Lucretia Brown Ipswich MA Mary Baker Eddy

Lucretia Brown and the last witchcraft trial in America, May 14, 1878

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.

Mary Baker Eddy

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.

Lucretia Brown house
Photo from McClure’s Magazine identifying the home of Lucretia Brown as the house at 7 South Village Green, known as the Col. John Baker house.
Ipswich Witchcraft Case newspaper article about Lucretia Brown

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:

Affidavit of Henry F. Dunnels of Ipswich, April 12, 1907

Henry Fry Dunnels was born in 1835, and at the age of 14 joined several Ipswich men who traveled to Salmon Falls, California during the Gold Rush. He was the first man from Ipswich to volunteer to serve in the Civil War, mustered into the Navy on April 22. Moses Henderson accompanied Mr. Dunnels to Boston but being under age was obliged to secure his father’s written consent He obtained it and was mustered in the next day. Dunnels was wounded at Deep Bottom, Virginia, which left him permanently disabled, and was discharged from the Navy on October 7, 1864. The Pension Bureau granted Dunnels a pension of $30 / month, beginning in June 1884, “for nervous prostration, the result of concussion of the brain and spine from explosion of a shell.”

Henry F. Dunnels is on the left in this 1849 photo from the Ipswich Chronicle

The 1896 Directory of the town of Ipswich lists Henry F. Dunnels as the Town Auditor and Taker of the Census. He died in Ipswich on October 12, 1917. Dunnels became a follower of Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy, and was called to testify when she sued Calvin Frye, her long time consultant and accountant, accusing him of misappropriating funds. Over a course of years she sued many of the followers who had fallen away, accusing them of various crimes and “mesmerizing” her students. The following affidavit is courtesy of Dunnels’ great-great grandaughter Jeanne Todd Perry.

Mary Baker Eddy vs Calvin Frye

Affidavit of Henry F. Dunnels of Ipswich, Mass. Given April 12, 1907 to John W. Kelley, Lawyer, Portsmouth NH, in the case of Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy v Calvin Frye

“My name is Henry M. Dunnels. My age is seventy-one. I live in Ipswich, Mass., was born and have always lived in Ipswich except that I am a mariner and have been away more or less on the sea prior to the war. I served in the Navy during the war four years and six months on the U. S. S. Minnesota and on the U. S. S. Agawam. After the war I lived at Ipswich all the time. My address is 55 Central street. I have been living there six or seven years. In 1877, 8, and 9 I lived on ‘East street.

Christian Science Sentinel article about Concord trial

“My wife’s name was Abbie R. Dunnels. She died, as I remember it, in 1877 or 8 of consumption. I knew Mary Baker G. eddy for a period of about eighteen months, that is, I knew her in the sense that I had business and Christian Scientist relations with her. I took a course of twelve lessons in metaphysical science from her husband in her house, that is to say, eleven of the lessons he gave me and the twelfth one she was present. I have a bill in Mr. Eddy’s handwriting dated April 28, 1878 for $300 receipted by him but I only paid $100. My wife died before I took these lessons. Prior to taking these lessons neither my wife nor myself were Christian Scientists, and she never was.

“I will now describe the first time I ever met her. I had been reading her book. I was suffering from a brain and spinal trouble which I got in the war. A shell exploded over my head once, and my head troubled me, and it does now some, but not very much. It is really a nervous trouble. I called at her house on Broad street, Lynn. There was a sign on the house which said, “Christian Scientist’s Home”. I was shown into a downstairs room – a reception room. Mrs. Eddy came in and I talked with her and she looked me over pretty sharp.

“It seems that George Prescott who is now living in Rowley, Mass. had already become acquainted with the Eddys; he knew me well and had noticed that I was reading her book, had noticed that I was underlining certain passages in it, and had told them that I would probably make a good student, so that Mrs. Eddy knew who I was as soon as I told her my name.

“After awhile she invited me upstairs and introduced me to Mr. Eddy. They said they were going to have a class pretty soon and I could join it. She told me that her fee would be $30O. I told them I could not raise $300, and then Mrr. Eddy said, “We have got a lawsuit here, have you got any property”? I said I had. I told him I had a quarterly interest in my father’s estate. Then Mr. Eddy said, “I tell you what I will do. I will deed this house to you if by and by you will transfer your own property and this property to another party”. I said “I can’t transfer my property to anybody, if I do it will be to my brothers and sisters or somebody like that, but I will do this if it is legal, I will transfer your property to a third party.

