Plaque commemorating Elizabeth Morse in Newburyport
Plaque commemorating Elizabeth Morse in Newburyport

Elizabeth Morse of Newbury was accused and found guilty of being a witch. She was initially sentenced to be hanged, but the execution was never carried out and, after spending a year in the Boston jail, Elizabeth Morse was sent home to live with her husband on the condition that she was forbidden to travel more than 16 rods from her property unless she was accompanied by a pastor or a deacon. The Morse Society placed a bronze plaque on a building on Market Square in Newburyport where it is believed Morse’s house once stood.

The following story is from, “A Book of New England Legends and Folklore.”

In the year 1679, there happened in that part of Newbury, now known as Newburyport, and to one Goodman Morse of that town, a series of petty annoyances that were forthwith set down to the account of the arch-fiend himself, since, as everybody said, no one else but the devil himself could have done such things. This Goodman Morse was an industrious cobbler, about sixty-five years old, with whom lived his wife and grandson, a lad whose roguish disposition.

Caleb Powell, Morse’s neighbor, had a shrewd suspicion that the grandson was the real culprit. But instead of declaring his suspicions in an open way, he persuaded Morse that he could exorcise the evil spirit by his command of secret power, provided he could have the boy put under his hand. In truth, the strange molestations suddenly ceased with the lad’s departure, whereupon Powell was immediately suspected of dealing in the Black Art, was arrested.

In court, Goodman Morse testified,

“Last Thursday night my wife & I being in bed, we heard a great noise against the roof with sticks and stones throwing against the house with great violence, whereupon I myself arose, and my wife, and saw not anybody, but were forced to return into the house again, the sticks and stones being thrown so violently against us. We locked the door again fast and about midnight we heard a great noise of a hog in the house, and I arose and found a door being shut. I opened the door again and the hog runneth violently out.”

And in conclusion the poor, silly Morse stated,

“A mate of a ship came often to me and said he much grieved for me, and said the boy was the case of all my trouble, and my wife was much roughed, and was no witch; and if I would let him have the boy but one day he would warrant me no more trouble. I being persuaded to it, he came the next day at the break of day and the boy was with him until night, and I not any trouble since.”

It thus fell out that well-meaning Caleb Powell, instead of being thanked for his pains, was accused of being a wizard, hence his arrest and trial. At the March term of the court at Ipswich, Powell’s case came up and additional testimony was brought out. Sarah Hale and Joseph Mirick testified that Joseph Moores hath often said in their hearing that if there were any wizards, he was sure Caleb Powell was one. This Moores was boatswain of the ship of which Caleb Powell was mate.

The court decided its verdict:

“Upon hearing the complaint brought to this court against Caleb Powell for suspicion of working by the devill to the molesting of the family of William Morse of Newbury, this court cannot find any evident ground of proceeding farther against the said Powell, yet we determine that he hath given such ground of suspicion of his so dealing, that we cannot so acquit him but that he justly deserves to beare his owne shame and the costs of prosecution of the complaint.”

Since Powell had escaped with his life, it was necessary to find another victim. This time, Morse’s wife Elizabeth was hit upon as the guilty one. Therefore, on the 20th of May, 1680, at a Court of Assistants held in Boston, she was indicted by the grand jury for “not having the fear of God before her eyes, being instigated by the devil, and having familiarity with the devil contrary to the peace of our sovereign lord the king, his crown & dignity, the laws of God, and of this jurisdiction.” The result was a verdict of guilty, and Goody Morse was condemned to death by the governor on the 27th of May, in the following words, ”

” Elisabeth Morse, you are to goe from hence to the place from whence you came and thence to the place of execution and there to be hanged by the neck till you be dead, and the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

The court was adjourned, from day to day, until June 1, when the governor and magistrates voted to reprieve Goody Morse to the October term.The next year the case was brought before the Great and General Court, by two petitions from the husband of the accused, in which he attempted to free his wife from the deadly accusations made against her. Mr. Coffin, the historian of Newbury, believes that the life of Goody Morse was saved by the firmness of Governor Bradstreet,and the town of Newbury was thus prevented from offering the first victim, in Essex County, to that lamentable spirit of delusion, which, twelve years after, left so dark a stain.”

Sources:

14 thoughts on “The Witchcraft Trial of Elizabeth Morse of Newbury, 1680

  1. I am descended from Samuel Morse and Elizabeth Jasper through the Daniell family whose descendant Sarah Daniel married a Fruean , Charles Fruean Zimmermann left New England for the South Pacific.I search in my spare time .Warm affectionate greetings to all my kin.

  2. Thanks so much for posting this information. Elizabeth and William Morse are my 9th great grandparents. I knew there’s been ongoing research on Elizabeth so I did a search for updates and found this lovely page. Very nicely done.

  3. I am descended from Samuel MORSE b:1640 (m. Elizabeth WOOD), and his father Joseph MORSE bapt:1613 (m: Hannah Phillips), and his father Samuel MORSE bapt:1576 (m: Elizabeth JASPER).

    I have seen that the husband of this Elizabeth MORSE (accused witch) was married to William MORSE. How does William MORSE fit into this pedigree?

      1. I don’t know if or why my message isn’t coming through. But I will try this: William Morse 1614-1683 from Marlborough,Wiltshire, England was my 11th great uncle. Anthony Morse 1606-1686 was my 10th great grandfather.

  4. according to my ancestry tree Elizabeth Morse was my 6th great grandmother.
    Is there anything is you can share with me regarding her and other family?

    Thank you so much,
    Shannon

  5. The court documents related to Elizabeth’s trial were scrutinized several years ago, and it is now apparent that the accusation of Elizabeth was grounded in a community disagreement over the administration of church government. There is an article about the researcher’s findings on the home page of The Morse Society’s website, http://www.morsesociety.org

    1. Also in the case of Elizabeth Howe of Ipswich, who was hung as a witch, I’ve read that their neighbors, the Perley family fought for years to keep the Howes out of the church, before resorting to charges of witchcraft.

  6. Marion, your Joseph Morse (b. 10/28/1673) was the grandson of Anthony Morse. Anthony was the brother of William Morse, Elizabeth’s husband. Anthony and William emigrated together from England to Newbury in 1635.
    Marcia Morse Mullins, President
    The Morse Society

    1. My goodness Marcia Morse Mullins, thank you so very much! I will copy this and save it for my research (which happens to be currently limited.) It was so kind of you to respond to me!
      It occurs to me that we are very distant relatives on my mother’s side of the family! Her grandfather was an Allen.

    2. Thank you so very much for responding, Marcia! I was excited to see this. It occurs to me that we are distant relatives, and that is exciting, also. I printed this information and intend to use it, trying to make sure that I have names, places, people, correct. As you know, it can be challenging at times. My computer skills are not all that I wish they were, but I keep trying.

      I am just delighted that you sent this, and I thank you immensely! Marion Millard ☺

      Date: Tue, 25 Aug 2015 15:30:36 +0000
      To: marionmillard@hotmail.com

  7. We have a direct ancestor from Essex, MA named Joseph Morse 10/28/1673 Perhaps this is a relative of the lady tried for witchcraft, Elizabeth Morse?

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