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Feb 5, 2019 4:43 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Witchcraft Book Draws A Crowd To The East Hampton Library

Hugh King lecturing about witchcraft at the East Hampton Library.  ELIZABETH VESPE
Feb 5, 2019 5:10 PM

Salem, Massachusetts, is a small town infamous for the execution of 20 men and women accused of being in league with the devil and practicing witchcraft in 1692. But less well-known is a witchcraft accusation and trial that took place decades prior, in 1657, in East Hampton. Dr. Loretta Orion has been researching witchcraft since well before receiving her doctorate from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1990. And so the center of attention for a packed crowd at the East Hampton Library on Saturday was her newest book, “It Were As Well To Please The Devil As Anger Him: Witchcraft In The Founding Days Of East Hampton.”

Dr. Orion’s husband, Hugh King, and one of his former students, Aimee Webb, talked about witchcraft in the founding days of East Hampton—before giving away some spoilers about Dr. Orion’s newest book.

What is a witch hunt? In the literal sense it is just that: the search for and the persecution of a suspected witch, Ms. Webb said, adding that witch hunts had happened in earlier times in Europe.

“We have to understand the mindset of the day. It was heresy to believe in witches and magic. They believed the devil was present and tempting woman into sin,” she said.

Elizabeth Howell was the 16-year-old daughter of Lion Gardiner, founder of East Hampton Town. Shortly after marrying Arthur Howell, she became gravely ill after giving birth to a daughter that Goody Garlick helped deliver.

Ms. Howell’s sickness and hysteria pointed toward Goody Garlick as the culprit.

“A witch! A witch! Now you have come to torture me because I spoke two or three words against you! In the morning you shall come fawning. Goody Garlick! I see her at the far corner of the bed, and a black thing of hers at the other corner,” Ms. Howell was said to have shrieked.

After she accused Goody Garlick of having bewitched her, a series of strange events occurred.

Ms. Howell grew frightened by black things and constantly complained about being pricked by pins. By the fourth day of her sickness, she had lost her senses and did not recognize family or friends. When visitors came to see her, Ms. Howell shouted, “She is a double-tongued woman … She pricks me with pins … Oh! She torments me.”

When asked by the visitors who was causing her pain, she replied, “Ah! Garlick, you jeered me when I came to your house to call my husband home. You laughed and jeered me, and I went crying away.”

When she started to gag and choke, Goody Edwards, a neighbor, forced Ms. Howell’s mouth open with the handle of a knife to see what was causing the pain, suspecting witchcraft. She coughed, and Goody Edwards caught a metal pin that fell from her mouth.

At the time, it was believed that pins were produced at the bedsides of victims of witchcraft.

The magistrates of the town began to investigate the claim that Goody Garlick had bewitched Ms. Howell.

There is no record of a testimony from Lion Gardiner and it seems that Goody Garlick did not testify either. Mr. King said it is likely that they testified but that those pages were lost.

Ultimately, John Winthrop Jr., the governor of Connecticut, who then had jurisdiction over Long Island, sat as judge on Goody Garlick’s trial and found her innocent.

However, he stated, “We don’t find enough evidence to find her guilty, but you were right to suspect her.”

Goody Garlick was released and returned home to East Hampton, where she and her husband lived to be 100 years old, Mr. King said.

Without spoiling the entire book, Mr. King and Ms. Webb left out the detail if Ms. Howell survived or died.

“Do you know the story that you just heard took place five doors down to the west?” Mr. King said, referring to Ms. and Mr. Howell’s home in 1657, where the alleged bewitching occurred.

Ms. Webb explained the mindset of the 1650s. At the time, church attendance was mandatory for women, and absence was a punishable crime. Women within the Puritan world were harshly regulated. Storms, hail, crop failure, the death of children, plagues; when these things happened, it wasn’t a matter of why tragedy or misfortune had come, but who had caused it, Ms. Webb said.

Much misfortune was blamed on witchcraft, which was punishable by death, and women between the ages of 40 and 60 who lacked male protection, or were childless, were often accused of being witches. The accused women were typically disruptive to the status quo, many being healers or midwives. To tell if someone was a witch, villagers often bound the suspected person, threw her in the water, and if she floated, determined her to be a witch.

“More often than not, this resulted in death,” Ms. Webb said.

“It highlights how the act of dehumanizing a person can lead society to inflict awful treatment on those individuals because they are not considered human,” Dr. Orion wrote.

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