About Philip English, Escaped Salem Witch
hilip English, the most successful merchant in Salem Town, emigrated from Isle of Jersey as Philippe D'Anglois in 1670. He rose out of obscurity to become the largest entrepreneur and ship owner in Salem, and he married into an established Salem merchant family. He and his wife were arrested of witchcraft in late April 1692, but both escaped to New York for the duration of the trials. No attempts were made to bring English back to face trial. During his hiding in New York, English's wealthy estate was pillaged at the hands of Sheriff Corwin, and little restitution was ever made for his losses.
Phillippe L'Anglois was a French Huguenot from the Isle of Jersey. Little is known of his early life before Salem. The French called the port of St. Malo "La Cite Corsaire," but the English called it a "nest of wasps." St. Malo was a walled town rich with the profits of privateering in the 17th century.
Philippe L’Anglois (1651-1735) was the greatest entrepreneur Salem ever saw, a cutthroat, hustling, hyperactive shipmaster and merchant who came to Salem in the 1670s as a young shipmaster from the Isle of Jersey, in the English Channel. Anglicizing his name to Philip English, he proceeded to open new markets for Salem’s maritime trade and to make enemies as he swashbuckled his way forward in the 1680s.
None of the merchants of Spain and Antigua and Barbados had ever met William Browne or Timothy Lindall, but all of them knew Philip English, the fearless Salem Frenchman—the self-made American, the proud man apart, self-reliant, unwilling to be judged by others, certain of his own worth, singled out as the one who would survive, thrive, and triumph.
Philip English came ashore about 1690 to set up as a great Salem merchant, perhaps the greatest. The Puritan aristocrats, bound together by blood ties and decades of joint ventures and self-interest, resented the presumption of the former L’Anglois, a lucky sailor who somehow had never gone down in a shipwreck like so many of their hirelings. He built a grand mansion in the lower end of town, and a fine wharf and warehouse; but his wealth did not make him their equal; and to many, like Sheriff Corwin, it only made him a target.
When the cries of witchcraft in Salem Village (earlier known simply as “the Farms”), began to echo in the courtrooms of Salem Town itself, there was hope that the plague might not affect the people of the seaport. Certainly no one in the Salem Town ruling class had anything to fear from witch accusers. It was, after all, the aristocrats who conducted the legal and religious proceedings under which the witchcraft outbreak was being managed, and so far the rustic working-class accusers seemed not to have been tortured by evil spirits emanating from the wealthy and powerful.
The Anglo Puritan ruling class liked his money but not his style, and he remained on the outs. Not that it mattered: for many years he stayed at sea, cheating storms and fevers and pirates and dodging death in a dozen tight spots; but it was at home in Salem in 1692 that he would face execution, at the hands of his neighbors.
Not even the wealthiest of Salem's residents were immune from accusations of witchcraft. Yet, as it turned out for Philip and Mary English, money had its advantages.
Philip English (born Philippe L'Anglois) emigrated to Salem in 1670 from the Isle of Jersey at age 19. Five years later, he married Mary Hollingsworth, the daughter of wealthy merchant William Hollingsworth and his wife, Eleanor. The couple established residence in a grand home with a view of the harbor. They raised two daughters in this beautifully proportioned home on Essex Street. Over the course of the next two decades, Philip English developed a highly profitable trading company and came to own a fleet of twenty-one ships, as well as fourteen lots and a wharf in Salem. English earned his money by trading fish for produce from the tropics and manufactured goods from Europe. Fishermen on ships owned by English sailed the North Atlantic coast from Maine to the Newfoundland Banks. English also took an active role in local affairs. In April 1692, he was elected a Salem Town selectman.
Troubles began just before midnight on Saturday, April 18, Sheriff George Corwin and his deputies, acting on an unknown accusation, arrived at the English home on Essex Street. Opening the curtains around Mary's bed, Corwin ordered her to accompany him. Not easily intimidated, Mary told Corwin to go away and arrest her in the morning. Corwin agreed to wait, ordering his deputies to guard the house during the night to prevent an escape. On Sunday morning, after Mary had eaten breakfast, she consented to be taken to a second-floor room at the Cat and Wheel tavern near the meetinghouse.
