20 Cotton Mather (1663-1728)

Sonya Parrish

Author’s Introduction

Decennium Luctuosum

AN HISTORY OF Remarkable Occurrences, In the Long War, Which NEW-ENGLAND hath had with the Indian Savages, From the Year 1688 to the Year 1698. Faithfully Composed and Improved.

Infandum, — Jubes Renovare Dolorem[1]


Twenty-three years have rolled away since the Nations of Indians within the confines of New England, generally began a fierce war, upon the English inhabitants of that country. The flame of war then raged through a great part of the country, whereby many whole towns were laid in ashes, and many lives were sacrificed. But in little more than one year’s time, the United Colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and with their united endeavors, bravely conquered the savage. The evident hand of heaven appearing on the side of a people whose hope and help was alone in the Almighty Lord of Hosts, extinguished whole nations of the savages at such a rate, that there can hardly any of them now be found under any distinction upon the face of the Earth. Only, the face of our northern and eastern regions in that war, was very distinct from that of the rest. The desolations of the war had overwhelmed all the settlements to the northeast of Wells. And when the time arrived, that all hands were weary of the war, a sort of peace was patched up, which left a body of Indians not only with horrible murders unrevenged, but also, in the possession of no little part of the country with circumstances which the English might think not very honorable. Upon this peace, the English returned unto their plantations; their number increased; they stocked their farms, and sow’d their fields; they found the air as healthful, as the earth was fruitful; their lumber and their fishery became a considerable merchandize; continual accessions were made unto them, until ten or a dozen towns, in the province of Maine, and the county of Cornwall, were suddenly started up into something of observation.

But in the year 1688 the Indians which dwelt after the Indian manner among them, commenced another war upon these plantations, which hath broke them up, and strangely held us in play for ten years together. In these ten years, there hath been a variety of remarkable occurrences; and because I have supposed that a relation of those occurrences may be acceptable and profitable to some of my countrymen, I shall now with all faithfulness endeavour it. With all faithfulness, I say; because tho’ there should happen any circumstantial mistake in our story, (for ’tis a rare thing for any two men, concerned in the same action to give the story of it, without some circumstantial difference) yet even this also I shall be willing to retract and correct, if there be found any just occasion: But for any one material error, in the whole composure, I challenge the most sagacious malice upon Earth to detect it while minds are yet too fresh as to allow the detection of it. I disdain to make the apology, once made by the Roman historian; “Nemo Historicus non aliquid mentitus, et habiturus sum mendaciorum Comites, quos Historiae et eloquentiae miramur Authores.”[2] No, I will write with an irreproachable and incontestable veracity; and I will write not one thing, but what I am furnished with so good authority for, that any reasonable man, who will please to examine it, shall say, I do well to insert it as I do: And I will hope, that my Reader hath not been studying of Godefridus de Valle’s book, De Arte Nihil Credendi; about the art of believing nothing. Wherefore, having at the very beginning thus given such a knock upon thy head, O malice, that thou canst never with reason hiss at our history, we will proceed unto the several articles of it.

ARTICLE. I. The Occasion and Beginning of the War

IF Diodorus Siculus had never given it as a great rule of history, “Historiae primum Studium, primaria{que} consideratio esse videtur, insoliti gravis{que} Casus principio causas investigare,”[3] yet my Reader would have expected that I should begin the history of our war, with an history of the occurrences and occasions which did begin the war. Now, Reader, I am at the very first fallen upon a difficult point; and I am in danger of pulling a war upon myself, by endeavoring of thy satisfaction. In truth, I had rather be called a coward than undertake myself to determine the truth in this matter: but having armed myself with some good authority for it, I will transcribe two or three reports of the matter, now in my hands, and leave it to thy own determination.

One account, I have now lying by me, written by a gentleman of Dover; in these Terms:

“The Eastern Indians, and especially those of Saco, and Ammonoscoggin, pretend many reasons, for the late quarrel against the English, which began this long and bloody war.

1. Because the English refused to pay that yearly tribute of corn agreed upon in the Articles of Peace formerly concluded with them by the English Commissioners.

2. Because they were invaded in their fishery at Saco River by certain gentlemen, who stopped the fish from coming up the river with their nets and sains. This they were greatly affronted at; saying, they thought (though the English had got away their lands as they had, yet) the fishery of the rivers had been a privilege reserved entire unto themselves.

