A Jerseyman in New England

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This article was first published in the 1939 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

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In the second half of the 17th Century there was a close connexion between Jersey and Salem, a little settlement in Massachusetts, that had only been founded in 1629. A contract of 1661 survives “between John Browne, Nicholas Balhach, and John Balhach, merchants of Jersey, and William Stevens, shipbuilder in Salem, for a new ship 68 feet in length, to be built for £3 5s a ton”; and John Browne settled in Salem to superintend the trading business from that end. It is said that a hill in the town, now called Bellyhak Hill, was originally named by him after his two partners.

Jersey names

Other Jerseymen soon followed his example. The early town records abound in Jersey names. The baptism is registered of nine children of "John Cabot, merchant from the Isle of Jersey". "William Punchard (? Perchard), fisherman from the Isle of Jersey", married in 1669, and left a large family.

"Aaron Messervey of Jersey" married twice, and for many years was bringing children to be baptized. John Blevin married "Jane Le Marcom, a Jersey maid". Pierre Baudoin married "Rachel Dellocloce of Jersey". "Edward Feveryear of Jersey" was married in 1664 (In his own land he was probably Edouard Le Feuvre; but Jersey names were a puzzle to New England tongues. His descendants were content to call themselves February!)

"Peter Connu (? Le Cornu), a Jerseyman", registered a contract in 1669. "Daniel Jeanverin of the Isle of Jersey, now resident in Salem," sold an eighth share in one of his ships for £200. "John Balaine of Jersey, now resident in Salem," ordered a ship - to be built for him.

"Daniel Bacon from the Isle of Jersey" (Was he one of the Le Porcqs ?) founded in 1664 what grew into the largest ship-building business in New England. "Moses Vodin from the Isle of Jersey" sent to the Town Council a vigorous protest, complaining that, when he tried to go to church, there was no room for him, and he was forced "greatly to profane the Sabbath".

About 1670 another young Jerseyman came to Salem to seek his fortune. Philippe Langlois, godson of Sir Philip de Carteret, was born in Trinity Parish in 1651. The record of his baptism may be seen in the Church Register: "Philippe, fils de Jean L'Anglois, fut Baptize Le 30e Jour de Juin En l'an Mille six Cents Cinquante un, presente au Se Baptessme par Messire Philippe de Carteret, Chevalier, Seigneur de St Ouan, et Madame Sa Femme".

In Salem he translated his name into Philip English. He lodged with a merchant, William Hollingworth; and in 1675 married his only daughter, Mary. In the same year his father-in-law was killed, fighting the Indians, and Philip inherited his fortune. He now began to build ships of his own, and in 1676 revisited Jersey in his ketch, Speedwell, bringing a cargo of dried cod, and taking back a ship-load of Jersey boys and girls as 'indentured apprentices'.

Servants and sailors

The girls were bound to him for seven years, and in New England he hired them out as domestic servants; the lads were bound for four years, and were hired out as sailors; in each case all their wages were paid to English. This sounds rather like a form of white slavery; but it was quite a usual arrangement in those days; and there is no reason to believe that English treated his apprentices badly.

One little slip of paper survives, signed by a Nicholas Chevalier, who had been "bound for ye terme of foure years to Sea Employ", in which he testifies that English had treated him well. The same, however, cannot be said of all his captains. Captain Touzel's brother in Jersey writes: "Je me suis ensquis pour des garcons ou fillcs, mais je nens ay pas peu trouver, car vous avez la reputation de leur etre rude et mauvais."

Philip prospered greatly, and before long became the richest man on the coast. He built and owned 27 ships, two of which sailed regularly between Salem and Jersey, bringing out cod, rum, molasses, and the spermaceti out of which Jerseymen made their candles, and taking back French wines and brandy and Jersey shoes and stockings.

His daughter, Susannah, married one of his captains, the Touzel already mentioned. English owned two wharfs and warehouses, and built for himself, overlooking the Harbour, in what is still called English Street, a magnificent gabled mansion, known as the House with Forty Peaks. In 1692, when he was at the height of his prosperity, he suddenly became an outlawed criminal, flying for his life.

Religion loomed large in the life of that little Puritan community. Everybody went to the Congregational Meeting House, except the Rev George Burroughs, whose life caused grievous scandal. He was a strange, dark, hairy, little man, so immensely strong that he could hold a barrel of cider at arm's length, who had been Minister of a village church just outside the town; but he had quarrelled with his congregation, and now openly ignored all religious observances.

Devil-worship

Suddenly the whisper went round that he had formed a Church of Devil-Worshippers, pledged to wipe Christianity out of New England. A disgruntled man with a grievance against Society and a strange magnetic personality, there seems little doubt that he had started some queer clandestine movement that was holding mysterious, secret meetings after dark.

