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Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Crazy Case of “Witch, Be Gone!”

By Michael Mauro DeBonis
Copyright @2018 All rights reserved by the author


In the year 1658, at the south fork of Long Island, there was a small fishing and farming settlement called Easthampton. Settled by English Puritans in the mid-1600’s, by way of New England, it was governed by a small group of village aldermen, which was headed by Lord Lion Gardiner, a former British military engineer, who faithfully served English King Charles 1st, during the Pequot War, (1636-1638). Gardiner was the wealthiest man in the town of East Hampton (as it is spelt today) and he became the principal magistrate of the English colony shortly after the Pequot War ended. He also purchased an island (named after him) at Suffolk County’s east end at this same time. Although East Hampton was directly and legally connected to Connecticut during these days, Gardiner’s Island was given a private charter, which made it entirely independent from both Connecticut and New York Colonies. Lord Gardiner and all his heirs were hence only subject to the English monarchy.

One of Lion Gardiner’s tenant farmers, Faulke Davis, witnessed the certification to Gardiner’s land deed to purchase Gardiner’s Island in 1639. Davis was a very hard working and rugged Puritan, allegedly from Wales, but he sailed to Connecticut at roughly the same point in history as his employer (1636), Lion Gardiner. The illiterate Davis thus tended to Lord Gardiner’s gardens on the Lord’s island manor, before purchasing his own land in East and South Hampton, a few years later.

But, whereas Lion Gardiner was honorable, sagacious, patient and open-minded, Faulke was impulsive, irritable and untrustworthy. Faulke left Gardiner’s Island with his then-wife “Goody” (for Good-wife) Davis for East Hampton in the early 1640’s, where he purchased some land he would use for cultivation. By 1654, East Hampton town records indicate that Faulke was found guilty (along with his son and their neighbor) for an act of public lewdness. Davis was placed in the village pillory for several days as a result of his crime by an East Hampton tribunal.

Goody Davis worked at Lord Gardiner’s Island home (concurrently with her husband) as a maid and house-servant. When she relocated to East Hampton Village, later on, she became the Village’s town weaver. Her many descendants would bring the family business to Brookhaven Town, in the years following Goody Davis’ death. Goody Davis was successful at her job and she even gave instruction at the loom to her fellow Puritan and Hamptonite townsfolk.

But there was trouble brewing in Long Island’s Hamptons in the late 1650’s. The Puritanical government there was a theocracy. This meant two important things to the locals, from a legal perspective. The first was that there was not any separation of church from state (in Puritan circles)… and that, secondly, anything considered a crime against God, was (in the plainest statutory sense) a crime against the government. Offenders in Puritan settlements (in both Englands New and Old) were often brutally beaten, tortured and imprisoned for various “criminal” and religious transgressions. …many to the point of death. East and South Hampton Towns were (thus) obligated to this legal and cultural tradition, as being Anglo-Puritan in population, mindset, and practice.

Puritan society in both the 1500’s and 1600’s was a society predicated on religious fanaticism, small-mindedness, and extreme superstition. This created a very belligerent and incisive social environment for Puritans to live in (as adults) and to be indoctrinated into, as children. Puritan societies and settlements were entirely patriarchal ones, which minimized the social and intellectual contributions of women and gave primary legal control and social positions to men and their sons. Women were thus badly marginalized in the Puritan culture, while Puritan men were not…and as such, male Puritans enjoyed much more political and social esteem than did Puritan women. Puritans considered men the superiors to women, as a general rule of thumb. Women could not typically own property or serve on juries, unlike their male counterparts, who did. Women were more prone to sin than men were, the Puritans thought, so Puritan society acted accordingly. Men (as being closer to Adam than to Eve) were less likely to sin, and were thus more responsible and virtuous than women. This why men were given the reins of power, while Puritan women were shunned from it.

