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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Original Records of Witchcraft Trial of Ralph and Mary Hall Who Afterward Fled to the Manor of Pelham


"Ralph Hall thou standest here indicted, for that having not the feare
of God before thine eyes Thou did'st upon the 25th day of December,
being Christmas day last was 12 Moneths, and at severall other times
since, as is suspected, by some wicked and detestable Arts, commonly
called witchcraft and Sorcery, maliciously and feloniously practice and
Exercise, upon the Bodyes of George Wood, and an Infant Childe of
Ann  Rogers, by which said Arts, the said George Wood and the
Infant Childe (as is suspected) most dangerously and mortally fell
sick, and languisht unto death.  Ralph Hall, what does thou say for
theyselfe, art thou guilty, or not guilty?"

-- Witchcraft Charge Read Against Ralph Hall on October 2, 1665.

The witch hunt was underway.  George Wood had grown sick, languished, and died.  After his death, his widow had a child who also grew sick, languished, and died.  Something was terribly wrong in the English settlement of Seatalcott (also known as Setauket) on Long Island (today's Town of Brookhaven).  The only explanations for such incomprehensible losses were the "wicked and detestable Arts" known as "witchcraft and Sorcery."  A monumental witch hunt followed.

In 1665, New Yorkers Ralph and Mary Hall found themselves battling for their lives.  The pair was accused of using witchcraft and sorcery beginning on Christmas day, 1664 and at various times thereafter to cause the sicknesses and subsequent deaths of George Wood and the new baby of his widow, Ann Rogers.  The Constable and Town officials of Seatalcott charged the pair with murder by sorcery and witchcraft.  Ralph and Mary Hall were dragged before  the first session of the first Court of Assizes for the Colony of New York.

The Court of Assizes for the Colony of New York was established under the Duke's Laws in 1665.  The first session of the Court began on September 28, 1665 at New York before the Governor of the Colony, his Council, and the Justices of the Peace of the so-called East Riding of Yorkshire, a judicial district that was "ridden" on horseback by Justices of the Peace to dispense justice and that included Long Island.  The court's calendar in that first session has been described as follows:

"Thirteen actions were entered for trial, one original suit between Jno Richbell vs. Inhabitants of Huntington to be tried by the special warrant from the Governor; six appeals from Court of Sessions of Gravesend and other towns including one from the Mayors Court of New York; four bills in equity:  one action on the case and one of 'Trespasse.'"

Source:  Christoph, Peter R. & Christoph, Florence A., eds., New York Historical Manuscripts:  English -- Records of the Court of Assizes for the Colony of New York, 1665-1682, p. 1 (Baltimore, MD:  Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1983).

One of the thirteen actions tried by the new Court of Assizes during that first session in the fall of 1665 was the murder trial of Ralph and Mary Hall.  That trial was held in an adjourned session of the court on October 2, 1665.  The court met "at New Yorke on the Island of Manhattan."



The Stadt Huys (i.e., City Hall) Where the Court of Assizes Met
and Where Ralph and Mary Hall Were Tried on October 2, 1665.
Drawing by J. Carson Brevoort Prepared from a 1679 Sketch by
Jasper Danckaerts, and Printed as a Lithograph in 1867.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

The Sheriff of New York, Allard Anthony, escorted the pair into Court that day.  In the courtroom was a jury of twelve:  Foreman Thomas Baker of Easthampton, Captain John Symonds of Hempstead, "Mr. Hallet" and Anthony Waters of Jamaica, Thomas Wandall of Marshpath Kills, "Mr. Nicolls" of Stamford, and six men from New York City including famed New Yorker Jacob Leisler:  Balthazer de Haart, John Garland, Jacob Leisler, Anthonio de Mill, Alexander Munro, and Thomas Searle.

The two prisoners, Ralph and Mary Hall, were brought before Sheriff Allard Anthony who read the indictment against them.  The two likely were terrified as they faced murder charges that could cost them their lives.  Court authorities read depositions from witnesses to the jury.  Not a single witness, however, appeared in person to testify against the prisoners.

After the deposition testimony was read, the Clerk of the Court of Assizes had each of the two prisoners stand, raise their hand, and asked them how they plead:  "art thou guilty, or not guilty?"  Both pleaded not guilty and "threw themselves to bee Tryed by God and the Country."

The twelve jurors deliberated and soon returned with the following verdict:

"Wee having seriously considered the Case committed to our Charge, against the Prisoners at the Barr, and having well weighed the Evidence, wee finde that there are some suspitions by the Evidence, of what the woman is Charged with, but nothing considerable of value to take away her life.  But in reference to the man wee finde nothing considerable to charge him with."

