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Witchcraft Among the Early Settlers

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Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: Southern Illinoismap
Surname/tag: witchcraft, voodoo, wizards,
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The following is a candid excerpt from a book published in 1883. While the undertones of sexism and racism contrast to today's standards, it does give us some of the context in which witchcraft was seen in earlier times.

Excerpt from History of Alexander, Union, and Pulaski Counties, Illinois, pages 281-282.

The belief in witchcraft was so prevalent among the early settlers as to be a sore affliction. To the witch was ascribed the power of inflicting strange and incurable diseases, particularly on children; of destroying cattle by shooting them with hair balls, an a great variety of other means of destruction; of putting upon guns spells, and of changing men into horses, and after bridling and saddling them, riding them at full speed of hill and dale, to their frolics and places of rendezvous. The power of the witches was ample, hideous and destructive. Wizards were men supposed to possess the same mischievous power as the witches; but these were seldom exercised for bad purposes. The powers of the wizards were exercised almost exclusively for the purpose of counteracting the malevolent influences of the witches of the others sex. They were called witch-masters, who made a profession of curing the diseases inflicted by the influence of witches, and they practiced their profession after the manner of physicians. Instead of "pill-bags," they carried witch balls made of hair, and in strange manner they moved these over the patient, and muttered an unknown jargon, and exorcised the evil spirits. One mode of care was to make the picture of the supposed witch on a stump, and fire at it a bullet with a small portion of silver in it. This silver bullet transferred a painful, and sometimes moral spell, on that part of the witch corresponding with the part of the portrait struck by the bullet. Another method was to cork up in a vial, or bottle, the patient's urine, and hang it up in the chimney. This gave the witch strangury, which lasted as long as the vial hung in the chimney. The witch ad but one way of relieving herself of any spell inflicted on her in any way, which was that of borrowing something, no matter what, of the family to which the subject of the exercise of her witchcraft belonged. And thus often was the old woman of a neighborhood surprised at the refusal of a family to loan her some article she had applied for, and go home almost broken-hearted, when she learned the cause of the refusal. When cattle or dogs were supposed to be under the influence of witchcraft, they were burned in the forehead by a branding-iron, or when dead, burned wholly into ashes. This inflicted a spell upon the witch, which could only be removed by borrowing, as above described. Witches were often said to mile the cows. This they did by fixing a new pin in a new towel for each cow intended to be milked. This towel was hung over her own door, and by means of certain incantations, the milk was extracted from the fringes of the towel, after the manner of milking a cow. This only happened when the cows were too poor to give much milk. Once upon a time, the German glass-blowers drove the witches out of their furnaces, by throwing living puppies into them.
Voudouism was one of the miserable superstitions of witchcraft that was largely believed in early times. The distinction between this and the original belief in witches is in the fact that it applies wholly to the negro conjuring. An African slave by the name of Moreau, was, about the year 1790, hung on a tree, a little south of Cahokia. He was charged with this imaginary crime. He had acknowledged, it is said, that by his power of devilish incantation, "he had poisoned his master; but that his mistress proved too powerful for his necromancy," and this, it seems, was fully believed, and he was executed. In the same village, ignorantly inspired by a belief in the existence of this dread power of diabolism, another negro's life was offered up to the Moloch of superstition, by being shot down in the public streets. One of the first acts of the first civil Governor of Illinois Territory, Lieut. Tod, was an order to take a convict negro to the water's edge, burn him and scatter his ashes to the four winds of heaven, for the crime of voudouism. It was a very common feeling among the French to dread to incur in any way the displeasure of certain old colored people, under the vague belief and fear that they possessed a clandestine power by which to invoke the aid of the evil one to work mischief or injury to person or property. Nor was the belief confined to the French, or this power ascribed wholly to negroes. The African belief in fetishes, and the power of their divination, is well known. Many superstitious negroes have claimed the descent to them of fetish power; the infatuation regarding voudouism is still to be found among the ignorant blacks and whites. In 1720, Mr. Renault, agent of the "Company of the West," bought in San Domingo 500 slaves, which he brought direct from Africa to Illinois. Mankind have been prone to superstitious beliefs; they are many person now who are daily governed in the multiplied affairs of life by some sign, omen or augury.
The red children of the forest seem to have been as ignorant as the whites upon this subject. The one-eyed Prophet, a brother of Tecumseh, who commanded at the battle of Tippecanoe, in obedience, as he said, to the commands of Manitou, the Great Spirit, fulminated the penalty of death against those who practiced the black art of witchcraft or magic. A number of Indians were tried, convicted, condemned, tomahawked and consumed on a pyre. The chief's wife, his nephew, Billy Patterson, and one named Joshua, were accused of witchcraft; the two latter were convicted and executed by burning; but a brother of the chief's wife boldly stepped forward, seized his sister and led her from the council house, and then returned and harangued the savages, exclaiming: "Manitou, the evil spirit has come in our midst and we are murdering one another." It is a sad confession to make that no white man had the sense and courage to thus save his friends and family and rebuke the miserable murders that were being perpetrated in the name of witchcraft.




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