Hamptons Witch: What if We Accused a Local Woman of Witchcraft Today?

A 17th century witch trial
A 17th century witch trial, Photos.com/Thinkstock

Did you know the Hamptons had a witch? She lived in colonial times on eastern Long Island. And whether she was or was not a witch—and she angrily disputed that she was—there is little doubt that many people thought she was. In fact, a unanimous vote of the East Hampton Town Magistrates in 1657 formally accused her of being a witch—“having a familiarity with Satan” was how they put it. And she was tried before the Colonial Court, John Winthrop presiding, before the year was out.

The woman was Goody Garlick, she lived in East Hampton and she was the busybody wife of a carpenter by the name of Joshua. Nobody seems to have liked her. And she might have lived out her days with nobody aware of that fact if the East Hampton Magistrates hadn’t held hearings and gathered testimony for five weeks that spring. All of this testimony was recorded in the Town records which can be seen in the Long Island Collection of the East Hampton Library and if you go to the trouble to read some of these old records you will learn that Goody Garlick had a “shrewish tongue,” that she was often at Town Meetings “saying nasty things to me” and commenting before the assemblage that so-and-so was behaving in an ungodly way and should be punished and that it was fortunate for the town that she, Goody Garlick, the law abiding citizen, was here to report it all.

Everybody hated her.

The fact that she was hated, however, did not mean she was a witch. They had other evidence for that.

In February, 1657, the 18 year old daughter of Lion Gardiner fell sick. Gardiner was the first English settler in the State of New York. He was also the most respected man in East Hampton at the time because it was he who had negotiated with the local Indians allowing for the peaceful arrival of the rest of the settlers and it was he that served as that town’s first provincial Lord Mayor.

Now, however, he was 60 years old, and in his home on Main Street that February day he learned that his daughter Elizabeth, who had just married a man named Arthur Howell, had begun to run a high fever and have chills and sweats. She also was speaking out strongly against Goody Garlick.

Gardiner went to see her. She was in her bed in the Howell bedroom and there were half a dozen people around the bed listening to her talk loudly and deliriously about the wife of the local carpenter.

“A witch, a witch, now you come to torture me,” she said. “There is a black thing at my bed’s feet.”

Her mother Mary, who also was sick in bed, now arrived to see her daughter.

“I only say three words about you, Goody Garlick,” Elizabeth said.

“Betty, how do you do?” Mary asked.

“Mother, I am bewitched.”

“Surely you are dreaming. Who did you see in your dream?”

“It is Goody Garlick. Did you not see her by my bedside? She is ready to pull me to pieces. She pricked me with pins! She is a double-tongued woman. I only said three words about her.”

Lion Gardiner asked that Goody Garlick be sent for and she was. However there are no records of what was said between Elizabeth Gardiner Howell and the real Goody Garlick. Whatever it was, apparently, it was nothing good. That night, Elizabeth became incoherent and four days later she died.

This was at a time, of course, when there were sensational witch trials throughout New England, particularly in Salem, Massachusetts. The fear of witches was in the air. A number of witches were convicted and burned at the stake. It was not so unusual that the three magistrates of East Hampton, after conducting hearings for four weeks, decided Garlick should go to trial. People testified that Goody Garlick had picked up Goody Davis’ child and immediately it became sick and, subsequently, it died—Goody Garlick asked for and received breast milk from Goody Birdsill and the next day Goody Birdsill’s milk dried up and her son became ill—and on and on. So off they all went to Hartford, Connecticut, sailing across Long Island Sound under armed guard, until a Jury in Colonial Court there, instructed by John Winthrop, decided that Goody Garlick may have been a bad lot but given the evidence she was not a witch.

* * *

The acquittal of Goody Garlick in Hartford was a considerably sobering experience for the residents of East Hampton. Garlick was returned to town and was released in her husband’s custody. But she continued to be shunned and feared.

Within the year, Lion Gardiner and his wife Mary took pity on Goody and Joshua Garlick. They built for them a small cottage on Gardiner’s Island just off Amagansett and they transported them there so the Garlicks could live the rest of their days managing the farm that Gardiner owned there, which they did.

* * *

I do wonder what would have happened if the Goody Garlick Affair had occurred today. It would have come to the attention of the national media, which, at first, would probably have considered it just one of those “catfights” that happen every once in awhile in the Hamptons. It might make an item in the Post. Perhaps it would get a mention on E!

When it got put on the docket up in Hartford, however, all sorts of other organizations and individuals would wade in. There would be the Civil Liberties Union backing Goody, there would be the Tea Party demanding she be sent back to where she came from (England), there would be serious articles in the New York Times and The Atlantic on the nature of witches and how they have changed over the years, and there would be accusations that the police had roughed her up when she was put on the boat for Connecticut, which could easily be seen in the surveillance video. She would also be secretly recommended for the Witness Protection Program by Barack Obama, but would refuse.

When the matter was thrown out in court, however, there would be her lawsuit against the Town of East Hampton and the Gardiner family. There would be a television documentary about the affair on the Discovery Channel and a made-for-TV movie in which Glenn Close will give a riveting performance as Goody resulting in an Emmy nomination.

Meanwhile, Goody will be on the talk show circuit, appearing on The O’Reilly Factor, who will declare her a liar right to her face. And what does she think of that? She will appear on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and be asked to try to put a spell on the audience, and she will smile and scowl and close her eyes and ultimately fail to put a spell on them, after which Fallon will say, to great laughter, this “proves she is not a witch.”

She will write a book entitled The Bad People of East Hampton and it will be on The New York Times Best Seller List.

She will be embraced by the transgender, gay, lesbian and cross-dressing community as a fair example of what it’s like to be singled out and now thank God we don’t have to worry about that any more. And she will never be seen in East Hampton again, except on weekends in the summer when she will be surrounded by security wherever she goes. And she will be a candidate for President of the United States.

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