A Return of Prayer

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A Return of Prayer: Or a Faithful Relation of Some Remarkable Passages of Providence concerning Thomas Sawdie, a Boy of Twelve Years of Age, Servant to John Roberts of Trebitian in the Parish of Lawrack, and County of Cornwal.

Who was possest with an Unclean Spirit, and through mercy by Prayer and Fasting, dispossest and delivered from the Servitude and Jaws of Satan.

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The Prey Pluckt out of the Mouth of the Lion, or, An account of some passages of Providence concerning Thomas Sawdie, &c.

On the 29th of June 1663, there being a Fair then and Lawraek, this Boy went to the Fair in the presence of his Mother and some others. By the way he was very importunate with his Mother for money (though he had some small pieces in his pocket given him by his Master to buy him a Fairing:) His Mother not being well stored, did deny him. The boy having seen many, and bought some toyes in the Fair, towards the Evening returned homewards in good season, to manage some necessary imployments that were incumbent on him as his charge.

In a Field, as he was on his way alone, not far from his Masters house, there met him the appearance of a Woman very gawdy, all in white: who asked him, whether he wanted any money: whether he would have any money: reaching out money to him with her hand. The Boy refused it. On this the Spectrum or appearance vanished away, rushing by him with some muttering, discontented words, which he did not understand, and suddenly a great Black Dog, with very great and

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fiery eyes stood before him; on which he fel to the ground as dead, but when he recovered, and rose up, he saw nothing.

After this he went home, and followed his business; but that night lying with his Fellow-servant he rested very unquietly, and there appeared to him again the former spectrum in the shape, or likeness of a great black Dog, which charged him, that he should not discover any thing that he has seen, and that he would come again to him the next night.

The second night, when his Bed-fellow was asleep, it came again, and stood by his bed-side, as before; made him some tempting proffers, and went off. And the Boy confesseth, that he was not then afraid, though he heard the voice of a man out of the mouth of a Dog.

The third night it came as formerly; and asked him whether he would have any money? and the money tendred was eight pieces, as great as pieces of Eight, very specious, which were given hm, and received by him, on this condition, that he shouly come to it neer the Bakes-Park-Gate (which was neer his Masters house) on the Lords Day in the afternoon (which is called Ugly Day) which was to be the Evening before the next Fair, to be held at Lawrick’s, eight weeks distant from the former: To which Fair he should be carried, and have all his desires.

Now the Boy was charged, when he received the money into his hand, and laid it on a Chest by him, that the next day he should lay it up in the Chest, and nail it fast, and not make it known. But the next morning the money was gone from the top of the Chest, where he laid it. However he was promised afterwards that he should have money enough, if he would come into the Field called the Bakes-Park, at the time and place appointed.

On this the boy fell sick, swelling in his stomack and belly, and almost totally lost his appetite to mead. In which manner he continued for a Fortnights space: then the swelling struck up into his neck and throat, most thinking that it was an impostume: some that it was wormes; but the apparition told the Boy that this was not sickness, but it was only to deceive

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the people, that they might not suspect any other thing by him.

This distemper increasing on him, his Master sent to one Mr. Cary a Physician at Lyskerd; who when he poured his Water into a Urinal, said, he could not discern any thing by the Water, for that it was very full of black dust, and as it were rags of Brown Paper; and told those that brought it, they should go home again, and take his Water, and put it into a cleaner Vessel; which being done, (though the Vessel was clean enough before) and brought to him again, he found it even as at first; and then he said it was bewitched. However, he sent him a Julep, a Plaister, and a Cordial of Alchermes, with some other things: But the Boy grew worse, and worse, and fell into several sorts of Fits.

1. Like Epilecktick Fits (or of the Falling Sickness) and in these he would continue for the space of seven or eight hours. After this the swelling in his throat went off, but that in his belly continued.