3. Because they were abused by the English in suffering, if not turning, their cattle over to a certain island to destroy their corn.

4. But the fourth, and main, provocation was the granting or patenting of their lands to the English; at which they were greatly enraged; threatening the surveyor, to knock him on the head, if he came to lay out any lands there.

5. To these may be added the common abuses in trading; viz. drunkenness, meaning, etc. which such as trade much with Indians are seldom innocent of.”

Doubtless, these Indian allegations may be answered with many English vindications. But I shall at present intermeddle no further in order to offer another account, which also I have in my hands, written by a gentleman.

It runs in such terms as these:

“Many were the outrages and insultings of the Indians upon the English while Sir E. A. was governor. At North Yarmouth, and other places at the eastward, the Indians killed sundry cattle, came into houses, and threatened to knock the people on the head; and at several times gave out reports that they would make a war upon the English, and that they were animated to do so by the French. The Indians, behaving themselves so insultingly, gave just occasion of great suspicion. In order for the finding out the truth, and to endeavor the preventing of a war, Capt. Blackman, a Justice of Peace, with some of the neighborhood of Saco River, seized several Indians that had been bloody murderous rogues in the first Indian War; being the chief ringleaders and most capable to do mischief. The said Capt. Blackman seized to the number of between sixteen and twenty, in order for their examination, and to bring in the rest to a treaty. The said Blackman soon sent the said Indians, with a good guard, to Falmouth, in Casco Bay, there to be secured until orders could come from Boston concerning them. And in the meantime, the said Indians, were well provided with provisions and suitable necessaries. The rest of the Indians robbed the English, and took some English prisoners: whereupon post was sent to Boston. Sir Edmond Andross being at New York, the gentlemen of Boston sent to Falmouth some soldiers for the defense of the country, and also the worshipful Mr. Stoughton, with others, to treat with the Indians in order for the settling of a peace and getting in of our English captives. As soon as the said gentlemen arrived at the East-ward, they sent away one of the Indian prisoners to the rest of the Indians, to summon them to bring in the English they had taken; also, that their sachems should come in to treat with the English in order that a just satisfaction should be made on both sides. The gentlemen waited the return of the Indian messenger; and when he returned, he brought answer that they would meet our English at a place called Macquoit, and there they would bring in the English captives and treat with the English. And although the place appointed by the Indians for the meeting was some leagues distant from Falmouth, yet our English gentlemen did condescend to it in hope of getting in our captives and putting a stop to further trouble. They dispatched away to the place and carried the Indian prisoners with them, and staid at the place appointed, expecting the coming of the Indians that had promised a meeting. But they like false perfidious rogues did not appear. Without doubt they had been counselled what to do by the French and their abettors; as the Indians did declare afterwards; and that they were near the place, and saw our English, that were to treat with them, but would not show themselves, but did endeavor to take an opportunity to destroy our English that were to treat them. Such was their treachery! Our gentlemen stayed days to wait their coming; but seeing they did not appear at the place appointed, they returned to Falmouth and brought the Indian prisoners, expecting that the other Indians would have sent down some reason why they did not appear at the place appointed and to make some excuse for themselves. But instead of any compliance, they fell upon North Yarmouth and there killed several of our English. Whereupon the eastern parts were ordered to get into garrisons and to be upon their guard until further orders from Sir Edmond Andros; and that the Indian prisoners should be sent to Boston; which was done with great care, and not one of them hurt and care taken daily for provision. But Sir E. A. returning from New York, set them all at liberty; not so much as taking care to redeem those of our English for them that were in their hands. I had kept one at Falmouth, a prisoner to be a guide into the woods for our English, to find out the haunts of our heathen enemies. But Sir E. A. sent an express to me that upon my utmost peril I should set the said Indian at liberty, and take care that all the arms that were taken from him, and all the rest of those Capt. Blackman had seized, should be delivered up to them without any orders to receive the like of ours from them.”

It will be readily acknowledged that here was enough done to render the Indians inexcusable for not coming in upon the proclamation, which Sir Edmond Andros, then Governor of New England, immediately emitted thereupon, requiring them to surrender the murderers now among them. A Spaniard that was a soldier would say that if we have a good cause, the smell of gunpowder in the field is as sweet as the incense at the altar. Let the Reader judge after these things what scent there was in the gunpowder spent for nine or ten years together in our war with the Indian savages.

