William Meaker

May, 2012 by Ray Bendici
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Year: 1657
Town: New Haven
Outcome: Acquitted

Some of those in the annals of state history who were seriously accused of witchcraft were drawn into the hysteria due to their own misunderstood actions. Then there were "witches" like William Meaker, who seems to have been the innocent target of a trouble-making neighbor's churlish shenanigans.

In this case, the neighbor, Thomas Mullener was a inveterate jerk, it seems. According to The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut by John M. Taylor and this well-researched WikiTree article tracing William Meaker's family history, Mullener was well known to the court of New Haven, appearing often in the official New Haven Colonial Records for infractions such as "sending his servants to the oyster banks to gather oysters upon the Sabeth day" (and then eating said oysters), stealing the pigs of neighbors (and marking them as his own), "borrowing" horses and oxens without permission, and for generally not observing the Sabbath properly. In short, Mullener was not exactly the most upstanding member of the community.

William Meaker was a far more respectable gentleman. He born in England in 1620, migrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony around 1630, and then moved to the New Haven colony in 1644. He was then married in about 1646 to a Sarah Jane Preston, with whom he had six children.

From the record, it seems as though Mullener was constantly at odds with Meaker (among other neighbors). In 1657, Mullener decided that one of his pigs was bewitched—a determination that he was able to make after "he did cut of the tayle and eare of one and threw into the fire," which he claimed was "a means used in England by some people to finde out witches." (It also seems like part of a tasty recipe, too!) He formally accused Meaker of being responsible for the bewitching.

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William Meaker, of course, vigorously disputed the charge, and in turn, retaliated with his own charge of defamation against Mullener. It appears as though it was an open-and-shut case, given Mullener's reputation; according to the record, the case was brought before the court on May 7, 1657, and was resolved in one day, with Meaker being acquitted on all counts of witchcraft. Meaker then withdrew the defamation charge.

Apparently, this wasn't the end of the conflict between the two, as they were back in court together a year later in October 1658, with Meaker again charging slander against Mullener. Although the Meaker won the case and a financial judgement against Mullener, the level-headed colonist stated that "he would not require the [money] of him, for it was not his estate he sought, but he might live peaceably by him . . ."

That peace may never have come—Meaker moved his family to Elizabethtown, New Jersey, in 1664, where he remained until his death in 1690 at age 70.

This case gives a great insight to how serious the charge of witchcraft was considered—360 years later and William Meaker's name is still on the witchcraft record despite what appears to have been a spurious claim from a crackpot neighbor. Thankfully, it was recognized for that at the time, and Meaker didn't suffer the fate that some others accused of the same crime did.

 

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Comments

Submitted by JK Greyfriars (not verified) on
Isn't that a hallmark of most of the witchcraft accusations and trials - that it traces more to a neighbor or someone in the community who is out to get the accused and finds the vague but shocking charge of "witchcraft" a handy tool? So many of these accounts seem to boil down to one or a few persons who scapegoat someone because they have an unrelated grudge. The Salem incidents (OT here, I know) were essentially caused by one town with a grudge against another.

Submitted by I dont know my name (not verified) on
If this Mullener character were alive today, he'd be in an SUV in the left lane, doing 85. What a jerk!