Posted in 1690-1800 The Long Eighteenth Century

An Historical Essay concerning Witchcraft

From page 127 of 'Domestic Annals of Scotland from the Reformation to the Rebellion of 1745" Courtesy British Library, Public Domain
From page 127 of ‘Domestic Annals of Scotland from the Reformation to the Rebellion of 1745″ Courtesy British Library, Public Domain

Dr. Wallace Notestein chose an end date of 1718 for his A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718 because “that year was marked by the publication of Francis Hutchinson’s notable attack upon the belief. Hutchinson levelled a final and deadly blow at the dying superstition.”

Historical Essay concerning witchcraft
This view of the importance of An Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft is echoed in more recent works. For example, The Devil in Disguise (2011) concurs with the assessment of the Essay and also suggests that an earlier pamphlet The Case of the Hertfordshire Witchcraft Consider’d is likely to have been written by Hutchinson. An account of that Hertfordshire witch trial against Jane Wenham, together with Hutchinson and Hans Sloane’s involvement is to be found on the Sloane Letters blog. Hutchison was concerned by the level of superstition which characterised the witch hunts, and moved from sharing that concern with Sloane to publishing his Essay in 1718, with the aim of preventing that superstition from spreading.

Sloane is not the only Irish link to this story. A second edition of the Historical Essay was published in 1720, the year Hutchinson was appointed Bishop of Down and Conor. While not active in his religious duties as bishop, he took an interest in conditions in his diocese. He was particularly concerned with the problems of Irish speakers in the Church of Ireland, especially the community on Rathlin Island. He had a bilingual catechism and primer printed for their use, and later an Irish catechism. In all these the Irish was rendered phonetically in a Roman script. More on his adaptation of Irish and his attempts to proselytize among the Catholic population is available on History Ireland.
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