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Six Degrees of Separation – Prince George and Nathaniel Hawthorne

October 28th, 2013 · No Comments · Books, City Library, Main Branch, West Branch

His Royal Highness, Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge, son of Prince William and Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and third in line to the throne of England, was born this past July.  That’s quite a huge title for such a small baby.  And yet, once he becomes King of England, he will have many other titles added to his name.

Among these will be Duke of Lancaster.  And as such, one of his properties will be historic Lancaster Castle, one of the best preserved castles in the country, parts of which date back to 1150.  In 1612, during the reign of King James I, the castle was the site of the Pendle Witch Trials, where a total of 19 people were accused of witchcraft.  Ten of them were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.

One of the principle witnesses was nine-year-old Jennifer Device, who testified against her mother, Elizabeth, and older brother, James.  Both confessed and were among those hanged.  Written accounts of the trial led to other judges allowing children to testify in similar instances.  Which leads us to Salem Village, Massachusetts, 1692.

In January, nine-year-old Betty Parris and her cousin, eleven-year-old Abigail Williams, began experiencing fits.  Upon questioning, they accused one of the Parris family’s slaves, Tituba, of bewitching them.  As the months passed, the list of afflicted and accused grew.  Trials began, and in June, Bridget Bishop was the first to be found guilty and hanged.

Later that year, Governor Phipps disbanded the court and in May 1693, he pardoned those still imprisoned on witchcraft charges, but not before 19 had been hanged on Gallows Hill, one man had been pressed to death with heavy stones, several more had died in prison, and close to 200 in all had been accused of witchcraft.

Serving as one of the prosecutors at the trials was John Hathorne, a local Salem magistrate, whose questioning of those accused always began with a presumption of their guilt rather than their innocence.  This policy led, years later, to criticism by his own great-grandson, Nathaniel, who changed the spelling of his last name to Hawthorne as a way of distancing himself from his ancestor.

Many books, both fiction and non-fiction, have been written detailing these two trials, as well as other instances of witchcraft throughout history, including a case here in New Hampshire in 1682.  To learn how widespread these hunts were, check out Witch hunts in Europe and America.  Or dive into Daughters of the Witching Hill or The Crucible for fictionalized accounts of these two trials.  And don’t forget about our museum pass to The House of the Seven Gables to learn more about Nathaniel Hawthorne, and maybe his infamous relation.  The pass is not available for the month of October, but when it is, it will admit four people at half-price admission.


Happy Halloween!

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