Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames

Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames

by Peni Jo Renner


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781491705933
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/16/2013
Pages: 242
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.51(d)

About the Author

Rebecca Blake Eames (1641-1721) was Renner's ninth great-grandmother. The novel opens in 1692 on a familiar scene: slave woman Tituba is showing two girls a folk magic trick. All seems harmless until the girls start convulsing—apparently victims of witchcraft. This incident, which sparked Salem's witch trials, is best known through Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Renner's parallel story is set in nearby Andover, Massachusetts, where news of these strange afflictions arrived months ago. A feud between the Swan and Eames families comes to a head when Rebecca curses the patriarch publicly: Damn you, Robert Swan!...And may the devil himself visit your home!" Her seeming familiarity with the devil leads to her arrest on charges of witchcraft, and she and her son, Daniel, are thrown in a dungeon. Renner paints a harrowing picture of primitive prison life. Beatings, fleas and slop buckets are only the beginning; worse, Rebecca suspects that 4-year-old Dorcas Good, also imprisoned, has been sexually assaulted. Through flashbacks, readers learn that Rebecca believes she is being punished for committing adultery early in her marriage. She fakes a confession about her involvement with Satan and is sentenced to hang with eight others. She's saved by chance—they are one noose short. The prose memorably uses period props, as in the breeze extinguished the tallow candle." Renner's deep research is especially evident in descriptions of illnesses; she writes of jail fever," apoplexy and gangrene, which necessitates a grisly amputation. Historical figures like Cotton Mather and Judge Hathorne fit in neatly, and the close third-person narration allows access to Rebecca's and her husband's thoughts. A subplot about their daughter Dorothy's romance with Samuel Swan and her foiled abduction by Indians sputters but doesn't distract from the central tale.

An intimate fictionalization of a dark incident from Colonial history.

Read an Excerpt

Puritan Witch

The Redemption of Rebecca Eames

By Peni Jo Renner

iUniverse LLC

Copyright © 2013 Peni Jo Renner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4917-0593-3


"An evil hand has invaded our blessed community! Be ever vigilant of the deceiver," the assistant minister continued, stabbing the air with a finger. "The devil himself has made his presence known here in Andover."

Reverend Barnard's words reverberated off the whitewashed walls of the Andover meetinghouse. Fear and suspicion had infested the small farming community six months earlier when news of girls' strange behavior in nearby Salem Village was made known.

Rebecca Eames listened intently, a basket of eggs resting near her feet. The combined body odors of the parishioners mingled in the close air, relieved only when a gentle July breeze entered through the open windows. Soot from multiple tallow candles had collected on the walls and ceiling. The dark smudges always reminded her of sin. No matter how oft en the ladies of the congregation wiped the offending marks away, they always reappeared.

So like my own great sin, she thought morosely. 'Twill never truly be removed from me.

Anxious eyes darted from face to face. Despite the stifling summer heat, Rebecca shivered at the minister's words. She exchanged nervous looks with her daughters, Hannah and Dorothy. Hannah's teenaged daughter, Rose, sat next to her mother—large, dark eyes dominating her thin, pale face. The girl was timid and easily swayed to the whims of others, and she appeared to be taking Barnard's admonition to heart.

Sweet, sensitive Rose, she thought. All this talk of witches has her positively distressed.

Sweeping an arm over the women's side of the sanctuary, Barnard said, "We have in our midst two afflicted girls from Salem Village, Mary Walcott and Ann Putnam. They will be visiting homes, determining who is to blame for the ailments that have lately befallen us."

Quiet murmurs of excitement circulated through the congregation. The two young visitors sat with their hands folded demurely in their laps. The congregation craned their necks in unison to get a better look at the guests. In the back, young boys rose to their feet, straining to see the girls until the tithingman rapped their heads soundly with his long stick and gestured for them to reseat themselves.

"Who has stricken my Timothy?" called a man in the middle section of the men's side. "He's been afflicted since June. Can these maids tell me who's bewitched him?"

