The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thofe ignorantte of hiftorie are condemned...

Having been doing some work on my genealogy recently, I have discovered that an ancestor, Obo Oldecloude, was prosecuted in 1692 in Ipswich, near Salem, Massachusetts Colony. The charge was “practicing witchecraffte.”

Oldecloude, upon the onset of seasonal flu among his children, had apparently bypassed the local colonial barber and bloodletter and had “gatherredde various herbbes and shrubbes,” with which he “hadde prepared potionnes in violationne of the law of God and Man,” and had “adminifterredde said potionnes to his childrenne.”

That his children lived rather than died was presented as proof that he had indeed practiced “witchecraffte.”

Oldecloude was known to have been critical of the local laws governing the “practisse of witchecraffte.” Picking and potioning naturally-occurring shrubs was, by law, prima facie evidence of the practice of witchcraft. Having no defense available, Oldecloude pled guilty and asked the court for mercy, suggesting the court might have done the same thing as he had, had its children been facing the alternatives of puking to death or having their blood drained by a haircutter.

Several prominent members of the community spoke favorably of his contributions to the Colony at his sentencing. The court acknowledged the show of support, while admonishing Oldecloude that the court had to justify its sentence for Oldecloude to the hundreds of children brought before it regularly under accusation of violations of the witchcraft laws.

The court then pronounced sentence: Oldecloude must spend “sixxe weekkes in the custodie of the Colonie of Massachusettes,” being “allowwedde to continue his employemente during daylighte hourres, and must payye the Colonie 50 perfentte of his earnings” during that time. In addition, Oldecloude was placed on “probationne for a periodde of one year,” during which he could “take no publicke rolle in any advocafie of a change in the lawwes governing witchecraffte.”