In 1878, the last charge of witchcraft in this country was brought to trial in Salem. Lucretia Brown and her sister never married and lived with their mother in this house. Lucretia had been an invalid since she injured her spine in a childhood accident, but when she was in her 50’s she became a disciple of Mary Baker Eddy and was convinced that Christian Science had healed her. She even began calling on neighbors at the other end of the Green.
When poor Lucretia suffered a “relapse” in 1875, Mrs. Eddy convinced her that Daniel Spofford of Newburyport, whom Mrs. Eddy had recently excommunicated, was exercising mesmeric powers upon her. Hearing of her illness and concerned about the charges being made against him, Mr. Spofford decided made a surprise call on his old friend, whereupon Miss Brown became agitated, believing he had come to do her further harm.
Mrs. Eddy became obsessed that Spofford was an enemy of her church and tried unsuccessfully to publish an attack against him in papers throughout the county. She directed twelve of her students to spend two hours each every day around the clock in concentrated thought against Mr. Spofford to prevent him from doing further harm to her patients.
She had her lawyer in Lynn draw up a bill of complaint in Lucretia Brown’s name, setting forth the injuries that Spofford had supposedly inflicted and petitioning the court to restrain him from exercising his powers against her.
The lawsuit charged that “the defendant practices the art of mesmerism and by his said art and the power of his mind influences and controls the minds and bodies of other persons for the purpose of injuring the persons and property and social relations of others“.
Mrs Eddy’s attorney refused to argue the case in court, so she ordered her student Edward Arens to do so and twenty of her followers to stand as witnesses. On June 3, 1875 they assembled at the railway station in Lynn for the train to Salem. The Boston Globe reported that one of the appointed witnesses approached Mrs. Eddy to complain that he knew nothing whatever about the case and would not know what to say, whereupon she assured him that he would be told what to say.
At the courthouse in Salem, nearly two centuries after the witchcraft hysteria, the last charge of witchcraft in this country was brought to trial. Mr. Spofford did not bother to appear. When Mr. Arens rose before Judge Horace Gray and presented the bill of complaint, Mr. Spofford’s attorney Mr. Noyes objected. Judge Gray declared that it was not within the power of the Court to control Mr. Spofford’s mind. Mrs Eddy was not given any opportunity to argue that disease could be the work of mesmeric powers, and the case was dismissed due to “defects in the writ.”
Sources and further reading:
- McClure’s Magazine Vol. 29: Mary Baker Eddy
- The History of Christian Science (McClure’s Magazine)
- Wikipedia: Salem witchcraft trial (1878)
- The truth about Christian science; the founder and the faith by Snowden, James Henry
- The life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the history of Christian science by Milmine, Georgine
- Ipswich Witchcraft Case newspaper article
- America’s Last Witchcraft Trial | Explorations in American History
- Salem witchcraft trial of 1878 (Ipswich Witchcraft Trial), Wikipedia
- Affidavit of Henry F. Dunnels of Ipswich, April 12, 1907: Henry F. Dunnels was the first Ipswich man to serve in the Civil War and was permanently disabled. Late in life he became a follower of Mary Baker Eddy and was called on to testify in her lawsuits against Daniel Spofford and Calvin Frye.