And Puritan society was one that was oftentimes ripe for gossip, litigiousness and social discord. The Puritan religion and legal system, both ubiquitously interwoven, created these social pitfalls. The Gardiner and Davis families were on a historical and unpleasant collision course, in early Long Island society, and before their unfortunate business was done, both families would brutally pay with their lives, as well as significantly affecting a third Puritan clan (the Garlicks).


The Puritan legal system was one that (as a whole) did not hesitate to impose their death penalty on those whom they found guilty of capital crimes. Witchcraft was one such capital legal violation. Witches were firmly believed by Puritans to be evil agents of the Devil, (and as such) had to be expunged. In February of 1658, a daughter of Lord Lion Gardiner became seriously ill. She was 16-year old Elizabeth Gardiner Howell, a newlywed and new mother. Elizabeth was married to young Arthur Howell, also a Puritan. One afternoon in early February, Mrs. Elizabeth Howell was stricken with a fever. Arthur was not home, but, simply by chance, a friend of his (Samuel Parsons) came by his house to pay him a visit.

Elizabeth G. Howell came to the door when Parsons first knocked and she politely let Parsons inside her dwelling. Elizabeth complained to Mr. Parsons she had a terrific aching head, according to Kerri Ann Flanagan-Brosky’s 2017 article, East Hampton Witch Trial of 1658. At this point, Samuel Parsons quietly excused himself from the Howell’s house and, saying he would return later, left the home. Subsequently, Arthur Howell returned home with another pal of his, one William Russell. Artie found Elizabeth sitting by the fireplace, wearing a blanket. She told her husband that she was ill and that she also thought she had a fever.

In the Puritan world and culture, God and the preternatural governed every bit of Puritan lives. The Devil and God were to be found everywhere. Signs of God’s power and presence and the Devil’s deception and cruelty readily made themselves visible in various ways. Such examples were people’s health statuses, the weather, blights by insects and disease and a neighbor’s wealth, or lack thereof. And all fell into the category of metaphysical judgment. Elizabeth Howell’s headache and fever were to be explained primarily by spiritual and divine causes, with the scientific and empirical ones taking a backseat. And Elizabeth Howell would be the first one ringing this bell.

For the next three days, Elizabeth Howell fell in and out of consciousness, enduring a horrible frenzy. Her parents, husband and good friends stoically sat at her bedside, trying to comfort her…but to no avail. Her condition worsened. In between Elizabeth Howell’s fits of wild hysteria, her baby was taken from her (at Elizabeth’s own behest) and she repeatedly exclaimed Goody Garlick, an older woman also from East Hampton, was at the bed’s foot, mocking her (Elizabeth Howell) and pricking her throat with pins. Elizabeth said she saw an evil black shadow sent by Goody Garlick to her bedroom to intimidate her. Was this not a possible occurrence in the Puritan world? You bet it was…

No matter how hard Mrs. Gardiner (Elizabeth Howell’s mother) tried to convince her otherwise, dizzy Lizzie (no pun intended) insisted that she was “bewitched” and the specter of Goody Garlick was in her bedchamber, heaping doom upon her. On the third day of Elizabeth Howell’s fever (brought on by medical factors and not likely anything else) the young woman died, blaming her outspoken and assertive neighbor Goody Garlick for her own demise. Was this to be believed? During one of Howell’s coughing fits, her friend Goody Simons picked up a pin from the floor that she told the Gardiners she saw fall from their daughter’s mouth. Did Simons plant this “evidence” to frame up Goody Garlick? It is probable that this was so and that Goody Simons had (along with Elizabeth Howell) a prior grudge to settle with Goody Garlick, of sorts.

