Lake #11262

English St George flag animationHenry Lake (1611-1678)

Born in England.  Arrived in Massachusetts before about 1641.  He later settled in Rhode Island before returning to Massachusetts.

English St George flag animationAlice (1616-1650)

Born in England.  Arrived in Massachusetts before about 1641.  She was hanged for witchcraft.

Lake #11262

Information is limited regarding my 11th g-grandparents, Henry Lake and his wife Alice.  It is widely published that Henry was born in about 1611 and that Alice was born in about 1616, although on what authority I do not know.  It has also been often repeated, although it is probably false, that Henry is the son of David and Alice (Backster) Lake of Wavertree, Childwall, England[1]Henry had a brother named Thomas whose wife was also named “Alice”, and these two “Alices” are sometimes confused in accounts of the family.

1876 illustration of a "witch" trial at Salem, Massachusetts - There were at least 12 persons executed in New England for "witchcraft" prior to the hysteria that swept Salem in 1692, including my 11th g-grandmother, Alice Lake (hanged on Boston Common in about 1650).

1876 illustration of a “witch” trial at Salem, Massachusetts – There were at least 12 persons executed in New England for “witchcraft” prior to the hysteria that swept Salem in 1692, including my 11th g-grandmother, Alice Lake (hanged on Boston Common in about 1650).

In about 1650, Alice Lake (wife of Henry) was executed by hanging in Boston, Massachusetts as a “witch”.  Presumably, the execution would have taken place on the Boston Common, as was customary.  If so, I have at least two ancestors, including Alice Lake and Mary (Barrett) Dyer (1607-1660), who were hanged on Boston Common (in Mary’s case for being a Quaker).  Prior to Alice’s execution, she resided with Henry at Dorchester, Massachusetts.  After his wife’s death, Henry left Massachusetts and settled for a time in Rhode Island.  He eventually returned and died at Dartmouth, Massachusetts after 21 Feb 1672/73.

In the decades before the Salem “witch trials” of 1692, at least four women were executed as witches in Boston[2].  The first woman executed in Boston for witchcraft was Margaret Jones of Charlestown.  In 1648, the midwife Jones was hanged on an elm tree on Boston Common.  She was followed by Alice Lake of Dorchester in about 1650-51, and then by Anne Hibbens in 1656.  Hibbens was the opinionated sister of Governor Richard Bellingham, who is said to have been excommunicated from the church for speaking her mind.  An Irish-Catholic woman, Mary “Goody” Glover, who could not recite “The Lord’s Prayer” in English – only in Latin – was the final person executed in Boston for witchcraft.  In 1688, she scolded a 13-year-old child who had accused Glover’s daughter of stealing.  The girl and her brother went into fits, claiming sharp pains and being struck deaf and dumb.  Glover confessed to being a witch, but her last words were reportedly, I die a Catholic.

Tragically, the evidence points to the fact that Alice Lake had lost a young child, a common occurrence in the settlement, and that her grief at the death was misinterpreted as witchcraft, which resulted in her execution.

The following facts of Alice’s life are gleaned largely from the research notes of Alice Marie Beard (

Alice was a married woman with at least five children, all presumably fathered by her only known husband, Henry Lake.  In 1650, those children would have been a girl under ten, a boy about seven, a boy about five, a child about three who likely was a boy and an infant.  Alice‘s year of birth is unknown, but based on the ages of her children, she was likely about 30 years old in 1650.  If she had siblings, parents, or other relatives where she was living, no researcher to date has found them.  She apparently carried with her the Puritanical guilt of having had sexual intercourse before marriage, a guilt further complicated because she became pregnant before marriage and attempted to induce an abortion.  She evidently did not succeed, but her guilt and grief apparently became more acute upon the death of her youngest child.

After her baby died, Alice told people she saw the baby.  Maybe she did.  Others who have not been judged insane or witches have claimed to see dead people.  Or, maybe she grieved so much that her mind allowed her to imagine that she saw her baby to ease her grief.  Or, maybe she knew she did not see her baby, but claimed she did so as to have something to hold onto.

