Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Final Salem Witchcraft Trial (It's not when you'd think!)

The infamous witchcraft trials of 1692 were harrowing to say the least. Innocent townspeople were tried and executed under a court system that was inherently flawed and erratic in its decisions. 'Spectral evidence' was what damned most all of the 1692 victims to their sentences; meaning the jury was making decisions based upon people's sensationalized outbursts and claims to have seen the accused's witchly spirit tormenting them. After the hysteria of the time passed, this court system was taken under review and abolished, taking the use of spectral evidence to its grave. With spectral evidence now inadmissible, it would be incredibly difficult for something like this to ever happen again. Nearly 200 years later, however, a case like this would go to trial again and it would mark its place in history as America's last witch trial.

In a childhood accident, Lucretia S. Brown of Ipswich had become disabled due to a spinal injury. She wouldn't find relief for this injury until she was in her 50's. Lucretia had discovered the Christian Scientist Church and became a disciple of Mary Baker Eddy. Lucretia believed wholeheartedly that Mary's teachings had saved and rehabilitated her. Unfortunately, in 1875 Lucretia suffered from an injury relapse. Confused and scared, she turned to Mary, who came to the conclusion that mystical foul play must be at work. Coincidentally, Mary had recently excommunicated Daniel Spofford from her church. She believed that Daniel had relapsed Lucretia in an effort to spite her.

Mary turned to her lawyer, who drew up court documents on behalf of Lucretia and in 1878 she would take to court the final witch trial. This consisted of a complaint against Daniel Spofford that he was a "mesmerist, and practices the art of mesmerism, and that by his power and influence he is capable of injuring the persons and property and social relations of others, and does by said means so injure them", according to the local Ipswich newspaper released at the time. The legal papers called upon the court to stop him from using his mental efforts to torture Mary's disciples.

On court day in Salem, Daniel found these claims so outrageous he didn't even show up to court. After the complaint was read, it was determined that the complaint had no legal standing because the court would be unable to control Daniel's mind. The case was promptly dismissed, laying to rest the final American witchcraft trial.


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