Garlick is alleged, by both noted Long Island historians Kerri Ann Flanagan-Brosky and Loretta Orion, to have been of possible French ethnicity. Orion further claims that the consistently xenophobic Puritan society and culture may have disliked Garlick because of her hypothetical French origin and used it to penalize her. Yet we must also take into account other historical circumstances about Goody Garlick thoroughly investigated by Orion and brought to light. Orion’s lecture "East Hampton’s Legendary Witch" says that Garlick was a strong-willed woman who was a known troublemaker and “pot-stirrer.” Orion also posits here that Garlick may have had a bad reputation in town because of it. Orion is also mentioned in an October 2008 article from the East Hampton Press by Sarah Hartmann, stating that Goody Garlick may have been a skillful herbalist and healer. And this fact, combined with others, may have all contributed to Goody Garlick’s somewhat infamous East Hampton Village reputation.

Before 1900, in American society, (and indeed British society, as well) women were not taken seriously by men. Women who were smart, courageous and independent were regularly ostracized by men because of their personality traits. Goody Garlick was apparently one of these women. That she also had an ill temper with the locals may have exacerbated further an already bad and hostile social situation. Puritans were quick to judge and quicker to act. They had very little compunction about alienating and even injuring anyone who they considered (as a whole) a threat to them and their strictly managed social hierarchy. Hence, Goody Garlick was both a very easy and convenient target for East Hampton Puritans to chase, when the time and place seemed (to all) fitting. Goody Garlick had certainly (and publically) snubbed Elizabeth Howell, shortly after the young woman was married to Joshua. In a fleeting moment of mental clarity, Elizabeth Howell revealed this to her family. Her subconscious mind may have been trying to spite the older Goody Garlick, as recompense.

Elizabeth Howell died on February 23rd, 1657. But the fallout of Elizabeth Howell’s hysterical rants aimed toward Elizabeth “Goody” Garlick was just beginning. Shortly after this, an East Hampton inquest was conducted in the case of Goody Garlick’s purported witchcraft vs. Elizabeth Gardiner Howell. The village elders felt unqualified to bring charges against Garlick, but they were certain of Garlick’s unearthly guilt and complicity. Goody Davis had sprung into action well before Elizabeth Howell’s premature death. Goody Davis accused Garlick with witchcraft, saying to any one of her neighbors that would give her an ear that Goody Garlick had slain her infant by giving the child the proverbial “evil eye,” only moments after paying the baby a compliment. Davis was a woman a generation younger than Garlick. Both had worked for Lion Gardiner at his island estate, prior to moving to East Hampton Village. Was there a prior grudge between Goody Davis and Goody Garlick that was left unsettled? Perhaps it was the charges of public lewdness leveled against Goody Davis’ husband Faulke that was to be the start of it all. Was Goody Garlick Faulke Davis’ accuser? We do not know for certain, though it is quite possible.

Goody Davis’ accusations against Goody Garlick began sometime after Goody Garlick relocated to East Hampton. From that point forward, Goody Garlick was the village’s incessant scapegoat. Garlick was blamed for hurting the town’s livestock and for the mysterious disappearance of a black child. Yet no one had acted on these numerous allegations directed at Garlick, until the death of Elizabeth Howell, years later. East Hampton magistrates felt they did not have the legal knowledge and expertise to try the Garlick Witchcraft Case, so they went to their parent colony of Connecticut to get the job done. Connecticut had a better legal system in place to deal with capital offenses than did East Hampton. Goody Garlick’s case was no exception. And with Goody Davis’ charges to heat up those of Elizabeth Howell’s, things were looking awfully bad for Goody Garlick.

Goody Davis’ derisive rumors concerning Goody Garlick would quickly come back to haunt her. Following the preliminary inquest against Garlick at East Hampton, her husband Joshua Garlick filed a libel lawsuit against Goody Davis. Davis would quickly change her accounting of Goody Garlick, publically declaring (though not under oath) that Goody Garlick had been kind to her over the years, as opposed to being mean and cruel. Two weeks after these charges were filed against Davis, she died of unknown causes, notes historian Kerri Ann Flanagan-Brosky. Yet, other Puritan women came out against Goody Garlick: several of them swearing under oath to their accusations.

