Collective Psychosis

Collective Psychosis

One of my direct New England ancestors on my mother’s side was Mary Osgood née Clement, of Andover Massachusetts, who lived from about 1637 to 1710. She was married to Captain John Osgood.

On September 8, 1692, during the Salem witchcraft craze, Mary Osgood confessed under duress to being a witch. According to this confession, “about 11 years ago, when she was in a melancholy state and condition, she used to walk abroad in her orchard” and there had met the Devil. She testified the Devil had appeared to her disguised as a cat. With the Devil’s help, she had then travelled through the air along with three other women, to Five Mile Pond, and had been rebaptized by him there. She also confessed she had agreed to serve and worship the Devil, and had “afflicted three persons, John Sawdy, Martha Sprague and Rose Foster, and that she did it by pinching her bed clothes, and giving consent the devil should do it in her shape, and that the devil could not do it without her consent.”

Two kinds of evidence were admissible during her trial. One was “spectral evidence”, based on dreams and visions. The other was diagnosis by a medical doctor, who evaluated the degree to which the accused was possessed by the Devil.

By confessing, Mary believed she would gain favour in the eyes of God. In other words, she was pressured to admit to a crime she had not committed (and was then found guilty by a grand jury), all in order to save her soul in the next world.

Mary Osgood was sent to the witches’ jail, a cramped space with a dirt floor covered with excrement and vermin, and bars on the windows. Prisoners were shackled  to prevent their spectres or spirits from flying outside to continue afflicting the innocent. The jailer was authorized to torture prisoners, and to strip women prisoners naked as part of their ill-treatment.

On September 22, 1692. several of Mary Osgood’s fellow prisoners in the witches’ jail were executed: eight of them (Mary Eastey, Martha Corey, Ann Pudeator, Samuel Wardwell, Mary Parker, Alice Parker, Wilmot Redd and Margaret Scott) were hanged from a tree at Proctors Ledge; and a ninth (Giles Corey) was crushed to death with heavy stones (peine forte et dure) in an attempt to extort a confession.

Sir William Phips, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, had been up in Maine dealing with the aftermath of the French and Abenaki massacre and mass hostage-taking of English colonists at York the previous January. On October 12, 1692, he intervened to put an end to the collective madness in Salem. His own wife had been accused of witchcraft. “I hereby declare that as soon as I came from fighting,” he wrote, “and understood what danger some of their innocent subjects might be exposed to, if the evidence of the afflicted persons only did prevaile either to the committing or trying any of them, I did before any application was made unto me about it put a stop to the proceedings of the Court and they are now stopt till their Majesties pleasure be known.”

A week later, Mary Osgood recanted on October 19, 1692, declaring her confession to have been “wholly false.” She stated “she was brought to the said confession by the violent urging and unreasonable pressings that were used toward her.”

She was nonetheless imprisoned in Salem for three months, until January 1693. It must have been a terrorizing experience. Her husband and several other citizens of Andover petitioned to get her acquitted.

Here is some additional information. The record shows that 11 years prior to 1692 ( i.e. 1681) had been a very difficult time in Mary’s life. She had just lost her two-year-old twins Ebenezer and Clarence, and her newborn Clements. Mary had every reason to feel despondent at the time.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony was prone to mob rule under the guise of Christian piety – mob rule with a helping hand from fanatical preachers. The Puritan colonists lived in a state of perpetual insecurity, not to mention moral and physical panic. They believed witches afflicted innocent people simply by glancing at them. The afflicted were thereby subjected to supernatural harm or injury, and suffered fits or uncontrollable seizures, sometimes losing consciousness. They then presented spectral evidence during the prosecution of witches – evidence they had been harmed by the apparitions of malevolent disembodied spirits serving Satan, the ultimate shape-shifter.

From Mary’s recantation, it is clear that her prosecution (based partly on the doctor’s diagnosis) was coercive, violent and unreasonable.

Nowadays we consider this a collective delusion or psychosis. But in the late 17th century, crazed mobs accused women (and sometimes men) of signing a secret pact with the Devil and practising witchcraft. Fortunately, Mary Osgood survived.

