The Hedingham Witchcraft Case
By the nineteenth century, the last vestiges of the witch craze that had taken so many lives across Europe were all but gone. Or were they? For a report in the “Bury and Norwich Post” on March 15, 1864, suggests that in the English village of Hedingham, beliefs in curses and witchcraft was still very much alive. It was a belief that was to prove fatal for one distinct, but harmless resident.
“Dummy” was a deaf and dumb man of around 80 years old who lived in a small mud hut near Hedingham. No one knew Dummy’s real name or where he came from although some believed he was French. He was an odd but harmless individual, who communicated through peculiar gestures and increased his layers of clothing, as the weather grew hotter. Dummy traveled around the district, accompanied by three or four small dogs, reading fortunes to earn a living. Some made fun of his peculiarities. However, most people treated him with kindness.
Dummy frequented a local inn run by a Mr. Smith. One evening, Dummy decided he’d rather stay the night and so gestured this desire to the landlord’s wife, Emma Smith. Emma refused. Dummy signaled his displeasure with his stick and left. However, shortly afterward, Emma fell ill. She became convinced Dummy had bewitched her. Like so many others across the centuries, Smith also believed only he could cure her. However, no matter how many times she asked him, Dummy could not or would not help.
On August 3, 1863, Emma tried one last time, imploring Dummy to lift what she believed to be his curse. The couple attracted a crowd of local people who began to push Dummy about, knocking him to the floor. Emma Smith then began to hit and kick the old man before dragging him off towards the local brook. As she went, she was heard to cry out: “You old devil, you served me out, now I will serve you out.”
Once at the brook, Smith and a local carpenter, Samuel Stammers attempted to swim dummy. He was only dragged out by Stammers when someone pointed out that Dummy “would die in a minute” if they did not. Soaked, exhausted and traumatized, Dummy died on September 4th1863 as a result of his ordeal. This time, however, the âwitch hunters” paid the price and Smith and Stammers were sentenced to six months hard labor for their parts in Dummy’s death.
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