Title page of "A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft" by Rev. John Hale (Boston, 1702)

Title page of “A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft” by Rev. John Hale (Boston, 1702)

Rev. John Hale had been a young boy when Alice was executed.  He went on to graduate from Harvard and became a minister.  He supported the trials of the witch hunters until they came after his pregnant wife, the last woman accused of witchcraft in Salem in November 1692.  Rev. Hale wrote the following in 1697:

Another that suffered on that account some time after, was a Dorchester Woman.  And upon the day of her Execution Mr. Thompson Minister at Brantry, and J.P.[3] her former Master took pains with her to bring her to repentance And she utterly denyed her guilt of Witchcraft; yet justifyed God for bringing her to that punishment: for she had when a single woman played the harlot, and being with Child used means to destroy the fruit of her body to conceal her sin & shame, and although she did not effect it, yet she was a Murderer in the sight of God for her endeavours, and showed great penitency for that sin; but owned nothing of the crime laid to her charge.[4]

Click images below to see selected pages from Rev. John Hale’s A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft (Boston, 1702):

Alice Lake is mentioned in other colonial sources:

Boston, City of: Fourth Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston, 1880, 1896, City Printers [English modernized for easier reading]:

Page 306:

12th day of the 11th month, 1651 [Jan. 12, 1652]… It is agreed between the select men and brother Tolman that he shall take Henry Lake’s child to keep it until it come to 21 years of age and therefore to have 26 pounds and to give security to the town and to teach it to read and write and when it is capable if he lives the said brother Tolman to teach it his trade.  Further agreed if it dies within 2 months, brother Tolman is to return 21 pounds.  If die at one year’s end, brother Tolman is to return 18 pounds; if within 2 years, he is to return 11 pounds; if it die before 3 years be expired, then he is to return 5 pounds. [NOTE: Thus, for the first 3 years, Tolman would get 21 pounds, but for the last 13 to 15 years, Tolman would get only 5 pounds; fortunately for brother Tolman’s finances, this child died when he did.]

Page 307:

An account of the rates gathered in the year 1651 for the Use of the towne of Dorchester: …Disbursed as followeth… to Alce Pope for Lake’s child 3 pounds and 14 [smaller money units].

Page 308: [continuation of accounting for 1651]

more for Lake’s child

Page 310:

2nd day of the 9th month, 1652 [Nov. 2, 1652] …paid to Lawrence Smith for charges about Alex Lake children, 4 pounds… to John Pope’s wife about Alex Lake’s children, 10 pounds and 8 [smaller money units]… paid to Mr. Glouer 1 pound that he laid out about H. Lake’s children… paid and to be paid to Thomas Tolman for the bringing up of Henry Lake’s child according to the covenant recorded, the sum of 26 pounds.

Boston, City of: Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston, Containing Dorchester Births, Marriages, and Deaths To the End of 1825, City Printers, 1890:

North Burying Ground, Dorchester, Massachusetts, main gate (June 2008 - photo by ATJones)

North Burying Ground, Dorchester, Massachusetts, main gate (June 2008 – photo by ATJones)

Page 29:

Dorchester Deaths; year, 1678; Alice LAKE, died October 20th; Thomas LAKE, died Oct. 27th. [This Alice Lake was the wife of Thomas, Henry’s brother, i.e. the sister-in-law of the woman executed as a witch.  She is buried in the Dorchester North Burying Ground at the corner of Columbia Road and Stoughton Street.  The inscription on her grave marker reads: Els Leke / Aged 80 years / Dec’d Octobr ye / 20 1678.  Thomas is buried there also, and the inscription on his grave marker reads: Thomas Leke / Aged 70 yrs / Dec’d October ye 27 / 78 ].

The following entries are contained in Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England by John Putnam Demos (Oxford University Press, 1982):

Page 71:

“It is significant, moreover, that many children of accused witches went on to useful even successful lives. Thus… David Lake, the younger son of Alice (convicted and executed at Dorchester in 1651) was a leading man in the town of Little Compton, Rhode Island.” [source indicated: G. Andrews Moriarty’s “The Early Rhode Island Lakes”, in The American Genealogist, XII, 17-24.]

Page 170:

“Alice Lake of Dorchester was reportedly enticed into witchcraft ‘by the devil…appearing to her in the likeness, and acting the part, of a child of hers then dead, on whom her heart was much set’.”  [Here, Demos is quoting Burr quoting Nathaniel Mather’s 1684 letter to his brother Increase Mather].

