July 07, 2013

Witches and Bay Leaves: A Witch Story from Hampton

Modern witches and Wiccans sometimes use the phrase, "If you can't hex you can't heal" when discussing magical power. Although you don't hear this phrase much among the general population, I think it does convey the ambiguous way most people view magic. Magic is a neutral force that doesn't necessarily follow any set moral code. If someone can use magic for good, what's to stop them from using magic for evil?

It's not a new concern, and it was certainly found among the English who colonized this area. Many people who tried to help their neighbors with good magic eventually found themselves accused of witchcraft. One of these was Rachel Fuller of Hampton, New Hampshire, who was put on trial in 1680.

Before her trial Rachel was something of a self-proclaimed expert on witches and allegedly had the ability to see them, even when they were invisible to most people.

Witches, she said, had pulled a boarder out of his bed at Henry Robie's tavern so they could ride him with an enchanted bridle. Rachel also claimed she had seen several local witches, including Eunice Cole,  practicing their dark arts. Goodie Cole and her companions magically put their husbands and children asleep so they could travel abroad at night and work mischief.

Bay leaves - flavorful and magical.
 Rachel fell under suspicion herself when she tried to help her neighbors, the Godfrey family, with their sick infant son. The Godfreys thought their child had been enchanted, and threw hot coals from the fireplace into his urine. If a witch was involved, this would make him or her appear. (For more details on how this works, see my posts about witch bottles and witch cake.)

Rachel soon appeared at the Godfrey's house and acted strangely.

... by and by Rachel Fuller came in and looked very strangely, bending, daubed her face with molasses, as she judged it, so as that she had almost daubed up one of her eyes, and the molasses ready to drop off her face; and she sat down by Goody Godfrey, who had the sick child in her lap, and took the child by the hand; and Goodwife Godfrey, being afraid to see her come in in that manner, put her hand off from the child and wrapt the child's hand in her apron.

Then the said Rachel Fuller turned her about, and smote the back of her hands together sundry times, and spat in the fire. Then she, having herbs in her hands, stood and rubbed them in her hand and strewed them about the hearth by the fire. Then she sat her down again, and said, Woman, the child will be well! and then went out of the door.

Then she went behind the house; and Mehitable Godfrey told her mother that Goody Fuller was acting strangely. Then the said Mary Godfrey and Sarah, looking out, saw Rachel Fuller standing with her face towards the house, and beat herself with her arms, as men do in winter to heat their hands, and this she did three times; and stooping down and gathering something off the ground in the interim between the beating of herself, and then she went home.

There are a couple ways to interpret this. If you were Rachel Fuller, you would say you came to help a neighbor heal their sick child. It was just a coincidence that you showed up after the coals were thrown into the urine. If you were one of the Godfreys, you would say the coals and urine compelled Rachel to appear because she was the witch who enchanted their child. Her alleged healing magic was just a further attempts to harm the child.

Rachel also told the Godfrey children that if they put sweet bay leaves around the windows and under the thresholds no witch could enter the house. The children did this, but because they ran out of leaves one door was left with a small space unprotected.

When Rachel next came to visit she did not enter through the backdoor, which was her normal entrance, but instead came in the front door. This was of course the door that was not completely protected. Twelve-year old Mehitable Godfrey later testified that

... though the door stood open, yet she crowded in on that side where the bays lay not, and rubbed her back against the post so as that she rubbed off her hat, and then she sat her down and made ugly faces, and nestled about, and would have looked on the child, but I not suffering her, she went out rubbing against the post of the door as she came in, and beat off her hat again, and I never saw her in the house since; and I do further testify that while she was in the house she looked under the door where the bays lay.

Although Rachel had been the one to recommend the bay leaves as protection, the Godfrey's claimed they were actually working against her since she was the true witch.

The Godrey's child died soon afterwards. Rachel was put on trial for murder in the summer of 1680, but was found innocent due to a lack of evidence. Interestingly John Godfrey, the father of the child, had himself been accused (and acquitted) of witchcraft three times in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Witchcraft trials were often motivated by property disputes and bad blood between neighbors, but beyond these purely mundane causes I think it's interesting to see how ideas about magic play out in the trials.

My sources about Rachel Fuller were Emerson Baker's book The Devil of Great Island, and this great genealogy site that has records of Rachel Fuller's trial.


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Alix said...

Just found your site. I am descended from the Fullers of Plymouth Colony. Poor Rachel could be a relative, one never knows. Thank you for your splendid work.

Peter Muise said...

Alix, thanks for the comment! I'm glad you liked the post.

Bonnie Heather Raven Feather said...

According to family trees online, pieced together with my own, Rachel Brabrook Fuller is my 9th great grandmother. I find the story fascinating, especially as she was acquitted in the end, unlike their unlucky neighbors to the southeast in Salem less just over a decade later. This period of history has always interested me.Thank you for sharing this story.

Anonymous said...

I am a direct discendent of Rachel Fuller and would love to make contact with others who descend from the same line.

Rex Fuller

Peter Muise said...

Hi Heather and Rex! Thanks for the comments. Nice to have people with personal connections to Rachel Fuller reading this post!

Bonnie Heather Raven Feather said...

Hello "Anonymous," I apologize for the late response! According to the family trees I have put together with my own, I descend from Rachel Brabrook/Brabrick Fuller and John Fuller through their son James Fuller; through James' son Joseph Fuller; through Joseph's daughter Mary Fuller... Mary married a Sevey, and it is through her son William Sevey, his son Joseph Sevey, his daughter Adeline Sevey, her son George Washington Carpenter, my gr gr grandfather... I could never find where Rachel and John are buried. Do you know if there are stones at their resting place? Or if they are buried in Rockingham Co., N.H.? ~Heather Gibson

Unknown said...

Yup John and Rachel were my ancestors too. Glad to know she was burned at the stake like so many others.

Unknown said...

Meant to glad she wasn't burned...

Bonnie Heather Raven Feather said...

Does anyone know where Rachel and John's final resting place is? Are there markers? ~Heather