Elizabeth How, hanged for witchcraft in 1692, lived with her blind husband James in Ipswich Farms, on the border with Topsfield.
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On May 28, 1692, an arrest warrant was issued for 55-year-old Elizabeth How, who lived with her blind husband James in the western part of Ipswich originally called “Ipswich Farms” and subsequently Linebrook Parish, just north of the border with Topsfield. Constable Ephraim Wildes, whose own mother Sarah Wildes had been accused and jailed a month earlier, arrested Elizabeth on May 29 and brought her to Salem jail where she was held for questioning.
Elizabeth How’s first examination took place on May 31 in Salem Village, where she was confronted with screaming and writhing accusers, and old neighborhood gossip, much of which centered on charges from the Perley family from a decade earlier. How claimed her innocence, saying, “God knows I am innocent of anything of this nature.” Despite her denial of practicing witchcraft, the judges ruled there was enough evidence to hold her for trial.
When her trial began a month later, on June 1, the accusers once again filled the courtroom with dramatic torments, and the ten-year-old gossip was revisited. In brief, in the 1680s, the illness of young Hannah Perley was blamed on neighbor Goodwife How by the girl’s parents, Samuel and Ruth Perley. They claimed their daughter had named Goody How during one of her fits, as the cause of her torments. Hannah eventually succumbed to her mysterious illness and died. From this point forward, misfortunes in the community, including sickness of livestock, rotted fence posts, and poisoned apples, were blamed on How. She was denied admission to the Ipswich church because of these suspicions.
During her trial, however, Rowley’s Reverend Samuel Phillips recounted that he and Reverend Edward Payson, also from Rowley, observed Hannah Perley both at the time of her fits, and after they had subsided. When a concerned Elizabeth How visited Hannah, took her hand, and asked if she had, indeed, caused her pain, Hannah responded that she had not and, “If I did complain of you in my fits, I know not that I did so.” Reverend Phillips went on to report that it was Hannah’s brother who encouraged Hannah to name Goody How, for which he scolded the boy.
While some neighbors gave evidence against How and her reported acts of witchcraft, others, in addition to Reverend Phillips, spoke in her defense. Her 94-year-old father-in-law described her as a loving wife and mother, who tenderly led her blind husband by the hand. Other neighbors praised her kindness and good works, one describing her as, “conscientious in her dealings, faithful to her promises, and Christian-like in her conversation.”
Once Elizabeth was jailed in Boston, her blind husband made the long journey to visit her twice a week, guided by one of their daughters, to ensure she had enough clothing and food. This journey must have been extremely taxing, as travel to and from Boston would have taken an entire day. This act provides a small glimpse of the devotion of her family, as they faithfully cared for her during her incarceration.
All of the support from family and friends did not save her life. Elizabeth How was convicted by the Court of Oyer and Terminer and sentenced to be executed. On July 19, How was hanged, along with the previously-mentioned Sarah Wildes, Sarah Good, Susannah Martin, and Rebecca Nurse, on Proctor’s Ledge at Gallows Hill in Salem. While the disposition of the innocent victims’ remains is not known in most cases, it is believed that some family members returned at night to the hanging site, where the dead had reportedly been flung into shallow graves, to retrieve their loved ones for burial at home. Sensing the closeness of the How family as revealed in the records, it’s possible How’s body was brought home to Ipswich for burial.
The families of the innocent victims of the Salem witch trials sought restitution from the court in the ensuing years. In October of 1711, Elizabeth How was among the people who was legally cleared of all charges, nearly twenty years after her death.
Elizabeth was not the only family member accused of practicing witchcraft. A month after Elizabeth was hanged, her brother and nephew, John Jackson Sr. and John Jackson Jr., both living in Rowley, were also charged with the crime. Their accusers were from the towns of Andover and Boxford, some ten to fifteen miles away. The connection is unclear. Perhaps they came to the attention of the afflicted accusers because they were related to a now-executed witch. Jackson Sr. denied all charges, but his 22-year-old son confessed to being made a witch four years earlier by his Aunt How. Charges for both men were dismissed in 1693.
Elizabeth Jackson was born in England and immigrated to the New World with her parents and siblings, likely in the late 1630s or early 1640s. The Jacksons were among the earliest settlers of Rowley, MA, a town to the north of Ipswich. In 1658, Elizabeth married James How Jr. in Ipswich, and the couple moved to Ipswich Farms, where they had six children. The cause is unclear, but James was completely blind by the age of 50. Two unmarried daughters, Mary and Abigail, appear to have become their father’s primary caretakers after Elizabeth’s incarceration and execution in 1692, and likely remained in that role until his death in 1700 at the age of 67. It is thought they lived in the family home for the remainder of their lives.
417 Linebrook Road. Private residence. Not open to the public.
Elizabeth How bench at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Elizabeth How depiction on Riverwalk mural in Ipswich.
How arrest warrant, on display at the Peabody Essex Museum
How's father-in-law's testimony, on display at the Peabody Essex Museum
Two Rowley ministers defend How, on display at the Peabody Essex Museum
How daughters' request for retribution