Mary English appeared before a large crowd at the Salem meeting house on April 22, 1692 to answer a complaint of witchcraft. The examination records for that day are lost, and so the precise reasons for the charge against her remain unknown. She most likely became a target because her husband attracted attention because he was a native French speaker (and the French, because of their association with warring Indians were anything but popular), because he was an Episcopalian in an overwhelmingly Puritan community, and because had unsuccessfully pursued contentious lawsuits over disputed property. It is also possible that general knowledge that Mary's dead mother had once been accused of witchcraft contributed to the accusation. Susannah Sheldon, who later accused Philip of witchcraft, claimed to have seen Mary's apparition, accompanied by a black man wearing a tall hat. Abigail Williams added to Mary's problems when she told authorities that George Jacob's specter told her that he had recruited Mary as a witch. Mary remained housed in Salem for three weeks following her examination. On May 12, she was transfered to a jail in Boston to await trial.
Philip's vocal criticism of his wife's arrest made himself an obvious target for a similar accusation. It came when Susannah Sheldon reported that English, at church service on Sunday, April 24, "stepped over his pew and pinched her," thus afflicting her "in a very sad manner." Later, Sheldon would tell authorities that English "brought his [the Devil's] book" and told her that if she didn't sign it "he would cut my throat." She added that a specter, telling her not to rest until she had told his tale, accused English of having "murdered him and drounded him in the sea." English warned her not to report the murder, Sheldon said. If she did so, he would "cut my legs off"and--for good measure--"kill the governor" and "ten folk in Boston" before six days passed. Sheldon accusations probably encouraged another witness, William Beale, to step forward with his own charges against English. Beale's dislike of English stemmed from being on the opposite side of a 1690 lawsuit over a claim to two tracts of land. Beale claimed that English had offered him a bribe in return for his favorable testimony in the case. Later, Beale said, when was discussing English's lawsuit with a friend, "my nose gushed out bleeding in a most extraordinary manner"--a nosebleed he attributed to English's witchcraft. Beale also speculated that the sudden deaths of two of his sons soon afterward might have been the evil work of English, in retaliation for his testimony against him.
On April 30, 1692, a warrant issued for English's arrest. Philip, however, knew in advance of the charge against him and, after first hiding in a secret room, fled to Boston, where he hoped his influence could be used to free Mary. When it became apparent that his absence was hurting--rather than helping--his wife he returned to Salem to face charges of witchcraft. Magistrates examined Philip on May 31, then ordered him sent to join his wife in a jail in Boston (a privilege granted through the help of English's friends). The Boston jailer freed the couple each morning, on the promise that they would return at night to sleep in the jail.
According to stories handed down in the English family, a Boston minister named Joshua Mooley convinced Philip and Mary to flee Boston just before the scheduled start of their witchcraft trials. Mooley based his Sunday sermon on Matthew 10:23, "If they persecute you in one city, flee to another." Just to make sure they got the message, Mooley later visited the couple in jail that evening, telling them that he had made arrangement for "their conveyance out of the Colony." Somewhat reluctantly, Mary and Philip took the advice, leaving behind their two teenage daughters to stay with friends in Boston while they made way by carriage for New York, where they intended to wait out the madness in Salem.
In New York, the Many and Philip English received periodic reports of the continuing hysteria in Salem. A combination of lost time in the fields and drought caused a food scarcity in Salem, and Philip arranged for a shipload of corn to be sent there to ease the suffering.
In 1693, with the hysteria finally ended, Philip and Mary returned to Salem to find that Sheriff Corwin had confiscated much of their property. The next year, shortly after giving birth to a son, Mary died. Philip returned to his shipping business. He also pursued claims for reimbursement of his property, finally getting 532 pound sterlings in 1711. He also is said (in some histories, although of doubtful veracity) to have found a more personal type of revenge: stealing Corwin's body from the home cellar in which it was buried following the sheriff's death. Philip English died in 1736.