the accused. As mentioned before only Keziah mason resisted, but in her cause there were some physical evidence - she had left some written materials in her home that linked her to the practinioning of "Black Arts".
In October 1692 the trails was over and all coven members were sent to the gaols - except for Keziah Mason who somehow escaped her imprisonment. This later on led to rumour that Keziah Mason had revived the Arkham Coven. It is however hard to believe that a lone woman on the run could survive for that long in a hostile environment like New England of the late 17th century. It is also unclear if Mason and her fellow cult members were in fact true practitioners of Black magic or just another group of women performing some harmless(and ineffectual) old school Hedge Magic.
To the right: a portrait of Crown Prosecutor Sir Bartholomew Cunningham. He was born in York around 1659. He was the youngest son Sir Daniel Cunningham - one of Oliver Cromwell's Colonels at Marston Moore. Young Bartholomew studied law at Cambridge and soon became well reknowned lawyer and Prosecutor. Since he was an ardent Presbyterian he great difficulties during the reign of Charles II. His fortune rose with the Glorious revolution of 1689. In 1691 he was commissioned to travel to New England in order to settle matters surrounding the Arkham witch trial
This particular portrait is believed to have been painted around 1693 - one year after the witch trials. Sir Bartholomew returned to England in 1695. He died in 1701 at the age of 42. The cause of death is believed to be dysentery. There are those who believe that he died from the very curse given to him by Keziah Mason at the trials in 1692. This portrait is on display at the Arkham Historic Society.
|The paranoia of the 17th century Protestant world led to the death of thousands of innocent men and women who happened to follow have philosophical or theological ideas that did not go in line with mainstream Christendom. The lack of education among the populace often led to situation were the gap in theological knowledge often were filled with various folkish believes that mistakenly could be taken for Devil-worship. There were also persecutions of people who happened to possess knowledge of herbal remedies that could cure common diseases. What makes the Arkham trials different from most other Witch-trials is the fact that there was little doubt that a coven in fact existed. There are even some written documents that was found in the home of Keziah Mason that stated that the coven did worship something called " The Old Ones". There is not a single mentioning of any Devil in these papers, thus one can say that the coven did not have any ties to any Christian cosmology( with God and the Devil) - nor are there any references to any known pre-Christian pagan religion. In fact it all might have been the fabrication of a single woman's vivid imagination( that of Keziah Mason). The Mason papers are hard to interpret and some scholars do believe that Keziah Mason did in fact suffer from some kind of mental disorder that caused her to hallucinate. Her scruffy scribbling is more or less unreadable and do lack logical coherence. The papers can nowadays be accessed through the Arkham Historical Society at 531 S Garrison Street, Arkham.