No, guys, THIS is a witch hunt!

Illustration of a Salem witch trial.

Illustration of a Salem witch trial.

Warning: This is another family tree post! Although it’s about my wife’s tree, not mine…

Yesterday, our self-absorbed president Tweeted:

Back here in South Carolina, Rep. Rick Quinn said:

Indicted Republican lawmaker Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, vowed Tuesday to fight charges against him, deemed the allegations “very weak” and said special prosecutor David Pascoe, a Democrat, is on “a partisan witch hunt.”…

No, guys. Neither of these is a witch hunt. I’ll tell you about a witch hunt.

It involves my wife’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Elspeth Craich.  She was born in Scotland in 1631, and died there sometime after 1656.

We know she lived at least that long, because in that year, when she was 25, she was detained as “a confessing witch.” But the Culross Council failed to bring her to trial, and the charges were consequently dismissed. I’m still not sure why. I doubt that she put a spell on them or anything.

This is on my mind because this very week, I found more about her case from this site:

“23 June 1656.

“In presence of the said bailleis and counsell, compeared personallie Master Robert Edmonstoun, minister at Culrois, and declared the last weik befor the last wek, he being in Edinburgh anent the adhering to the call of Master Matthew Fleyming to the work of the ministrie of this congregatione, and having maid diligent tryall at the clerk of the criminail court and others what course might be taken with Elspethe Craiche, presentlie lying within the tolbuthe of Culrois as ane witche voluntarlie confesst be herself, he declared that except murder or malison could be provin against such persons, thair was no putting of thame to deathe; yet the said Maister Robert being most desyrous that one of the foresaid number of the counsell sould goe over to Edinburgh, and tak over the said Elspethe her declaration and confessions, and to cause pen ane petitione in relatione therof, and the said mater being taken to consideratione, and being ryplie advysit therwith, the saids bailleis and counsell be pluralitie of voices have electit and chosen William Drys-daill to goe over to Edinburgh against Twysday come eight dayes, being the first day of July, being ane criminall court day, to present the supplication befor the judges there for granting of ane commission to put the said witche to the knowledge of ane assyse, and to report his diligence theranent.”

“30 June 1656.

“The qlk day, in presence of the said bailleis and counsell, conforme to the commissione grantit to him the last counsell day anent the petitioning for ane commissione to put Elspethe Craiche, witche, to the knowledge of an assyse, maid report, that he being unsatisfied with the clerk of the criminall court his answer to him anent the procuring of the said commission, he therefter went to the right Honorable Generali George Monk; who having related to him the poore condition of this burghe, how that they war not abill to transport the said witche over to Edinburgh, and to be at the great expense that they behovit to be at in attending upone her there, the said Generali desyred the said William to draw up ane petitione, and present the samyne befor the counsell of estait upone Twysday next; who accordinglie drew up ane supplicatione at Alexr. Bruce his directione, and left the samyne with George Mitchell, to be written over be him; and becaus the said Wm. had brought over the said Elspethe her confessions, the samyne was appoyntit to be send over, to the effect bothe they and the supplication may be presentit befor the said counsell of estait against the morrow.”

It would appear that the application of the Culross minister and magistrates had been ineffectual to procure any assistance from the Council of State in Edinburgh towards either getting Elspeth Craich tried and condemned in Culross, or transporting her for that purpose to Edinburgh. Cromwell’s government was not favourable to religious persecution of any kind, whether as regards heresy or sorcery. The following entry is almost ludicrous, from the woe-begone demonstration made therein by the town council, who have no other resource left than to get rid of their expensive prisoner as speedily as possible. It is satisfactory to find that the poor woman had at least been tolerably well supplied with meat and drink, whatever other sufferings she may have undergone :—

“25 August 1656.

