Slander and Witchcraft in East Hampton

The book "Genealogies of Long Island Families..." by Hoff mentions an incident between Goody Edwards and Benjamin Price. Before going to those pages, here is another description of the same event, with some of the details different. This is from page 12 of "The Town of East Hampton" which is contained in a collection "History of Suffolk County, New York, with Illustrations, Portraits, and Sketches of Prominent Families and Individuals." New York: W.W. Munsell and Co, 1882. The section of East Hampton is written by William S. Pelletreau. From "The Town of East Hampton":

(Goody is a term of civility applied to a woman, usually a married woman, in humble life; often prefixed as a title to the surname. Hence, a woman to whose station this title is appropriate. Goody-Madam: a lady who has risen from a lower rank.)

    Two of the most curious episodes of the earliest days of the town are in connection with the trial and punishment of "Goody" Edwards for scolding and slander, and the charge against " Goody " Garlick for witchcraft. And here we may explain that, contrary to the opinion which is commonly held, social distinctions were much more strongly defined and marked in those times than at present. Men who were not of social standing high enough to be entitled to the style of "Mr." and "Gent. were addressed as "Goodman." A woman of similar position would be called "Goodwife," which was commonly contracted into "Goody;" hence the women mentioned above were known as Goody Edwards and Goody Garlick.
    In June 1653 a formal charge was brought against Goody Edwards, by Benjamin Price, for slandering his wife. Price opened the case in true lawyer style, by making the charge seem as hideous as possible, declaring that Goody Edwards had put his wife's life in danger by declaring her to be a "base lyinge woman." He also expressed in the quaintest manner his fear for his posterity, lest on the strength of such an accusation people in future times should say, "There goe the brats of a base lyinge woman." The testimony in this case is very extensive and highly amusing, and a perfect picture of life in the primitive times. Goody Edwards might have come off better perhaps if it had not been proved that she had said that her husband "had brought her to a place where there was neither Gospel nor Magistrate." The court evidently felt bound to convince her that the latter part of her statement was a decided mistake, and she was sentenced to stand with a split stick on her tongue for one hour. Goody Edwards seems to have been a woman of muscle as well as temper, for when the constable came to perform his duty "she kicked him and broke his shins." Her husband-henpecked man, who perhaps had wrongs of his own to avenge-stood by and advised her "to take her punishment patiently." Instead of following this sage advice "she threatened to kill him." And what was the cause of all this trouble? Alas! An old woman said that "Goody Price said she had a petticoat that came from England." Another version was that " the money that bought that petticoat came from England." And this was the origin of the war that shook East Hampton from center to circumference.
    The case of witchcraft, when stripped of all its superstitious features, seems to be simply this: The wife of Arthur Howell (daughter of Lion Gardiner) was suddenly attacked by a fever, which caused temporary derangement. To account for strange symptoms by attributing them to supernatural and infernal agency was characteristic of the times. The belief in witchcraft may have been absurd, but it was certainly universal. The dread of its power mav have been groundless, but it was certainly unfeigned, and our ignorant ancestors may well be pardoned for believing what the greatest of British jurists never ventured to doubt.

    The above account of the incident seems to have a detail or two mixed up, but it does seem to summarize rather nicely what happened. For example, it appears that William Edwards sued Benjamin Price and his wife for slander, so Benjamin Price was the defendant. The incident of Goody Edwards threatened with having to have her tongue in a cleft-stick seems to be from an earlier incident (see page 21 of "East Hampton Town Records, Vol 1, Sag Harbor, John H. Hunt, printer, 1887.) Town records seem to show that the Edwards family and the Price family had a long-standing feud. There were two previous lawsuits before the above-mentioned one.

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