During the Salem witchcraft craze, it was believed the Devil appeared before people as a cat or a black man. The Devil could also take on the appearance of women – but only with their consent.

Here are some documents I located on the website of the University of Virginia:

(Examination of Mary Osgood )
[September 8, 1692]
The examination and confession (8. Sept. 92.) of Mary Osgood, wife of Captain Osgood of Andover, taken before John Hawthorne and other their Majesties justices.
She confesses, that about 11 years ago, when she was in a melancholy state and condition, she used to walk abroad in her orchard; and upon a certain time, she saw the appearance of a cat, at the end of the house, which yet she thought was a real cat. However, at that time, it diverted her from praying to God, and instead thereof she prayed to the devil; about which time she made a covenant with the devil, who, as a black man, came to her and presented her a book, upon which she laid her finger and that left a red spot: And that upon her signing, the devil told her he was her God, and that she should serve and worship him, and, she believes, she consented to it. She says further, that about two years agone, she was carried through the air, in company with deacon Frye’s wife, Ebenezer Baker’s wife, and Goody Tyler, to five mile pond, where she was baptized by the devil, who dipped her face in the water and made her renounce her former baptism, and told her she must be his, soul and body, forever, and that she must serve him, which she promised to do. She says, the renouncing her first baptism was after her dipping, and that she was transported back again through the air, in company with the forenamed persons, in the same manner as she went, and believes they were carried upon a pole.

Q. How many persons were upon the pole?

A. As I said before, viz. four persons and no more but whom she had named above. — She confesses she has afflicted three persons, John Sawdy, Martha Sprague and Rose Foster , and that she did it by pinching her bed clothes, and giving consent the devil should do it in her shape, and that the devil could not do it without her consent. — She confesses the afflicting persons in the court, by the glance of her eye. She says, as she was coming down to Salem to be examined, she and the rest of the company with her, stopped at Mr. Phillips’s to refresh themselves, and the afflicted persons, being behind them upon the road, came up just as she was mounting again and were then afflicted, and cried out upon her, so that she was forced to stay until they were all past, and said she only looked that way towards them.

Q. Do you know the devil can take the shape of an innocent person and afflict?

A. I believe he cannot.

Q. Who taught you this way of witchcraft?

A. Satan, and that he promised her abundance of satisfaction and quietness in her future state, but never performed any thing; and that she has lived more miserably and more discontented since, than ever before. She confesses further, that she herself, in company with Goody Parker, Goody Tyler, and Goody Dean, had a meeting at Moses Tyler’s house, last Monday night, to afflict, and that she and Goody Dean carried the shape of Mr. Dean, the minister, between them, to make persons believe that Mr. Dean afflicted.

Q. What hindered you from accomplishing what you intended?

A. The Lord would not suffer it so to be, that the devil should afflict in an innocent person’s shape.

Q. Have you been at any other witch meetings?

A. I know nothing thereof, as I shall answer in the presence of God and his people; but said, that the black man stood before her, and told her, that what she had confessed was a lie; notwithstanding, she said that what she had confessed was true, and thereto put her hand. Her husband being present was asked, if he judged his wife to be any way discomposed. He answered, that having lived with her so long, he doth not judge her to be any ways discomposed, but has cause to believe what she has said is true. — When Mistress Osgood was first called, she afflicted Martha Sprague and Rose Foster, by the glance of her eyes, and recovered them out of their fits by the touch of her hand. Mary Lacey and Betty Johnson and Hannah Post saw Mistress Osgood afflicting Sprague and Foster . — The said Hannah Post and Mary Lacey and Betty Johnson, jun. and Rose Foster and Mary Richardson were afflicted by Mistress Osgood, in the time of their examination, and recovered by her touching of their hands.
I underwritten, being appointed by authority, to take this examination, do testify upon oath, taken in court, that this is a true copy of the substance of it, to the best of my knowledge, 5 Jan1692 — 3. The within Mary Osgood was examined before their Majesties justices of the peace in Salem.
Attest. John Higginson, Just. Pac.
(Thomas Hutchinson, The History of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay, vol. 2, ed. Lawrence Shaw Mayo (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936), pp. 24–25.)
SWP No. 96.2

