Robert Calef

Opposer of Witch Trials

In February 1692, three women were brought before the Magistrates in Salem Town, Mass. This was the height of the witch trials that ended in 24 people being put to death. Nineteen were hung on Gallows Hill and the others died in prison. A statement was issued by twelve pastors of the State churches: “We cannot but recommend unto the government the speedy and vigorous punishment of such as have rendered themselves obnoxious according to the directions given under the laws of God and the wholesome statutes of the English nation for the destruction of witchcraft…”

Baptists knew what it was to have their views misrepresented. As a member of the Baptist Church in Boston, Robert published a book entitled More Wonders from the Invisible World in 1700. He criticized the hysteria of the State clergy. He had to have it printed in England because no printer in America would print it. In the book he ridiculed Cotton Mather’s assertion that witches “turned men to cats and dogs” and “ride on a pole through the air.” He labeled the witch hunts as “bigoted zeal stirring up blind and bloody rage against virtuous and religious people.”His book was promptly denounced by the clergy of the day and the new president of Harvard College, Increase Mather, had the book publicly burned.

Calef was not the only Baptist alarmed by the wild charges. William Milburne was arrested for circulating a petition for signatures of those who opposed the persecution of suspected witches. He stated “the innocent will be condemned, a woeful chain of consequences will follow, inextricable damage will be done this province.” Robert, William and many other Baptists were not in agreement with the views of witchcraft, but they saw this as designed to incite the people to oppose people of differing beliefs. Baptists have always stood for liberty to worship God according to one’s conscience, believing truth will prevail.

Written by Doug Hammett