A woman involved in a Possession case in Hartford, Connecticut, that astonished her townspeople and led to the execution of an accused witch. Ann Cole suddenly seemed to acquire preternatural knowledge of the malicious activities of the accused witch, who was a stranger to her. Increase Mather described Cole as “a person of real piety and integrity” in his account in An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences (1684). In 1662, Cole was living in the house of her father— described as “a godly man”—when she began having bizarre fits, “wherein her Tongue was improved by a Daemon to express things which she herself knew nothing of,” Mather wrote.
Sometimes the discourses went on for hours. Cole named persons and described how they intended to carry out “mischievous designs” against her and others, by afflicting bodies and spoiling names. At times, Cole lapsed into gibberish. Then she began speaking English with a precise Dutch accent, describing how a woman who lived beside a Dutch family had been afflicted by a strange pinching of her arms at night. One of the persons named by Cole was a “lewd and ignorant” woman named Rebecca Greensmith, who was in jail on suspicion of Witchcraft.
Greensmith had denied the charges against her but, when confronted by a written account of Cole’s discourses, was astonished and confessed everything. Greensmith said the Devil had first appeared to her in the form of a deer or fawn, skipping about her so that she would not be afraid, gaining her confidence. She had sex with the Devil on numerous occasions and had often accompanied him to Sabbats. She denied entering into a satanic Pact but said that the Devil had told her that they would attend a merry sabbat at Christmastime, during which she would sign a pact with him. Greensmith also said that witches had met at a place not far from her house, and that some of them arrived in the shapes of animals and crows.
The confession was sufficient to convict Greensmith, and she was executed, probably by hanging. Her husband was also put to death, even though he said he was not guilty of any wrongdoing. The court apparently thought that since he was the woman’s husband, he could not help but be involved in her evil activities.
A man and a woman also named by Cole were given the swimming test of being bound and thrown into water, a common test of a witch’s innocence or guilt. They neither floated nor sank but bobbed like buoys, half in and half out of the water. A witness protested that anyone with his or her hands bound to the feet would not sink (and therefore be guilty) and underwent the test himself. He was lowered gently into the water, not thrown in, as were the accused, and promptly sank, proving his innocence.
It is not known how many others named by Cole were tried and executed for witchcraft; some fled Hartford and were never seen again. Ann Cole eventually recovered and had no more fits. She resumed her life as “a serious Christian.” It is possible that her fits were a manifestation of latent psychic ability, a clairvoyance. It was a psychic window that opened suddenly, without encouragement, then closed as soon as the cases were laid to rest.