Nicholas & Goodwife Bayley
Town: New Haven
Outcome: Acquitted and banished from the New Haven colony
Unlike Joan and John Carrington, who five years earlier became the first couple in New England to be accused and executed for witchcraft, Nicholas Bayley and his wife seemed to fare much better, gaining acquittal and avoiding the hangman’s noose for their alleged crimes.
Also unlike the Carringtons, there is a lot better documentation of the Bayleys’ ordeal. According to Witchcraft Trials of Connecticut: The First Comprehensive, Documented History of Witchcraft Trials in Colonial Connecticut by R.G. Tomlinson, and Witch-Hunting in Seventeeth-Century New England, edited by David D. Hall, the Bayleys, who were farmers, were brought together before a panel of judges that included the governor of the New Haven colony, Theophilus Eaton, on July 3, 1655 on suspicion of witchcraft. Goodwife Bayley was additionally charged with “notorious lying, making discord among neighbors and giving filthy, unclean speeches.” Although she sounds like quite the character today, back in Puritan New England, such a bawdy troublemaker was not so well received—as evidenced by the serious charge of witchcraft, which carried a death sentence.
In terms of being a liar, the testimony against Goody Bayley included that of a Mr. Gilbert, who said that after he loaned her two pewter dishes (because she supposedly had none), Goody Bayley allegedly told everyone that Mr. Gilbert had “a great store” of pewter dishes, which she knew was not true. She also once falsely told another neighbor, Thomas Barnes, that if he would mow for a day, Mr. Gilbert would give him a pound of wool.
An incident cited against Goody Bayley as to the charges of causing community discord involved the Barneses and another family, the Merrimans. Supposedly, after Thomas Barnes killed some ducks, Bayley went to Goody Merriman and suggested that it was “unkind” that Barnes had not shared the bounty with her. Bayley then was reported to have gone to Goody Barnes and told her that Goody Merriman was upset about the situation, knowing that wasn’t the truth. In addition, Goody Bayley was accused of pitting the two clans against each other in similar fashion during another incident involving pork.
As far as the charges of “filthy speech,” here is the text from Witchcraft Trials of Connecticut:
As to evidence of filthy speeches, Goodwife Barnes testified concerning her conversation with Goodwife Bayley about her dog copulating with the sow. John Moss had told Nicholas Bayley that he should kill the dog, and Nicholas said he would or else geld him. Goodwife Bayley told Goodwife Barnes, “What would you have the poor creature do? If he has not a bitch, he must have something.”
Speaking about George Larremore, the miller, who, it was alleged carried on in a filthy way with many persons (which was learned after he moved away), Goody Bayley said, “Alas, what would you have the man do? If his own wife was weak, he must have somebody.”
Goody Bayley freely admitted that these had been her words.
Again, today she would probably be simply considered the neighborhood gossip or a bit of an eccentric loose cannon. But well over a century before the American Constitution would protect a person’s rights to free speech, such comments were not tolerated by a predominantly strict and religious community. Her New Haven neighbors clearly had no patience for her or her antics, and wanted her gone from their midst, even if they needed to have her executed to do it.
Still, cooler heads on the court prevailed, and rather then find the Bayleys guilty of witchcraft, they were required to post bond of £50 for their freedom and then fined an additional 10 shillings for their transgressions. It was also decided by the court that the Bayleys needed to leave the New Haven colony or face imprisonment or other punishment.
When the court met a month later, Nicholas Bayley requested extended time to raise the money to pay the fine as well as a reprieve from moving until April 1656. Both requests were granted, but the court also demanded the Bayleys appear each month in the interim to defend themselves against any new charges from the community, if necessary.
Apparently not happy with this decision, Goody Bayley tried unsuccessfully to clear the charges against her in September 1655, and instead drew the ire of the court, who suggested that the witchcraft suspicions—and the implications that came with them—might again be considered. The court declared that she was “without any respect for the truth,” and the couple should not “entertain any suspicious persons” in their home, which allegedly they had.
When the October court date came around, Nicholas Bayley, perhaps wisely, left his outspoken wife at home, claiming she was “ill,” as was one of their children. When he tried to suggest that a deal could be struck so that he didn’t need to appear in front of the court each month, it appears the court had just about had enough, and stated that they would not stand for any more flimsy excuses. The only way the Bayleys could get out of the monthly court obligation was if they paid up and left the colony before April.
Nicholas and Goody Bayley took the hint and finally moved out of the New Haven colony, going north to Hartford. On Oct. 8, 1663, Nicholas officially became a member of the Connecticut colony.
Side note: The Bayleys’ trial was heard at the same time by the same court who was handling Elizabeth Godman‘s second witchcraft trial; the court must’ve been somewhat tolerant and not prone to hysteria as both cases ended without executions.
Troublemaker Goody Bayley may have liked to “stir the pot,” but despite what her neighbors thought, it wasn’t a witch’s cauldron.