“The said day the saids bailleis and counsell, taking to consideratione the great trouble that hath been susteaned be the inhabitants of this burgh in watching of Eppie Craich, witch, within thaire tolbuthe this quarter of this year bygane, and the great expens that this burgh is at for the present in susteanyng and interteanyng her in bread and drink and vther necessaris, and finding it to be expedient to dismis hir furthe of the [tom away] upone her finding of cautione to present her to prissone whenever [torn away] sail be requyred, under the pane of 500 merkis: Thairfor, in presence [tom away] the said Elspethe Craiche . . . to be dismist . . . tolbuthe, and befor that tyme … to be presentit befor the kirk-sessione of Culrois.” [The latter part of this entry is in a sadly dilapidated state in the minute-book.]

Well, I’m glad to know that during her ordeal, she was at least “tolerably well supplied with meat and drink.” In fact, she seems to have been eating and drinking so much that the local authorities couldn’t afford to hold her any longer.

Did she beat the rap because of Cromwell's policies?

Did she beat the rap because of Cromwell’s policies?

But was it that, or did she get off because of the politics of the moment, as “Cromwell’s government was not favourable to religious persecution of any kind, whether as regards heresy or sorcery?” (Which surprises me a bit, what little I know of Cromwell.)

Doug would probably say it’s because of the expense, because he says it’s always about the money. And they certainly mention it a lot.

But her acquittal must remain a mystery, the latter part of the record being “in a sadly dilapidated state in the minute-book.”

It may have simply been that, according to Matthew Fleyming, “except murder or malison could be provin against such persons, thair was no putting of thame to deathe.” And if you can’t burn a witch, what’s the point, right?

Anyway, that is a witch hunt, although an unsuccessful one — even though she was “ane witche voluntarlie confesst be herself,” which you would think would have made the hunt a lot easier.

That’s all. My mind’s just been on “witch hunts” this week…

11 thoughts on “No, guys, THIS is a witch hunt!

  1. Karen Pearson

    Maybe this is what he-who-must-be-kow-towed-to is hoping; that he will be too expensive to be restrained and must be allowed to go and do whatever he wishes.

  2. Claus2

    Do every one of your ancestors have a written history? Were there any non-written about people in your tree?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      That would be most of them. But of course, the folks who weren’t written about are harder to track.

      What absolutely floors me is all the people in the past who did not pass on information about ancestors to their children. There are these dead ends on the tree that drive me nuts.

      For instance, one of my wife’s great-grandfathers came over from Ireland as a child — alone. We don’t know if his parents died en route or what — we don’t know anything about them.

      Similarly, one of my great-grandmothers never saw her father because he died in the Recent Unpleasantness before she was born. Thus we have HIS name, but know nothing about his parents or their parents.

      You’d THINK someone who was alive in that generation would have taken the trouble to find out while there were still people around who knew something, but they didn’t. So today, we have no idea…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, I was thinking about that.

      It occurs to me that the charges against Elspeth might have arisen from someone who claimed to have been turned into a newt, but “got better.”

      And yet, one has to wonder about the fact that she is said to have confessed. This being the 17th century, of course, there was a good chance she did so under duress. Still, it seems remarkable that she survived to bear her children, one of whom was my wife’s ancestor. That particular daughter, by the way, was born that very year, in 1656. So Elspeth was going through a lot for a new mother…

  3. Claus2

    Where was the media when Bill Clinton fired the FBI Director and the next day Vince Foster committed suicide and his files disappeared?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Right there, writing about it — which is how you know about it.

      Of course, you’ll be frustrated because the stories don’t say the Clintons killed Foster. You know why? Because they didn’t…

      1. Richard

        Do we know that for sure? There seems to be quite a few questions that have gone unanswered. I don’t know enough to talk about it, but for some this ranks up there with the Kennedy shooting regarding being a hush-hush topic.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          The Kennedy assassination “a hush-hush topic?”

          Has anything been hashed over more in the past 54 years? I don’t think so…

        2. bud

          LOL. Nothing in the history of the world, nothing, has been analyzed, investigated, re-enacted, written about and speculated about than the JFK assassination. No stone has been left unturned. All theories have been dissected in great detail concerning the events at Dealy Plaza on November 22, 1963. As technology has advanced the incident gets re-examined. And the conclusion remains the same. Oswald did it. Yet doubters remain. This just shows that people will believe what they want to believe. (Sort of like global warming deniers) Perhaps Bret Stephens can weigh in on THIS issue.

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