Friday, October 18, 2013

A Witch in the Family

Alice Lake is my 10th great-grandmother on the Wilson-Hatfield family line, through the Cole family.  In 1651, Alice Lake was convicted of being a witch and executed by hanging in Dorchester Massachusetts. 

Alice Lake Hanged
Alice's Story

Alice Lake was born in England, and immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony at some point, and settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts. She was the mother of at least five children, all presumably fathered by her only known husband, Henry Lake. In 1651, those children would have been a girl about ten, a boy about seven, a boy about five, a child about three who likely was a boy, and an infant.

In 1651, Alice Lake's baby died. Later, she told people that she saw the baby. Maybe she did. Or, maybe she grieved so much that her mind allowed her to imagine that she saw her baby to ease her grief. As painful as the death of a loved one is, a mother's loss of a child is the most difficult.

The Puritan belief was that the devil was coming to her in the form of her deceased child, and because of that, she was accused of being a witch and brought to trial. Like most of the women accused of witchcraft, Alice was poor. And like most of the accused, she denied being a witch. The records of her trial are lost, but she was apparently found guilty of witchcraft.


A book entitled A Modest Enquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft, written in 1702 by John Hale, makes the following reference to the Lake incident:
"Another [Alice Lake] that suffered on that account some time after, was a Dorchester woman. And upon the day of her execution Mr. Thompson minister at Braintree, and J.P. Her former master took pains with her to bring her to repentance. And she utterly denied her guilt of witchcraft; yet justified God for bringing her to that punishment: for she had when a single woman played the harlot, and being with child used means to destroy the fruit of her body to conceal her sin and shame, and although she did not effect it, yet she was a murderer in the sight of God for her endeavors, and showed great penitency for that sin; but owned nothing of the crime laid to her charge."

As indicated in the above 1702 account, Alice was given the opportunity to recant her story on the day of her execution, which might have saved her life. Instead, she said that God was punishing her because she had engaged in premarital sex, had become pregnant, and had attempted an abortion. She had apparently carried the Puritanical guilt for trying to cause the death of her oldest child throughout her life.


Alice faced death, and still she insisted that she had seen her dead baby. Perhaps admitting her child had died was more than she could bear, though her only hope of living was to admit that she knew her baby was dead.

Alice Lake was hanged in 1651 in Dorchester Massachusetts.


Salem Witch Hangings
From Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England, 1982, Oxford University Press:
Alice LAKE, convicted and executed at Dorchester in about 1650. Her husband Henry moved away at once; his name appears regularly in the records of Portsmouth, RI, beginning in April 1651.  Meanwhile the four LAKE children, all less than ten years old, remained in Dorchester.  One, probably the youngest, was 'bound out' by the town meeting to a local family for a 'consideration' of 26 pounds--and was dead within two years. The other three were also placed in separate Dorchester households. At this point their trail becomes badly obscured.  One was living as a servant to an uncle--still in Dorchester--in 1659.  Later, having reached adulthood, the same three were found in Rhode Island--and then in Plymouth Colony, where their father had removed by 1673.  It appears, therefore, that the family was eventually reunited, some two decades after the event that had broken it apart.

Alice Lake is an approved ancestor for National Society of THE ASSOCIATED DAUGHTERS OF EARLY AMERICAN WITCHES.  If you are interested in joining, contact me - I have good sources and documentation up to her descendant and our ancestor, Nathan Cole 1760-1826.  Website for THE ASSOCIATED DAUGHTERS OF EARLY AMERICAN WITCHES: www.adeaw.us

Note: The above images and stories are easily found online by doing a Google search.  Also, one can actually purchase T-shirts online with the image at the top of the blog post.:)

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