Fitch Bits: The Last Salem Witch Trial


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Fitch Bits: The Last Salem Witch Trial

DID YOU KNOW that the last Salem witch trial took place in 1878?


Yeah, so most people think the Salem Witch trials ended in 1693 after 19 women and one man were executed but think again! Just because one kind of crazy gets shut down doesn’t mean another one doesn’t take its place.

So, it all started in May when a woman named Lucretia L. S. Brown decided to accuse a feller name o’ Daniel H. Spofford of “attempting to harm her through his ‘mesmeric’ mental powers.” That kind of sounds like he was trying to seduce her, but that’s not the case. You see, both people were Christian Scientists and that’s where most of these shenanigans started.

"Yes, my name is Lucretia. You got a problem with that?"

Christian Science was founded by a hot little minx named Mary Baker Eddy. She also wrote The Christian Science Monitor, Christian Science Sentinel, The Christian Science Journal and, well, you get the picture. She was totes into Christ and loved to write about his club like nobody’s business.

Anyway, she had a fair number of followers in her church, as well as her super fans like Brown. Brown especially liked something that Eddy had written about called “malicious animal magnetism.” It was a form of hypnosis that practitioners could use to harm other people, unless you paid to attend one of Eddy’s lectures to learn how to protect yourself against it. That would have been fine, if Lucretia didn’t have medical problem up her Victorian butthole.


For starters, she suffered a childhood injury to her spine that left her disabled. Fortunately for her, she believed that Christian Science healed her up all nice and got her back on her feet. Unfortunately, she ended up suffering relapses of her condition in 1877 and 1878.

While your average person might just take it all as it came and lived with it, that’s not how LuCrizzle got down. She needed someone to blame, and she needed someone to blame hard!

"Sorry I'm late, guys. Why are you all staring at me?"

That’s where Spofford came in. He had been involved with the church for a long time and was even the publisher of many of Mary Baker Eddy’s publications. In fact, he introduced her to husband, so they was tight, yo! At least until they had a falling out. Eddy kicked Spofford out of her church and tried to sue him, just to let him know she was serious.

Now Lucretia Brown had someone her hero hated, and she wasn’t afraid to drag his name through the mud. Her lawsuit stated “...that Daniel H. Spofford, of Newburyport, ... is a mesmerist, and practices the art of mesmerism, and by his said art and the power of his mind influences and controls the minds and bodies of other persons, and uses his said power and art for the purposes of injuring the persons and property and social relations of others and does by said means so injure them.”

"Stop mesmerizing yourself! Stop mesmerizing yourself!"

The case was heard in Salem and reported on in the Boston Globe, the Newburyport Herald, and the Salem Observer. Spofford’s law feller filed what’s called a “demurer”, which is basically a fancy word for “objection”. He argued that the court had no jurisdiction in what was essentially a church matter and that, you know, there was no way to resolve a case based on mesmerism.

Then Lucretia Brown’s attorney challenged the objection by claiming that mesmerism was a fact, and that was that. The court was set for an all out battle of mesmerism over body!

Until it wasn’t. Judge Horace Gray took one look at the suit and dismissed it. He ruled that the claim was vague and that it was “framed without a knowledge of the law of equity” and that was that.

"I can't believe I took my monthly bath for this."

It’s not hard to see the parallels between the case and the whole “spectral evidence” thing of the Witch Trials. That’s why it became known as the Salem Witchcraft Trial of 1878! Neat!

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