By Melinda Pillsbury-Foster
My cousin, Peni Jo Renner, wrote a book last year about a mutual ancestor, Rebecca Eames. Titled, “Puritan Witch - The Redemption of Rebecca Eames,” the brief volume tells Rebecca's story as she is accused of witchcraft, tried, found guilty, and waits for the sentence of hanging to be carried out in a prison where, unless your family paid, you would be left to starve to death.
The books shines light new, and a very human light, on the a period of American history which has been detached from the descendants of those who lived it. By so doing the real roots of conflict were buried. Until Renner's book was published it was easy for many who do not share this heritage to fictionalize these very personal histories, providing salacious scenarios to those who were not touched by the morality story played out in the lives of a people who confronted an abuse of power by those who saw opportunity for profit. Using the gullibility of those around them significant transfers of property took place.
In 1649 law was passed which made witchcraft a capital offense, opening the door for the trials, which took place in 1692. After the accusation of a capital crime was made the property of the accused could be seized immediately. Asset forfeiture remains with us today.
Royal Governor William Phips released those imprisoned on February 21st, 1693. The reaction of the accusers was to beg for his protection from just retaliation. None occurred, these were lawful people, determined to do right.
For five generations there were no marriages between the descendants of the accursed and their accusers. They remembered. I suggest this baptism of pain awakened their descendants to the dangers inherent in the abuse of power.
What was the impact of these events on people who saw the ugliness play out and then lived with the aftermath in the same small communities for generations? How were their ideas about freedom, individual rights, and their relationship with God affected? Accusers and accused, how did it shape today for all of us?
Myself, I am proud to be a descendant of Mary Barker, twelve when she was imprisoned, and her cousin, George, thirteen. This history still has much to tell us about our world today.
What we take away from the experiences of life defines us and our descendants, if we remember. And read Puritan Witch.