Mary Baker Eddy and America’s Last Witchcraft Trial 

Mary Baker Eddy and America’s Last Witchcraft Trial  May 14, 2023

Mary Baker Eddy
sometime in the 1850s


Mary Baker Eddy and America’s Last Witchcraft Trial 

Today, the 14th of May, might be counted as a minor religious holiday. At least of some sort. I try to note it when it rolls around.

It was, as it happens, on this day, in 1878, that the last trial on a charge of witchcraft was initiated in an American court.

It was a somewhat awkward event for all concerned. Not least as the case was heard in Salem, Massachusetts. It was brief. And from that event there would be no more trials in American courts regarding accusations of witchcraft. At least so far.

It has an interesting backstory. Lucretia Brown of Ipswich, Massachusetts was a life long invalid. At the age of fifty she embraced Christian Science and its promises of cures for matters physical as well as spiritual. As seems the case for many attracted to what is now called New Thought, for her the physical cure was paramount. And she pretty much immediately reported how she was cured of her painful spinal injury.

However not long after being cured Ms Brown 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 Mr’s Eddy’s earliest disciples. And for some years was her close associate. He was the publisher of the first edition of her monumental Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.


However, in the wake of a falling out over a considerable sum of money intertwined with a dispute over the publication of the second edition of her now best-selling book, Mrs Eddy had excommunicated him from the church.

Mrs 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.

The judge, Horace Gray presided. After 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. Well, given the proclivities of some, perhaps, at least, for now…

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