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Carrickfergus Witchcraft Trial

The Pillory at Carrickfergus

Witch-craft Trial held at Carrickfergus, County Antrim 31 Mar. 1711

Janet MEAN, Braid island
Janet LATIMER, Irish quarter, Carrickfergus
Janet MILLAR, Scotch quarter, Carrickfergus
Margaret MITCHEL, Kilroot
Catharine M’CALMOND, Island Magee
Janet LISTON, alias SELLER, Island Magee
Elizabeth SELLER, Island Magee
Janet CARSON, Island Magee

The above were tried in the County of Antrim court for witchcraft.

Their alleged crime was tormenting a young woman called Mary DUNBAR, about 18 years of age, at the house of James HATTRIDGE, Island Magee and at other places, to which she was removed.

The circumstances sworn on their trial were as follow;

The afflicted person, being in the month of February 1711, in the house of James HATTRIDGE, Island Magee, (which had been for some time, believed to be haunted by evil spirits) found an apron in the parlour floor, that had been missing some time, tied with five strange knots, which she loosened. On the following day she was suddenly seized with a violent pain in her thigh, and afterwards fell into fits and ravings, and on recovering, said she was tormented by several women whose dress and personal appearance she minutely described.

Shortly after she was again seized with the like fits and on recovering, she accused five other women of tormenting her, describing them also.

The accused persons, being brought from different parts of the country, she appeared to suffer extreme fear and additional torture, as they approached the house. It was also deposed that strange noises as of whistling, scratching &c., were heard in the house, and that a sulphureous smell was observed in the rooms; that stones turf, and the like, were thrown about the house, and the coverlets &c. frequently taken off the beds and made up in the shape of a corpse; and that a bolster once walked out of a room into the kitchen, with a nightgown about it!

It likewise appeared in evidence, that in some of her fits, three strong men were scarcely able to hold her in the bed; that at times she vomited feathers, cotton yarn, pins and buttons; and that on one occasion she slid off the bed and was laid on the floor, as if supported and drawn by an invisible power.

The afflicted person was unable to give any evidence on the trial, being during that time dumb; but had no violent fit during its continuance.

The evidence sworn upon this trial were;

Rev. William OGILVIE
William FENTON
Charles LENNON
James HILL
Rev. Patrick ADAIR
Rev. James COBHAM

In defence of the accused, it appeared that they were mostly sober, industrious, people, who attended public worship, could repeat the Lord’s prayer and had been known to pray, both in public, and private and that some of them had lately received the communion.

Judge UPTON charged the jury and observed the regular attendance of the accused on public worship; remarking that he thought it improbable, that real witches could so far retain the form of religion, as to frequent the religious worship of God, both publicly and privately, which had been proved in favour of the accused. He concluded, by giving his opinion “that the jury could not bring them in guilty, upon the sole testimony of the afflicted person’s visionary images.”

He was followed by Justice MACARTNEY, who differed from him in opinion and thought “the jury might, from the evidence, bring them in guilty,” which they accordingly did.

This trial lasted from six o’clock in the morning till two in the afternoon and the prisoners were sentenced to be imprisoned twelve months and to stand four times in the pillory in Carrickfergus.

Tradition says that the people were much exasperated against these unfortunate persons, who were severely pelted in the pillory with boiled eggs, cabbage stalks, and the like, by which one of them had an eye beaten.

Transcribed by Teena from the The history and antiquities of the county of the town of Carrickfergus,