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:

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.:)


Unknown said...

Alice is my ancestor as well (I forget how many greats back she is), and her story horrified me when I heard it 20 years ago. My mother flipped out (born Barbara Lake), because she was always called Alice by her friends when she was growing up. I've seen enough of the story to know that Henry's brother was involved in the prosecution, and Henry never spoke to him and his wife again. The brother, whose name I've forgotten, never had kids, and Henry's three surviving kids inherited all their property, which is why they ended up back in what is now Massachusetts. Pretty freakin' horrid story.

The only one that matches is another ancestor, whose mother died, and in doing so, fell into her fireplace. A neighbor later dreamed the woman saying to her that her son had caused her death. This 'spectral evidence' was enough to kill the poor bastard by being hung for murder. I'm a descendant of his widow by her next husband.

RAL said...

Another descendant heard from: Alice is my great x8 grandmother. I hadn't heard the detail about his brother. The one brother that I know of was Deacon Thomas Lake.

Michael Ford said...

Hello, Alice Lake is my ancestor, too. I enjoyed your post. My great grandmother's name was Lillian Candace Lake, born in Fall River, MA in 1883 d/o John Burnside Lake (& Anna Josephine Wells) s/o John Albert Lake (& Candace Mariah Moulton) s/o Job Lake (& Maria) s/o David Lake (& Susannah Dennis) s/o Job Lake (& Mercy Heffernan) s/o David Lake (& Sarah Craw) s/o Joel Lake (& Sarah Bailey) s/o David Lake (& Sarah Earle) s/o Henry & Alice Lake. I discovered that the RI Historical Society in Providence has in their possession the 'David Lake Family Papers', Carpenter of Tiverton, RI (1761-1850); He married Susannah Dennis in 1785; Catalog number MS 1119- consisting of a collection of David Lake's ledger of 113 pages dating between 1797-1844. David Lake was my fifth great grandfather, which makes Alice my 10th great grandmother.

violet wintetstein said...

I am a descendant of Sarah Earle and her first husband Thomas Cornell.

Glen Atwell said...

I descend from Agnes Lake the daughter of a Caleb Lake of Rhode Island a sea trader who went up to Nova Scotia. "Unknown" that person whose mother died was poor Alice Lakes son in law, Thomas Cornell JR. Wikipedia has some information on him. Now for the Juicy stuff. It is here that the tradition of New England vampires grew. You see Thomas Jr likely pushed his mother into the fire over a dispute of his inheritance and she quickly caught o fire. They Buried her quickly. Having had no autopsy of sorts the magistrate ordered he body exhumed and when Thomas undug her up with two grave diggers her eyes opened so he struck her head off with his shovel. It was for the second murder that he hung. So goes the family legend.

Beth Capodanno said...

Hi! Alice is my ninth time great grandmother. I just discovered this disturbing fact as I am beginning my ancestral research. I am related to her though the Earle and Ellis lines. It's so strange that I have a connection to this story as I took a class on Early American Literature and read a lot of literature that my ancestors were a part of or about! I heard through the family that we had deep American roots, but I did not realize that I am directly related to the early settlers. Thank you for sharing! I am heading to RI for a vacation, and also have in laws on the Cape. I won't be in MA, but now that I have this information, I will be doing more research. Again, thank you for your research and making it available!
- Beth