Pages 301-302:

“The process of dispersal is a little easier to follow for the family of Alice Lake, convicted and executed at Dorchester in about 1650.  Her husband Henry moved away at once; his name appears regularly in the records of Portsmouth, RI, beginning in April 1651.  Meanwhile the four Lake children, all less than ten years old, remained in Dorchester.  One, probably the youngest, was ‘bound out’ by the town meeting to a local family for a ‘consideration’ of 26 pounds – and was dead within two years.  The other three were also placed in (separate) Dorchester households. At this point their trail becomes badly obscured. (One was living as a servant to an uncle – still in Dorchester – in 1659.)  Later, having reached adulthood, the same three were found in Rhode Island – and then in Plymouth Colony, where their father had removed by 1673.  It appears, therefore, that the family was eventually reunited, some two decades after the event that had broken it apart.”  [NOTE: The uncle alluded to was likely Thomas Lake, Henry‘s brother.]

Cotton Mather, Puritan minister (about 1700)

Cotton Mather, Puritan minister (about 1700)

The American Genealogist cited above mentions correspondence from Nathaniel Mather, a minister in Dublin, Ireland to his brother, Increase Mather, in Dorchester, dated 31 Dec 1684.  Increase and Nathaniel Mather were the sons of Richard Mather, who served as pastor of the First Parish Church from his arrival in Dorchester in 1635 until his death in 1669[5], and it is likely that he could have been involved in a case involving witchcraft in the community. His grandson, the famous minister Cotton Mather, played a key role in the persecution of the Salem trials in 1692.

In his 1684 letter, Nathaniel asks his brother why he did not mention a certain incident in Dorchester in a book he had recently written.  Nathaniel writes:

I have also received by way of London one of your books of Remarkable Providences… Why did you not put in the story of Mrs. Hibbens witchcrafts, & the discovery thereof, as also H. Lake’s wife, of Dorchester, whom, as I have heard, the devill drew in by appearing to her in the likenes, & acting the part of a child of hers then lately dead, on whom her heart was much set: as also another of a girl in Connecticut who was judged to dye a reall convert, tho she dyed of the same crime?[6]

Nathaniel, the American Genealogist suggests, had left New England prior to 23 Mar 1650, so Alice Lake “must have been executed” sometime before that.  We can only assume that Nathaniel had first hand knowledge of Alice‘s execution.

One other vital piece of evidence from the American Genealogist: “Dorchester town records,” it reads, “under the date of 12 (11) 1651”, stated that it was agreed with brother Tolman to take care of Henry Lake’s child…

Therefore, it appears from the existing records that Henry Lake left Dorchester after his wife’s execution, and he must have left the care of a remaining child to his brother, Tolman.  Henry left for Portsmouth, Rhode Island, where his branch of the family flourished, while other Lakes remained and are buried in “the old burial ground at Dorchester,” according to one family history.

Three of the children of Henry Lake and Alice reached maturity and had children themselves:

  1. Elizabeth Lake, born about 1642 and died after 1709.
  2. Thomas, born about 1644 and died 14 Dec 1715.
  3. David, born about 1646 and died after 1709, married the widow Sarah Cornell, born Sarah Earle[7].  Sarah’s first husband had been convicted and executed for the murder of his own mother.  The “evidence” against this man was that after his mother was dead and buried, a man had a dream in which the dead woman said her son had killed her.  That man was Thomas Cornell, an ancestor of the man who endowed Cornell University, and (as irony would have it) also an ancestor of Lizzie Borden[8].

In about 1664 Elizabeth Lake married Thomas Butts, thought by some to be the son of Giles Butts and Marie Muse.  Thomas was born about 1641 in Norfolk, England, and he died in 1702 at Little Compton, Rhode Island.  The lineage of Elizabeth Lake (1642-1709) and Thomas Butts (1641-1703) is continued under his heading.

[1] This report seems to have originated with G. Andrews Moriarty, Additions and Corrections to Austin’s Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island, published January 1943 in The American Genealogist, Vol. XIX, No. 3.  More recent researchers have concluded that Moriarty was incorrect is his guess that Alice’s husband was of the Lake family of Chidwall.  While it is an error perpetuated far and wide, it is probably an error.  Henry and Alice are presumed to be from England, but no more than that is known.