Now, that while we are upon this head, we may at once dispatch it, I will unto these two Accounts add certain passages of one more; which was published in September 1689.

“Such were the obscure measures taken at that time of day, that the rise of this war, hath been as dark as that of the River Nilus; only the generality of thinking people through the country can remember when, and why, everyone did foretell a war. If any wild English (for there are such as well as of another nation) did then begin to provoke and affront the Indians, yet those Indians had a fairer way to come by right than that of bloodshed; nothing worthy of, or calling for, any such revenge was done unto them. The most injured of them all (if there were any such) were afterwards dismissed by the English with favors that were then admirable even to ourselves; and these too, instead of surrendering the persons, did increase the numbers of the murderers. But upon the revolution of the government [April 1689] the state of the war became wholly new: and we are more arrived unto righteousness as the light, and justice as the noon day. A great sachem of the east, we then immediately applied ourselves unto, and with no small expenses to ourselves, we engaged him to employ his interest for a good understanding between us and the party of Indians then in hostility against us. This was likely the only way of coming at those wandering savages: But that very sachem, now treacherously, of an ambassador became a traitor, and annexed himself, with his people, to the heart of our enemies, which have since been ravaging, pillaging, and murdering at a rate which we ought to count intolerable. The Penacook Indians, of whom we were jealous, we likewise treated with; and while we were by our kindnesses and courtesies endeavoring to render them utterly inexcusable if ever they sought our harm, even then did these also, by some evil instigation (the Devils, no doubt!) quickly surprise a plantation, where they had been civilly treated a day or two before, and commit at once more plunder and murder than can be heard with any patience.”

Reader, having so placed these three accounts as to defend my teeth, I think I may safely proceed with our story. But because Tacitus teaches us to distinguish between the mere occasions and the real causes of a war, it may be some will go a little higher up in their enquiries. They will enquire, whether nobody seized a parcel of wines that were landed at a French plantation to the Eastward? Whether an order were not obtained from the King of England, at the instance of the French Ambassador, to restore these wines? Whether upon the vexation of this order, we none of us sent new line for the bounds of the province? Whether we did not contrive our new line, so as to take in the country of Monsieur St. Casteen? Whether Monsieur St. Casteen, flying from our encroachments, we did not seize upon his arms, and goods, and bring them away to Pemmaquid? And, who were the we which did these things? And whether, the Indians, who were extremely under the influence of St. Casteen, that had married a Sagamore’s daughter among them, did not from this very moment begin to be obstreperous? And, whether all the sober English in the country did not from this very moment foretell a war? But for any answer to all these enquiries, I will be myself a Tacitus.

ARTICLE. II. The First Acts of Hostility, between the Indians, and the English.

