Everything about Rachel Clinton’s life went wrong, and in her old age she became a beggar and a ward of the town of Ipswich, She was an easy target for the witchcraft hysteria that spread from Salem throughout Essex County. On May 28, 1692, Rachel Clinton was arrested, and was kept in the Ipswich or Salem jail, shackled with iron fetters.
Rachel Clinton was born in 1629 in Sudbury, Suffolk, England to Richard and Martha Haffield. They moved to Ipswich, but in 1639 her father died and Rachel continued living with her widowed mother “in a house by the mill dam” in Ipswich.
In 1665, at the age of 36, she married a man 14 years her junior named Lawrence Clinton. Clinton was a servant to Robert Cross, and the two men set up a scam. Rachel agreed to marry Clinton, but in order to set him free, she turned over her inheritance to Robert Cross. Soon after she wrote of being “destitute of money and friends.”
In 1667, Lawrence Clinton was found guilty of fornication with Mary Greely, and was charged with financial responsibility of the child. At about the same time, Rachel filed charges against John Clarke that he had “lain with her.” She retracted the charge, but the court nonetheless sentenced Rachel to be whipped.
From 1671 to 1676, Rachel and Lawrence were brought into court several times for living separately. The court ordered him to provide her 2 shillings a week, to lodge with her at least once a week, and ordered Rachel to do her “duties” toward him.
In 1677 Lawrence Clinton was charged with fornication with Mary Wooden, and they were both sentenced to be whipped. Clinton left town with Mary Wooden and their two children from that relationship. Rachel Clinton filed for divorce, but soon after, she was imprisoned for adultery with John Ford “on suspicion of uncleanliness and other evil practices.”
By 1680, Rachel had become a beggar and a ward of the town, living in a hovel on Hog Island. On May 28, 1692 she was arrested, and was kept in the Ipswich or Salem jail, shackled with iron fetters. Depositions were made against Rachel Clinton by several Ipswich residents:
- Mary Fuller testified that “Rachel Clinton came to our house and charged me with raising of lies of her.” and that at the same moment, a neighbor’s daughter had “fallen down dead” when Rachel passed by on the way to her home. When it turned out that the neighbor’s daughter was indeed alive, she changed her story, saying, ‘a woman with a white cap passed by and struck me on the forehead.'”
- Thomas Boreman claimed that Rachel had an encounter with some women at the Meeting House, and they had accused her of “hunching them with her elbow.” He further claimed that while riding home that night, he came across a large turtle, “that moved as fast as I rode.” The turtle vanished when he “thought of Rachel Clinton.”
- William Baker claimed that ten years previously, a quantity of beer had mysteriously disappeared from the home of “my master Rust.” “Rachel Clinton came there, and met with some small affront.” His wife “went down to see whether the beer worked or not,” and found the barrel empty.”
- Thomas Knowlton claimed that Rachel Clinton had gone to the home of Mr. Rogers, saying that she “must have some meat and milk.” Turned down by the maid, Rachel called the maid a”whoremasterly rogue.”
- Knowlton also testified that “three months ago my daughter Mary did wake and cry out in a dreadful manner that she was pricked in the side with pins. Being asked who pricked her, she could not tell. And asked whether she gave Rachel any pins, she said about seven.”
The Rev. Hubbard of First Church and Rev. John Wise of Chebacco Parish made formal appeals for the accused, and Major Appleton stepped down from the court, apparently in opposition to the proceedings. On January 3, 1693, the “Court of Assizes and General Goal Deliver” was convened in Salem to try 56 accused witches. Three were found guilty and sentenced to death; they were the last of twenty people who suffered that fate.
Rachel Clinton was set free January 3, 1693. She died two years later, alone and impoverished.
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