By Annette Hinkle
Hugh King, the East Hampton historian shares the story of accused witch Goody Elizabeth Garlick in advance of a talk he and wife Loretta Orion will give this Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Southampton Historical Museum. King and Orion will also offer a walking tour with the East Hampton Historical Society on November 15 visiting sites that played a role in the 17th century case.
In February 1657, East Hampton’s Elizabeth Howell, daughter of the town’s most prominent citizen Lion Gardiner, fell ill and died screaming she was killed by a witch. What did she report seeing during her illness that indicated witchcraft?
She saw a black thing at the foot of her bed and a pin came out of her mouth. She was delusional and a couple of days later, she died. Elizabeth Howell mentioned Goody Garlick’s name when her mother came over while she was ill. Her mother didn’t talk about the witchcraft. The Puritans were worried about going to heaven and you didn’t want that sort of thing in your family. After Elizabeth died there was an inquest and stories came out about Goody Garlick.
What do you think really killed her?
Elizabeth Howell had just had her baby. My wife Loretta was a nurse, and she feels she died of peripheral fever. Back then people died like flies in February.
Why do you think Goody Garlick was targeted?
She was a Huguenot and probably lived through the Siege of La Rochelle. She may have been an herbalist and dealt with healing, so when the herbs didn’t work, watch out. She was also rather obstreperous – she wasn’t that nice. The Garlicks jeered at Elizabeth Howell one time when she came to look for her husband on Gardiner’s Island where they lived before moving to East Hampton.
The witchcraft case was initially heard in East Hampton, but moved to Connecticut. Tell me about how that came about?
What makes the case so interesting is women were giving evidence in the East Hampton Town records. Women weren’t usually involved in that at all. In this case, the minister Thomas James and Lion Gardiner never said a word about it. Gardiner was there when his daughter was delusional, but didn’t testify, which gave rise to the mistaken believe that Gardiner defended Goody Garlick.
At the inquest in East Hampton, they said we can’t handle this and sent it to Connecticut. The town magistrate and Lion Gardiner went with Goody Garlick not to defend her, but to solidify East Hampton’s covenant with Connecticut.
So Gardiner was playing the political game by going to Connecticut.
Yes, exactly. At the trial Mary Gardiner testified what she observed with her daughter. Goody Davis had all the stories about Goody Garlick, but other women came and told these stories at the trial.
Governor John Winthrop Jr. was the judge and what makes the story different is not only was Goody Garlick sent back to East Hampton, but a letter found in 1678 by Winthrop said they were correct to suspect her, but couldn’t find the evidence they used at the time to convict. He told the citizens to let her go peaceably and had to post a bond for her good behavior.
Hmmm…so what sort of evidence did they not find?
Number one she didn’t confess. They didn’t use torture apparently, but you have to have the presence of the devil. They didn’t find the witch’s mark on her — some kind of abnormality on her body. What makes the story really interesting is when the Garlicks came back to East Hampton, they lived long and prospered.
Proving the adage that living well is the best revenge.
Did Goody Garlick take the stand in her own defense?
As far as we can tell, Goody Garlick never testified at the inquest. We’re assuming the person taking this all down got it right, but there’s no record of the testimony or trial — only the result of the trial.
Was this Long Island’s only witch trial?
It’s the only recorded one. There was another one in Oyster Bay, but we couldn’t find much on it.
This case was 35 years before the Salem Witch Trials. History shows that accused witches rarely escaped persecution. How did Goody Garlick do it?
John Winthrop Jr. was an alchemist and medical practitioner. He was not interested in witchcraft accusations, so there were many more before his time and more after he left.
Meaning Goody Garlick hit it at the right moment.
Yes, she did. In addition, her husband Joshua Garlick worked for Lion Gardiner and John Winthrop. Goody Garlick was lucky. She had a husband to defend her. Winthrop knew Garlick and Gardiner. A lot of accusations fell away when people started accusing prominent women. Once you know someone, it’s hard to think evil of them.
Methinks therein lies a cautionary tale which is still relevant today ….
Look what we do today to people from other cultures. Blame others for your misfortune — that’s what a lot of the witchcraft accusations were about.