In the year 1808, the inhabitants of Great Paxton, a village of Huntingdonshire, in England, within sixty miles of London, rose in a body, attacked the house of an humble, and, so far as appears, inoffensive and estimable woman, named Ann Izard, suspected of bewitching three young females,—Alice Brown, Fanny Amey, and Mary Fox,—dragged her out of her bed into the fields, pierced her arms and body with pins, and tore her flesh with their nails, until she was covered with blood. They committed the same barbarous outrage upon her again, a short time afterwards; and would have subjected her to the water ordeal, had she not found means to fly from that part of the country.
The writer of the article “Witchcraft,” in Rees’s “Cyclopaedia,” gravely maintains the doctrine of “ocular fascination.”
Prosecutions for witchcraft are stated to have occurred, in the first half of the present century, in some of the interior districts of our Southern States. The civilized world is even yet full of necromancers and thaumaturgists of every kind. The science of “palmistry” is still practised by many a muttering vagrant; and perhaps some in this neighborhood remember when, in the days of their youthful fancy, they held out their hands, that their future fortunes might be read in the lines of their palms, and their wild and giddy curiosity and anxious affections be gratified by information respecting wedding-day or absent lover.
The most celebrated fortune-teller, perhaps, that ever lived, resided in an adjoining town. The character of “Moll Pitcher” is familiarly known in all parts of the commercial world. She died in 1813. Her place of abode was beneath the projecting and elevated summit of High Rock, in Lynn, and commanded a view of the wild and indented coast of Marblehead, of the extended and resounding beaches of Lynn and Chelsea, of Nahant Rocks, of the vessels and islands of Boston’s beautiful bay, and of its remote southern shore. She derived her mysterious gifts by inheritance, her grandfather having practised them before in Marblehead. Sailors, merchants, and adventurers of every kind, visited her residence, and placed confidence in her predictions. People came from great distances to learn the fate of missing friends, or recover the possession of lost goods; while the young of both sexes, impatient of the tardy pace of time, and burning with curiosity to discern the secrets of futurity, availed themselves of every opportunity to visit her lowly dwelling, and hear from her prophetic lips the revelation of the most tender incidents and important events of their coming lives. She read the future, and traced what to mere mortal eyes were the mysteries of the present or the past, in the arrangement and aspect of the grounds or settlings of a cup of tea or coffee. Her name has everywhere become the generic title of fortune-tellers, and occupies a conspicuous place in the legends and ballads of popular superstition. Her renown has gone abroad to the farthest regions, and her memory will be perpetuated in the annals of credulity and imposture. An air of romance is breathed around the scenes where she practised her mystic art, the interest and charm of which will increase as the lapse of time removes her history back towards the dimness of the distant past.