Several heads turned to Robert Swan, the ferryman from Haverhill. He stood with his sons, Samuel and Joshua, seated on either side of him. His cold, blue eyes glinted beneath thick, white brows, and his face wore a permanent scowl.

From the women's side, Rebecca turned to the speaker and grimaced with distaste.

Oh hush, you contemptuous old lout! She wrung her apron in her lap. Robert Swan was a litigious rabble-rouser who incited trouble like a whirlwind disturbs fallen leaves. It was known that out of sheer spite, Robert Swan had ordered his sons to chop down a neighbor's orchard. The Eames family had also fallen under Swan's wrath, and a cavernous rift had grown between the two households. Blood simmered in her veins like a kett le over a low fire, and she bit her lips to keep from speaking her mind. She met her husband's cautionary gaze across the aisle.

Be silent, he seemed to be imploring her. Do not react.

"It's costing me money," Swan bellowed. "I'm down two men, what with Josh here with a broken arm and nose—" He gestured at the pimple-faced young man to his right. Joshua Swan gingerly stroked his swollen nose with his left hand while his right arm hung suspended in a sling. His brother Samuel's handsome face reddened with obvious embarrassment, and he kept his eyes on the floor.

"I assure you, Goodman Swan," Barnard said, gripping the podium firmly, "that these young maids will be able to direct you to the culprit of your son's ailment."

"They'd better," Swan muttered before reclaiming his seat between his sons.

Rebecca faced forward, seething silently. The very sound of Swan's booming voice infuriated her.

Final prayers were read, and the Blessing and Benediction were offered just before the hourglass emptied. The congregation stood in unison as the deacons in their velvet caps departed the sanctuary first.

The peace Rebecca usually found after a sermon eluded her as she retrieved the egg basket from the floor. Guilt combined with irritation at Swan's outburst unsettled her stomach.

Seated in front of Rebecca, Ann Foster rose stiffly from her seat. The old woman's knees creaked audibly as her granddaughter, Mary Lacy, grasped her by the elbow and helped her to stand.

Rebecca tapped the old woman on the shoulder as the congregation began to file out of the meetinghouse. Ann turned cataract-clouded eyes to her and smiled a toothless grin.

"Widow Foster, I have those eggs you asked for," Rebecca said, handing the willow basket to her friend. Ann's chickens had mysteriously stopped laying a month ago, and Rebecca was happy to share.

Ann's gnarled fingers closed stiffly around the basket handle, and her smile broadened. "Bless you, Goody Eames," she rasped in her age-worn voice. Ann handed the egg basket to her granddaughter. "Pray, carry this for me, would you?"

Rebecca watched as Mary Lacy exhaled loudly before taking the proffered basket. She was a prett y girl in a sharp, angular way, but something in her eyes hinted at mischief. Since she began keeping company with the strange Abigail Hobbs, she had become somewhat disrespectful to her elders, including her grandmother. Straining to see the two Salem Village girls among the crowd, Mary said impatiently, "I want to meet them!"

"Keep a keen distance from them, Mary," Ann Foster stated firmly. "'Tis all playacting, I tell you."

Mary pouted while the men's side exited the meetinghouse. The two Salem Village girls filed out next and stood beside Reverend Barnard just beyond the meetinghouse door.

"If you have any illness or misfortune that's recently befallen you, do make an appointment to have an audience with these girls," Barnard encouraged several women who hovered near the door. "The Afflicted can tell who or what is causing any ailment."

The Afflicted, as this small group of girls had come to be known, were all anyone talked about for the past several months. Reverend Barnard was complimented on his fine sermon as each parishioner shook his hand. Next to him, the two young visitors smiled broadly, clearly enjoying the attention directed at them.

Mary Lacy pressed forward in earnest until she was face-to-face with both Mary Walcott and Ann Putnam. With glittering eyes, she clasped their hands and whispered breathlessly, "What is it like to see demons and witches?"

Ann Foster clucked her tongue and, with a firm grip on Mary's sleeve, peeled her away from the celebrated Afflicted. Reluctantly, Mary allowed herself to be dragged away.