The Court of Assizes immediately imposed sentence on the two prisoners.  The Court directed that Ralph Hall "should bee bound Body and Goods for his wives Apperance, at the next Sessions, and so on from Sessions to Sessions as long as they stay within this Government, In the meane while, to bee of and upon Entring into a Recognizance, according to the Sentence of the Court they were released."

Poor Ralph and Mary Hall seem to have fled Seatalcott/Setauket (Brookhaven).  Indeed, they seem to have fled to the island owned by Pelham founder Thomas Pell that we now know as City Island.  See 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) ("Under these Bonds they continued until the 21st of August, 1668, at which Time 'they were living upon the Great Miniford's Island.'").

I have written before about poor Ralph and Mary Hall and their persecution for witchcraft well before the hysteria of the Salem Witchcraft trials later in the 17th century.  See:

Bell, Blake A., Ralph and Mary Hall (Persecuted in the 17th Century for Witchcraft) Fled to the Manor of Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XV, Issue 34, Sep. 1, 2006, p. 8, col. 2.   



It seems likely that Thomas Pell's pangs of remorse over his family's earlier involvement as witnesses at the witchcraft trial of Goody Knapp, who was executed after a finding that she was a witch, led him to allow Ralph and Mary Hall to settle on Great Minneford Island (today's City Island) that he owned.  Indeed, as I have noted before, the Reverend Nathaniel Brewster who began preaching in Setauket the same year Ralph and Mary Hall were accused by local authorities of witchcraft and sorcery was a stepson of Pelham founder Thomas Pell and preached periodically in Eastchester, once part of the Manor of Pelham until Thomas Pell sold the land to the so-called Ten Families who founded the settlement.  Brewster may well have played a role in helping Ralph and Mary Hall settle on his stepfather's island.  See Tue., Nov. 04, 2014:  Rev. Nathaniel Brewster, Stepson of Thomas Pell.

Below is a transcription of material from "New York Historical Manuscripts:  English -- Records of the Court of Assizes for the Colony of New York, 1665-1682" relating to the trial of Ralph and Mary Hall who fled Setauket on Long Island to settle on City Island in 1668.


*          *          *          *          *

"[38-43]

[CALENDAR:  Oct. 2 Trial of Ralph Hall and Mary, his wife, for witchcraft.  The prisoner was brought to the bar by Allard Anthony, sheriff of New York;  indictment by constable and overseers of Seatalcott read, charging prisoners with murder of George Wood and an infant child of Ann Rogers, widow of George Wood, by sorcery and witchcraft; several depositions are read but no witnesses appear; prisoners plead not guilty, Vedict of jury that there is sligh suspicion against the woman but nothing against the man.  Sentence of court that the man give bond for his wife's appearance at each sessions while they stay within the government and for her good behaiour.  Bond given.]

[TEXT (FROM DH4):]

At the court of Assizes held in New Yorke the 2d day of October 1665 etc.

The Tryall of Ralph and Mary his wife, upon suspicion Witchcraft.

The names of the persons who served on the Grand Jury.

Thomas Baker, Foreman of the Jury, of East Hampton.

Capt. John Symonds of Hempsteed.

Mr. Hallet             }
                             }  Jamaica
Anthony Waters   }

Thomas Wandall of Marshpath Kills.

Mr. Nicolls of Stamford

Balthazer de Haart   }
John Garland           }
Jacob Leisler            }     of New Yorke.
Anthonio de Mill       }
Alexander Munro     }
Thomas Searle        }

The Prisoners being brought to the Barr by Allard Anthony, Sheriffe of New Yorke,  This following Indictment was read, first against Ralph Hall and then against Mary his wife, vizt.

The Constable and Overseers of the Towne of Seatallcott, in the East Riding of Yorkshire upon Long Island, Do Present for our Soveraigne Lord the King, That Ralph Hall of Seatallcott aforesaid, upon the 25th day of December; being Christmas day last, was Twelve Monthes, in the 15th yeare of the Raigne of our Soveraigne Lord, Charles the Second, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith etc., and severall other dayes and times since that day, by some detestable and wicked Arts, commonly called Witchcraft and Sorcery, did (as is suspected) maliciously and feloniously, practice and Exercise at the said towne of Seatalcott in the East Riding of Yorkshire on Long Island aforesaid, 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 sickned and languished, And not long after by the aforesaid wicked and detestable Arts, the said George Wood (as is likewise suspected) dyed.

