The Last Witchcraft Trial in America. Well, Sort of…

mary-baker-eddyIt was on this day one hundred, and thirty nine years ago, in 1878. that the last trial on a charge of witchcraft was initiated in an American court. Somewhat awkwardly for all concerned, the case was heard in Salem, Massachusetts.

At the age of fifty the life long invalid Lucretia Brown of Ipswich, Massachusetts, embraced Christian Science. And it seemed she was cured of her spinal injury. However not long after being cured she suffered a relapse. When Mary Baker Eddy heard of this she was certain the cause was Daniel H Spofford. Dr (the source of his doctorate is uncertain) Spofford had been one of her earliest disciples, a close associate of hers, and the publisher of the first edition of her monumental Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. In the wake of a falling out over a considerable sum of money and possibly connected, a dispute over the publication of the second edition of her now best-selling book, Mrs Eddy had excommunicated him from the church.

lucretia-brownMrs Eddy had discovered in her psychic studies a force she called malicious animal magnetism. She was convinced Ms Brown was not only the victim of this malevolent mental attack, but that Dr Spofford was the attacker.

Mrs Brown filed a complaint. It is alleged that Mrs Eddy wrote the particulars of the complaint herself. What we do know is that Mrs Eddy was deeply involved, even attending the trial, bringing along some twenty “witnesses” for the prosecution of the case.

On the 17th Mrs Brown and her attorney appeared in court, along with Mrs Eddy and all those witnesses. Dr Spofford chose not to attend. His attorney filed a demurrer arguing the court had no jurisdiction.

Daniel_Spofford_2The judge, Horace Gray presided. Hearing the arguments he stated that the state had no control over people’s minds and dismissed the charges.

There was an appeal but that was it. The last trial for witchcraft in this country.

Gone with a whimper rather than a bang.

Nonetheless, good riddance…