Witchcraft in Bermuda

Witchcraft in Bermuda, 1650-1696

The cultural belief in the existence of witchcraft and persecution of those suspected of such, began in England in earnest c1645. The superstition appeared in Bermuda under the last term of Josiah Fforster as Governor 1650. For almost 30 years before, the church had instructed the populace to present all sorcerers, enchanters, charmers, figurecasters, or "whoever hath or seemeth to have any consultation with the divell". Documentation of actions against such people first appear in the records in 1651 with the assize held at St George's charging Jeane Gardiner and Anne Bowen as witches.
The following is a brief summary of those charged with the crime of witchcraft in Bermuda, and others named at their trials. An excellent treatment of the subject is found in "Memorials of the Bermudas" by Maj Lefroy.

1. Jeane Gardiner (1651)
22 May 1651 at St George's
wife of Ralph Gardiner, of Hamilton Tribe
Capt'n Josias Fforster, Governor
Charge: stated she would cramp Tomasin, a mullatto woman who was struck blind and dumb for 2 hours.
pleaded not guilty; found guilty; sentenced to death; executed Monday 26 May 1651, after being "throwne twice in the sea..she did swyme like a corke and could not sinke"
jury of women appointed to search her body
Mrs Ellen Burrowes
Mrs Fflora Wood
Mrs Eliz. Stowe
Allice Sparkes
Eliz. Brangman

2. Anne Bowen (1651)
22 May 1651 (same assize)
wife of Richard Bowen
see #1 for women jurors
Mr Francis Watlington and Mr John Harnett provided security of 200lb tobacco.
does not appear again in the records; acquitted?

3. Elizabeth Middleton (1652)
spinster of Sandy's Tribe
Charge: in September last, caused a 9 month child of Anthony White (Sandy's Tribe) to fall into strange fits.

4. Henry Ward (1653)
of Som'r Islands planter
Charge: February 1652 bewitched, caused fits & death of turkeys of Thomas Atkins

5. John Midleton (1653)
assize 3 May 1653, St George's
of Sandy's Tribe
Capt Josias Fforster, Gov; Anth:o Jenour, Sec; Mr Stephen Paynter & Mr William Wilkinson council
Charges: bewitched a Scotsman John Makeraton, age abt 50, who dwelt with Gov Capt Fforster. Makaeraton fell into strange fits after he threatened to strike him April 1653
witnesses: Jeames Blake, Aliston Smith, Symon (a prisoner), Mr John Stow Marshall, Margery Tucker, John Burch, Elizabeth Midleton (wife), Robert Priestley

men appointed to search his body:
__ Willis
__ Bristow
Peeter Lun
Robert Powell
Henry Parker
Thomas __

Court 3 & 4th May 1653 at St George's:
Captain Josias Fforster Gov
Capt Roger Wood, council & commander of Paget Fort
Capt'n Richard Jennings, council & commander of King's Castle
Capt'n William Seymer, council & commander of Southampton Fort
Mr Stephen Paynter, councillor of Southampton Tribe
Mr William Wilkinson, councillor of Sandy's Tribe
Mr Richard Norwood, councillor of Devon Tribe
Mr John Miller, councillor of Hamilton Tribe
Mr John Waynewright, councillor of Warwick Tribe
Mr John Wentworth, councillor of Paget Tribe
Grand Inquest:
Mr Robert Kestawen
Mr Thomas Woode
Capt'n Thomas Burrowes
Capt'n Robert Pulford
Capt'n Fflorentia Seymer
Capt'n William Williams
Lieften't William Nelmes
Ensigne Edw. Brackley
Mr Gilbert Hill
Mr Chauncey Sandis
Mr Henery Moore
Mr Thomas Browerton
Mr William Lancton
Mr William Lyndith
Mr Thomas Hilton
Mr Samuell Beadle

other names mentioned: Thomas Ffarmer, John Ashe, Goody Butler, Thomas Homer
purported to accuse Christian wife of Thos Stevenson & Goody North of being witches.

found guilty; sentenced to death; executed at St George's town 9 May 1653; "jury of death" Jeames Newball foreman

