Ann Glover – The Irish Widow hanged as a Witch in Boston

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The Trial ( AI Image © Microsoft Bing Image Creator)
The Trial ( AI Image © Microsoft Bing Image Creator)

On 16th November 1688, Ann ‘Goody’ Glover, an elderly Irish widow, was executed in Boston for the crime of witchcraft. She was the last person to be hanged as a witch in Boston.

Background

Ann Glover was born in Ireland and lived during the brutal period of Cromwellian rule. The Parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell was determined to remove all opposition in Ireland, establishing his power on the island and decimating the native Irish Catholic people either through massacre or exile.

Some 50,000 Irish Catholics were shipped to the Caribbean and sold as ‘indentured servants’.

“The little-known practice of selling Irish as slaves was inaugurated by James 1 in 1612; most slaves were sent to the West Indies or South America – the Amazon Basin was a popular destination. In 1625 a law was passed mandating the sale of Irish political prisoners to English planters, mostly in the West Indies. It was under this law that Cromwell sold Ann Glover and her husband as slaves to planters in Barbados”

Unam Sanctam Catholicam 2013

Note that some dispute the term ‘slave’ saying that the Irish exiles were sent as indentured servants. This would mean that they would work for a period of 7 years on the sugar and tea plantations of English colonists to pay off the price of their sea passage. For indentured servants, the exploitative labour was often inhumane and conditions appalling, but after the 7 year contract was finished, they would be free to leave. However, in legal terms an indentured servant worked to pay off the price of their sea passage having chosen to undertake this journey and conditions. These Irish folk did not have that choice as they were sent into exile.

“Those transported unwillingly were not indentures. They were political prisoners, vagrants or people who had been defined as ‘undesirable’ by the English state. Penal transportation of Irish people was at its height in the seventeenth century, during the Cromwellian conquest and settlement of Ireland (1649-1653). During this period, thousands of Irish people were sent to the Caribbean or ‘Barbadosed’ against their will”.

Wikipedia

Ann Glover – The Incident in Boston

By the 1680’s, Ann Glover and her daughter Mary (her husband has been killed on Barbados), had managed to make their way to North End, Boston (Boston’s ‘Little Italy‘ today). Ann was employed as a ‘goodwife’ – that is a housekeeper and nanny by John Goodwin, a stonemason. Goodwin had 5 children.

In the summer of 1688, a seemingly small incident was to change the course of Ann’s life. Martha Goodwin, the 13-year-old daughter of the house, and the eldest child, accused Ann’s daughter Mary of stealing some linen sheets from the laundry.

A row erupted between the elderly housekeeper and the teenage girl. Subsequently, Martha and her siblings took ill and started to behave strangely. It was said that they were feverish and panting, but would also bark like dogs and purr like cats.

‘Bewitched’

Several Puritan ministers were asked to attend the children and pray for them. A doctor, Thomas Oakes, was summoned to the Goodwin residence. He was baffled by the situation and deemed that the children had been ‘bewitched’. Martha concurred that the symptoms had only appeared after her altercation with Mrs Glover. Dr Oates is reported as saying “….nothing but a hellish witchcraft could be the origin of these maladies”.

Ann was arrested, clapped in irons and thrown into Boston Gael on Prison Lane. For some months the old lady languished in the squalid conditions. Two kind-hearted Puritans, Robert Calef and Rebecca Nurse, visited her with food and clean clothing.

The Puritans in Boston

In those days Boston was primarily a city of Puritans, who held sway. It was compulsory to go to Church and anyone of a different creed was deemed blasphemous. In 1659 it was decreed that to celebrate Christmas was idolatry and it became a criminal offence with a fine of 5 shillings.

“….whoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forebearing of labor, feasting, or any other way”.

General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1659

“Ever since the 1580’s Puritan ideas had seeped into Boston and men with such beliefs were appointed as vicars, the most significant of whom was the young John Cotton, appointed in 1612. His preaching inspired his followers and attracted other Puritans. By the early seventeenth century, Puritans held an unusual degree of power”

Neil Wright, A Puritan Heartland

The Catholic community in the city was a tiny and a largely detested minority. Accordingly, public opinion was very much against Glover as an Irish Catholic defendant.

“The Puritans believed strongly that only a select few were going to heaven, that God had already decided who they were, and that the devil, capable of the supernatural, was behind every evil deed”

Brent E Turvey, Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioural Evidence, 2011

Appearance in Court

When brought to court, Ann was in a confused and shaken state. When questioned, although she could understand English, she was not fluent in the language and reverted to her native Gaelic tongue. Her replies at first were deemed to be the words of the devil and a confession of guilt but eventually it was realised she was speaking in Irish and two court-appointed interpreters were found.

“Goody Glover’s trial began in the second week of November 1688 and degenerated into one of the cruellest farces in American legal history”

Peter F Stevens, Untold Tales of the Boston Irish, 2021

Cotton Mather

The main prosecutor against ‘Goody’ Ann Glover, was Puritan minister Cotton Mather. During the trial he described Ann as “a scandalous old Irishwoman, very poor, a Roman Catholic and obstinate in idolatry”.

Cotton Mather was born on 12th February 1663 in Boston. He was named after his influential grandfather John Cotton, the Puritan preacher. His own father Increase Mather, was president of Harvard College. A very intelligent child, Cotton entered Harvard at the age of 12 and graduated with a Master of Arts at 18.

The Mather family were all ministers, and Cotton was formally ordained in 1685. He spent his life preaching and writing. He was the author of more than 400 books on a variety of subjects, including religion, teaching, inoculation and witchcraft.

