Tag Archives: 1685

1685: Rebecca Fowler, Chesapeake witch

From The Penguin Book of Witches concerning the milestone execution of the rare Maryland “witch” Rebecca Fowler on this date in 1685; italicized text is the modern writer’s commentary.


One of the rare Chesapeake witches, Fowler was accused of being led by the Devil to injure a man named Francis Sandsbury using witchcraft and sorcery. She was hanged. Usually Chesapeake witchcraft cases were milder than their New England equivalents, often limited to bad-mouthing and rumor. Accused witches in the South were fewer in number and were usually acquitted. Fowler is thought to be the only witch executed in the Maryland colony, though a man named John Cowman was accused of witchcraft, condemned, and then begged a stay of execution.

Court Records of Rebecca Fowler

At a meeting of the provincial court on the 29th day of September, 1685, Rebecca Fowler was indicted by a grand jury.

For that she, the said Rebecca Fowler, the last day of August in the year of our Lord, 1685, and at diverse other days and times, as well before and after, having not the fear of God before her eyes, but being led by the instigation of the Devil certain evil and diabolical arts, called witchcrafts, enchantments, charms, and sorceries, then wickedly, devilishly, and feloniously, at Mount Calvert Hundred and several other places in Calvert County of her malice forethought feloniously did use, practice, and exercise, in, upon, and against one Francis Sandsbury, late of Calvert County aforesaid, laborer, and several other persons of the said county, whereby the said Francis Sandsbury and several others, as aforesaid, the last day of August, in the year aforesaid and several other days and times as well before as after, at Mount Calvert Hundred and several other places in the said county, in his and their bodies were very much the worse, consumed, pined, and lamed again the peace, et cetera, and against the form of the statute in this case made and provided.

To this indictment Rebecca pleaded not guilty. She was tried before a jury who rendered the following verdict:

We find that Rebecca Fowler is guilty of the matters of fact charge din the indictment against her and if the court finds the matters contained in the indictment make her guilty of witchcraft, charms, and sorceries, et cetera, then they find her guilty. And if the court finds those matters contained in the indictment do not make her guilty of witchcraft, charms, sorceries, et cetera, then they find her not guilty.

In view of this finding of the jury, judgment was “respited” until the court had time to further consider the case. After the court reconvened a few days later, Rebecca was again brought to the bar and the judges having “advised themselves of and upon the premises, it is considered by the court that the said Rebecca Fowler be hanged by the neck until she be dead, which was performed the ninth day of October aforesaid.”

1685: Richard Rumbold, owner of the Rye House

On this date in 1685, Roundhead militant Richard Rumbold — known affectionately to his comrades from the English Civil War as “Hannibal”, since he shared with the great Carthaginian general the distinction of an eye lost on campaign — was beheaded at Edinburgh‘s Mercat Cross.


J.M.W. Turner watercolor of the Rye House circa 1793.

Rumbold was the owner of the Rye House in Hertfordshire, the manor which in the 1680s would become famous as a regicidal adjective: the titular epicenter of the Rye House Plot. Hannibal Rumbold had intended to station a force of armed men on his grounds with the intent to kidnap/assassinate King Charles II and his Catholic brother and heir presumptive, James as they returned to London from horse races at Newmarket. When fire struck Newmarket, the royal party’s plans changed and the plot never came off … but it was discovered some weeks later and yielded an ample harvest of heads. Rumbold escaped to the continent for a time but was none repentant about it when taken, saying “he did not neither durst repent for it, but on the contrair that if all the hair of his head were men, he would venture them all for the cause.”

In this instance, it also yielded some edifying scaffold oratory, and this man’s parting sentiment that “this is a deluded generation, veiled with ignorance … for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him” was of interest to British Whigs and American revolutionaries a century later. It plays much better lo these many years later with ellipsis in place of the “popery” stuff which occurs between, but judge for thyself: here follow Rumbold’s erudite owns in context via an open source volume which has the address titled “Against Booted and Spurred Privilege”

Gentlemen and Brethren: —

It is for all men that come into the world once to die; and after death the judgment! And since death is a debt that all of us must pay, it is but a matter of small moment what way it be done. Seeing the Lord is pleased in this manner to take me to himself, I confess, something hard to flesh and blood, yet blessed be his name, who hath made me not only willing, but thankful for his honoring me to lay down the life he gave, for his name; in which, were every hair in this head and beard of mine a life, I should joyfully sacrifice them for it, as I do this. Providence having brought me hither, I think it most necessary to clear myself of some aspersions laid on my name; and, first, that I should have had so horrid an intention of destroying the King and his brother … It was also laid to my charge that I was antimonarchical. It was ever my thoughts that kingly government was the best of all where justly executed; I mean, such as it was by our ancient laws; — that is, a King, and a legal, free-chosen Parliament, — the King having, as I conceive, power enough to make him great; the people also as much property as to make them happy; they being, as it were, contracted to one another! And who will deny me that this was not the justly-constituted government of our nation? How absurd is it, then, for men of sense to maintain that though the one party of his contract breaketh all conditions, the other should be obliged to perform their part? No; this error is contrary to the law of God, the law of nations, and the law of reason. But as pride hath been the bait the devil hath caught most by ever since the creation, so it continues to this day with us. Pride caused our first parents to fall from the blessed state wherein they were created, — they aiming to be higher and wiser than God allowed, which brought an everlasting curse on them and their posterity. It was pride caused God to drown the old world. And it was Nimrod‘s pride in building Babel that caused that heavy curse of division of tongues to be spread among us, as it is at this day, one of the greatest afflictions the Church of God groaneth under, that there should be so many divisions during their pilgrimage here; but this is their comfort that the day draweth near where, as there is but one shepherd, there shall be but one sheepfold. It was, therefore, in the defense of this party, in their just rights and liberties, against popery and slavery —

[Being here interrupted by drum beating, he said that they need not trouble themselves, for he should say no more of his mind on that subject, since they were so disingenuous as to interrupt a dying man. He then continued: –]

I die this day in the defense of the ancient laws and liberties of these nations; and though God, for reasons best known to himself, hath not seen it fit to honor us, as to make us the instruments for the deliverance of his people, yet as I have lived, so I die in the faith that he will speedily arise for the deliverance of his Church and people. And I desire of all you to prepare for this with speed. I may say this is a deluded generation, veiled with ignorance, that though popery and slavery be riding in upon them, do not perceive it; though I am sure there was no man born marked of God above another; for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him; not but that I am well satisfied that God hath wisely ordered different stations for men in the world, as I have already said; kings having as much power as to make them great and the people as much property as to make them happy. And to conclude, I shall only add my wishes for the salvation of all men who were created for that end.

After hanging, they quartered his parts and pinned them up as a warning.