November 16, 2018 this year will mark 30 years since Boston City Council announced a new remembrance day – Goody Glover Day, marking 400 years since the last person was hanged in Boston for supposed witchcraft. Her name? Ann Glover (known as ‘Goody’ Glover), born in Ireland earlier in the century. Four years before the infamous 1692 Salem Witch Trials, what circumstances led to this woman being hanged?
Not much is known about Ann’s early life in Ireland. It’s known from her trial records that she was Irish, and a Roman Catholic. It’s understood that she was transported to Barbados, initially to work on a sugar plantation, probably as part of Oliver Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland the subsequent transportation of thousands of Irish people to the Caribbean to work as slaves. It is also alleged that her husband was executed in Barbados, allegedly for refusing to give us his Catholic faith. While this is doubtful (the authorities in the colonies, despite being anti-Catholic, were unlikely to execute a good worker for his faith alone), it wasn’t uncommon for Irish female slaves to go to New England from Barbados. And another allegation – it is rumoured that just before he died, Mr Glover declared that his wife Ann was a witch.
Records are thin, but we know from that by 1680s, Ann and her daughter Mary were living in Boston, working as housekeepers for a man named John Goodwin. In 1688, Goodwin’s 13 year-old daughter Martha accused Ann of stealing laundry, causing Ann to have an argument with Martha and the rest of the Glover children. Ann was arrested and her trial date arranged. The children are said to have then become unwell, and began to start acting strangely. Their doctor concluded that “nothing but hellish Witchcraft could be the origin of their maladies”. The medical diagnosis was that the Irish woman had “bewitched” the children of John Goodwin.
New England was a hotbed of religious conflict in the 1600s, and the witchcraft hysteria grew out that. Initially settled by Puritans from England looking to practice their faith free from persecution, by the 1680s various other denominations were found to be living in the region, causing a lot of religious hostile.
Cotton Mather was an infamous Puritan Boston prosecutor at the time (who would go on the work at the Salem Witch Trials). He led prosecuting Ann at her trial. The son of a Harvard president, Mather would later publish a book on the case of Ann Glover. When Cotton Mather visited her in prison before the trial, he claimed that she was engaged in night-time trysts with the Devil. To ensure she wasn’t mentally ill, a panel of physicians were engaged to examine her. Five of the six physicians who examined her had found her to be competent and her trial date set.
Initially, her answers could not be understood because she spoke Irish (although it was alleged that she was speaking the language of the devil). She did understand English, but apparently had lost all ability to speak it. An interpreter was found for her and the trial proceeded. Her inability to recite the Lord’s prayer would later be used as evidence against her.
Some small, doll-like images were found in a search of Ann’s house, which were used in the trial. Significance? When Mather was interrogating her she supposedly said that she prayed to a host of spirits and Mather took this to mean that these spirits were demons. Yet two male witnesses, allegedly Irish speakers, are said to have told the trial that Ann had previously confessed to them that she used the spirits for witchcraft. The identity of these two men is unknown, but it was later suggested that Ann may actually have been referring to Catholic saints.
It’s clear that a lot of the evidence used in the accusations against Ann was spectral. Either way, she was pronounced guilty of practicing witchcraft and sentenced to death by public hanging.
THE DAY OF THE HANGING
November 16, 1688 arrived, and with it, Ann’s execution date. Mocking crowds gathered to watch her life end. There are differing accounts of Ann’s final words. Some say that when she was taken to be hanged, she said that her death would not relieve the children of their “malady”. Others says that she not only said her death would not end the children’s suffering, but also that it would continue because she was not the only witch to have afflicted them. Another account claims that Ann still protested her innocence, and claimed that as a result, her death would have little effect on curing the affected children.
Tellingly, one contemporary writer recorded there having been “a great concourse of people to see if the Papist would relent.” The suggestion of her being Papist suggests some religious prejudice may have come into play. And even more tellingly, another writer, a Boston merchant named Robert Calef who knew Ann, said “Goody Glover was a despised, crazy, poor old woman, an Irish Catholic who was tried for afflicting the Goodwin children. Her behavior at her trial was like that of one distracted. They did her cruel. The proof against her was wholly deficient. The jury brought her guilty. She was hung. She died a Catholic.”
One contemporary writer recorded that, “There was a great concourse of people to see if the Papist would relent, her one cat was there, fearsome to see. They would to destroy the cat, but Mr. Calef would not permit it. Before her executioners she was bold and impudent, making to forgive her accusers and those who put her off. She predicted that her death would not relieve the children saying that it was not she that afflicted them.”
AFTER ANN’S DEATH
Ann was the last person hanged in Boston for witchcraft, but her hanging was part of a much wider fear of witchcraft in New England and Europe, and occurred just four years before the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Today, scientists are still trying to uncover a legitimate reason for the behaviour of those accused of witchcraft in New England.
After her death, Ann’s daughter Mary suffered a mental breakdown, and ended her days “a raving maniac”. However she may have been implicated in the witch trials herself. A “Mary Glover the Irish Catholic Witch” was recorded as being in a Boston jail with three pirates in 1689. We can’t be sure it was the same Mary, but it has been suggested.
Today, in Boston’s South End, there is a plaque to remember Ann “Goody” Glover, the last witch hanged in Salem, at a church on 27 Isabella Street.