Elizabeth Jackson and the Salem Witch Trials

Perhaps the youngest person to make the journey with Ezekiel Rogers from Rowley in the East Riding to New England in 1638 was Elizabeth Jackson. Elizabeth was born in the hamlet of Hunsley, probably somewhere near the modern High Hunsley Farm, part of the parish of Rowley, in May 1637 and was little more than a year old when she sailed from Hull with her parents for the new World. When Rowley was established, her parents were allocated a one and a half acre lot of land but by 1652 they had increased this to 12 acres.

Pioneers in the Settlement of America by William A. Crafts
Vol. I Boston: Samuel Walker & Company, 1876.
Artists: F. O. C. Darley, Wm. L. Shepard, Granville Perkins, et al.

By the age of seven Elizabeth was already described as a maid in Ezekiel Rogers house and when she was twenty one years old she married James Howe who came from the neighbouring village of Ipswich. James was blind but he and his wife seem to have been successful farmers in Ipswich. They had five children and by all accounts, Elizabeth seems to have been an assertive personality, who initially proved she was more than able to defend the interests of her husband and children in these frontier lands. This may well have made her unpopular with some of her neighbours in what was then a predominantly male dominated society.

The family’s problems seemed to have begun in 1682 when Elizabeth was 45 years old. Hannah Trumble, a child of another local family, started having fits and during these sometimes accused Elizabeth of using witchcraft to make her ill. Later, when questioned after recovered from a fit, Hannah refused to name Elizabeth as a witch. However, the initial damage was done and Elizabeth’s reputation in the local community was tarnished. She was refused admittance to Ipswich church and for the following ten years her activities were increasingly confined to the family home and fields.

The issue of witchcraft was revived once more some ten years later in the nearby town of Salem. The colony was experiencing difficult times and after a series of seemingly unnatural and unexplained events, some of the inhabitants looked round for people to blame, for scapegoats. The catalyst for the witchcraft hysteria which followed came from a group of young girls enthralled by the tales of Tituba, a Barbados slave, who allegedly ranted about black magic and Satanism. Their behaviour subsequently degenerated into a series of screaming spasms, probably encouraged by the attention their behaviour brought them from alarmed adults. During the heights of their hysteria they accused a number of mainly middle aged or elderly women of witchcraft.

Panic spread and the colony was soon in turmoil. The newly appointed Governor, Sir William Phipps, set up a special court with powers to hold hearings and, if necessary, conduct trials. The collective paranoia fed on the preachings of a young protestant theologian, Cotton Mather, who called for the firm control of witchcraft if the colony was to survive. The situation reached fever point when the ten year old

accusation of witchcraft against Elizabeth was revived. She was summoned for a hearing and put in prison with a number of other women to await trial. Her warders treated her harshly in the hope she would confess her guilt but throughout her ordeal she was supported by her loyal husband and family. Many of those subsequently accused did confess and so survived by promising to give up witchcraft but Elizabeth continually refused to do this and always proclaimed her innocence.

Elizabeth was one of five women arraigned in the first Salem witch trial and was brought to court on the 30th June 1692. Despite strong support from family and friends, she was found guilty and hanged three weeks later on the 19th July 1692, along with the other four accused. A further fourteen alleged witches and warlocks were subsequently hung or pressed to death in Salem during the months of August and September 1692; by November more than 150 people had been accused. Finally, the atmosphere began to change, the accusers now became suspect and the frenzy subsided. All those accused were freed. Many years later, in 1710, legal proceedings were instituted to verify Elizabeth’s innocence. The conviction was reversed and the family received compensation for the loss of her life. This, however, can have provided little real recompense for the family whose mother had been so cruelly taken from them. Like the other scapegoats for the colony’s ills, Elizabeth was probably one of the more assertive and free thinking women of her time which might not have gone down well in a society then dominated by men and where women were expected to know their place. The Salem Witch trials were one of the most tragic events in early-modern American history and continue to fascinate the modern imagination. Many East Riding people have heard of the Salem witch trials but some do not realise that a locally born woman was one of the early victims of this collective frenzy.

Select Bibliography

Philip Graystone, Elizabeth Jackson of Rowley (UK: Lampada Press 1993) Paul Boyer, Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft (USA: Harvard University Press, 1974)

Paul Boyer, Salem-Village Witchcraft: a documentary record of local conflict in colonial New England (USA: Wadsworth, 1972)

George Lincoln Burr, Narratives of Witchcraft Cases 1648 – 1706 (USA: Barnes and Noble 1946, repr. 1963)

Marion Starkey, The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry into the Salem Witch Trials (USA: Anchor Books, 1969)

Charles Wentworth Upham, Salem Witchcraft: with an account of Salem village and a history of opinions on witchcraft and kindred spirits (USA: originally published Boston 1867, republished Dover, 2000)

On-line References


History of American Women. Elizabeth Jackson Howe