It gave itself away by its zeal for making proselytes. Witnesses came forward who swore that they had watched a meeting at Newbury Falls, when Burroughs had baptized six would-be witches into the Devil's Church, that they had seen him administer the Devil's Sacrament to a congregation of about a hundred in Parrish's paddock. The whole town was horror-stricken.

It was generally believed in Puritan circles that christ's Second Coming was at hand, and that Satan would make one last desperate effort to destroy the Church (above all, the New England Church, whose strictness specially annoyed him) before it was too late. Now that conspiracy seemed to have been unveiled at their very doors! Men and women who sat side by side with them at their Sabbath Services had secretly pledged themselves to the service of the Devil. Drastic measures must be taken.

A hundred and twenty-five suspects were arrested and thrown into prison, among them Ann Pudeater (the New England spelling of Poingdestre), the widow of another Jerseyman. According to one witness she had foolishly boasted of attending the Witches' Sabbat. When her house was searched, little pots of strange ointment were found, which was assumed to be the concoction with which witches anointed their bodies. (The documents connected with her trial are printed in Historical Collections of the Essex Institute, Feb. 1862). Witchcraft was still a capital offence under the laws of England, and therefore of New England. She was sent to the gallows.

Wife arrested

On 21 April 1692 the sheriff's officers raided English's house in the middle of the night, and arrested his wife "for high Suspition of Sundry acts of witchcraft donne upon the Bodys of Anne putnam, Mercey Lewis, and Mary Walcot, whereby great hurt hath benne donne to ye bodies of said persons”; and she was thrown into jail.

The record of her preliminary examination before the Justices is missing; but one witness against her was a hysterical, notoriety-hunting girl of 18, named Susannah Sheldon. She swore that strenuous efforts had been made to persuade her to become a witch, and that one of her most persistent tempters had been Mrs English:

"On the fourth day at night came Goody Oliver and Mrs English and a black man with a hi crowned hat with books in their hands. Goody Oliver bade me touch her book, but i would not. There came a snake creeping over her shoulders, and crep into her bosom. Mrs. English had a yello bird.

(This yellow bird figures in many witchtrials. It was considered a gift which Satan gave to his special favourites. It was highly dangerous in those days to keep a pet canary.) Then they all set to biting me, and went away. (We often hear in these trials of witches biting or pinching. This is not to be taken literally. The victim meant that she felt twinges of pain, as though she had been bitten). Next day came Goodman Corie and Mrs. English, and told me I should eat no victuals. He clenched my hands that they could not open for a quarter of an hour. The 6th day came Mrs. English, Goodman Corie, and his wife. They presented me with a book, but i refused it. Then they did all bite me, an went away”.

A week later a writ was issued for the arrest of Philip English, "relating to high suspicion of Sundry acts of witchcraft”; but he had received a warning, and had fled from the State. That night his house was sacked by the mob, and all the goods in his warehouses were confiscated by the Sheriff.

Testimony

After a month however, hearing that his absence was prejudicing his wife's trial, he returned, and gave himself up. The chief witness against him was the same Susannah Sheldon. She testified:

"Then came Philip English, and told me, if I would touch his booke, he would not bite me ; but I refused. Then he did bite mee, and went away."

She also declared:

"Coming home from Meeting on Sabbath day, 24 April, Phillip English and a black man with a hy crowned hatt and a book in his hand held the book to her, and Phillip English told her the Black man were her God, and, if shee would touch that boock, hee would not pinch her no more, nor nobody els should. Next day phillip English came again, and pinched her, and told her that, if she would not toutch the book, hee would kill her."

Twenty of the accused were executed, often on the flimsiest evidence, while English and his wife lay in Boston Jail. It was a veritable Reign of Terror in the little town.

Feeling ran so strong that few of the prisoners could hope for acquittal. So Philip or his friends planned an escape. It is always useful to have plenty of money in a predicament like this.

Every Sunday the prisoners were marched under escort to Boston Congregational Meeting House. On the last Sunday before they were to be taken to Salem for trial, as they left the church, a band of men hustled the warders back into the building, and locked them in. Two fast horses were waiting ready, with shoes reversed to mislead pursuers, and Philip and Mary English fled to New York, where the Salem writ did not run.

There Mary died of her privations in prison. But later, when the excitement had faded away, and Salem was feeling rather ashamed of its panic, Philip was able to return and rebuild his business. There had always been a feeling that he and his wife were innocent of the charges against them, and it was whispered that the Governor had been privy to their rescue.

English never forgave the Puritans. He again made himself unpopular by striving unsuccessfully to secure permission to establish in Salem a congregation of the Episcopal Church, to which he had belonged in Jersey.

But, apart from this controversy, he seems to have been respected. He was twice elected to public office. He died in 1736 at the age of 85. One of his descendants was Joseph Hodges Choate, the famous American lawyer, who was United States Ambassador to Great Britain.

Note: The original article included three examples of indentures between Philippe Langlois and his apprentices, written in French, which will be included when they have been translated.

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