In 1657, Goody Garlick was a very unpopular woman in East Hampton. She was crotchety, sarcastic and cruel, and maybe—just maybe—something more.About 35 years before the Salem Witch Trials, which still stands as one of the most malicious periods in Early American history—more than 200 people were accused of witchcraft in the Masschusetts colony, and of those, 20 were found guilty and executed—Long Island had a witch trial of its own. At the center of it was Goody Garlick, an older woman who had more or less vexed people with her provoking words.
Some townspeople believed that she had bewitched 16-year-old Elizabeth Howell, who died a tortured death. Convinced she was touched by black magic in the days preceding her death, she screamed, “A witch! A witch! Now you have come to torture me because I spoke two or three words against you! In the morning you shall come fawning. Goody Garlick! I see her at the far corner of the bed, and a black thing of hers at the other corner!”
All eyes fell on Goody Garlick—accusing eyes.
Local historians Hugh King and his wife, Dr. Loretta Orion, and Aimee Webb remain fascinated by the trial in the mid-1600s. The three are writing a book about Goody Garlick and her trial, and last week—just in time for Halloween—Mr. King delivered a lecture in Southampton outlining the historic case, which ended much differently for Goody Garlick than for those accused in Salem.
Elizabeth Howell was the teenage daughter of Lion Gardiner, East Hampton Town’s founder and most prominent citizen, and had been recently married to Arthur Howell. She became deathly ill after giving birth to a daughter that Goody Garlick helped deliver. According to Mr. King, it was common for people to blame midwives, and dark forces, for the loss of a child, or for a mishap stemming from a delivery.
Once Ms. Howell had pointed to Goody Garlick, a series of very strange events occurred—some might even call them diabolical.
In the week that it took Ms. Howell to die from her infirmity, she became frightened by black things and constantly complained about being pricked by pins. By the fourth day, she had lost her senses and did not recognize family or friends. When three women visited her, she was in between incoherence and violent outcries, saying, “She is a double-tongued woman … She pricks me with pins … Oh! She torments me.”
When asked who was causing her grief, she replied, “Ah! Garlick, you jeered me when I came to your house to call my husband home. You laughed and jeered me, and I went crying away.”
After calming down, she started gagging and choking. Goody Edwards, a neighbor, quickly forced Ms. Howell’s mouth open with the handle of a knife to see if there was an obstruction, and, suspecting witchcraft, she gave Ms. Howell oil and sugar—a remedy for such things. Sure enough, Ms. Howell coughed, and Goody Edwards witnessed a metal pin fall from her mouth—it was believed that pins were produced at the bedsides of victims of witchcraft.
Soon thereafter, men who were attending to her sick bed heard rumbling in the fireplace but couldn’t place the sound. According to records, it sounded like “a great rock thrown down” that “found no place to rest.”
The next day, a Sunday, Ms. Howell woke, coughed, sobbed, sunk deeper into delirium and died.
Within one week of her death, the magistrates of the town began an inquest to investigate the claim that Goody Garlick had killed her.
More than eight witnesses provided what they thought was evidence of Goody Garlick’s witchery. One piece of evidence came from Goody Simon, another member of the local community, who said that during one of her “fits,” friends came in with some dockweed from Goody Garlick, who had knowledge of healing. Goody Simon recoiled in fear and threw the herbs in the fire.
Soon thereafter, in the midst of her fit, she saw a “strange black thing” enter her house and when she asked, “Who has a black cat?” another woman answered, “Goody Garlick!” Black cats were deemed evil then because it was a common belief that witches sent animal spirits or turned themselves into animals to do their bidding.
Other evidence brought forward was not about what Goody Garlick did or said but stemmed from misfortune that happened around her, like an ox breaking its leg or pigs dying on Gardiners Island while she was there.
There is no record of a testimony from Lion Gardiner, despite the fact that it was his daughter who had died. It seems that Goody Garlick did not testify either. Mr. King said it is likely that they testified but those pages were lost or the transcriber in 1886 missed that part when placing them into the record.
Ultimately, John Winthrop Jr., the governor of Connecticut, who then had jurisdiction over the island, sat as judge on Goody Garlick’s trial and found her innocent—but he stated, “We don’t find enough evidence to find her guilty, but you were right to suspect her.”
At a lecture at the Rogers Mansion in Southampton Village last week, Mr. King said that Goody Garlick’s situation was a very lucky one. Her husband, Joshua Garlick, was the middleman between Lion Gardiner and John Winthrop Jr., who heard the case. Not only did she have friends in high places, but Lion Gardiner was adamantly against violence.
According to Mr. King, after witnessing devastation, hunger and starvation during the Thirty Years’ War, Lion Gardiner was done with needless suffering. John Winthrop Jr. wasn’t interested in witchcraft either, Mr. King said—when he briefly left for England, cases of witchcraft bubbled up, and when he returned, they died down a bit.
Goody Garlick’s case wasn’t unique—women often mitigated their problems through gossip and accusations, which could naturally progress to mob mentality, according to Ms. Webb. At that time, people couldn’t explain why people got sick or why bad things happened, she said.
“There was a devil behind every bush,” she said. “They had a highly developed sense of superstition. Things got so out of control that people were literally terrified of their neighbors.”
Fears were so high that in Salem, Massachusetts, witch trials went on for an entire year, and 20 alleged witches were executed. But Goody Garlick escaped that fate. She was released and returned home to East Hampton, where she and her husband lived out their days peacefully. The alleged witch lived to be 100 years old.
“She was probably a real pain in the neck, arrogant and probably didn’t have too many kind words for people,” Mr. King said. “She was an easy one to accuse.”