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The Bethel Witch Trial

Ohio became a state in 1803 and before the ink was even dry on its state constitution there was a major trial in a small town in the southern part of the state.

It's 1805 in Bethel, Ohio and one family is dealing with something that they can't seem to explain. The daughters of the Hildebrand family are acting as if they are possessed. They claim that an evil spirit is causing them night terrors, keeping them awake and making them scream at all hours of the night, and making it so they are too tired to perform their daily chores. 

The family would try everything they could think of to get rid of the spirits that were plaguing their daughters. They tried to bind the spirit in a bag of Linsey-Woolsy, taking the bag out on the porch when they were sure that had the demon trapped, cutting it up into little pieces and burning the pieces. This, of course, did not work. When prayer also failed, the family began to wonder if there was anything that could help. It was at this time when one of the girls would accuse their neighbor, Nancy Evans, of being a witch and causing this horrible affliction on them.

Nancy denied the allegation, but the Hildebrand family was adamant that she had to be doing something. They tried to avoid Ms. Evans, but even staying out of her way didn't seem to work and the girls continued to lose sleep and scream constantly. Finally, the family had enough and formally accused Nancy Evans of practicing WITCHCRAFT!

Now, most people thought that the idea of someone being a witch was a little bit extreme, especially given what had happened in Salem, Massachusetts about 115 years earlier, so there were no laws on the books or formal ways to deal with these kinds of accusations. Since the Hildebrand family, and several others in the community, wouldn't listen to reason, the justice of the peace decided a fair trial would have to be conducted.


But how to conduct such a trial in the absence of laws and evidence?


After much thought and study, he settled on what he considered the best method to determine if Ms. Evans was a witch or not - weigh her against a bible.


The method was simple really and had been used in not only the Salem trials, but all throughout Europe during their witch craze. A large scale was built, and on one side they would place the holy bible. The other side would contain a chair, with the accused sitting in the chair. The judge would release the scale and if the accused went down to the ground, they were free to go. If, on the other hand, they went up and the bible went down, well that was bad news. The reasoning was that witchcraft could only be conducted by someone in league with the devil, and if they were in league with Satan, then they would weigh less than the inerrant word of God. 

And so, a scale was constructed, and Nancy Evans was weighed against a bible.


Not surprisingly, she weighed more than the bible did.

The town was relieved to know they did not have a witch in their midst, though they now looked more harshly at the young Hildebrand girls. The new consensus was that the girls just didn't want to do their chores and had been making up being possessed the whole time. Not long after the incident, the Hildebrand's would move away as would Nancy Evans. I couldn't find anything regarding where the families wound up later on, but from the little bit I was able to determine it looks like the Evans family may have wound up in Brown County.

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