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Witchcraft and slander in 1725 Maine

The history of witchcraft in New England has always been a personal interest of mine. Boston witchcraft was one of the central themes of my 2005 book, "Witches, Rakes, and Rogues."

In the newly published issue of The New England Historical and Genealogical Register (Spring 2018) is a fascinating article by Priscilla Eaton, a contributing editor of The Maine Genealogist,"Witchcraft in 1725 Maine: A Case of Slander." Eaton examines "the culmination of decades of nearly constant conflict involving the Keene family and other residents of Spruce Creek, a section of Kittery, Maine." Sarah Keene was accused by John Spinney of being a witch. The article centers not on a witchcraft trial but on the aftermath of a judgment of slander against Spinney for "abusing" Keene as a witch --- a fine he sought to overturn by establishing that she was in fact a witch. He was aided in his attempt by the supporting testimony of multiple witnesses who had bizarre tales to tell.

Here is an unlikely story in the annals of 18th century Maine history --- one of a supposedly shape shifting woman who transformed a man into a horse, conjured up a firestorm in her house, and bewitched her daughter --- a woman who was said to have had a telltale 'witch's teat' on her body and was alleged to have believed herself that she may have at one time been a witch:

"John Spinney and his thirteen witnesses made a very compelling case. Sarah Keene was a member of a coven seen on her way to a Witches Sabbath. She had transformed John Spinney into a horse and rode him from the 'Eastward.' She had a 'dug' with which to nurse her familiar and sucking sounds were heard during the night at her home. It was suggested she was complicit in the death of a child, and a witness testified that Sarah herself suspected she might be a witch. She made fire fly around the house and bewitched her daughter. She appeared as a 'specter' in the form of a canoe. All key 'evidences' for a successful conviction were present. In Salem in 1692, innocent people were condemned for much less."

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