Thursday, July 19, 2007

July 19

Lizzie Andrew Borden emerged into the world on this date in 1860; about three weeks after her 32nd birthday, Borden discovered the body of her father, Andrew, on a couch in their home at Fall River, Massachusetts. Contrary to popular rhyme, Mr. Borden had not suffered “forty-one” whacks with a hatchet. The eleven he did sustain, however, were quite fatal -- including the one that split his eye and another than severed his nose. The body of Abby Borden, which bore nineteen distinct wounds to the head and neck, was discovered upstairs in her bed a short while later.

Lizzie Borden, who was always the most likely suspect, was charged with the murders and acquitted by an all-male jury in June 1893.

Less fortunate in their own trials, five women from the town of Salem, Massachusetts -- Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Howe, Sarah Good and Sarah Wildes -- were hanged for witchcraft on 19 July 1692. Nurse, who hailed from a prominent family and was one of the most respected women in the community, had been accused by one Sarah Holton of putting a lethal hex upon her husband, Benjamin, several years before. According to Holton, Nurse came to their farmhouse one Saturday and scolded Benjamin about his pigs, which she claimed had gotten into her fields. The argument went nowhere, as Benjamin Holden insisted his pigs were adequately yoked and had not left their pen. After Nurse left, Sarah Holden claimed, her husband
was taken with a strainge fitt . . . being struck blind and stricken down two or three times so that when he came to himself he tould me he thought he should never have com into the house any more: and all summer affter he continewed in a languishing condition being much pained at his stomack and often struck blind: but about a fortnight before he dyed he was taken with strange and violent fitts acting much like out poor bewicthed parsons when we thought they would have dyed and the Doctor. that was with him could not find what his distemper was: and the day before he dyed he was very chearly but about midnight he was againe most violently sezed upon with violent fitts tell the next night about midnight he departed this life by a cruel death.
On the basis of these and other implausible scraps of “evidence,” Nurse was arraigned and charged with the crime of witchcraft. Tried by a jury, she was initially acquitted on June 30. When the verdict was announced, 12-year-old Ann Putnam and several other girls who had brought forth accusations against Nurse collapsed and howled in pain, insisting that Nurse was somehow afflicting them. The judge then asked the jury to reconsider their decision, which they subsequently did.

Fourteen years after helping to send twenty people to an early grave, Ann Putnam apologized publicly for her role in the witchcraft hysteria. She had, she ruefully observed, been “deluded by Satan.”

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