Elizabeth Godman

April, 2012 by Ray Bendici
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Elizabeth Godman
Year: 1653 and 1655
Town: New Haven
Outcome: Charged with slander in 1653. In 1655, acquitted of witchcraft and released with a reprimand.

Elizabeth Godman was interesting in the annals of the Connecticut witchcraft hysteria in that she was a "repeat offender" of sorts. A well-to-do widow and a bit of a town troublemaker, she apparently also openly talked of witchcraft. She was first accused in May 1653, and although admitting to "a suspicion of witchcraft," managed to avoid being executed, instead spending time in jail; two years later she was back on trial for witchcraft again, and again avoided the hangman's noose. The records of her two cases are quite detailed, providing terrific insight to what might constitute a charge of witchcraft as well as the overall mentality of those involved in the hysteria.

According to John M. Taylor's The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut Godman, who lived with the Goodyear family, had a formal "examination" before a judge on May 12, 1653, that featured a testimony and accusations from a number of her neighbors. She tried to use this testimony against her accusers during her appearance before a court of magistrates on August 4, 1653, but it didn't help.

In addition to her public interest in witches, some of the accusations in that trial against Elizabeth Godman included: that she was married to Hobbomock (the "giant" of Sleeping Giant in Hamden); that she "cast a fierce look upon Mr. [Stephen] Goodyear" as he left a room, after which he "fell into a swoon"; that when no one was around she routinely spoke aloud to the Devil; that she was able to tell when Mrs. Atwater had figs in her pocket without seeing them; that she was able to tell that Mrs. Atwater had also had "pease porridge" without being told; that she was responsible for bewitching Hanah Lamberton and for "sucking Hanah's body" under her clothes from across the room; and that she smited one of Goodwife Thorp's chickens after Thorp wouldn't sell it to her. It was also suggested that she could "see" events before they occurred, and that she had somehow made various neighbors "sick."

After Godman's trial, she went back to living with the Goodyear family, but a year later on August 7, 1654, was defending herself against charges of witchcraft yet again. This time, it was the Goodyear family making multiple accusations, including Hanah Goodyear and friend Desire Lamberton alleging that one night while they were in the room below Godman, they heard her talking aloud; later they were awakened when "something came into the chamber," "jumbled" things in the room and pulled the sheets off their bed, scaring both of them greatly.

Godman was jailed for fourteen months until she could be brought in front of the Court of Magistrates  in October 1655. At that point, more charges of witchcraft were leveled against her. A neighbor, Allen Ball, claimed that a calf that Godman had inquired about shortly afterward became bewitched, ripping out the "great post" it was hitched to and then running into a field, where it destroyed some corn. Yet another neighbor, Mr. Hookes, accused her of repeatedly making his freshly brewed beer turn "hot, sour and ill-tasting" overnight.

Godman enlisted witnesses to clear her name, which must've helped somewhat. The court decided that although the evidence was "not sufficient as yet to take away her life," it was enough to severely reprimand her, take £50 from her estate, and warn her that unless she was on her best behavior, she would be imprisoned yet again.

Godman was placed in the service of the family of Thomas Johnson, and labored for them until her death five years later on October 9, 1660. She left behind an estate of £200, although it appears some would've paid more than that to have seen her hanged as a witch.

 

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