When one Capt. Sergeant had seized some of the principal Indians about Saco, by order of Justice Blackman, presently the Indians fell to seizing as many of the English as they could catch. Capt. Rowden, with many more in one place, and Capt. Gendal, with sundry more in another place, particularly fell into the hands of these desperate man-catchers. Rowden, with many of his folks, never got out of their cruel hands: but Gendal with his, got a release one can scarce tell how, upon the return of those which had been detained in Boston. Hitherto there was no spilling of blood! But some time in September following, this Capt. Gendal went up with soldiers and others to a place above Casco called North Yarmouth; having orders to build stockades on both sides the river for defense of the place in case of any sudden invasion. While they were at work, an English captive came to them with information that seventy or eighty of the enemy were just coming upon them: and he advised them to yield quietly that they might save their lives. The soldiers that went thither from the southward, being terrified at this report, ran with an hasty terror to get over the river; but with more hast than good speed, for they ran directly into the hands of the Indians. The Indians dragging along these their prisoners with them, came up towards the Casconians; who, having but a very little time to consult, yet in this time resolved; First, that they would not be seized by the savages; Next, that they would free their friends out of the hands of the savages, if it were possible; Thirdly, that if it were possible, they would use all other force upon the savages, without coming to downright fight. Accordingly, they laid hold on their neighbors whom the savages had seized, and this with so much dexterity that they cleared them all except one or two; whereof the whole number was about a dozen. But in the scuffle, one sturdy and surly Indian held his prey so fast that one Benedict Pulcifer gave the mastiff a blow with the edge of his broad ax upon the shoulder, upon which they fell to it with a vengeance, and fired their guns on both sides till some on both sides were slain. These were, as one may call them, the scower-pit of a long war to follow. At last, the English victoriously chased away the savages and returned safely unto the other side of the river. And thus was the vein of New England first opened, that afterwards bled for ten years together! The skirmish being over, Capt. Gendal, in the evening, passed over the river in a canoe, with none but a servant; but landing where the enemy lay hid in the bushes, they were both slain immediately. And the same evening, one Ryal, with another man, fell unawares into the hands of the enemy; Ryal was afterwards ransomed by Monsieur St. Casteen, but the other man was barbarously butchered. Soon after this the enemy went eastward, unto a place called Merry Meeting (from the concourse of diverse rivers there), where several English had a sad meeting with them; for they were killed, several of them even in cold blood, after the Indians had seized upon their houses and their persons. And about this time, the town called Sheepcote was entered by these rapacious wolves, who burnt all the houses of the town, save two or three. The people saved themselves by getting into the fort, all but one man, who going out of the fort for to treat with them, was treacherously assassinated. Thus, the place, which was counted The Garden of the East, was infested by serpents; and a sword expelled the poor inhabitants. Little more spoil was done by the savages before winter, except only that at a place called Kennebunk, near Winter Harbor, they cut off two families, to wit, Barrows and Bussies; but winter coming on, the serpents retired into their holes. When summer comes, Reader, look for tornadoes enough to over-set a greater vessel than little New-England.


Martha Carrier was Indicted for the bewitching certain Persons, according to the Form usual in such Cases, pleading Not Guilty, to her Indictment; there were first brought in a considerable number of the bewitched Persons; who not only made the Court sensible of an horrid Witchcraft committed upon them, but also deposed, That it was Martha Carrier, or her Shape, that grievously tormented them, by Biting, Pricking, Pinching and Choaking of them. It was further deposed, That while this Carrier was on her Examination, before the Magistrates, the Poor People were so tortured that every one expected their Death upon the very spot, but that upon the[Pg 155] binding of Carrier they were eased. Moreover the Look of Carrier then laid the Afflicted People for dead; and her Touch, if her Eye at the same time were off them, raised them again: Which Things were also now seen upon her Tryal. And it was testified, That upon the mention of some having their Necks twisted almost round, by the Shape of this Carrier, she replyed, Its no matter though their Necks had been twisted quite off.

II. Before the Trial of this Prisoner, several of her own Children had frankly and fully confessed, not only that they were Witches themselves, but that this their Mother had made them so. This Confession they made with great Shews of Repentance, and with much Demonstration of Truth. They related Place, Time, Occasion; they gave an account of Journeys, Meetings and Mischiefs by them performed, and were very credible in what they said. Nevertheless, this Evidence was not produced against the Prisoner at the Bar, inasmuch as there was other Evidence enough to proceed upon.

III. Benjamin Abbot gave his Testimony, That last March was a twelvemonth, this Carrier was very angry with him, upon laying out some Land, near her Husband’s: Her Expressions in this Anger, were, That she would stick as close to Abbot as the Bark stuck to the Tree; and that he should repent of it afore seven Years came to an End, so as Doctor Prescot should never cure him. These Words were heard by others besides Abbot himself; who also heard her say, She would hold his Nose as close to the Grindstone as ever it was held since his Name was Abbot. Presently after this, he was taken with a Swelling in his[Pg 156] Foot, and then with a Pain in his Side, and exceedingly tormented. It bred into a Sore, which was launced by Doctor Prescot, and several Gallons of Corruption ran out of it. For six Weeks it continued very bad, and then another Sore bred in the Groin, which was also lanced by Doctor Prescot. Another Sore then bred in his Groin, which was likewise cut, and put him to very great Misery: He was brought unto Death’s Door, and so remained until Carrier was taken, and carried away by the Constable, from which very Day he began to mend, and so grew better every Day, and is well ever since.

Sarah Abbot also, his Wife, testified, That her Husband was not only all this while Afflicted in his Body, but also that strange extraordinary and unaccountable Calamities befel his Cattel; their Death being such as they could guess at no Natural Reason for.

