I have written a bit about my Scripture ancestors and have even mentioned that, for two months from 30 October 1671 to 12 January 1672, my 8x great grandmother, Elizabeth Knapp, was said to be possessed by the devil. I’ve wondered if the date of 30 October is coincidental and if Elizabeth knew of this night and, further, if she had any control over the appearance and removal of the symptoms of her “possession”, being the night before Halloween (All Hallows Eve) and often called “Devil’s Night.” Not that I am skeptical, or anything!
Now, my family is quite ordinary and like everyone else’s in that I have discovered no relatives who achieved a wide degree of either fame or notoriety. That is, with the exception of this Elizabeth Knapp, whose demonic possession occurred twenty years before the witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts.
Elizabeth was born 21 February 1655 in Watertown, Suffolk, Massachusetts to James Knapp and Elizabeth Warren. Elizabeth was also very unusual for the time, as she was an only child. James’ and Elizabeth’s parents happen to be the subjects of 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #18 and #19.
Her “case study,” if it can be called that using modern jargon, was written up by Rev. Cotton Mather in his Magnalia Christi Americana, Book VI, Chapter VII, pages 66-67, published in London in 1701. However, this wasn’t a first hand account on his part as he was born in Boston in 1663. Groton was a small village on the frontier in the 1670’s. It isn’t likely that the Mathers ever even visited there.
Here is his presentation of Elizabeth’s case:
In the Town of Groton, (October 1671) one Elizabeth Knap was taken after a very strange manner; sometimes weeping, sometimes laughing, sometimes roaring, with violent Agitations, crying out Money! Money! Her Tongue would be for many Hours together drawn like a Semicircle, up to the Roof of her mouth; so that no Fingers apply’d unto it, could remove it. Six Men were scarce able to hold her in some of her Fits; but she would skip about the House yelling and howling, and looking hideously.
On December 17, her Tongue being drawn out of her mouth to an extraordinary Length, a Demon began manifestly to speak in her; for many Words were distinctly utter’d, wherein are the Labial Letters, without any motion of her Lips at all: Words also were utter’d from her Throat sometimes when her mouth was wholly shut; and sometimes Words were utter’d when her mouth was wide open; but no Organs of Speech us’d therein. The chief things that the Demon spoke, were horrid Railings against the Godly Minister of the Town; but sometimes he likewise belch’d out most nefandous Blasphemies against the God of Heaven. And one thing about this young Woman was yet more particularly remarkable: She cry’d out in her Fits, that a certain Woman in the Neighbourhood appear’d unto her, and was the only Cause of her Affliction.
The Woman thus cry’d out upon, was doubtless an Holy, a Devout, a Vertuous Person; and she, by the advice of her Friends, visited the Afflicted. The possess’d Creature, tho’ she was in one of her Fits, and had her Eyes wholly shut, yet when this innocent Woman was coming, she discover’d her self wonderfully sensible of it, and was in grievous Agonies at her Approaches.
But this Innocent Woman thus accus’d and abus’d by a malicious Devil, pray’d earnestly with as well as for this possess’d Creature: Whereupon coming to her self, she confess’d, That she had been deluded by Satan, and compell’d by him unreasonably to think and speak Evil of a good Neighbour without a Cause. After this, there was no further Complaint of such an ones Apparition; but she said, some Devil in the Shape of divers, did very diversly and cruelly torment her, and then told her, it was not He but They, that were her Tormentors.
Source: Magnalia Christi Americana, by Cotton Mather, published in 1702, found in the digitized book collection of familysearch.org.