6. Christian Stevenson (1653)
spinster of Pembroke tribe
Charges: marks upon her body, witchcraft upon people and cattel incl. child of Thomas Murrell who died, Anne Butler, Prudence Sheare, Thomas Wiverley, Widdow Hopkins, pigges of Mr Christopher, work of Mr Thomas Denicomb blacksmith, and others.
Witnesses: Thomas Dunscombe, wife of same, Thomas Murrill, Dorothy Budd, Elizabeth Burch, Mary wife of Robert Dickinson, Anne wife of Daniell Buller (Butler), Elizabith wife of Henery Fford and daughter of Mrs Pitt, Nicholas Ellis, Prudence Seares (Sheare) wife of Guy Seares, Mrs Burrowes, Hopkins widow of Henery Hopkins, Thomas Wiverley, Marye Hopkins (dau of Widow Hopkins), Sarah Denicombe (father Jones) , Thomas Denicomb (blacksmith), Henery Bishop, Thomas Seewarde (Saward), Mr Christopher

jury of women appointed to search her body:
Mrs Lun Forewoman
Mrs Elizabeth Rener
Mrs Elizabeth Jenour
Mrs Stow
Dame Coursby
Widdow Robinson
Dame Port

mentioned: Mr Barkely, Treesdall, Stowe, Mr & Mrs Attwood of Hamilton Tribe, Wiliam Fford, Stephen Stevenson, Mrs Seymer
found guilty; hanged by the neck until dead 20 May 1653.

7. Alice Moore (1653)
assize May 14 & 17, 1653
wife of Thomas Moore (held 1 share of Lord of Warwicke's land) of Warwick tribe
Charges: marks on her body, destroyed cattle and hogs
Witnesses: Anne Holmes (Junr), Dorothy Gaplin and husband Thomas Gaplin of Warwick Tribe; Nathaniel Conyers; Edward Holmes & brother William Holmes; John Burt; Mr John Waynewright (held 2 shares, 1 of Lord of Warwicke and one of Mr Georg Turberfield)

jury of women appointed to search her body:
Mrs Lun
Mrs Fforster
Mrs Pulford
Mrs Robinson
Mrs Burrowes
Mrs Dickenson
Dame Coursy
Dame Evans
and 4 more.

Mentioned: Mr John Waynewright & Mr John Wentworth, council; Moore (godmother of Anne Holmes; Jacob Bradshawe; Peter Ffables; Mr Whethenhall; Thomas Inglethorpe
pleaded not guilty; found guilty; hanged by the neck till dead 20 May 1653

8. Goody Brangman (1653)
assize 12 May 1653
wife of Edward Brangman, dwelt once at Mullet Bay
witnesses: Jone wife of Thomas Bell
mentioned: widdow Mary Stow(e), old Mr Stowe
acquitted after Mary Stowe acknowledged using suspicious language against her

9 & 10. Elizabeth Page & Jane Hopkins (1654/5)
trial 1 January 1654/5
passengers on the ship Mayflower to Bermuda
Charges: witchcraft, suckling the devil, marks upon the body. witnesses: Capt'n William White master of the Maiefflower (Mayflower), Elizabeth Cobson, Mrs Rathorme, Thomas Crofts,Charles Hancocke crew of ship, Jeames Man, Thomas Cobsone, Anto. Love

mentioned: Mr Thomas Peniston councillor; Capt Josias Fforster Gov; Antho Jenour Sec; Mr Baker

jury of women appointed to search the body of Elizabeth Page:
Mrs Seon, forwoman
Mrs Stowe
Mrs Marsh
Dame Cobson
Dame Pert
Dame Bristowe
Dame Powell
Dame Corsey
Mrs Jenour
Dame Goodfaith
Dame Cobeson Jun'r
(no marks found)

jury of women appointed to search the body of Jane Hopkins:
Mrs Margery Seon, forwoman
Mrs Jenour
Mrs Stowe
Mrs Woode
Mrs Vaughan
Mrs Paskon
Dame Powell
Dame Port
Dame Stirrop
Dame Vickers
(found a mark in her mouth, a teat under her arm, warts on her shoulder and neck)

Grand Inquest of Page held 3 Jan 1654 with following present:
Captain Josias Fforster, Gov & Capt General of these Islands
Capt'n William Wilkinson
Mr Stephen Paynter
Mr John Waller
Mr Richard Norwood
Mr Thomas P___
Mr John Waynwright
Antho Jenour, Sec

Elizabeth Page acquitted.
Jane Hopkins found guilty, sentenced to death, hanged by the neck till dead 5 Jan 1654/5

11. Grace Bedwell (1655)
trial at an assize 1655
wife of John Bedwell of town of St George's
Charges: marks on her body, afflicting several people incl Kate, and Indian woman servant of Robert Powell
found not guilty

12. Mrs. Miller (1655)
assize Nov 1655
William Haynes cited for his uncivil behavior in defaming Mrs Miller
Thomas Haynes apologized for reporting her a witch and was forgiven

13. Goodwife Moore (1658)
trial at assize 17 July 1658
wife of Thomas Moore
witnesses: Nathaniell Astwood, John Richards (servant of Astwood)
mentioned: Mr John Waynwright, John Rawlings councilors; Capt'n Josias Fforster Gov

jury of women appointed to search the body of Jane Hopkins:
Mrs Norwood
Margrett Crockford
Elizabeth Gilbert
Katherine Bristowe
Goodwife Sweetinge
Goody Port
Mrs Margery Piskow
Mrs Malary
Honor White
Goody Powell
Mrs Katherine Marsh
Goody Corson
Goody Middleton
Mary Coleson
Goody Bayley
(no marks found)

