, Newburyport, MA

Local News

October 19, 2009

For this witch, there was no 'night out'


Caleb Powell, a younger man who visited the Morses often, actually saw Stiles pick up a boot and throw it at his grandfather, according to a story in the October 2000 newsletter of the Historical Society of Old Newbury. Instead of simply confronting the youth or telling Morse what was going on, Powell told William Morse he could determine what was behind his "mysterious disturbances." To make his credentials more impressive, he told Morse that in his travels had had learned astrology and astronomy.

Morse promptly accused Powell of witchcraft. The charges were brought in December 1679, and he was acquitted. The people of Newbury — which in 1679 included what is now Newburyport — began to think that if he weren't the witch, someone else must be.

For reasons unclear in Coffin's book or John J. Currier's "A History of Newbury, Massachusetts, 1635-1902," the people settled on 63-year-old Elizabeth Morse.

Once she was accused, the townspeople lined up to testify against her. Seventeen witnesses submitted written testimony. Zechariah Davis' was the only one still on file when Currier went looking for a trial transcript. The Salisbury man said that after he had failed to remember several times to bring Elizabeth some quills he had promised her, she was offended by his carelessness and told him so.

When he returned home, three of his calves began having seizures and eventually died. He concluded that the previously healthy animals had been put under a spell.

In May 1680, Elizabeth Morse was convicted of "not having the fear of God before her eyes, being instigated by the Divil and had familiarity with the Divil."

William Morse died in 1683. Neither Coffin nor Currier could find a date of death for Elizabeth, but Stafford-Ames Morse, an ancestor of the family, said it was 1690. Stafford-Ames Morse said no one knows where her grave is, but she almost certainly isn't with her husband because witches couldn't be buried in church ground. Morse said no one knows where William is buried, either.

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