CATS AND WITCHCRAFT (Part 8-The New England Colonies)

Incidents of cats and witchcraft not only plagued Europe, but also spread to the New England colonies as well.  In 1619, “Dalton’s Country Justice” was published and included instructions on how to deal with witchcraft (Taylor, 1908). On the morning of December 8, 1679, a man claimed that while his wife was making their bed, she had been accosted by flying cats, and that a cane had danced around the room (Burr, 1914).  The Salem witch trials took place between 1692 -1693 and more than 20 were executed.  In one case, two girls had fits and illnesses believed to have been caused by the devil.  Elizabeth, the daughter of Reverend Samuel Parris aged 9, and his niece Abigail aged 11, blamed 3 women, two of whom, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne, were elderly and lived on charity.  The third was Parris’s slave, Tituba, who confessed that she had been controlled by the Devil and had even seen his familiars, one of which was a red cat. Tituba managed to escape execution, and Sarah Osborne died before her trial.  However, Sarah Good was eventually executed by the Reverend Nicholas Noyes. Upon the gallows Sarah continued to proclaim her innocence even though Noyes still insisted that she was a witch.  Sarah cursed him, “You are a lyre; I am no more a witch than you are a Wizard, and if you take away my life God will give you Blood to drink.” (Calef, 1700, p.209) Legend has it that Noyes suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died choking on his own blood.


Riding a Cat Backwards Woodblock print, cats and witchcraft

Riding a Cat Backwards
Woodblock print



Paranoia and injustice continued in the Western world with sporadic cases of witchcraft still appearing in the 18th, 19th and even into the 20th century. Even though some courts began to refuse to hear witchcraft cases in the 1700’s, in Britain a woman was accused of witchcraft as late as 1944. In the United States the threat of witches continued, and in an 1867 trial, a woman was accused of practicing witchcraft by using the blood of a black cat to cure a child with the croup.  Amazingly, witnesses agreed that the cure had been successful (Gage, 1893).  And even in early 20th century Baltimore two women of impeccable behavior were said to have gone out at night and changed into cats.  They were cured only by rubbing salt on their skin (Cross, 1919). 



 Scotland repealed its witchcraft act in 1735.


Burr, George L. (1914). The narratives of witchcraft cases 1648-1706. Charles Scribner and Sons.

Calef, Robert. (1700). More wonders of the invisible world. London

Cross, Tom P. (1919). Witchcraft in North Carolina. University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Gage, Matilda Joslyn. (1893). Woman, church and state. New York: The Truth Seeker Company.

Taylor, John M. (1908). The witchcraft delusion in colonial Connecticut. The Grafton Press.


Want to know more about the cat in history, art and literature?  Then Revered and Reviled is the book for you. Now available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 


Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats


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