Witch trial

Elizabeth Garlick

"Goody Garlick! Oh! She torments me!'


The earliest evidence we have for suspicion that Goody Elizabeth Garlick, wife of Joshua Garlick, was a witch comes from Goody Simons's memory of a strange thing that happened one day when she was having her "fits."

On that day, Goody Bishop hurried down the Main Street of the Town of East Hampton with some dockweed she had got from Goody Garlick, hoping the herbs would ease Goody Simons's fits. But when she arrived at Goody Simons's house, the ailing woman recoiled in horror and threw the herbs in the fire.

It had been like this on another day, she explained, when she and several others now in East Hampton were living in Lynn, Mass. On that occasion also a friend brought healing herbs to ease her fits. Then a strange black thing had entered the house. While Goody Simons was in the throes of a strong fit, a neighbor asked, "Who has a black cat?" Another answered, "Goody Garlick."

The women were able to conceptualize the diffuse black thing in the form of Goody Garlick's cat because of the common belief that witches sent familiar animal spirits, or turned themselves into animals, to do their mischief.

Was Goody Garlick the only person who owned a black cat? Probably not, but she knew something about healing. It was she who provided the herbs that ended up in the fire. Many healers were accused of witchcraft, particularly if their cures failed. It is likely also that Goody Garlick was French. Being one of few foreigners among the English would have made her suspect.

Goody Simons commented while burning Goody Garlick's herbs that she would have neither Goody Garlick nor Goody Edwards near her. The two women had something in common, and it wasn't a fondness for black cats. Their insults were taken seriously. Women seldom came to the attention of the magistrates, unless their words or actions threatened the status or property of men.

Another woman, Goody Davis, was very interested in proving Goody Garlick was a witch because she was convinced Goody Garlick had killed her baby with the evil eye. Goody Davis was no stranger to misfortune. She had been widowed twice, and her present husband, Faulk, was a philanderer. One day, she dressed her baby in clean linen. Goody Garlick came by and complimented the mother on how pretty the baby looked. Then she said, "The child is not well, for it groaneth." On hearing these words, Goody Davis felt her heart rise within her. She saw death in her baby's face. The child fell ill and never opened its eyes or cried until it died five days later. (This story was given later in court testimony.) Goody Davis told her friends that Goody Garlick killed her baby with the evil eye.

Why did Goody Davis believe Goody Garlick gave her the evil eye? Her words were benign enough. However, believers in the evil eye attribute equal danger to the hostile and the overly appreciative gaze. The lethal gaze is believed by the jealous to express envy. The difference between jealousy and envy is this: The jealous wish to protect what belongs to them; the envious wish to destroy or expropriate what belongs to others. Goody Garlick said the child looked pretty; Goody Davis heard envy. The infant mortality rate was high; all new mothers were anxious. Goody Davis was a new mother. Goody Garlick was beyond her child-bearing years. Goody Garlick commented that the child might be ill. Goody Davis heard a prophetic threat. Witchcraft trial records reveal that many older women were accused by young ones.

In the midst of this whirlwind of contention, a sudden illness came upon Elizabeth Howell, Lion Gardiner's daughter, one evening in February of 1657. Elizabeth, who was then 16 years old, had recently given birth to her first child. She was alone in her home until a friend, Samuel Parsons, came to visit her husband, Arthur Howell. He was not at home, she told him. She confided that she was suffering from a headache and that she thought she had caught a chill.

Presently her husband returned home, to find her huddled by the fire. She said, "Love, I am very ill of my head, and I fear I shall have the fever." Arthur took her to bed. "Lord have mercy upon us," she sobbed, then asked her friends to pray for her.

Elizabeth prayed she would not lose her senses. Shortly thereafter she said, as she suckled her baby, "My poor child, it pities me more for thee than for myself, for if I be ill, to be sure thou wilt be ill, too."

After the baby was taken from her, Elizabeth sang the words of a psalm, then terrified her friends by shrieking, "A witch! A witch! Now you are come to torture me because I spoke two or three words again you! In the morning you will come fawning. . . ." Samuel Parsons said, "The Lord be merciful to her. . . . It is well if she bee not bewitcht."

Lion Gardiner found his daughter peering fixedly at the foot of her bed, shrieking, "A witch! A witch!" He asked her, "What do you see?" "A black thing at the bed's feet," she answered, sobbing and flailing at an adversary that she alone could see. Her husband tried to restrain her, but she resisted him with uncharacteristic strength. At last she exhausted herself.

The next morning Lion Gardiner found his daughter's condition was deteriorating. He decided to inform his wife. After several failed attempts to rise from her own sickbed, Mary Gardiner struggled across the village green to the bed of her daughter. Daughter and mother wept in each other's arms until Elizabeth said, "Oh, mother, I am bewitched." Mary, now startled, said, "No, no, you are asleep or dreaming."