[2] Several others were executed during the same time period in Connecticut.

[3] Benjamin Lake Noyes, M.D. speculates in his private journals (12 volumes, prepared about 1907-1920) that Alice Lake was the daughter of Alice Pope from a marriage Alice Pope had before she married John Pope.  Dr. Noyes also makes the guess that the “J.P.” referred to in Hale’s Modest Enquiry was John Pope.  He suggests that Alice would have been referred to as a servant in the home of John Pope if she had been his step-daughter.  In his supposition, both John Pope and his wife Alice had been married previously, and Alice entered the marriage to John Pope with the daughter Alice who was from a previous marriage.  Dr. Noyes interpretation of the various writings is that Alice was executed because she imagined that she saw her dead baby, and that it was Alice who was approached on the day of her execution by the minister Mr. Thompson (Noyes says William Thompson) and by J.P. (Noyes says on page 7 it was John Pope), and that it was Alice who told Mr. Thompson and J.P. that she wasn’t a witch but that God was punishing her for her sins prior to marriage.  Dr. Noyes’ evaluation of what happened to Alice is as follows: “Here is a penitent, broken hearted, submissive woman, laying bare the greatest secret of her bosom, asking forgiveness; yet the damnable tactics of the fanatical Christian Church strings her up like a miserable tramp [unreadable]–Puritanical intolerance.”

[4] Hale, John (Rev.). A Modest Enquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft, written 1697, first published 1702 (Boston, Massachusetts) p. 16-18.  John Hale (1636-1700), commonly referred to as Reverend Hale, was the Puritan pastor of Beverly, Massachusetts, during the Salem witch trials in 1692.  He was one of the most prominent and influential clergymen associated with the witch trials, and is most noted as having initially supported the trials, and then changing his mind, publishing a critique of them.  As a child, Hale had witnessed the execution of Margaret Jones, the first of perhaps 15 people to be executed for witchcraft in New England, between 1648-1663.  He was present at the examinations and trials of various people who were accused of witchcraft in the Salem witch trials of 1692, and supported the work of the court.  However, on 14 Nov 1692, 17-year-old Mary Herrick accused his second wife, Sarah Noyes Hale, and the ghost of executed Mary Esty of afflicting her, but his wife was never formally charged or arrested.  A later commentator on the trials, Charles Upham suggests that this accusation was one that helped turn public opinion to end the prosecutions, and spurred Hale’s willingness to reconsider his support of the trials.  In 1697, Hale wrote the book, A Modest Enquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft, challenging the legal precedents and biblical principles used by the court during the trials.  The book was not published until 1702, after his death.  A large portion of the book was also excerpted that same year in volume 2 of Cotton Mather’s history, Magnalia Christi Americana.  Hale’s house at 39 Hale Street, Beverly, where he lived from 1694 until his death in 1700, is now a museum, the John Hale House.  Hale was the great-grandfather of American Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale (1755-1776).

[5] Nathaniel Mather (1630-1697) and Increase Mather (1639-1723) are both my 1st cousins 11x removed.  Their father, Richard Mather (1596-1669) is my 10th g-grand uncle.  His father, Thomas Mather (1575-1633) is my 11th g-grandfather, from whom I am descended through his daughter, Elizabeth Mather (1618-1680).  Elizabeth married Henry Woodward (1606-1685), and their lineage is discussed under his heading.

[6] From The Mather Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections, 4th ser., VIII (1868), 59-60.

[7] Sarah Earle is my 9th g-grand aunt.  She is the daughter of Ralph Earle (1606-1678) and Joan Savage (1595-1679), my 10th g-grandparents, discussed under their own heading.

[8] Lizzie is remembered in the ditty, Lizzie Borden took an ax. Gave her father forty whacks.  Unlike her unfortunate ancestor accused of killing a parent, Lizzie walked away a free woman after the trial for killing her father and stepmother.  She is also a descendant of my 11th g-grandfather, Richard Borden (1595-1671).  Follow this link for more about Lizzie Borden.


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