NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

October 19, 2009

For this witch, there was no 'night out'

NEWBURYPORT — The city's Witches Night Out will take place on the long-forgotten doorstep of Newburyport's only accused witch.

Elizabeth Morse — whose home once stood opposite Market Square — was found guilty of witchcraft a dozen years before the 1692 Salem hysteria that even now engulfs that city and reaches its peak every Halloween.

Morse was sentenced to a year in jail and the 17th century equivalent of house arrest. She was initially sentenced to be hanged, but the execution was never carried out, and after a year in jail in Boston, Morse was sent home to live with her husband with a catch: She was forbidden to travel more than 16 rods (264 feet) from her property unless she was accompanied by a pastor or a deacon.

A plaque marks the spot where her house is believed to have stood, on the Liberty Street side of Market Square Jewelers in downtown Newburyport.

Elizabeth Morse's troubles actually began when her husband, William, accused someone else of witchcraft in 1679.

The Morses lived on 4 acres between Water and Middle streets. William, a shoemaker about 65 years old, had received the land by grant in 1646. He was "said to have been a very worthy but credulous, unsuspecting man," according to Joshua Coffin's 1845 book, "A Sketch of the History of Newbury, Newburyport and West Newbury."

"He readily attributed all his troubles and afflictions to the supernatural agency of witchcraft instead of watching the actions of those around him, especially of a roguish grandson who lived with them," Coffin wrote.

Strange things began to happen after the grandson, John Stiles, moved in. Objects disappeared and then came clattering down the chimney. William Morse found a large hog in the house after midnight. The couple was awakened by the sound of stones and branches hitting their house, but no one was there when they opened the door.

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