Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Did Thomas Pell Act on Pangs of Remorse After Witchcraft Persecution Involving His Family?


Pelham youngsters will celebrate Halloween tomorrow.  What better time to consider monsters, witches, ghosts, and their relation to Pelham History?  

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog addresses 17th century witch hunts and their relation to Pelham History.  Yesterday's posting described a local sea monster known by some as the City Island Sea Serpent.  Tomorrow's posting will relate yet another account of a classic Pelham ghost story.

By the 1650’s a preoccupation with the supernatural and hysterical efforts to root out those who “covenanted” with the spectral world had swept through the Colony of Connecticut – home of Thomas Pell.  Sadly, Thomas Pell’s family members were not immune from the hysteria. 

In 1653, Pell's wife, Lucy, and his step-daughters (Elizabeth and Mary) were involved in a witchcraft persecution that led to the execution of Goodwife Knapp barely a year before Thomas Pell acquired the lands that became Pelham and surrounding areas.  

For those interested in learning more about these sad events, see:  

Fri., Jul. 07, 2006:  The Involvement of Thomas Pell's Family in the Witchcraft Persecution of Goody Knapp.  

Bell, Blake A., The Involvement of Thomas Pell's Family in the Witchcraft Persecution of Goody Knapp, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 4, Jan. 23, 2004, p. 11, col. 1.



June 10, 1692 Hanging of Accused Witch,
Bridge Bishop of Salem, Massachusetts.

Although Pell's wife and stepdaughters were heavily involved in the persecution of "Goody Knapp," there is no evidence of Thomas Pell's direct involvement.  Thomas Pell, however, cannot escape culpability for what happened to Goody Knapp.  First, his family's participation in the events that led to the hanging of Goody Knapp cannot be ignored.  Second, clearly Pell's wife, Lucy, kept him apprised of her involvement in the travesty of justice.  Indeed, there is a record of testimony in which Lucy Pell testified that regarding her efforts to force Goody Knapp to confess to being a witch, she told no one "but her husband."  Third, since Pell's wife and stepdaughters were present at the execution of Goody Knapp, it is not far-fetched to surmise that Thomas Pell likewise attended -- as did other Fairfield citizens.  In short, Thomas Pell, his family, and other Fairfield citizens at the time each bear a portion of the blame for the murder by hanging of poor Goody Knapp.

There is fascinating evidence from which it may be surmised that Thomas Pell may have had pangs of remorse regarding the execution of Goody Knapp.  It is, of course, impossible to gauge Pell's state of mind given that he left no record of his true intent.  Yet, one development late in Pell's life suggests that it is at least possible that he may have felt some guilt over the unfortunate end of Goody Knapp.

Thomas Pell owned a vast swath of land totaling about 50,000 acres that became known as the Manor of Pelham.  Among the lands he owned was Great Minneford Island, known today as City Island.  It appears that about a year before Pell's death in 1669, he may have provided refuge to Ralph Hall and Mary Hall of the Town of Seatalcott (later Setauket, now Brookhaven, Long Island).  Ralph and Mary Hall were dragged before the Court of Assizes in New York in 1665.  The charge in the indictment against Ralph Hall was that he:

"'upon the 25th Day of December [1663], being Christmas last was twelve Months, and several other Days and Times since that Day, by some detestable and wicked Arts, commonly called Witchcraft and Sorcery, did (as suspected) maliciously and feloniously practise and exercise, at the Town of Seatalcott [since Setauket, now Brookhaven], in the East Riding of Yorkshire, on Long Island, on the Person of George Wood, late of the same Place, by which wicked and detestable Arts the said George Wood (as is suspected) most dangerously and mortally sickened and languished, and not long after, by the aforesaid wicked and detestable Arts, the said George Wood (as is likewise suspected) died.' Also it was alleged, in the same Indictment, that an Infant Child of Ann Rogers, Widow of the aforesaid George Wood, had, 'some While after the Death' of Wood, sickened and died, and that its Death was caused by the said Hall. The same Indictment was also recited against the Wife of Hall, and then a Bundle of Depositions was read to the Court (no Witnesses appearing in Person), and the Accused called upon by the Clerk to hold up the right Hand, and the substance of the Charges were reiterated. They pleaded not Guilty, and their Case was committed to the Jury. In due Time the Jury rendered a Verdict, to the Effect that they 'found some Suspicions of what the Woman was charged with, but Nothing considerable of Value to take away her Life; but in Reference to the Man, we find Nothing considerable to charge him with.'"

The Court sentenced the couple as follows:  "[Ralph Hall] 'should be bound Body and Goods for his Wife's Appearance at the next Sessions and so on from Sessions to Sessions, as long as they stay in this Government. In the mean While to be of good Behaviour.'"  The Court's message was clear:  "GET OUT!"  By August 21, 1668, the couple was living on Great Miniford's Island," part of the land owned by Thomas Pell.  Source:  Drake, Samuel G., Annals of Witchcraft in New England and Elsewhere in the United States from their First Settlement Drawn Up from Unpublished and Other Well Authenticated Records of the Alleged Operations of Witches and Their Instigator, the Devil, pp. 125-27 (NY, NY: Burt Franklin 1869).

I have written of Ralph and Mary Hall before.  See Fri., May 12, 2006:  Possible Evidence that Residents of the Manor of Pelham Were Acquitted in Rare 17th Century Witchcraft Trial in New York.  

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this series of events is that it raises a question that can never be answered with certainty.  Did pangs of remorse over his family's involvement in the witchcraft persecution of Goody Knapp prompt Thomas Pell to give refuge to Ralph and Mary Hall ion a portion of Pell's land known today as City Island following their persecution for witchcraft on Long Island?

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