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 throughout her lifetime for trying to cause the death of her oldest child.

Alice faced death at the gallows, 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.:)


David Stever 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.

Anonymous 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.

Unknown 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

Unknown said...

Hi I too have an ancestor that was the son of Alice and Henry, David Lake m. Sarah Earle. I myself was born in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1949. The incidents with Alice in unknown posts above seem to be mixed up in my opinion, as I have looked into this a lot as I am researching a brick wall for an Amy Lake who is the mother of Mary Lake b. 1808 d. 1868 in Tiverton, RI she married Joseph Cook in 1831 b. 1807 in Tiverton, s. 1904 in Tiverton. I have a certified copy of their marriage license and all it says is that Mary was the daughter of Amy Lake, nothing else on her side. I am related to David Lake through the Wilcox family through Hannah Cook. and Daniel Wilcox.
The story of Thomas Cornell (who through cousins marrying cousins I am also related to) from the book KILLED STRANGELY The death of Rebecca Cornell by Elaine Forman Crane tells of Thomas having killed his mother it says that Thomas was the only one in the house and his mother was spinning wool with a hand held wheel and she was close to the fire. It also states that she was "killed" by Thomas
"Rebecca Cornell, widow, was killed strangely, at Portsmouth, in her own dwelling house, was twice viewed by the Coroner's Inquest, digged up and buried again by her husband's grave in their own land.' Her son Thomas was charged with her murder, but although the jury's verdict in regard to this affair was, that 'he did murder his mother Rebecca, or was aiding or abetting thereto;' yet the evidence in the case would seem to have been in no way conclusive. There was much evidence taken. The son said in his own defence that having discoursed with his mother about an hour and a half he went into the next room and staid three-quarters of an hour. His wife then sent his son Edward to his grandmother to know whether she would have some milk boiled for her supper. The child saw some fire on the floor and came back and fetched the candle. Then Henry Straight, myself and the rest followed in a huddle. Henry Straight saw what he supposed was an Indian, drunk and burnt on the floor, but when Thomas Cornell perceived by the light of the candle who it was, he cried, 'Oh Lord it is my mother.' Her clothes and body were much burned, and the jury found a wound on uppermost part of stomach.

"John Briggs [Rebecca's brother] testified as to an apparation of a woman that appeared at his bedside in a dream, and he cried out 'in the name of God what art thou,' and the apparition answered, 'I am your sister Cornell' and thrice said 'see how I was burnt with fire.'

"John Russell, of Dartmouth, testified that George Soule told him (since the decease of Rebecca Cornell), that once coming to the house of Rebecca, in Portsmouth, she told him that the spring she intended to go and dwell with her son Samuel, but she feared she would be made away with before that. Thomas, Stephen, Edward and John Cornell (sons of Thomas), gave testimony as to their grandmother's death, saying their father was last with her.

"Mary Cornell, wife to John, aged twenty-eight years, testified that three or four years past being at her mother-in-law, Rebecca Cornell's, and meeting her on returning from the orchard to the house, she said to deponent that she had been running after pigs and being weak and no help and she being disregarded, she thought to have stabbed a penknife into her heart, that she had in her hand, and then she should be rid of her trouble, but it came to her mind 'resist the Devil and he will flee from you' and then she said she was well satisfied."
So the poster above may have the facts about Alice confused with the facts about Thomas and vice-versa.
Sometimes this happens with family history, the family gets it mixed up and then the stories get distorted.
Thanks for this site, I am looking forward to other comments.
I would prefer my e-mails to go to if that is possible, as I have not used the google account in some time.

Unknown said...

WOW! I'm amazed and saddened, I have just discovered this information. Alice Lake was David Lakes mother, it's been fourteen generations. Does that make her my 13 greatmother? I have lost count and perspective, I live in Australia, it's a very large story that got me here. And today it just got bigger. Thank you for sharing this story.
I'm Elizabeth Douglas and I live in Melbourne, Australia.

Unknown said...

Hi! I recently started my ancestry journey and have discovered that Alice and Henry Lake are my 9th GG through their son David Lake & Sarah Earle. Certainly an exciting discovery, however, so very tragic. Thank you for sharing this story.

Sharon Lake-Sabourin

Libby Park Herman said...

