Was the last ‘witch’ of Boston actually a Catholic martyr?

Ann Glover was convicted of being an “idolatrous Roman Catholick” and a witch
Representation of the Salem witch trials, lithograph from 1892. Credit: Library of Congress.

Representation of the Salem witch trials, lithograph from 1892. Credit: Library of Congress.

The following comes from an October 31 Catholic News Agency article by Mary Rezac:

The last person hanged for witchcraft in Boston could be considered a Catholic martyr.

In the 1650s, Ann Glover and her family, along with some 50,000 other native Irish people, were enslaved by Englishman Oliver Cromwell during the occupation of Ireland and shipped to the island of Barbados, where they were sold as indentured servants.

What is known of her history is sporadic at best, though she was definitely Irish and definitely Catholic. According to an article in the Boston Globe, even Ann’s real name remains a mystery, as indentured servants were often forced to take the names of their masters.

While in Barbados, Ann’s husband was reportedly killed for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith. By 1680, Ann and her daughter had moved to Boston where Ann worked as a “goodwife” (a housekeeper and nanny) for the John Goodwin family.

Father Robert O’Grady, director of the Boston Catholic Directory for the Archdiocese of Boston, said that after working for the Goodwins for a few years, Ann Glover became sick, and the illness spread to four of the five Goodwin children.

“She was, unsurprisingly, not well-educated, and in working with the family, apparently she got sick at some point and the kids for whom she was primarily responsible caught whatever it was,” Fr. O’Grady told CNA.

A doctor allegedly concluded that “nothing but a hellish Witchcraft could be the origin of these maladies,” and one of the daughters confirmed the claim, saying she fell ill after an argument with Ann.

The infamous Reverend Cotton Mather, a Harvard graduate and one of the main perpetrators of witch trial hysteria at the time, insisted Ann Glover was a witch and brought her to what would be the last witch trial in Boston in 1688.

In the courtroom, Ann refused to speak English and instead answered questions in her native Irish Gaelic. In order to prove she was not a witch, Mather asked Ann to recite the Our Father, which she did, in a mix of Irish Gaelic and Latin because of her lack of education.

“Cotton Mather would have recognized some of it, because of course that would have been part of your studies in those days, you studied classical languages when you were preparing to be a minister, especially Latin and Greek,” Father O’Grady said.

“But because it was kind of mixed in with Irish Gaelic, it was then considered proof that she was possessed because she was mangling the Latin.”

Allegedly, Boston merchant Robert Calef, who knew Ann when she was alive, said she “was a despised, crazy, poor old woman, an Irish Catholic who was tried for afflicting the Goodwin children. Her behavior at her trial was like that of one distracted. They did her cruel. The proof against her was wholly deficient. The jury brought her guilty. She was hung. She died a Catholic.”

Mather convicted Ann of being an “idolatrous Roman Catholick” and a witch, and she hung on Boston Common on November 16, 1688. Today, just a 15 minute walk away, the parish of Our Lady of Victories holds a plaque commemorating her martyrdom, which reads:

“Not far from here on 16 November 1688, Goodwife Ann Glover an elderly Irish widow, was hanged as a witch because she had refused to renounce her Catholic faith. Having been deported from her native Ireland to the Barbados with her husband, who died there because of his own loyalty to the Catholic faith, she came to Boston where she was living for at least six years before she was unjustly condemned to death. This memorial is erected to commemorate “Goody” Glover as the first Catholic martyr in Massachusetts.”

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  1. Tom Byrne says:

    From the evidence presented it does not seem that she was killed “in odium fidei”, but was just another innocent victim of 17th century political correctness, condemned by an Ivy League-educated idiot, of which we never seem to run out in this country.

    • Tom Byrne: I see it the same as you see it.

    • Linda Maria says:

      What a tragic story! Today, All Saints’ Day, the priest mentioned the sad plight of the Christian martyrs of the Middle East. Well– I know there have been tons and tons of Catholic martyrs, all through the centuries— just ordinary Catholics in the pews, killed simply for being– a Catholic!! But these folks could be any one of us– and only one or two might be Saints, such as those designated as Saints during the Roman persecutions. Catholics also have been taught, never to betray their Faith, and that they also shall win Heaven, for their martyrdom– better to do that, than to displease God, and LIE!!

  2. The Roman Emperors were following the political correctness of the day. Does this mean those the Emperors executed for being idolitrous Catholics were not martyrs and thus possibly not Saints?
    By the way, the rule about not ending a sentence with a preposition does NOT apply when words follow the preposition. Not to worry, though, common usage is fast pushing this rule into the dust bin of grammatical history.

    • Tom Byrne says:

      mike m:
      Not every innocent victim is a martyr. A martyr dies giving witness to the faith and is killed for being what he is and says he is. Ann Glover was killed for being (allegedly) a witch, which she was not and which she denied, and she would have died just as unjustly had she been a Protestant or even an atheist (and they had those in the 1600s, too).

      • Linda Maria says:

        Tom Byrne, I thought that the article stated that Rev. Cotton Mather convicted Ann Glover of “being an idolatrous Roman Catholick” and a witch– and was hung, for BOTH of those “crimes!” So, in addition to the accusation of “witchcraft”– that would additionally make her a martyr, of anti-Catholic bigotry!

        • Tom Byrne says:

          Linda Maria:
          Ordinary English subjects “convicted” of being Catholic in the 1600s were fined and sometimes exiled, but not executed – that was reserved for Catholic priests. Since Glover was Irish I’m sure she was long suspected of Catholicism, but tried and hanged primarily for witchcraft and only secondarily for being Catholic. We would have to examine trial transcripts, but if it becomes clear that she would have hanged regardless of her faith, then I can’t see it as martyrdom.

          • Linda Maria says:

            Tom Byrne, thanks for your historical information! That makes a fuller picture to the story! Actually, in this case– the American colonial courts, and the Harvard-educated Mather, look simply ridiculous! Anyway– I do not know if Ann Glover could be called a “Catholic martyr”– but I am sorry for all who have been cruelly tortured and killed, simply due to racial and religious bigotry! It is also a horror, the unjust mistreatment of the Irish people, by the English!

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