— Matthew Linley (@MatthewLinley) July 25, 2014
Nicholas Butler’s The story of Wivenhoe (kindly donated to me by Bruce Anderson of the Pioneer Sailing Trust whom I’m working with on the Oyster project) records:-
For a substantial fee …under the supervision of a self styled Witchfinder-General from Manningtree called Matthew Hopkins…of twenty shillings this worthy nosed out witches just as Colchester Borough Council finds vermin, and as successfully…Wivenhoe supplied two of the victims, Alice Dixon, a widow who was acussed of killing Thomas Mumford, which accusation was endorsed by Margaret Mumford, presumably his widow and therefore biased, and Mary Johnson (a summary of her misdemeanors here), a spinster, who was accused by no fewer than four ladies of entertaining three evil spirits, two in the likeness of rats and the other in a likeness of a mouse.
Malcolm Gaskill’s Witchfinders picks up the story,as witchfinders Grimston and Bowes visit Wivenhoe:-
They were approached by Elizabeth and David Otley, who accused Mary Johnson, a sailors wife, of having bewitched their child the previous Autumn. Johnson had given the Otley’s small child an apple and a kiss, whereafter the child perished. Alice Dixon, a neighbour now on remand for witchcraft herself, had accused Johnson of slipping a rat like imp through a hole in the Otley’s front door, ‘bidding it go rock the cradle’. Dixon and Johnson had blamed one another, but only Johnson had made the mistake of protesting her innocence over and over – a strategy bound to arise suspicion. Next Elizabeth otley had fallen dangerously ill, and scuffled with Mary Johnson, trying to scratch her face to break the spell. Sure enough, as soon as Otley saw a trickle of blood between the witch’s teeth, she felt her health returning; her appetite came back and she was able to sleep. Taken before magistrates now, Mary Johnson vehemently denied the charges against her. Grimston and Bowes ordered that she be watched, and promised to return within a few days.
Annabel Durrant, from nearby Fingringhoe, threw herself frantically behind the prosecution of Mary Johnson, claiming she had poisoned her two year old son. Durrant had first met the witch when they had passed each other on a road. Johnson had stroked her child’s face, and given him some bread and butter. It took the boy eight days to die. Annabel Durrant’s grief had been manifested as a physical pain lasting several months – like childbirth, she told magistrates. One day, startled by an apparition of Mary Johnson, she was struck dumb and lost the use of her arms until the constable came to her bedside to show her a warrant from Manningtree. She felt better immediately and agreed to testify. But on the morning that the coach carrying Grimston and Bowes arrived in Wivenhoe, George Durrant went upstairs to help his wife get ready and he himself was struck down with chest pains. Collapsing onto the bed, he lay wheezing and sweating, denouncing Mary Johnson and pointing at a buzzing hornet that had entered the room. ‘It comes, it comes’ he cried ‘Now Goodwife Johnsom Impe is come. Now she hath my life’. It was this moment that part of the wall in the room fell down, raising the Durrants’ torment and terror to near hysteria.
After the searchers Briggs, Mayor and Hunt had examined Johnson, Annabel Durrant agreed to endorse their written accusation that Mary Johnson had allowed familiars to suckle between her legs. Grimston and Bowes bound the witness to appear at the next assizes and committed Mary Johnson to gaol’.
Essex Witchtrials records that Johnson was tried in July 1645 July 1645
Indictment of Mary wife of Nicholas Johnson of Wivenhoe seaman, 28 April 21 Chas.I, there “did enterteine. employ and feed” three evil spirits, two of them in the from of procurinf their help in witchercraft &c.
Pleads not guilty; guilty, to be hanged. Reprieved after judgement.
Witnesses: Ellen Mayors, Elizabeth Hunt, Anne Darrell, Priscilla Briggs. [Ass 35/86/1/53]
Alice Dixon was not so lucky. Found guilty of bewitching a person to death, she was hanged.