Tragic! I just discovered that Alice and Henry were my 10th g-grandparents through their eldest daughter Elizabeth Lake. I assume she was the child that was conceived out of wedlock.
Henry's brother was Thomas born 2 June 1641, d. 27 Oct. 1678 Thomas' wife was Alice who was ten years older than him. His will, made after the death of his wife names no children but gives his property to his brother Henry, and equal to children of brother Henry (except Thomas should have $5 more) Info from-

Carolyn Stone said...

Interesting to find out there is a "witch" in the family. Alice and Henry were my 7th great grandparents, with my lineage descending thru son Thomas.

Wendy from Nova Scotia said...

Alice Lake was one of my grandmother's (at least 7x removed). I only found this out about 3 years ago. I'm unsure which of her children I descend from, as I've never done any genealogy. I know it's from the Lake side, and possibly through Caleb Lake, who I saw mentioned in one of the other comments. However, I really don't know for sure. I find it all a bit confusing trying to follow, but would love to know more. I do still have a few cousins who live in the US, who are descendants as well. If anyone might be able to put me on the right path, I'd appreciate it. It's also really nice to see I have relatives all over the world. :)

Norm said...

I am also likely a descendant of Alice and Henry. Some of the links can be called into question, but after Henry left Dorchester for Portsmouth, RI, eventually two of his sons (Thomas and David) who fought in King Phillips war were granted land in Little Compton, RI. My father traced our Lake line through David, Joel, Joseph, Brownell, Brownell 2nd, John L, Alexander, Eldora, Glenn, to Douglas (himself). I think that makes Alice my 9th great grandmother. Anyway, others who have researched the Lake line question whether Brownell 2nd is the correct father of John L thinking that he may have been an uncle or cousin. In other words, they suggest that the line after Joseph goes through Joseph 2nd and Joel to John L Lake. We have been looking for years to find any documented evidence to prove who John L Lake's parents were. As I read today though this long list of folks who share ancestors with me, I am hoping that one of you may have that evidence. By the way, we believe that John L Lake was born in New York State near Duanesburg. He married Lydia Gaige and they had 8 children and lived in Galen/Wayne, NY before most of them moved to Vermontville, MI after about 1850. John L Lake died March 28th, 1881 in Michigan. I am Norm Lake and you can contact me at with questions and comments.

Krista Miller said...

ME TOO!!! Alice and Henry Lake were my 9th great grandparents! My paternal grandmother was a Lake from Nova Scotia Canada.

Unknown said...

As I continue to learn about this, I am a descendant through Elizabeth Lake's side. She was the first born. Interesting to see all my distant kin posting on this site. Again, thanks for sharing and starting this post/thread.

GoGo said...

Alice is also (one of my) 10th great-grandmother. I am descended from her son, Thomas. Would LOVE to learn more about everything, as I have only recently begun my ancestory journey (following in the footsteps of a cousin who has been researching for 20+ years.

Krista Miller said...

I too descend from David Lake. My paternal grandmother was a Lake...from Nova Scotia

Marty 55 said...

I'm a descendant of Alice Ireod Lake. I have tested DNA with most of the companies. I would be interested in seeing if any of Alice's descendant share DNA.

Anonymous said...

Where can I get the drawing with the poem that is at the top of blog post???? You mentioned something about being able to get a t-shirt with the image on it.... What is the website for that???

Sean Connell said...

I’m also descended from Alice Lake through her son David. It’s interesting that he would marry Sarah Earle who’s previous husband had been hung for the murder of his mother. She was believed to be involved (by her neighbors) according to the book I read. Since his mother was a witch perhaps they both were seen as from a lower rung and it was a marriage of convenience. Sarah was pregnant when her 1st husband was hung. They named the child Innocent Cornell. Innocent would marry a Borden, Lizzy being directly descended from them. You can actually look up connections on a site called Famous Kin. There are a lot of people who share common ancestors with these early settlers. FDR, the Bush Family, Churchill, Earhart, and Marylin Monroe are just a few. Monroe is descended from Sarah Earle as well.

gargirl said...

She was also my 10th great grandmother through her daughter Elizabeth. My uncle has worked out our family history way back to like the 13th century at this point and I am sure he could tell me the whole line.

Anne-Marie O'Connor said...

Alice Lake's daughter Elizabeth married my ancestor, Thomas Butts, a member of a Norfolk shipping family. My grandmother was Mary Butts. I've heard the story of Alice Lake all my life. It's amazing how accurate the oral history was, once the documents became available via the Internet. It was always told to me as a story of post-partum depression.