Five Mile Pond, where my ancestor Mary Osgood claimed, under duress, to have signed a pact with the Devil

(Recantation of Mary Osgood as Reported by Rev. Increase Mather)
[October 19, 1692]
Mrs. Osgood freely and relentingly said, that the confession which she made upon her examination for witchcraft, and afterwards acknowledged before the honourable judges, was wholly false, and that she was brought to the said confession by the violent urging and unreasonable pressings that were used toward her; she asserted that she never signed to the devill’s book, was never baptised by the devill, never afflicted any of the accusers, or gave her consent for their being afflicted. Being asked, why she prefixed a time and spake of her being baptised, &c.: about twelve years since; she replyed, and said, that when she had owned the thing, they asked the time; to which she answered, that she knew not the time; but being told that she did know the time and must tell the time, and the like; she considered that about twelve years before (when she had her last child) she had a fitt of sicknesse, and was melancholy; and so thought that that time might be as proper a time to mention as any, and accordingly did prefix the said time.
Being asked about the cat, in the shape of which she had confessed the devill appeared to her, &c. she replyed, that being told that the devill had appeared to her, and must needs appear to her, &c.; (she being a witch) she at length did own that the devill had appeared to her; and being press’d to say in what creature’s shape he appeared in, she at length did say, that it was in the shape of a cat; remembering that some time before her being apprehended, as she went out at her door, she saw a cat, &c.: not as though she any whitt suspected the said cat to be the devill in the day of *** but because some creature she must mention, and this came thus into her mind at that time.
( Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA., 2nd ser., vol. 3 (Boston: John Eliot, 1815), pp. 222. )
SWP No. 96.3
(Petition for Mary Osgood, Eunice Fry, Deliverance Dane, Sarah Wilson, Sr., and Abigail Barker)
[++ January 3, 1693]
To the honoured court of Assize held at Salem, The humble address of several of the inhabitants of Andover.
May it please this honoured court,
We being very sensible of the great sufferings our neighbours have been long under in prison, and charitably judging that many of them are clear of that great transgression which hath been laid to their charge, have thought it our duty to endeavour their vindication so far as our testimony for them will avail. The persons in whose behalf we are desired and concerned to speak something at present are Mrs. Mary Osgood, Eunice Frye, Deliverance Dane, Sarah Wilson and Abigail Barker, who are women of whom we can truly give this character and commendation, that they have not only lived among us so inoffensively as not to give the least occasion to any that know them to suspect them of witchcraft, but by their sober godly and exemplary conversation have obtained a good report in the place, where they have been well esteemed and approved in the church of which they are members.
We were surprized to hear that persons of known integrity and piety were accused of so horrid a crime, not considering, then, that the most innocent were liable to be so misrepresented and abused. When these women were accused by some afflicted persons of the neighbourhood, their relations and others, tho’ they had so good grounds of charity that they should not have thought any evil of them, yet, through a misrepresentation of the truth of that evidence that was so much credited and improved against people, took great pains to persuade them to own what they were, by the afflicted, charged with, and, indeed, did unreasonably urge them to confess themselves guilty, as some of us who were then present can testify. But these good women did very much assert their innocency, yet some of them said they were not without fear least Satan had some way ensnared them, because there was that evidence against them which then was by many thought to be a certain indication and discovery of witchcraft, yet they seriously professed they knew nothing by themselves of that nature: Nevertheless, by the unwearied sollicitations of those that privately discoursed them both at home and at Salem, they were at length persuaded publickly to own what they were charged with, and so submit to that guilt which we still hope and believe they are clear of. And, it is probable, the fear of what the event might be, and the encouragement that it is said was suggested to them, that confessing was the only way to obtain favour, might be too powerful a temptation for timorous women to withstand, in the hurry and distraction that we have heard they were then in. Had what they said against themselves proceeded from conviction of the fact, we should have had nothing to have said for them, but we are induced to think that it did not, because they did soon privately retract what they had said, as we are informed, and, while they were in prison, they declared to such as they had confidence to speak freely and plainly to, that they were not guilty of what they had owned, and that what they had said against themselves was the greatest grief and burden they laboured under: Now, though we cannot but judge it a thing very sinful for innocent persons to own a crime they are not guilty of, yet, considering the well ordered conversation of those women while they lived among us, and what they now seriously and constantly affirm in a more composed frame, we cannot but in charity judge them innocent of the great transgression that hath been imputed to them. As for the rest of our neighbours, who are under the like circumstances with these that have been named, we can truly say of them that while they lived among us, we have had no cause to judge them such persons as, of late, they have been represented and reported to be, nor do we know that any of their neighbours had any just grounds to suspect them of that evil that they are now charged with.
Dudley Bradstreet Francis Dane, sen. Thomas Barnard Tho. Chandler, sen. John Barker Henry Ingolls, sen. Wm. Chandler, sen. Samuel Martin Stephen Parker Samuel Ingolls Ephraim Stevens John Abbot, sen. Samuel Blanchard Wm. Ballard Thomas Hooper John Hooper Wm. Abbot James Russell Oliver Holt John Presson Francis Dane, jun. George Abbot Elizabeth Rite Wm. Peters Sam. Peters Walter Wright Hooker Osgood Benj. Stevens Ann Bradstreet Joanna Dane Eliza. Stevens Eliza. Barnard Phebe Robinson Daniel Poore John Ingolls Henry Ingolls, jun. John Frie, sen. James Frie John Aslebee Samuel Holt Wm. Chandler, jun. John Chandler Joseph Robinson Thomas Johnson Tho. Johnson, jun. Andrew Peters Mary Peters Hannah Chandler Hannah Dane Bridget Chandler Mary Johnson Robert Russel Mary Russel.
( Thomas Hutchinson, The History of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay, vol. 2, ed. Lawrence Shaw Mayo (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936), pp. 24–25.)
SWP No. 96.4

