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Witchcraft in Setauket. The Trial of Ralph and Mary Hall

The place was Setauket and the year was 1664, 28 years before the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

Trial was held in 1665, 355 years ago this month, in the case of Ralph and Mary Hall.

Ralph Hall and his wife Mary

“Long before the celebrated Salem trials, Setauket was the scene of an alleged “act of witchcraft” which resulted in one of the famous trials of the day. George Wood died in 1664 and the Town charged Ralph and Mary Hall with “witchcraft in that they practiced sorcery on George Wood and his infant child.” On October 2, 1665 the couple was tried in the Court of Assizes at New York. The verdict acquitted Hall as “nothing considerable” could be proved against him, but Mary was not to be let off so easily. There still remained some “suspicions” against her though “not enough of value to take away her life.” Hall was ordered to produce his wife at every future session of the court, but after some three years of this Governor Nicolls intervened and released them from the sentence. No other cases of witchcraft occurred in Brookhaven, and the hysteria that later gripped Massachusetts was avoided. (Setauket the First Three Hundred Years 1655-1955)

In the publication Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases 1648-1706 the author places in context a June 1664 incident recorded in the Brookhaven Town Records. In this chapter on the Halls he suggests “Their troubles antedated the change in government, and it would seem that at first their neighbors were on their side...”

Setake June 9th 1664

The maiestrates haueing Considderred the Complaint of Hall and his wife against

mr Smith doe Judge the sayd mr Smith hath not suffitiently made good what he hath

sd of her and therefore mr Smith is ordered to pay the woman fiue markes

(copied as transcribed in Brookhaven Town Records Volume 1 – 1662-1679 p. 98)

“...But they had made a dangerous foe, for at Setauket “Mr” Smith could then hardly have meant any other than...Richard Smith, the founder of Smithtown, who had himself at Boston and at Southampton experienced imprisonment and banishment for Quakerism or Quakerly behavior...”

Court of Assizes

The Court of Assizes was composed of the Governor, the Council and the Justices of the Peace in attendance. The Court convened annually in New York City to hear appeals from the inferior courts and to exercise original jurisdiction in serious criminal matters. In later years, it exercised some legislative functions. The tribunal was the court of last resort unless the case was appealable to the Crown in London.

The original documents of the Hall trial held before the Court of Assizes, along with many other historical records, perished in the 1911 fire at the State Capital in Albany.

The Trial of Ralph and Mary Hall

The proceedings of the Hall case were recorded in volume IV of The Documentary History of the State of New-York published in 1851. These pages are provided below

Sources and links

Adkins, Edwin P., Setauket the First Three Hundred Years 1655-1955, Three Village Historical Society, Anniversary edition 1980.

Brookhaven Town Records Volume 1 – 1662-1679, Tobias A. Wright printer and publishers, New York, 1924. p. 98 & 125

Burr, Lincoln (ed), Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases 1648-1706, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1914. p 44-48

O’Callaghan, E. B., The Documentary History of the State of New-York; arranged under the direction of the Hon. Christopher Morgan, Secretary of State, Vol. IV, Charles Van Benthuysen, printer, Albany, 1851. p 133-136

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