Postpartum Depression and Witchcraft

If you have had a baby, you know the months afterward can be tough, and memorable.

There are numerous explanations as to what lunacy gripped Salem Village (now Danvers) in 1692. Ergot poisoning. Adolescent girls seeking power. Class inequality. Disputes over property lines. My 8th great-grandmother, Mary Clements Osgood, of Andover, was examined in the last month before the Court of Oyer and Terminer was dissolved. While she was imprisoned, she was not condemned. She confessed to witchcraft, saving her life. She recanted her confession a month later in a conversation with Reverend Increase Mather, claiming she had been browbeaten.

In inventing the story to save her life, she didn’t just construct a story with random timing; instead, she turned to the period of sadness that stuck with her even 12 years later: the period after the birth of the last of her 12 children. She noted during her examination “she was in a melancholy state and condition, she used to walk abroad in her orchard” where she came upon a cat that diverted her from praying to God. There was more than one reason for melancholy: Clements (b. 1680) was a second child with that name. The first Clements (b.1678 d.1680) had died earlier that year. Mary’s husband John died in 1693. She lived another eighteen years, dying in 1710 at the age of 73.

You can search documents by accused person’s name through the The Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project, hosted by the University of Virginia. It’s an older online resource, but has links to several documents, maps, and images.

( Rev. Increase Mather’s Report of his Conversation in Prison with Mary Osgood )
Being asked why she prefixed a time, and spake of her being baptized, &c., about twelve years since, she replied and said, that, when she had owned the thing, they asked the time, to which she answered that she knew not the time. But, being told that she did know the time, and must tell the time, and the like, she considered that about twelve years before (when she had her last child) she had a fit of sickness, and was melancholy; and so thought that that time might be as proper a time to mention as any, and accordingly did prefix the said time. Being asked about the cat, in the shape of which she had confessed that the Devil had appeared to her, &c., she replied, that, being told that the Devil had appeared to her, and must needs appear to her, &c. (she being a witch), she at length did own that the Devil had appeared to her; and, being pressed to say in what creature’s shape he appeared, she at length did say that it was in the shape of a cat. Remembering that, some time before her being apprehended, as she went out at her door, she saw a cat, &c.; not as though she any whit suspected the said cat to be the Devil, in the day of it, but because some creature she must mention, and this came into her mind at that time. 

Mary’s family asked for restitution of 5L 7s 4p for her imprisonment, along with a names of many, many others.

Mary Osgood

 

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.