"Those girls dissemble, I reckon," the old widow muttered loud enough to cause some heads to turn in her direction. "Witchcraft , indeed!"

Rebecca shared her friend's suspicions but kept quiet. The looks of consternation from others made her uneasy. In all her fifty-one years, she had never seen her community so agitated. Accusations of witchcraft flew among neighbors and family members alike.

"Take care what you say, Widow Foster," whispered Hannah, jostling a fussing infant Gideon. "One cannot speak too freely these days."

Ann harrumphed. "'Tis true what I say," she insisted stubbornly. "This whole business has gotten out of hand." Over her shoulder, she rasped, "Mary, take care to mind yourself and stay away from those girls."

Rebecca watched as Mary muttered an unintelligible response and glared at her grandmother's hunched back.

The Eames women exited the meetinghouse to join their men. Rebecca inhaled the fresh summer air. Her lungs welcomed it readily after spending hours in the stuffy meetinghouse. Trailing the family procession was their daughter-in-law, Lydia. Great with child, she waddled slowly with a firm grip on young Solomon's hand. Dressed in his miniature doublet and breeches, he looked like a little adult were it not for the thumb thrust into his mouth. He was an inquisitive five-year-old whose constant queries oft en displayed an underlying anxiety.

The queue of parishioners formed a small circle from whose core angry male voices began to emanate. Rebecca recognized her husband Robert's voice shouting, "Away with you, Swan! I'll not sully the Sabbath by indulging you with a brawl on these church grounds!"

"Brawling's all your Daniel knows!" retorted the elder Swan. "He's the one that broke Josh's arm and nose here not a week ago, and I seek compensation for lost revenue!"

At the mention of Daniel, many eyes fell pityingly on Lydia as she approached. Lydia's face flushed crimson, and she averted her eyes as Solomon clung to her.

Curse Swan and his lot, all of them! Rebecca thought as she pushed her way through the crowd to stand next to her husband. Ann Foster's son Abraham joined the Eames men, and for a fleeting moment, Rebecca was reminded of what a fine young man Abraham was. She oft en considered him a good prospect for Dorothy, who had just turned eighteen.

The Swan boys flanked their father like two young watchdogs guarding their master. Men who lived outside of town escorted their families through the wilderness on their long journeys to Sabbath services. For this reason, they armed themselves in defense of animal or Indian attack with muskets. Joshua exuded a willingness to defend his father while Samuel exhibited hesitancy as his brooding, dark eyes scanned the restless crowd.

Stepping from behind her son John's broad back, Rebecca glowered at Robert Swan, her blood simmering with contempt. Squaring her small shoulders, she yelled, "Leave us be, Goodman Swan!"

"You can't deny your Daniel's a ruffian," declared Moses Tyler from the crowd. "Everyone knows what a gamblin' thief he is."

Rebecca directed a scathing look at Tyler. Her own sister's widower, he was also their neighbor, but she could barely stand him any more than she could Robert Swan. Her face flared hot, and she felt angry words begin to bubble in her throat like bile.

Stay out of this, Moses Tyler! she raged inwardly. This is none of your concern. It took great discipline for her not to speak the words aloud, but a confrontation with Moses Tyler was the last thing she desired.

"How can you speak of your own kinsman like that, Uncle?" demanded John. "You, who taught Dan to train cocks for fighting!"

"Here now!" Reverend Barnard bellowed as he pushed his way through the crowd. The Salem Village girls accompanied him, their eyes bright with excitement. "Who dares mar this Sabbath with such contemptible behavior?"

"I demand recompense for the money I'm losing due to Daniel Eames disabling Josh here," Robert Swan snarled.

"Daniel's not here to defend himself," John pointed out. "It mayn't have been him that injured Josh, far as anyone can tell."

"Oh, it was Dan Eames, I swear it," Joshua Swan insisted in a nasal whine. "I've witnesses to prove it."

