Of Quakers & the Devil: John Warren

17th Century Settlements in the New England Colonies, map by American School

John Warren (1585-1667) was born in Nayland, Suffolk, England, and came to Salem in 1630 as part of the Winthrop fleet, traveling on either the Arabella or the Lyon. With him were his wife, Margaret Bayly, and their four children, ages 1 to 8. The family went first to Charlestown and then settled in Watertown, Massachusetts. There Warren served several terms as selectman, a position of high regard, and was appointed to lay out all highways and see that they were repaired.

But he sympathized with the Quakers and found himself at increasing odds with the Puritans. By the 1650s he was in continual trouble with the authorities as can be seen from the records:

  • October 1651. John Warren and Thomas Arnold were fined 20 shillings each for an offense against the laws concerning baptisms.
  • April 4, 1654. John Warren was fined for neglect of public worship (missing 14 Sabbaths!), each 5 shillings = 3 pounds and 10 shillings.
  • March 14, 1658. John Warren was warned for not attending public worship, “but old Warren is not to be found in town.”
  • May 27, 1661. The houses of “old Warren and goodman Hammond” were ordered to be searched for Quakers.

Despite his lack of conviction for the established church and his leanings toward the Quaker faith, Warren never gave up or lost his church membership. He may have held on to it to avoid losing privileges such as voting.

Warren’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Warren Knapp, was accused of witchcraft in 1671 when, at the age of 16, she was taken with a series of fits. She was a servant to the Rev. Samuel Willard of Groton, Connecticut, who determined she was possessed by the devil and took her case to Cotton Mather. Mather examined her and wrote:

In the Town of Groton, one Elizabeth Knap (October 1671,) was taken after a very strange manner; sometimes weeping, sometimes laughing, sometimes roaring, with violent Agitations, crying out Money! Money! Her Tongue would be for many Hours together drawn like a Semicircle, up to the Roof of her mouth; so that no Fingers apply’d unto it, could remove it. Six Men were scarce able to hold her in some of her Fits; but she would skip about the House yelling and howling, and looking hideously.

On Dec. 17. her Tongue being drawn out of her mouth to an extraordinary Length, a Dæmon began manifestly to speak in her; for many Words were distinctly utter’d, wherein are the Labial Letters, without any motion of her Lips at all: Words also were utter’d from her Throat sometimes when her mouth was wholly shut; and sometimes Words were utter’d when her mouth was wide open; but no Organs of Speech us’d therein. The chief things that the Dæmon spoke, were horrid Railings against the Godly Minister of the Town; but sometimes he likewise belch’d out most nefandous Blasphemies against the God of Heaven. And one thing about this young Woman was yet more particularly remarkable: She cry’d out in her Fits, that a certain Woman in the Neighbourhood appear’d unto her, and was the only Cause of her Affliction.

The Woman thus cry’d out upon, was doubtless an Holy, a Devout, a Vertuous Person; and she, by the advice of her Friends, visited the Afflicted. The possess’d Creature, tho’ she was in one of her Fits, and had her Eyes wholly shut, yet when this innocent Woman was coming, she discover’d her self wonderfully sensible of it, and was in grievous Agonies at her Approaches.

But this Innocent Woman thus accus’d and abus’d by a malicious Devil, pray’d earnestly with as well as for this possess’d Creature: Whereupon coming to her self, she confess’d, That she had been deluded by Satan, and compell’d by him unreasonably to think and speak Evil of a good Neighbour without a Cause. After this, there was no further Complaint of such an ones Apparition; but she said, some Devil in the Shape of divers, did very diversly and cruelly torment her, and then told her, it was not Hebut They, that were her Tormentors.

Knapp recovered from her fits, was given Cotton Mather’s blessing, and went on to marry and have at least 6 children.

John Warren is an ancestor of John Magoun Pearson.

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