But Elizabeth insisted, "I am not asleep. I am not dreaming. Truly, I am bewitched." Mary asked her, "Whom do you see?" After some hesitation, at last Elizabeth shrieked, "Goody Garlick! Goody Garlick! I see her at the far corner of the bed, and a black thing of hers at the other corner!" This was the first time that Elizabeth named the "witch." She was delirious with fever, perhaps from an infection following childbirth.

Mary Gardiner later said in a court deposition that Elizabeth named the witch, but it is possible that the two women arrived at the conclusion collaboratively. This seems to have been the case in the Salem trials some 30 years later. Adolescent girls became delirious. When asked what ailed them, at first they said they didn't know. When adults suggested the names of certain women who might be bewitching them, the girls obediently confirmed the adults' suspicions.

Elizabeth Howell's afflictions intensified. She alternated between long periods of incoherence and clear and violent outcries. "She is a double-tongued woman . . . She pricks me with pins. . . Oh! She torments me. . . ."

The next day, Sunday, neighbors visited, including the pastor, Thomas James, to lead prayers for her soul. Although Mr. James left us very few records of his thoughts, it is likely that he responded as other pastors of the time did, by reading this crisis as a sign of God's impatience with the contentious people of the Town of East Hampton.

Elizabeth, parched by fever, coughed and sobbed, clutching her head and her throat as she descended deeper and deeper into delirium, surfacing now and then to give voice to her torment: "Garlick . . . double-tongued . . . ugly thing . . . pins. . . ." And she called out for her mother, until she finally grew quiet and her torment ended with death.

After her burial, the East Hampton magistrates conducted an inquest to investigate the dead woman's claim that Goody Garlick had killed her with witchcraft. All of the witnesses to Elizabeth's strange death testified, except for one. There is no record of a single word spoken by Lion Gardiner before the court.

What kind of evidence was sufficient to prove that Goody Garlick tormented Elizabeth Howell to death while she was not physically present? The local magistrates were baffled. They wasted no time in asking the more experienced court in Connecticut to try the case. In the Particular Court of Connecticut, Goody Garlick was indicted with these words:

"Elizabeth Garlick, thou art indicted by the name of Elizabeth Garlick the wife of Joshua Garlick of East Hampton, that not having the fear of God before thine eyes thou hast entertained Satan, the Great Enemy of God and Mankind, and by his help since the year 1650 hath done works above the course of nature to the loss of lives of several persons (with several other sorceries), and in particular the wife of Arthur Howell . . . for which, according to the laws of God and the established law of this Commonwealth, thou deservest to die."

Goody Garlick must have been terrified. Colonial laws against witchcraft called for the death penalty by hanging. The Connecticut court had already tried at least eight cases of witchcraft since 1647. It is likely that there were many more accusations than those for which records survive, because the officials of the court complained that many who were charged with capital crimes fled to Rhode Island to escape prosecution. In only two of the known cases did defendants escape hanging.

Voluntary confession was the most conclusive evidence. The second, more reliable evidence after confession, was the evidence of a distinctive mark on the body of the accused. "Witchmarks" were believed to be of two types. The witch's familiar spirits were believed to come to a teat on the witch's body, generally in some secret place, to suckle. The court would post a guard to watch for the appearance of the familiar when it came to the witch to be fed. Also, the Devil was believed to distinguish his witches with other marks on their bodies. These, too, were expected to be in the secret parts.

It is unlikely that Goody Garlick confessed, and we have no records to let us know if a witch's mark was found on her body. Failing that, the courts relied on legal treatises to establish proof.

As it turned out, the Connecticut court did not find sufficient evidence to deprive Goody Garlick of her life. But it didn't acquit her, either. The court required that Joshua Garlick post a hefty bond to assure his wife's good behavior, and Goody Garlick was required to appear periodically before either the East Hampton court or that in Connecticut.

Why didn't the court convict Goody Garlick?

Although they agreed that the suspicions of witchcraft were just, they chose the conservative course. They preferred not to risk angering the Devil - not to mention God - for killing a person whom they could not adequately prove either guilty or innocent.

According to legend, Goody Garlick was saved by Lion Gardiner, the father of her alleged victim. Although he was a powerful and influential man, we must be reluctant to assume he would attempt to subvert the legal process in Connecticut. All the records of the case are lost, leaving us with no idea of what he might have thought, said, or wanted.

Puritans read the manner of death as a sign of the status of the soul. A difficult death was not necessarily proof of unworthiness, because grace could come at the final hour to the elect. However, the description of Elizabeth's death that we find in the court records gives us little hope that a blazing epiphany of saving grace ever came. This may have interested Lion Gardiner much more than witchcraft. If God had allowed Satan to use Goody Garlick to torment his daughter to the very last moment of her life, Gardiner would have had to consider the possibility that his daughter was not among the elect, and that her soul was not welcome in heaven. He had a lot at stake in believing that this was not so. Perhaps this accounts for his silence on the issue of witchcraft.

This is excerpted from a recent 350th anniversary lecture. Hugh King, in his capacity as East Hampton town crier, leads historic walking tours of the village. Dr. Orion, his wife, teaches social science at Hofstra University. For more information click here: The Easthampton Star

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