Webster, Mary (d. 1696) Massachusetts woman accused of bewitching a man to cause him ill health. Mary Webster was indicted and acquitted at trial, but a gang nearly tortured her to death after the verdict.
Webster and her husband, William Webster, lived in Hadley, Hampshire County. They were poor and depended on the townspeople for aid. One man who helped them was Philip Smith, a man of about 50 years who was a prominent citizen. But when Smith fell mysteriously ill in 1683, he and others accused Webster of bewitching him because she was unhappy with the amount of help he had given her and her husband.
According to Smith, Webster had expressed her unhappiness to him, and he had some fear that she might cause him problems. Smith’s health went into sudden decline. He soon took to bed, delirious and speaking in what seemed to be strange languages. He said he was in great pain from being pricked with what felt like hundreds of pins, especially on his arms and toes. He cried out against Webster and others, claiming that he could see them before him, though they were invisible to others.
Cotton Mather later reported that Smith’s home was sometimes filled with the strange smell of musk and sounds of a mysterious scratching were heard. A supernatural fire was seen on his bed, and a mysterious form like a big cat appeared on the bed as well.
While Smith languished, Webster was examined on suspicion of witchcraft by the county magistrates, appearing before them on march 27, 1683. She was indicted on may 22, 1683, and was sent to jail pending trial. Webster was accused of having a Devil's Pact and of having a FAmiliar in the form of a Warraneage, an Indian word for “black cat.” An examination of her body revealed that she had teats of Devil ’s Marks in her “secret parts” where her various Imps suckled.
On June 1, 1683, Webster was tried. Smith testified against her, but a jury found her not guilty. The verdict was unsatisfactory to some of the local residents. That winter, a gang of youths seized Webster, dragged her out of her house and hung her until she was nearly dead. Then they cut her down, rolled her in the snow, buried her in it and left her. She survived.
Smith died in 1684. The night of his death, according to Mather, a witness said the bed moved and shook of its own accord. On the second night, when the corpse had been prepared for the funeral, witnesses said there were unexplained noises in the room, as though furniture were being shoved about. Mather declared that these phenomena and the circumstances of death were “unquestionable” proof of witchcraft.
- Hall, David D., ed. Witch-hunting in Seventeenth-Century New England: A Documentary History 1638–1692. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991.
- Mather, Cotton. Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions. Boston: n.p., 1689.