“They told me at this meeting that they had been sued by a young man, whose name I can’t now remember, who had been doing considerable work on Mrs. Eddy’s bank for her, and he claimed she owed $700.

“As I understand it, this property was deeded to me, and then I went on Mrs. Eddy’s bond in this lawsuit or some lawsuit, with her husband for about $1300. I don’t remember anything being said about their fear of an attachment on the house.

“Mr. Kieth, a lawyer in Lynn who is now living, drew the papers. This house was made in my name until the suit was settled, and it was a long time, it might have been a year and it might have been longer or shorter, the deeds will show. I transferred the property to Dorcas Rawson of Lynn; she is now dead.

“I took the twelve lessons. There was an association formed of forty or fifty people of which Mrs. eddy was the head. Each member had to pay $2.00 to join. We always met at her house. I never paid anything after the first $2.00. I don’t believe I belonged long enough. This association was called the Christian Scientist’s Association; it was in existence when the Spofford lawsuit came along.”

Mary Baker Eddy Vs Daniel Spofford

“When the Spofford lawsuit came along she took twelve of us from the association and made us take two hours apiece one after the other. She made a statement that this man Spofford was adverse to her and that he used his mesmeric or hypnotic power over her students and her students’ patients, and hindered the students from performing healing on their patients, and we were held together to keep our minds over this Spofford to prevent him from exercising this mesmeric power over her students and patients. This twenty-four-hour work was done in her house.

“Mrs. Eddy asked me to go to Salem with her and a number of others to the Spofford hearing. I went with her and others. The only one who represented Mrs. Eddy was a man by the name of Edward J. Arens, now dead. He was a student of Mrs. Eddy prior to me. He lived in Mrs. Eddy’s house when I knew him. This Arens wrote a book which plagiarised Mrs. Eddy’s book, and Mrs. Eddy had a law-suit with him and stopped him and the books were destroyed.

“When we got to Salem in the Spofford matter, Mr. Arens made a statement before the judge, as near as I can remember, and Mrs. Eddy did not like the way he stated the matter.

“Charles A. Seyward was present at the hearing before the judge. Arens did the talking for Mrs. Eddy. Spofford was not present. I only went to one hearing. This was a hearing on enjoining Spofford. Mrs. Eddy brought this suit for her student and in behalf of her patients. I don’t remember the names of the ones she bought it for. Mrs. Eddy told me that this Spofford stood in the way of her students and her students’ patients in being healed. She did not tell me in particular but everybody in general. She said that he did this by his mesmeric influence over the students and their patients.

“The day I was at Salem before the Judge with Mrs. Eddy, Mrs. Eddy did not talk to the Judge that I remember of. I remember that she did not speak. Arens did all the talking for her. As I remember it, the Judge laughed. I don’t remember what he said, except I think he dismissed the case. I never went again to Court. Mrs. Eddy told me that she wanted to enjoin Spofford from doing the things that I have told you about. I understood from the talks she had with me that she was the instigator and the prime mover of the effort to enjoin Spofford. There was no lawyer engaged, and Mrs. Eddy managed the whole affair before they got into court. In court Arens did the talking, but she instructed him what to do before he went in.

The gravestone of Henry Dunnels at the Old North Burying Ground

“Mrs. Eddy wrote a column and a half article attacking Spofford about this time, and put it in an Ipswich paper. There were two papers in Ipswich then, the Ipswich Chronicle and another paper which I don’t remember. Lyman H. Daniels was the editor of it. Scoffield runs the same paper now. I went to the newspaper office with Mr. and Mrs. Eddy at the time and introduced them to the editor.

“This house she lived in in Lynn was owned by her before I knew her. I do not know how long she was in Lynn before I knew her. The house was worth about $3500, and I don’t know when she sold it nor to whom.

“As to her health at that time, I thought she had a chronic case of catarrh; she had a nasal voice. She never mentioned to me any miraculous cure that she had had happen to her, and I don’t know of any miraculous cure she made.

“I paid no taxes nor water bills on this house, and they paid me no rent. I have eaten in her house and slept in her house, that is to say, occasionally I would visit there for overnight.”

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