Early American Witches: Elizabeth Hart
By Cathy Hartt, RN, CNM, MS
" . . . I have often seen the apperishtion of goody heart among the witches butt I did
not know who she was; nor she did me no hurt tell the 13th of May 1692; that she
came to my father house parsonally and tould me who she was and asked me if she
had ever hurt me; but ever sence that day she has personally hurt me most
grievously severall times and urgeth me grevously to writ in her book," reads the
testimony of Ann Putnam against Elizabeth Hart.  (The spelling is both Hart and
Heart in the legal documents of Salem - the spelling was changed to Hartt during the
Revolutionary War era.)

The above paragraph could certainly imply that the "power of suggestion" was
present among the afflicted girls of Salem Village.  Also, there seems to be such a
level of paranoia among the town folk that Elizabeth actually sought out Ann Putnam
(one of the afflicted girls) to ask Ann if she had seen Elizabeth's apparition.  To fully
understand the situation, let's put this in context with the other cases Empower! has
reviewed so far in this series.   

It was late January - in the dead of a very cold winter - when the youngest of
Reverend Parris' daughters had the first "seizure."  This was the first official
symptom of the impending witch crisis.  By late February, failing to find medical
cause for several girls who began having similar seizures, the "afflicted" girls were
pressured to name the first three witches.  All of these women were known as
outcasts in the community.  By March, the witch hunts were growing and the girls
were still frequently naming women whose behavior or economic circumstances
were somehow disturbing to the social order and conventions of the time.  

Rebecca Nurse, sometimes portrayed as a midwife and known to be a faithful and
upstanding church member, was named on March 19th - this stunned the
community as she was the first upstanding church member to be named.  Sarah
Cloyce, Rebecca's sister, was accused on April 3rd, after walking out on a church
service where Reverend Parris likened her accused sister to Judas during the
sermon.  Along with many other arrests at about this same time, the third sister
(Mary Easty) was accused on April 22nd.  So, by the time Elizabeth Hart was
arrested, many of the women of the community - including upstanding Puritans -
were already being examined by the judges for charges of witchcraft.

Elizabeth was not as famous as the three sisters we examined in previous issues,
though their families would intermarry a few generations later.  Elizabeth's plight was
that of an old woman (termed "ancient" in a petition submitted to the court by her
son, Thomas Hart) caught-up in what must have been a horrifying, fear-driven
experience.  It is understandable that she would want to know if the girls had seen
her apparition - she probably wanted to know if she would be named.  Unfortunately,
the very act of making herself visible to the girls is probably what turned her into a
victim of the witch hunts (when what she was really seeking was, most likely, peace
of mind.)  We also know that Elizabeth's family were probably intermarried with the
Proctor family - so it is quite likely that Elizabeth had some relationship with John
and Elizabeth Proctor (a husband/wife), who were both named as witches in August
of 1692.  

Social norms, gender roles and Puritan values about female identity were horribly
disrupted by the witchcraft trials.  In time, this brought about an attempt by some
individuals to reconstruct the former order by convincing the court that some of the
women (accused witches) were model Puritan citizens.  That was true in the case of
Elizabeth Hart, when her son (Thomas) petitioned on her behalf.  He was able to
persuade the court that his mother did not engage in evil or sinful practice.  Further,
he pointed out that he would not have supported "any creature he knew engaged in
the Druggery of Satan."

Elizabeth's husband, Isaac, arrived in America from Norfolk, England only 16 years
after the Mayflower.  He married Elizabeth Hutchins (another new arrival from
England) in 1650.  Shortly after, he and Elizabeth acquired farm land in the
community of Lynfield, MA.  Isaac went on to serve in King Phillip's war.  After her
accusation for witchcraft, Elizabeth was sent to jail in Boston, where she stayed until
December of 1692.  She was about 70 years old when she was sent to jail for 7
months - because her apparition was seen (by the afflicted girls) with that of a
goody Coale toying "with a Venus and an Egg."

It was not only Thomas' words that saved his mother's life.  By October (and after 20
executions), the Governor received a letter that caused him to put an end to the
trials.  He also ordered that spectral evidence could not be allowed in the court.  
The remaining trials were overseen by a Colonial Supreme Court and no further
guilty verdicts were reached.  

Editor's Note: Elizabeth Hart is my great X 6 grandmother, as is Mary Easty (one of
the three sisters mentioned above.)  In our next issue(s), we will look at the political
precursors to the Salem witch crisis and how these factors played out in who was
accused of witchcraft.  We will also be comparing this to modern day environments
that may be at-risk for witch hunt behavior.    
Elizabeth Hart: A Hart
Among the Witches
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