On this day...

...September 22nd, 1656, a remarkable event in US legal history occurred. In the recently-established colony of Maryland, a young English maid-servant called Judith Catchpole was on trial for witchcraft. Having only landed in America in January of that year, poor Judith found the land of the free to be a place of almost immediate imprisonment. A fellow-passenger on the voyage from England had accused her of murdering her new-born child, as well as killing several fellow passengers but then restoring them to life by means of witch-carft. Had her accuser survived the voyage perhaps Judith Catchpole's fate would have been sealed. But as there were no other witnesses and as the case was so unusual, the Maryland authorities took the unique step of appointing an all-female jury to try the case. They needed to know whether Judith had, indeed, given birth. The jury - seven married and four single women - duly conducted their examination and concluded that Judith could not possibly have given birth to a child and she was acquitted.

The trial took place a good twenty years before the celebrated Salem Witch Trials. And almost three hundred years before women in America got the vote. It's remarkable for the unprecedented lengths the authorities at the time seemed to want to go in order to secure justice.

Would that that were always the case.

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