Profile of Elizabeth How, Persecuted Salem Witch

Salem Witch Trials Victim

Bridget Bishop Hanged at Salem
Briggs. Co. / George Eastman House / Getty Images

Elizabeth How Facts

Known for: accused witch, executed in the 1692 Salem witch trials
Age at time of Salem witch trials: about 57
Dates: about 1635 – July 19, 1692
Also known as: Elizabeth Howe, Goody Howe

Family, Background:

Born in Yorkshire, England, about 1635

Mother: Joane Jackson

Father: William Jackson

Husband: James How or Howe Jr. (March 23, 1633 – February 15, 1702), married April 1658. He had become blind at the time of the trials.

Family connections: Elizabeth’s husband James How Jr. was connected to a number of other Salem witch trial victims.

Lived in: Ipswitch sometimes noted as Topswitch

Elizabeth How and the Salem Witch Trials

Elizabeth How was accused by the Perley family of Ipswitch. The parents of the family testified that their 10-year-old daughter was afflicted by How over the course of two to three years. Doctors had diagnosed that the daughter’s affliction was caused by “an evil hand.”

Spectral evidence was offered by Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcott, Ann Putnam Jr., Abigail Williams, and Mary Warren.

On May 28, 1692, an arrest warrant was issued for How, charging her with acts of witchcraft against Mary Walcott, Abigail Williams, and others. She was arrested the next day and taken to the home of Nathaniel Ingersoll for examination. A formal indictment was prepared on May 29, mentioning that Mercy Lewis had been tortured and afflicted by an act of witchcraft by Elizabeth How. Witnesses included Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcott, Abigail Williams, and members of the Perley family.

While she was in jail, she was visited by her husband and daughters.

On May 31, Elizabeth How was again examined. She replied to the charges: “If it was the last moment I was to live, God knows I am innocent of anything of this nature.”

Mercy Lewis and Mary Walcott fell into fits. Walcott said that Elizabeth How had punched and choked her that month. Ann Putnam testified that How had hurt her three times; Lewis also accused How of hurting her. Abigail Williams said that How had hurt her many times and had brought “the book” (the Devil’s book, to sign). Ann Putnam and Mary Warren said they’d been pricked by a pin by How’s spectre. And John Indian fell into a fit, accusing her of biting him.

A May 31 indictment cited witchcraft practiced against Mary Walcott. Elizabeth How, John Alden, Martha Carrier, Wilmott Redd, and Philip English were examined by Bartholomew Gedney, Jonathan Corwin, and John Hathorne

Timothy and Deborah Perley, who leveled the initial claims, on June 1 also accused Elizabeth How of afflicting their cow with sickness, causing it to drown itself when they stood against her joining the Ipswich church. Deborah Perley repeated the charges about afflicting their daughter Hannah. On June 2, Sarah Andrews, sister of Hannah Perley, testified to hearing her afflicted sister blame Elizabeth How for threatening and hurting her, even though their father had questioned the truth of the claim.

On June 3, the Rev. Samuel Phillips testified in her defense. He said he had been at the Samuel Perley home when the child was having fits, and though the parents said “good wife How the wife of James How Junior of Ipswich” was a witch, the child did not say so, even when asked to do so. Edward Payson testified that he had witnessed the Perley daughter’s affliction, and the parents’ questioning her as to How’s involvement, and that the daughter had said: “no never.”

On June 24, a neighbor of 24 years, Deborah Hadley, testified on Elizabeth’s behalf that she had been conscientious in her dealings and “Christian-like in her conversation.” On June 25, neighbors Simon and Mary Chapman testified that How was a godly woman. On June 27, Mary Cummings testified about a run-in her son Isaac had had with Elizabeth, involving a mare. Her husband Isaac also testified to these charges. On June 28, the son, Isaac Cummings, also testified. That same day, Elizabeth’s father-in-law, James How Sr., who was about 94 at the time, testified for Elizabeth as a character witness, noting how loving, obedient and kind she was and how she had cared for her husband who had become blind.

Joseph and Mary Knowlton testified for Elizabeth How, noting that ten years before they had heard stories of Elizabeth How afflicting the daughter of Samuel Perley. They had asked Elizabeth about these and Elizabeth had been forgiving of their reports. They noted that she was an honest and good person.

Trial: June 29-30, 1692

June 29-30: Sarah Good, Elizabeth How, Susannah Martin, and Sarah Wildes were tried for witchcraft. On the first day of the trial, Mary Cummings testified that another neighbor had become ill after a sharp exchange with James How Jr. and his wife. On June 30, Francis Lane testified against How, noting the conflict with Samuel Perley. Nehemiah Abbott (married to Elizabeth's sister-in-law, Mary Howe Abbott) also testified that when Elizabeth was angry she wished someone would choke, and that person did shortly after; that How’s daughter had attempted to borrow a horse but when he refused, the horse later was injured, and that a cow had also been injured. Her brother-in-law John How testified that Elizabeth had afflicted a sow when Elizabeth was angry with him for asking whether she had afflicted the Perley child. Joseph Safford testified about a church meeting held in the wake of the accusations earlier regarding the Perley child; he said that his wife had attended the meeting and was afterward in a “raving frenzy” first defending Goody How and then in a trance.

Sarah Good, Elizabeth How, Susannah Martin, and Sarah Wildes were all found guilty and condemned to hanging. Rebecca Nurse was first found not guilty, but when the accusers and spectators loudly protested, the court asked the jury to reconsider the verdict and condemned Nurse to hang as well.

On July 1, Thomas Andrews added some charges regarding a sick horse he believed was the one that the Hows wanted to borrow from the Cummings.

Elizabeth How was hanged on July 19, 1692, along with Sarah Good, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse, and Sarah Wilde.

Elizabeth How After the Trials

The following March, residents of Andover, Salem Village, and Topsfield petitioned on behalf of Elizabeth How, Rebecca Nurse, Mary Easty, Abigail Faulkner, Mary Parker, John Proctor, Elizabeth Proctor, and Samuel and Sarah Wardwell – all but Abigail Faulkner, Elizabeth Proctor, and Sarah Wardwell had been executed – asking the court to exonerate them for the sake of their relatives and descendants. 

In 1709, How’s daughter joined the petition of Phillip English and others to get the victims’ names cleared and to get financial compensation. In 1711, they finally won the case, and Elizabeth How’s name was mentioned among those who had been unfairly convicted and some executed, and whose convictions were reversed and nullified.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Profile of Elizabeth How, Persecuted Salem Witch." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2020, August 26). Profile of Elizabeth How, Persecuted Salem Witch. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Profile of Elizabeth How, Persecuted Salem Witch." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 4, 2023).