The Witch Trial of Clermont County Apr 19, 2019 19:12:20 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on Apr 19, 2019 19:12:20 GMT -5
The Witch Trial of Clermont County
Everyone has heard of the Salem Witch trials of the late 17th century that occurred during the hysteria that gripped the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In excess of 150 people were accused of practicing witchcraft, 19 were hanged, one man was pressed to death and others died in prison. It seemed no one was safe from the accusations: Women and men, old and young, rich and poor were among the accused.
Few, however, have heard of the Clermont County Witch Trial that happened in 1805 in Bethel, Ohio. Two years after Ohio became a state, a family by the name of Hildebrand lived near where state routes 232 and 125 intersect in Clermont County and they had two daughters described as “… young women grown ....” Unfortunately, the young ladies began acting peculiar and would scream and appear fearful of objects and beings no one else could see. Their afflictions interfered with their chores and despite the best efforts of their parents, the problems continued.
The family went so far as to attempt to trap the “entity” afflicting the young women. The History of Clermont County, Ohio, published in 1880, indicates after someone spoke incantations, a large linsey-woolsey bag was used to “trap” what was believed to be a witch. Following the apparition’s capture, the bag was taken outside, where it was chopped up with an axe and then burned. But in spite of this “scientific approach,” the bewitchment persisted.
Eventually the entity took on the form of a neighbor, an elderly woman named Nancy Evans, who reportedly owned a black cat. The Evans family vehemently denied their relative was a practicing witch and insisted she had not appeared to the Hildebrand daughters. Nevertheless, the old lady was ostracized by the Hildebrands.
Even though the bewitched girls avoided the Evans family, especially Nancy, their torment continued. Desperate to relieve the suffering of their daughters, Mr. and Mrs. Hildebrand decided they had no choice but to call in the justice of the peace.
The fledgling state of Ohio had no laws on the books concerning witchcraft and the Hildebrand family wanted Nancy Evans examined to determine if she practiced the dark arts. They were convinced their daughters’ mortal souls depended on such an examination and if the woman proved to be a witch, they wanted her banished. Because of the lack of legal guidance, an alternative remedy was sought.
As happened at Salem 113 years earlier, it was determined a “test” would be administered to decide if Nancy Evans was, indeed, a witch. Thus, a crude scale was constructed: On one side of which hung the Holy Bible and on the other, Mrs. Evans herself would sit. If she were a witch, those in the know proclaimed, then she would weigh less than the Bible.
Weighing witches wasn’t new. The method of ferreting out witches originated in Europe, which was the reason this “tried and true approach” was chosen by the good folk of Clermont County. On the appointed day, in a room it’s safe to say one could have heard a pin drop, Nancy Evans took her seat upon the scale. When released, the scales, of course, immediately pitched to one side: The side holding the elderly lady proved much heavier than the Good Book and she was quickly pronounced innocent, making fools of the Hildebrand clan. We do not know if the torment of the Hildebrand girls subsided because the record ends with the weighing of Mrs. Evans.
The Evans family subsequently moved to Brown County, Ohio, and more than likely, the “trial” and notoriety played a part in their departure. Nancy Evans later passed away quietly, well-respected by her new friends, neighbors and acquaintances.
The Hildebrands also left the Bethel area, but where they went is not recorded. However, it is mentioned in The History of Clermont County, Ohio that following their departure “... the Village became noted for the general intelligence of its inhabitants and neighborly relations which existed among them ....”
Source: Steve Preston (Education Director and Curator of History at Heritage Village Museum), The Kentucky Tribune, April 8, 2019.