She threw up crooked pins

 

This extract comes from a late seventeenth century account of witchcraft in Somerset. I think it’s the first witchcraft text I’ve read which details victims vomiting household objects, and it makes for some curious reading. The text doesn’t unfortunately relate what subsequently happened to the suspected witch. 

In the Town of Beckenton, in Somersetshire, liveth one William Spicer, a young Man about eighteen Years of Age. As he was wont to pass by the Alms-house (where lived an Old Woman, about Four score) he would call her Witch, and tell her of her Buns; which did so enrage the Old Woman, that she threatened him with a Warrant; and accordingly did fetch one from a Neighbouring Justice of the Peace. At which he was so frightened, that he humbled himself to her, and promised never to call her so again. Within a few days after, this Young Man fell into the strangest Fits that held him about a Fortnight. When the Fits were upon him, he would often say that he did see this Old Woman against the Wall in the same Room of the House where he was, and that sometimes she did knock her Fist at him; sometimes grin her Teeth, and sometimes laugh at him in his Fits. He was so strong, that three or four Men could scarce hold him; and when he did call for Small Beer to drink, he would be sure to bring up some Crooked Pins to the Number of Thirty, and upwards.

In the same Town liveth one Mary Hill, about the same Age of this Young Man; who meeting with this Old Woman, demanded the Ring she borrowed of her, with a threatening from the Old Woman that she had been better to have let her kept it longer. About a Week before the said Mary was taken with Fits, she met this Old Woman in the Street; who taking her by the hand, desired her to go with her to Froom, to look after some Spinning Work. The said Mary being afraid, refused to go with her. About four days after she met the Old Woman again, who begged an Apple of her, which she refused to give her.

The Sunday following, she complained of a pricking in her Stomack; but on Monday, as she was Eating her Dinner, something arose in her Throat, which was like to have Choaked her; and at the same time she fell into Violent Fits, which held her till Nine or Ten a Clock at Night. The Fits were so strong and violent, that Four or Five Persons were scarce able to hold her, and in the midst of them, she would tell how she saw this old Woman against the Wall, grinning at her, and that she was the Person that had bewitcht her.

The Wednesday following, she began to throw up Crooked Pins, and so continued for the space of a Fortnight. After this, she began to throw up Nails and Pins. And then she began to throw up Nails again, and Handles of Spoons, several pieces of Iron, Lead, and Tin, with several clusters of Crooked Pins; some tied with Yarn, and some with Thread, with abundance of Blood. She threw up in all, above Two Hundred Crooked Pins.

The People of the Town seeing the sad and deplorable Condition of the said Mary, did cause this old Woman to be brought near the House where the Mary Lived, and being gathered together above an Hundred People, the said Mary was brought forth into the open Air, who immediately fell into such strong Fits, that two or three men were scarce able to hold her, and being brought upon the Hill by the Church, and the old Woman brought near her (notwithstanding there were four men to hold the said Mary in a Chair) she mounted up over their Heads into the Air; but the men, and others standing by, caught hold of her Legs, and pulled her down again.

This old Woman was ordered to be searched by a Jury of Women, who found about her several purple Spots, which they prickt with a sharp Needle, but she felt no pain. She had about her other Marks and Tokens of a Witch, and she was sent to the County Jayle.

This old Woman was had to a great River near the Town, to see whether she could sink under Water. Her Legs being tied, she was put in, and though she did endeavour to the uttermost by her Hands, yet she could not, but would lie upon her Back, and did Swim like a piece of Cork. There were present above Twenty Persons to Attest the Truth of this. She was had to the Water a second time, and being put in, she swam as at first; and though there were present above Two Hundred People to see this Sight, yet it could not be believed by many. At the same time, also, there was put into the Water, a Lusty young Woman, who sunk immediately, and had been drowned, had it not been for the help that was at hand. To satisfy the World, and to leave no Room for doubting, the old Woman was had down to the Water the third time, and being put in as before, she did still Swim. At this Swimming of her, were present, such a Company of People of the Town and Country, and many of them, Persons of Quality, as could not well be Numbered; so that now, there is scarce one Person that doubts of the Truth of this thing.

It is full Ten Weeks ago that this young Woman was first seized with these Terrible Fits, yet she continues to be often seized with terrible Fits, and to bring up both Nails and Handles of Spoons, and is still remaining an Object of great Pity.

Since writing this post, Tom White alerted me to the digitised records of this case, which reveal that the witch, Elizabeth Carrier, died in prison. The records are held on a wonderful database entitled Witches in Early Modern England, which can be accessed here

 

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