A Victorian Witchcraft Trial

I heard this story from Ludicrous Scene's entry here.

On June 20, 1880, The Leicester Chronicle reported that witchcraft trials had not died out in England two hundred years ago, as previously believed. (The last execution for witchcraft in England took place in 1682, while the last one in Scotland was in 1727. In 1735 an act was passed that changed the persecution of witches into the persecution of fraud, since witchcraft was rapidly thought to be nothing more than a superstition. Parliament may have figured that out, but clearly some English citizens did not. They did not figure it out for an embarrassingly long time.)

The 1880 story reads:

"At Dunmow [Essex] on Tuesday, Charles and Peter Brewster, father and son, two labouring men, were charged with misbehaving themselves towards Susan Sharpe, wife of an army pensioner, living at High Easter, in a manner likely to lead to a breach of the peace.

"The defendants are under the impression that the complainant is a witch, and they wanted to put her to the test by throwing her into a pond to see whether she would sink or float.

"They affirmed she had bewitched the younger defendant and his wife; the furniture in the house was disturbed; their domestic animals die; their bed rocked like a swinging boat, and shadows appeared in their bedroom; on one occasion there were three in bed to witness the shadowy apparition, and they strongly asserted that the “shape” was that of the complainant.

"The elder defendant had visited reputed “cunning” men and women in the villages around with a view to baffle the supposed witch’s evil designs, but without effect; “all sorts of things” had been tried, but they could get no peace, and the reports they set abroad caused quite an excitement in the locality.

"The Chairman (the Rev. EF Gepp) said such things as they had done might have led to a serious riot some years ago. They were bound over to keep the peace for six months."

But after six months they can duck her in the pond? Susan, my friend, pack up and move somewhere else. Your neighbors are idiots.

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