Cotton Mather married three times – Abigail Phillips, Elizabeth Clark and Lydia Lee. In total he had 15 children, though only 2 survived him.

Mather was a stalwart Puritan and held rigid views. He was convinced that Boston had become a battleground with the devil. In a preface to one of his children’s books, he wrote

“They which lie, must go to their father, the devil, into everlasting burning; they which never pray, God will not forgive them, but there they must lie forever. Are you willing to go to hell and burn with the devil and his angels?”

Cotton Mather

In Mather’s eyes, the condemnation of ‘Goody’ Glover, would not only rid Boston of a witch, but also raise his public profile and prove his theories of demonic possession.

“The case of Ann and the Goodwin children caught the attention of a Puritan Minister named Cotton Mather. Cotton had many strange theories, one of which was that God had abandoned the Massachusetts colony and Satan’s presence was now active within it. Upon hearing about Ann, he believed that this theory was proven and became Ann’s chief accuser”

Sarah Finnan , Ann Goody’Glover, 2022
Cottonus Matheris (Cotton Mather) - Peter Pelham, Public Domain
Cottonus Matheris (Cotton Mather) – Peter Pelham, Public Domain

The Trial

During the trial Ann was ordered to recite the Lord’s Prayer. It was believed that a witch would not be able to utter the holy words. Ann said the prayer in Irish and again in broken Latin. However, the fact that she could not speak the prayer in the English language was held against her.

Through her interpreters, Ann claimed that she prayed to a ‘host of spirits’. It is thought she meant that she prayed to various saints and even the Holy Spirit. Mather however, deemed this meant she prayed to a host of demons.

Other accusations were levelled against the aged prisoner – that she had been seen flying down chimneys and that she practised ‘black magic’. These claims were all made by children.

On searching Glover’s rooms, a number of small statues were found. Again, these were probably treasured representations of Catholic saints but Mather declared them proof of witchcraft.

The Trial ( AI Image © Microsoft Bing Image Creator)
The Trial ( AI Image © Microsoft Bing Image Creator)

Cotton Mather visited Ann in jail, although as he did not understand Gaelic, it seems rather pointless. Here, he claimed he was told (presumably by her guards), that the prisoner had nightly visitations from evil spirits. The Rev Mather claimed that Ann’s refusal to renounce Catholicism, was a sure sign she was a witch.

As her interrogations continued, Ann became increasingly agitated and confused. Six doctors were engaged to determine her mental capacity. Five found her competent. A diagnosis of insanity would prevent the extreme penalty.

The Verdict

We are not told what defence was put forward on Ann’s behalf. Unsurprisingly, Ann ‘Goody’ Glover was found guilty of being a witch.

On 16th November, in front of a large hostile crowd, Ann was hanged. On mounting the scaffold, she spoke clearly and calmly in Irish saying that she forgave her persecutors.

“There was a great concourse of people to see if the Papist would relent… Before her executioners she was bold and impudent, making to forgive her accusers and those who put her off”

Historical Studies, Vol 17

The place of Ann’s execution is thought to be in Boston’s South End, the site today of the Holy Cross Cathedral. Her body was left to hang as an example to others.

Cathedral of the Holy Cross at Union Park Street and Washington Street Boston
Cathedral of the Holy Cross at Union Park Street and Washington Street Boston

Obviously from a historical perspective, the case against Ann Glover was literally a ‘witch hunt’ with the outcome determined from the start. But even some contemporary witnesses felt the whole trial was a sham. Local Boston merchant Robert Calef, who had visited Glover in prison, wrote

“Goody Glover was a despised, crazy, poor woman, an Irish Catholic who was tried for afflicting the Goodwin children. Her behaviour at her trial was like one distracted. They did her cruel. The proof against her was wholly deficient. The jury brought her guilty. She was hung. She died a Catholic”

Robert Calef, More Wonders of the Invisible World, 1700

Of the Goodwins we know little more. Ann had said that as she had not bewitched them, her death would not cure them. And so it was, the children’s “afflictions” continued. Mather explained this by claiming there were obviously others in the devil’s pay. He determined himself for “the detection and destruction of more belonging to that hellish knot”.

Cotton Mather wrote a book outlining the Glover trial – ‘Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions’ in 1689. This was heavily relied upon during the subsequent Salem witchcraft trials of 1692.

One of those who had visited Ann in prison, Rebecca Nurse, was executed at Salem on 19th July 1692.

“Her (Ann Glover) unfortunate death by hanging in 1688 was the first killing and the genesis of what would become the Salem Witch Trials, as scores of individuals were accused, tried and either imprisoned or hanged based on the fear of witches among them that was fed by the unjust condemnation of Ann Glover”

Unam Sanctam Catholicam, 2013

Sadly, Ann’s daughter Mary, suffered a mental breakdown and died not long after her mother.

Boston Street Scene (Public Domain Images)
Boston Street Scene (Public Domain Images)

Memories of Ann Glover in Boston Today

However, some 300 years after her death, Boston City Council in 1988, declared Ann Glover’s trial and conviction unjust. The 16th November is now celebrated in Boston as ‘Goody Glover’ Day.

“Ann Glover, a woman of low standing in the community who had travelled from an unimaginably different community halfway across the globe, stands as a powerful symbol of the wrongs that can easily be perpetrated against the dispossessed”

Jessica Taylor, Extraordinary Emigrants
Boston Skyline (Public Domain Images - publicdomainpictures.net)
Boston Skyline (Public Domain Images – publicdomainpictures.net)

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