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.”
The plaque was placed at the Church on the tercentennial anniversary of her death in 1988 by the Order of Alhambra, a Catholic fraternity whose mission includes commemorating Catholic historical persons, places and events. The Boston City Council also declared November 16 as “Goody Glover Day”, in order to condemn the injustice brought against her.
Ann Glover has not yet been officially declared a martyr by a pope, nor has her cause for canonization been opened to date, partly because her story has faded into obscurity over time, Fr. O’Grady said.
“Part of the dilemma here (too) is that when she was hanged, Catholics were a tiny, minuscule, minority in Boston, so picking up her ‘cause’ was not easy or ‘on top of the list,’” he said.
Ann Glover’s trial also set the tone for the infamous Salem Witch Trials in 1692, during which 19 men and women were hanged for witchcraft, and in which Reverend Cotton Mather and his anti-Catholic prejudices played a major role.