On May 5th, 1658, the Garlick Witchcraft Trial began in Connecticut. Connecticut Governor John Winthrop Junior heard the case. Winthrop was a brilliant legal scholar and “natural historian”… what we would call today a scientist…and like his dear friend and fellow war veteran Lord Gardiner, Winthrop Jr. was not open to witchcraft as being anything other than “mumbo-jumbo.” Both Gardiner and Winthrop were devout Christians, with clear and cool heads. They were both not inclined to put a circus into court.


Twelve men served on the jury and all found Goody Garlick not guilty of the crime accused against her. But this was a verdict that the jury based on a lack of evidence. They did not feel Goody Garlick was innocent of the crime. Governor Winthrop charged Goody and her husband Joshua with a large fine and he quickly dismissed the Garlick case. Governor Winthrop’s decision to make the Garlicks post a steep bond came also with a stern warning to East Hampton’s Puritanical residents…"Clean up all your acts or else!” This was a huge caveat to East Hampton residents and it would speedily cause them to live and let live in their own Long Island community. As long as Governor Winthrop and Lord Gardiner were around, small town animus would not be tolerated in East Hampton. Garlick went back to East Hampton a free woman and she lived to a very old age. Lord Lion Gardiner was silent about his daughter’s tragic death and was also speechless concerning Goody Garlick’s dubious trial, which resulted from it.

Lord Gardiner and his wife both had prayed to God that their granddaughter would survive Elizabeth (Gardiner) Howell’s death. Arthur Howell’s daughter did, in fact, survive (without her mother’s milk to nourish her) and she also lived a long and healthy life, according to Loretta Orion. This was some manner of consolation to the Gardiner family, after the turbulent end of Elizabeth Howell’s life.

The Davis family of Long Island suffered from the Goody Garlick Witchcraft Trial. Although Faulke Davis remarried after Goody’s (also untimely) death…the tough Long Island farmer was kicked out of the Hamptons for good in March of 1660 when he was successfully charged with a trespass violation against Robert Dayton. Dayton was the son of Faulke’s new wife Mary’s ex-husband, Ralph Dayton. Faulke then relocated to Brookhaven Town (west of East Hampton, on Long Island) and bought land in 1664 in Mount Sinai and in Coram, too. None of Faulke and Goody Davis’ many sons and grandsons were ever named after Faulke.

But unlike their land baron ancestor Faulke, who had also purchased real estate in Queens County before he had died (circa 1691), the Davis heirs did not create trouble everywhere they went. The Davises blossomed and thrived from colonial times in Brookhaven Town to this very day. Faulke’s many direct descendants include well-respected Lester Davis of Brookhaven Town’s 19th-century government, as well as Orlando B. Davis, owner of a long-time highly successful funeral home, also in Brookhaven. Bruce Davis (of Port Jefferson, NY) is Faulke Davis’ great, great, great…grandson and he is also a distant cousin of Abraham Woodhull, (a.k.a. Samuel Culper Senior), famed (assistant) spymaster of General George Washington’s illustrious Culper Spy Ring. Bruce Davis is thus one of the few living links to two of Long Island’s extremely significant historical episodes, the notorious Garlick Witchcraft Trial of 1658 and the exquisite American Culper Spy Ring, which ran from 1778-1783. Is not history remarkable?

Author’s note: A careful genealogical search on Long Island Surnames.Com will verify the family history of Bruce Davis, a lineal descendant of both Faulke Davis and O. B. Davis.

About the Author: Michael Mauro DeBonis is a poet and a historian from Long Island, NY. A graduate of both Suffolk County Community College and SUNY Stony Brook (B. A. English), Michael’s work first appeared in The Village Beacon Record and The Brookhaven Times Newspapers. Michael’s latest work may be found in the New York History Review (poetry and prose) and the New York History Blog (prose only). Mr. DeBonis is dedicated to studying and to learning the amazing history of the great State of New York.

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