IV. Allin Toothaker testify’d, That Richard, the son of Martha Carrier, having some difference with him, pull’d him down by the Hair of the Head. When he Rose again, he was going to strike at Richard Carrier; but fell down flat on his Back to the ground, and had not power to stir hand or foot, until he told Carrier he yielded; and then he saw the shape of Martha Carrier, go off his breast.

This Toothaker, had Received a wound in the Wars; and he now testify’d, that Martha Carrier told him, He should never be Cured. Just afore the Apprehending of Carrier, he could thrust a knitting Needle into his wound, four inches deep; but presently after her being siezed, he was throughly healed.

He further testify’d, that when Carrier and he some[Pg 157]times were at variance, she would clap her hands at him, and say, He should get nothing by it; whereupon he several times lost his Cattle, by strange Deaths, whereof no natural causes could be given.

V. John Rogger also testifyed, That upon the threatning words of this malicious Carrier, his Cattle would be strangely bewitched; as was more particularly then described.

VI. Samuel Preston testify’d, that about two years ago, having some difference with Martha Carrier, he lost a Cow in a strange Preternatural unusual manner; and about a month after this, the said Carrier, having again some difference with him, she told him; He had lately lost a Cow, and it should not be long before he lost another; which accordingly came to pass; for he had a thriving and well-kept Cow, which without any known cause quickly fell down and dy’d.

VII. Phebe Chandler testify’d, that about a Fortnight before the apprehension of Martha Carrier, on a Lords-day, while the Psalm was singing in the Church, this Carrier then took her by the shoulder and shaking her, asked her, where she lived: she made her no Answer, although as Carrier, who lived next door to her Fathers House, could not in reason but know who she was. Quickly after this, as she was at several times crossing the Fields, she heard a voice, that she took to be Martha Carriers, and it seem’d as if it was over her head. The voice told her, she should within two or three days be poisoned. Accordingly, within such a little time, one half of her right hand, became greatly swollen, and very painful; as also part of her Face; whereof she can give no account how[Pg 158] it came. It continued very bad for some dayes; and several times since, she has had a great pain in her breast; and been so siezed on her leggs, that she has hardly been able to go. She added, that lately, going well to the House of God, Richard, the son of Martha Carrier, look’d very earnestly upon her, and immediately her hand, which had formerly been poisoned, as is abovesaid, began to pain her greatly, and she had a strange Burning at her stomach; but was then struck deaf, so that she could not hear any of the prayer, or singing, till the two or three last words of the Psalm.

VIII. One Foster, who confessed her own share in the Witchcraft for which the Prisoner stood indicted, affirm’d, that she had seen the prisoner at some of their Witch-meetings, and that it was this Carrier, who perswaded her to be a Witch. She confessed, that the Devil carry’d them on a pole, to a Witch-meeting; but the pole broke, and she hanging about Carriers neck, they both fell down, and she then received an hurt by the Fall, whereof she was not at this very time recovered.

IX. One Lacy, who likewise confessed her share in this Witchcraft, now testify’d, that she and the prisoner were once Bodily present at a Witch-meeting in Salem Village; and that she knew the prisoner to be a Witch, and to have been at a Diabolical sacrament, and that the prisoner was the undoing of her, and her Children, by enticing them into the snare of the Devil.

X. Another Lacy, who also confessed her share in this Witchcraft, now testify’d, that the prisoner was at the Witch-meeting, in Salem Village, where they had Bread and Wine Administred unto them.[Pg 159]

XI. In the time of this prisoners Trial, one Susanna Sheldon, in open Court had her hands Unaccountably ty’d together with a Wheel-band, so fast that without cutting, it could not be loosed: It was done by a Spectre; and the Sufferer affirm’d, it was the Prisoners.

Memorandum. This Rampant Hag, Martha Carrier, was the person, of whom the Confessions of the Witches, and of her own Children among the rest, agreed, That the Devil had promised her, she should be Queen of Heb.

  1. A partial quote from Virgil’s Aeneid – “A grief too great to be told [o Queen] you bid me renew.”
  2. Translation – “The historian did not say a lie, and if there are lies in this I will have the company of those who admire the authors of history and eloquence.”
  3. Translation – “When first studying history, the primary consideration seems to be the unusually grave case that first caused the study.”


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Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature by Sonya Parrish is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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