Angry words threatened to burst from Rebecca's lips as Barnard stepped between the patriarchs. "This is neither the time nor the place. If you don't all cease this instant, I'll report you to the magistrates myself for disturbing the peace on a Sabbath!"

Robert Eames returned his musket to his shoulder. Eyeing the Swans warily, he rubbed at his chest with his free hand. This small action was not lost on Rebecca, who suspected her husband's heart was unwell. Well-respected in the community, he was known to be even-tempered and had been chosen as a selectman that year.

Robert spoke to Barnard. "Forgive me, Pastor. I'm only defending my family."

Sweat beaded on Robert's pale forehead. The thought of him being attacked by the Swan family infuriated Rebecca. And to have their own brother-in-law attack them was beyond contemptible. Rage continued to surge within her, threatening to burst forth. She knew the heat she was feeling came from within and not the summer sun.

"Both families will apologize, and this ugly matter will go no further," Barnard declared, putting a hand on the shoulders of both men.

"I've naught to apologize for!" Swan insisted hotly. "'Tis their worthless lout of a son—"

"Damn you, Robert Swan!" Rebecca blurted. "And may the devil himself visit your home!" Behind her, Rebecca heard the crowd gasp in shock. Horrified, she clapped both hands over her mouth, wishing the curse back down her throat.

"Mother!" Dorothy whispered, placing both hands on Rebecca's shoulders and drawing her back among the other Eames women. "Mind your words!"

Rebecca's green eyes flitted nervously from face to face. Her husband blanched even more, and her children all appeared stricken. Behind Barnard's stunned features, Robert Swan's scowl transformed into a smug grin.

"How do we know you're not a witch, Goody Eames?" he demanded, and watched with satisfaction as several standing near Rebecca withdrew cautiously. "I wager it's your doing that has my Tim abed and ailing like he is."

Hannah handed Gideon to Rose and joined Dorothy in embracing her mother, rubbing Rebecca's back consolingly. But the words were out, and in their wake, a cold dread settled over Rebecca.

What have I done? she cried silently. All have turned against me, due to one careless utterance!

Mary Walcott and Ann Putnam sniggered behind their aprons. Mary Lacy added her own giggles to theirs until her grandmother slapped her arm firmly.

Barnard tore his eyes from Rebecca to Swan. "If you so suspect Goodwife Eames of witchcraft , file a complaint with the magistrates, but I repeat, not on a Sabbath. Legal proceedings must wait till the morrow."

Rebecca finally found her voice. Removing her hands from her face, she implored, "I spoke in anger. Goodman Swan was att acking my family—"

"And you felt so threatened you were driven to curse his entire household?" Moses Tyler questioned loudly.

The crowd murmured, and the Eames clan drew closer together while their fellow parishioners, all but Ann and Abraham Foster, recoiled.

"Is your evil eye the cause for my lame foal, Goody Eames?" someone else shouted.

Rebecca looked imploringly at those she considered friends. When her eyes fell on the Salem Village girls, the youngest one began to writhe in apparent agony.

"Oh!" Ann Putnam suddenly cried, pointing at Rebecca. "She pinches! And there! I see the devil standing beside her!"

Barnard put both hands on Robert Eames's shoulders and said firmly, "Make haste to your farm, Goodman Eames. It doesn't bode well for you and yours here."

Robert's eyes met Barnard's. Nodding, he reached for Rebecca's arm and clumsily pulled her away from the threatening crowd. Hannah's husband, Ephraim, retrieved his wife and daughter while John collected Dorothy and Lydia. Lydia's small son clung to her skirts, eyes wide with fear and glistening with tears.

"You can be sure I'm pressing charges!" Swan called after them. "And not just on Daniel now, to be certain!"

The rejected family departed as quickly as they could, given Lydia's plodding gait. With a discernible limp, Robert took the lead while John and Ephraim took the rear, facing the hostile mob as they retreated backward.

The family remained silent until the clamor of voices from the church grounds had faded and they were well on the footpath that would lead them to their farm in Boxford. All the while, Rebecca avoided her family's stricken faces. They had all grown sullen after her outburst, and she burned inwardly with remorse.

