March 13 — Moment of Strength: share a story where a female ancestor showed courage or strength in a difficult situation.
Esther Dutch Elwell was 53 years old on November 3, 1692 when a warrant for her arrest on the charge of witchcraft was issued. Records show she, with two other women, was taken to Ipswich, Massachusettes where she joined six other Gloucester women who had been jailed on charges of witchcraft. From a petition written in December of 1692 by these women, it is known the conditions were unbearable due to cold and poor lodging; the women feared for their lives, not from the witch trials but from the horrible living conditions. How must Esther have felt? Scared does not even begin to describe her feelings. 19 people before her had been arrested and executed for witchcraft from Salem. She had to ask herself, "will I be number 20?" Those arrested from her town of Gloucester had not been executed yet but were awaiting trial. What had she done to cause her neighbors to turn on her? Had she looked at someone wrong? Had she said something to offend? And where was her support? Did her family stand by her? Was the hysteria so pervasive that she had no one to turn to...or did her husband stand by her? Her children? There are no records to tell us but I hope in my heart she had someone. If her mother, Grace Dutch was still alive, she would have certainly stood by her as she herself had been accused of witchcraft in 1656 when Esther was only 15.
Fortunately for Esther and her family, the Court of Oyer and Terminer, the court that had tried and executed 19 people in Salem and Salem city, was disbanded at the beginning of November of 1692. There are no records found of any trials of the Gloucester women accused of witchcraft but it has not been determined how long Esther remained imprisoned in Ipswich. All we know is she was released at some point. Esther lived to be 82 years old, dying in 1721.
The courage and moral strength needed to survive such an experience is outside my scope of experience and I wonder if the stigma of the accusation of witchcraft is ever erased or did she always have neighbors casting her suspicious looks. Were her children ostracized by association? Hopefully, with the passing of the hysteria, so did the mistrust.
Hester Dutch Elwell is my maternal 8th gt grandmother.
"The Geography and Genealogy of Gloucester" by Jedediah Drolet article
"Witchcraft" by Linda Faye Johnson (Tucker) article