Moreover, The Constable and overseers of the said Towne of Seatalcott, in the East Riding of Yorkshire upon Long Island aforesaid, do further Present for our Soveraigne Lord the King, That some while after the death of the aforesaid George Wood, The said Ralph Hall did (as is suspected) divers times by the like wicked and detestable Arts, commonly called Witchcraft and Sorcery, Maliciously and feloniously practise and Exercise at the said Towne of Seatalcott, in the East Riding of Yorkshire upon Long Island aforesaid, on the Person of an Infant Childe of Ann Rogers, widdow of the aforesaid George Wood deceased, by which wicked and detestable Arts, the said Infant Childe (as is suspected) most dangerously and mortally sickned and languished, and not long after by the said Wicked and detestable Arts (as is likewise suspected) dyed, And so the said Constable and Overseers do Present, That the said George Wood, and the said Infante said Childe by the wayes and meanes aforesaid, most wickedly maliciously and feloniously were (as is suspected) murdered by the said Ralph Hall at the times and places aforesaid, against the Peace of Our Soveraigne Lord the King and against the Laws of this Government in such Cases Provided.

The like Indictment was reade, against Mary the wife of Ralph Hall.

Therer upon, severall Depositions, accusing the Prisoners of the fact for which they were endicted were read, but no witnesse appeared to give Testimony in Court vive voce.

Then the Clarke calling upon Ralph Hall, bad him hold up his hand, and read as followes.

Ralph Hall thou standest here indicted, for that having not the feare of God before thine eyes Thou did''st upon the 25th day of December, being Christmas day last was 12 Moneths, and at severall other times since, as is suspected, by some wicked and detestable Arts, commonly called witchcraft and Sorcery, maliciously and feloniously practice and Exercise, upon the Bodyes of George Wood, and an Infant Childe of Ann Rogers, by which said Arts, the said George Wood and the Infant Childe (as is suspected) most dangerously and mortally fell sick, and languisht unto death.  Ralph Hall, what does thou say for theyselfe, art thou guilty, or not guilty?

Mary the wife of Ralph Hall was called upon in like manner.

They both Pleaded not guilty and threw themselves to bee Tryed by God and the Country.

Where upon, their Case was referr'd to the Jury, who brought in to the Court, this following verdict vizt.

Wee having seriously considered the Case committed to our Charge, against the Prisoners at the Barr, and having well weighed the Evidence, wee finde that there are some suspitions by the Evidence, of what the woman is Charged with, but nothing considerable of value to take away her life.  But in reference to the man wee finde nothing considerable to charge him with.

The Court there upon, gave this sentence, That the man should bee bound Body and Goods for his wives Apperance, at the next Sessions, and so on from Sessions to Sessions as long as they stay within this Government, In the meane while, to bee of and upon Entring into a Recognizance, according to the Sentence of the Court they were released.

[MOULTON:  The most extraordinary trial that occurs in the annals of our juridical history took place at this first Court of Assize.  It was a trial for suspicion of witchcraft on the 2 Oct. 1665.

A list of the Grand jury (12) were named

The prisoners were Ralph Hall and Mary his wife.  The prisoner being brought to the bar by the sheriff of New York the Indictment was read, viz:  The Constable and overseers of the Towne of Seatalcott, in the East Riding of Yorkshire upon Long Island do present for our Sovereign Lord the King that Ralph Hall of Seatalcott aforesaid upon the 25 Dec. being Christmas day last past and severall other dayes and times since that day by some detestable and wicked Arts comonly called Witchcraft and Sorcery, did (as is suspected) maliciously and feloniously practice and excercise at the said towne etc. on the person of George Wood by which wicked and detestable Arts the said George Wood (as is suspected) Most dangerously and Mortally sickened and languished and not long after etc. dyed.'

Another count in the Indictment charges him with like wicked and detestable art of witchcraft (as is suspected) practiced afterwards upon an infant child of the widow of said Wood, by which the child also died.  And so the said Constable and overseers do present that the said George Wood and the said Infant childe by the ways and meanes aforesaid were (as is suspected) murdered by said Ralph Hall etc.

The like Indictment was read against Mary the wife of Hall.

Whereupon depositions of witnesses accusing prisoners of the fact were read but no witnesses appeared to give testimony in court viva voce.

The prisoners were then separately called for by the 'Clarke' to hold up their hands while he recapitulated the substance of the Indictments.

They both pleaded not guilty and threw themselves to be tried by God and the country.

Whereupon their case was referr'd to the Jury who brought into Court this verdict, viz:  We having seriously considered the case committed to our charge against the Prisoners at the Barr and having well weighed the Evidence Wee finde that there are some suspitions by the Evidence, of what the woman is charged with, but nothing considerable of value to take away her life.  But in reference to the man we finde nothing considerable to charge him with.  'The Court thereupon gave this pretence that the Man 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 within this Government.  In the mean while 'to live of the good Behavior.'  So they were returned into the sheriff's custody and upon Entering into a Recognizance according to the sentence, they were released.]"

Source:  Christoph, Peter R. & Christoph, Florence A., eds., New York Historical Manuscripts:  English -- Records of the Court of Assizes for the Colony of New York, 1665-1682, pp. 9-12 (Baltimore, MD:  Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1983).

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