The Last Witch Trial in America

Normally when you think of witch trials in the United States, the first thing that comes to mind is the Salem trials of 1692.

But did you know Salem had another trial nearly two hundred years later?

In 1878, Lucretia Brown accused Daniel Spofford of using mesmerism on her. Both Brown and Spofford were members of a Christian Science church in Salem, MA.

One of the core tenants of Christian Science is that medicine is unnecessary and all ills can be cured through prayer and the power of the mind.


Brown, who suffered a spinal injury as a child, was an invalid, but in the mid 1870s converted to Christian Science and claimed to be healing. After relapses in 1887 and 1888, she accused and later sued Spofford, a publisher and “doctor” (he adopted the title and claimed to be able to heal people with his mental abilities) of using his “skills” to negatively impact her health. This was, at the time, called MAM or Malicious Animal Magnetism (later this was changed to “demonology” and struck from the Christian Science doctrine).

Spofford had, at one time, been very close with the founder of the religion, Mary Baker Glover, even introducing her to her future husband. He took over the organization of the church in Massachusetts, and most of his publications were books and pamphlets on the subject. After his conversion in 1875, he produced two of Glover-Eddy’s books, as well as other publications to spread the word of the new church. He took classes from her on spiritual healing (which he then used as his “certification” to use the title of doctor, though he had no medical training).

In 1878, however, he was expelled from the church and his one-time friend sued for unpaid tuition on the classes. By the time Brown’s case came to trial in 1879, Eddy was among the 21 witnesses against Spofford.

Unsurprisingly, the Ipswich trial drew a lot of media attention at the time, though it was dismissed by the judge for lacking legal grounds. Additionally, it was ruled that even if it could be proven Spofford was using MAM or mesmerism to cause harm to the plaintiff, the court had no way to stop him even if he was put in prison.

Even today, this is still considered one of the strangest court cases in American history.


Further Reading:
Additional background
City of Ipswitch article

Like what you see? Check out In Character: Dressing for Living History (Intro)

1 thought on “The Last Witch Trial in America”

  1. My first problem with Christian Science is their name. As this story illustrates, their beliefs were short on Christian values and devoid of Scientific merit. It’s possible that, because of people like Mary Baker Eddy, spiritual beliefs and intellectual reason are thought to be incompatible.

    They, and the anti-vaccination folks, deny a critical aspect of Christian theology: the God-given intelligence to figure out the nature of disease and discover cures. The more science reveals, the more intricately-woven we find the fabric of reality to be… and some people use that to rationalize the existence of somebody with some amazing knitting skills.

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