14. Goodwife Crockford (1658)
assize 26 October 1658
Michael Brother asked Mrs Crockford's forgiveness for calling her a witch

15. Nicholas Hon (1659)
6 Dec 1659
of Paget's Tribe
charge: suspicion of witchcraft by charge of Mr and Mrs Henrie Sims

16. William Haynes (1663)
assizes December 1663
of Hamilton Tribe
charge: appearing as an apparition with a knife in his hand
witnesses: Mr John Place
found not guilty and acquitted

17. Christian North (1668)
widow of Hoggs Bay, Sandy's tribe
assizes 15 December 1668; Capt Samuell Whalley Gov
charge: 12 September 1668, Meriam Ward accused her of being a witch

18. Susan Cole (1671)
trial at assizes 12 June 1671
Susan Cole (Coale) (previously Bailey/Bayley widow), wife of Robert Cole of Devonshire Tribe
charge: caused the languishing condition (pain in shoulder & arm) of Thomas Holt, tailor
witnesses: Henry Scott, Mr Shephard
mentioned: Gov Sir John Heydon, David Minge, Roger Waightman (went since to New Providence), Elizabeth Middleton wife of Edward, John Colson (cooper & constable), Alexander Smith, Henry Tucker Sec
found guilty and sentenced to death
reprieved by the Governor 21 June 1671

19. Martha Franklin (1672)
trial at assize 27 May 1672
wife of Richard Ffranklin of Paget's Tribe
charge: killing and wounding of cattle of Humphrey Coverlie and burning of the house of William Duck
found not guilty and acquitted

20 & 21. Gillian Abbot and Elizabeth Ward (1683/4)
assize 12 March 1683/4
charge: Ward caused a negro girl (of Captain John Hubbard) to take sick; Abbot to cause Jane daughter of Mr Edwin Mallory to take sick
return not entered

22. Sarah Spencer (1696)
quarter court records 1696
charge: caused affliction (and death?) of late Mrs Sarah Harmon of Somerset tribe
sent to prison until next assizes; the return not entered.

23. Sarah Bassett (1730)
Sometimes included in this category
Sarah (or Sally) Bassett, an old black woman, was convicted of attempting to poison her master and sentenced to death by being burned at the stake. She was found guilty, sentenced to death 17 June 1730, to be carried out 21 June 1730. Origin of the present-day description of a very hot day as a "regular Sarey or Sally Bassett day".

1730 Sarah Bassett, an elderly mulatto slave in Sandy's Parish hired by the Forster Family, was brought up on charges of poisoning after her master and mistress fell sick. By 1729 she was considered to be of old age and not much value on the auction block. Sally decided it was time to put her knowledge of poisons to sue and in her own way strike out for the way she had been treated over the many years she had endured slavery. On December 18, 1729, she instructed her granddaughter Beck in the use of poisons. At the time Beck was owned by Thomas and Sarah Foster who resided in Somerset Parish. Beck was instructed to poison her owners as well as their slave girl Nancy. Beck testified that Sarah had given her ratsbane and manchineel root with which to poison mariner Thomas Forster, his wife and Nancy one of the Forster slaves. Sarah was later arrested on June 2nd, 1730 when a bill of indictment was read and although Sarah declared her innocence she was ordered to stand trial. Upon being found guilty she was valued at 1 pound, four shillings and six pence. She was then sentenced to be burned at the stake.

Saturday, June 6th, 1730 was an extremely hot day as Sarah made her way to the foot of Crow Lane at the eastern end of Hamilton Harbour. There the stake was erected. Hundreds of people lined up to witness this horrible spectacle.  It has been said that Sarah declared "No use you hurrying folks, there'll be no 'til I get there!" Sometime later when Sarah's ashes were to be removed a purple-blue Iris was seen to be growing in their midst. Today this flower is known as "The Bermudiana".  Before her death Sarah had declared that God would show that she was guiltless and today the flower blooms about Bermuda.

Sarah's previous master, blacksmith Francis Dickinson of Pembroke had died in 1727. She was a mulatto and had raised her family which included many grandchildren. She had been presented at an assize in Jan 1713 on suspicion of killing cattle, horses, and sheep belonging to John Jennings and Stephen Painter of Southampton on Christmas 1712. and had been whipped across the parish. (reference: Jarvis, M. 1999. Searfaring Slaves & Maritime Culture in Bermuda, 1680-1783. Univ of VA/Omohundro Institute.)