Thirty-five years before the infamous events of Salem, allegations of witchcraft and a subsequent trial rocked a small colonial village.
From This Story
The place was Easthampton, New York. Now a summer resort for the rich and famous—and spelled as two words, East Hampton—at the time it was an English settlement on the remote, eastern tip of Long Island.
There, in February, 1658, 16-year old Elizabeth Gardiner Howell, who had recently given birth to a child, fell ill. As friends ministered to her, she terrified them by suddenly shrieking: "A witch! A witch! Now you are come to torture me because I spoke two or three words against you!” Her father, Lion Gardiner, a former military officer and the town’s most prominent citizen, was summoned. He found his daughter at the foot of her bed, screaming that the witch was in the room. "What do you see?" he asked her.
"A black thing at the bed's feet," she answered, flailing at an invisible adversary.
A day later, Howell died—after having fingered her tormentor as one Elizabeth Garlick, a local resident who often quarreled with neighbors.
A board of inquiry was formed, composed of three male magistrates. They listened to testimony from many of the town’s citizens, some of whom had known “Goody” Garlick since their days in Lynn, Massachusetts, where a number of Easthampton’s residents had lived before re-settling here (In Puritan society, the honorific Goody, short for Goodwife, was given to most women of what we would now call working class status).
The Easthampton town records—which still exist, and allow us to know many of the details of this case—catalog a litany of accusations of supernatural behavior by Garlick. She supposedly cast evil eyes and sent animal familiars out to do her bidding. Someone claimed that she picked up a baby and after putting it down, the child took sick and died. She was blamed for illnesses, disappearances, the injuries and death of livestock.
“These were people on edge,” says Hugh King, a local East Hampton historian, who along with his wife, anthropologist Loretta Orion, have researched and written extensively about the Garlick case. “If you look at the court records before this started, people were constantly suing and arguing with each other about all kinds of things we might see as trivial today.”
Garlick was a particularly good target. “She was probably a rather obstreperous person to begin with,” King guesses. “Or maybe it was jealousy.”
Jealousy of Garlick’s husband, perhaps? Joshua Garlick had worked on Lion Gardiner’s island estate—a plum job. He is mentioned in some of Gardiner’s surviving correspondence, and seems to have been a rather trusted employee. Gardiner once trusted Garlick with carrying large sums of his money to make a purchase.