Behind her, Solomon plucked his thumb from his mouth with a soft pop.

"Mama, why'd Goodman Swan yell at Granny and Grampy?"

"He's just mean-spirited, Solomon," Lydia replied wearily. "Now hush."

"I don't like Goodman Swan!" the boy declared with conviction. A smile almost reached Rebecca's mouth but failed.

Few of us do, Sol, she thought.

The Eames farm was a good five miles from Andover, and Robert paused to catch his breath. He got winded quickly and rubbed his chest as Rebecca approached him. In thirty years of marriage, she had never seen him look so stricken.

"Husband, forgive me," she pleaded, reaching for his hand. "I was provoked—"

Excerpted from Puritan Witch by Peni Jo Renner. Copyright © 2013 Peni Jo Renner. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This

Julie Castillo

In the colonial-era tale Puritan Witch, the plight of Rebecca Eames and her family plays out against the backdrop of one of the most intriguing periods in American history

--Julie Castillo, writer and editor

Kelly Z. Conrad

“Elegantly written, meticulously researched, and historically accurate, the author’s work rings true. … Renner’s vast talent as a writer is enhanced by the fact that she’s telling the story of her own family, completely captivating from beginning to end. --Kelly Z. Conrad, award-winning author of Shaman

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Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Katelyn Hensel for Readers' Favorite In the wake of the Salem witch trials, the surrounding areas of the new world are awash in suspicion, gossip, and rumors, all with a dark intent. Rebecca Eames makes one small slip of the tongue during an altercation and suddenly the weight of these accusations falls on her. Having her fate decided by harsh disciplinarian magistrates, she is sentenced to prison, where she and her fellow inmates struggle against their fate, their sentence, and must also find the will to survive.  Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames presents quite a bit to think about, with just the title alone. Having always been a fan of witches, the occult in general, and definitely Salem and the Salem Witch trials, this was a joy for me to read and review. Peni Jo Renner brings the familiar (If you've read The Crucible, that is) characters of Tituba, Abigail Williams, and Betty Paris to life in the very first chapter. The events of the Salem witch trials are infamous. What no one ever speaks about is what happened to surrounding towns and villages after the trials concluded. Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames is a story of the fear, suspicion, and accusations as they permeate the surrounding communities. The narration was exquisite, really painting a picture in my head and bringing to life the language of the Puritans much better than it usually is done. I loved that it was based on a true story and that the story really expands on a piece of the darkest of American history. Such a cool read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was well written well researched. The subject of witchcraft is an intriguing one. The author shows how common superstitions and ignorance can easily cause an innocent person to be accused. The reader can almost smell the dungeon and hear the rats scurrying. A very engrossing book you cant put down!
DarkAngelCT More than 1 year ago
What went from a simple disagreement between two families soon lands Rebecca in jail.  When there is a disagreement on the sabbath between the Eames family and the Swan family soon gets Rebecca accused of witchcraft.  When Rebecca utters a curse at the Swan family, they take it upon themselves to report Rebecca as a witch.  From there Rebecca's world comes crashing down.  She lands in jail where she finds other women who have been arrested.  Many of them normal women like herself.  At first Rebecca admits her consort with the devil but upon sentencing changes her story. Her time in the jail is so real to accounts that have been told about Salem during the witch trials.  The brutality of it.  Rebecca's faith is severely tested to the limits.  In the end the magistrates couldn't break her.  She held strong with her statement of not consorting with the devil.  Meanwhile we also get to see what is going on with Rebecca's family without her and her son, whose also been arrested. When they do get released we can see what all this damage in jail has done to Rebecca and her son.  They are both broken and messed up in the head due to the Salem Witch Trials.  And how they move on from it. This book was so good to read.  Definitely up there for those that like The Crucible and are looking to read more about the Salem Witch Trials.  It was full of action, and historical facts.  Like how they dressed and how they would talk and what they would wear those thing with very true to the times. Definitely a great read!