(Recognizance for Mary Osgood by John Osgood & John Frie)
[December 20, 1692]
Memorandum That on the Twentieth Day of Decemb’r anno. D[mbar ] one thousand six hundred Ninty & two in the fourth year of the Reigne of our Sovereigne Lord & Lady, William and Mary by the Grace of God of England Scottland & King and Queen Defenders of the Faith &c. Personally came and Appeared before me George Corwin high Shirriffe of the County of Essex of the Province of the Massathutetts Bay in New England: John Osgood Yeoman and Deacon John Fry both of Andevor and Acknowledged them selves & Each of them Indebted Unto our Sovereigne Lord & Lady the King & Queen or the Survivor of them their Heires & Successors in the Summe of two hundred pounds to be leaved on their goods & Chattles Lands & tenements for the Use of our Sovereigne Lord & Lady the King & Queen or the survivor of them if Default be made in the Performance of the Condition Under written. Videllisett The Condition of the above written Recognizance is such That Whereas Mary Ossgood wife of the aboves’d John Osgood of Andevor afores’d is Suspected & Accused of #[Witchcraft] Committing Divers Acts of Witchcrafts if therefore the said Mary Ossgood afores’d shall and do make her Personall Appearance before the Justices of our Sovereigne Lord & Lady the King & Queen at the Next Court of Assize of Oyer & Terminer Next Generall Goal Delivery to be held for or within the County of Essex afores’d to answear what shall be objected ag’t her on their Maj’tes behalfe Refering to the Witchcrafts, & to do & Receive that by w’ch said Court shall be then & there Injoined & not to Depart w’out Lycence Then the above Recognizance to be Void or else to abide & Remaine in full force & Virtue In Wittness whereof the above Named Persons John Ossgood & John Fry have hereunto sett their hanes & seals this Twentieth Day of December in the year of our Lord one Thousand Six hundred Ninty & two & in the fourt Year of their Maj’tes Reigne/:
Witnesse *Joshua Conant *Robert Gray *Jno Gyles
1692 *John Osgood L. S. *John Frie L. S.
(Reverse) Mary Osgood Princp Suerties Jno Osgood Jno Frye
(Mass. Archives, Vol. 135, no. 74. Massachusetts State Archives, Boston, MA)

A Texas Review

January 30, 2020

Total Recall

January 30, 2020

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *