Ebenezer BISHOP

19 Jan 1669 - 12 Mar 1711


Woodcut illustration of "Witches Apprehended" showing the water test accused witches would undergo.

Ebenezer Bishop was born on 19 Jan 1669 and died on 12 Mar 1711.  His father was Reverend John Bishop and his mother was Rebecca Bishop née Goodyear.  He lived all his life in Stamford, Fairfield County, Connecticut.  On 2 Oct 1700 he married Sarah Slawson and they had six children.  One site on the internet gives him the title “Dr.” but there is no explanation of what kind of doctor he might have been.


The reason why Ebenezer Bishop is noteworthy is in relation to the wave of hysteria regarding witchcraft which spread across the New England colonies in 1692.  It started in Salem, Massachusetts where a total of 19 witches were hanged.  The first person convicted and executed for witchcraft was Bridget Bishop (not related to this Bishop family). 


In the same year, in Stamford. Connecticut, an indentured servant named Katherine Branch accused Elizabeth Clawson and other women of being witches. The accusation was based on Katherine Branch’s strange “affliction” which many historians believe may have been some form of epilepsy.  Another factor was that Branch was employed by a family named Wescot, and the Wescot and Clawson families had been feuding for years. 


An investigation on Katherine Branch’s claims was held, according to the methods that were used in such cases in the 17th century.  Namely, the accused was tested by tying her hands and feet and dunking her in a pond (illustrated above).  If the accused floated this proved they were a witch, and if they sank they were not. This test was performed on Elizabeth Clawson, and she floated (as indeed most people would) – thereby proving that she was witch.

But even after failing this test, a large number of neighbours continued to question Branch's accusation, and to assert that Clawson was innocent. Seventy-six Stamford residents, including Ebenezer Bishop and his brother Stephen Bishop, signed an affidavit stating that Clawson had never acted maliciously toward her neighbors or used threatening words. After the case made its way through the courts in Fairfield it was determined that there was not sufficient evidence to convict Clawson of witchcraft, and she was eventually acquitted.