2. Like Convulsion Fits; and he had forty or fifty, yea more in a day; and in these he continued for a Fortnight, or longer: In which Fits he would tear off his hair from his head, bite his own flesh, or any others, or whatever he could fasten on. His Master and his Relations on this applied themselves to divers persons for the cure of these Fits, could find no remedy.

Hereupon an Uncle to the Boy, who held an Estate, wherein his life was of main concernment, took him and carried him to one Condy’s of Stoke-Climsland in the said-County, who said, that the Boy was overlookt. He gave him a Plaister, a Powder, and a little Bag to hang about his neck, and doubted not to cure him.

The second time his Relations went, this Condy gave them only a Powder, but did promise them most certainly to cure him. The third time that they applied themselves to this Condy, they did most earnestly intreat him to shew them somewhat more, what the distemper was, (seeing the Boy was unruly, and taken so strangely) he charged them to watch him carefully, and not to let him be out of their sight, least he were taken away: For that on their neglect so he would be, and they

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should never find him, but dead by some hedge or old wall. He charged them to come to him again, but they went no morre.

The very next day after this the Boy would have run away to the place appointed for meeting, but was caught hold of, and brought back again.

That night the Family being at Religious Duties, both reading and praying, he began to hollow like a Hunter, to roar, and whistle, to make disturbance, till his spirits were quite spent; and so fell into a deep sleep, from two hours in the night till seven next morning: In which time they could not perceive whether he were alive or dead, but only by his heat. His Arms were spread abroad, and such a stiffness seized on them, with his legs, and other parts, that there was no bending of them, without breaking them. Thus he continued for three nights, beginning after the first night about midnight, and so lying till seven or eight in the morning. In all this time since his fits began, the food he received was very inconsiderable. After this for three days following in the morning, lying in his bed as dead, he was taken out, and thrown with violence under it, his arms all abroad, his limbs inflexible as before, yet none of the bed-clothes were removed, and this as soon as the parties that watched him were come down the stairs.

The third morning, when the Boy was put into bed, and came to himself, his Mother (who them watched by him) was very earnest in pressing him to make some discovery, whether he had seen any evill thing, and whether in discourse he had made any promise, or what he had done. The Boy was extreamly unwilling, but (being urged far) at last he confessed, that he had seen, as before is related, and that he has promised to go with what had appeared to him.

On this discovery he fell into very strange motions of his body, like one ringing of Bels, lifting up his hand s and feet for five hours at least, (as he lay on the ground) though even then appearing to be senseless, and not able to speak a word, yet would make strange noises, which were heard at a great distance. Sometimes he would neigh like a Stone-horse, then would sing certain strange Musical Notes and Tunes; which

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having done, he would scratch, tear, and bite those that held him.

Now after he had made this discovery as before, the Devil did appear to him in the shape of a little man, with long fingers, and great eyes, clad all in black, and that usually like Velvet, and threatening him with his fist: On this, ever at the naming of God, he would fall down dead. When the Scriptures were read, or any other religious duty performed, he would hollow, roar, and whistle, till his strength seemed quite spent: Yet though so disaffected to what is good, he would ask for a pack of Cards, or a Ballad; and laugh; and shew great rejoycing, if any one did by mention such thing to him.

Then he fell into furious frantick Fits. Being one time in the Field with the Mowers of Corn, on a sudden (though several took care of him) he made and escape, and threw off his clothes in his flight; and they could not overtake him, till he had gotten to the other end of the field, and was crept into a narrow gutter in the Hedge, so that they could hardly pluck him back again.

And when he was within, and the doors kept fast, and two or three to watch him, he would run to and fro in the House, leaping up and down over the Table, with very strange agility of body. His eyes would commonly be at the door; which if he could at any time find un-guarded, or not much regarded by the company, he would run swiftly to make an escape, which was always his great desire. Once he ran through seven or eight persons, who could not hold him: and as he was running, he threw off all of his clothes, shirt, and all in an instant.

Then they bound his hands behind him with a very narrow Towel, tyed straight upon his wrists, with three knots: Yet when he pleased he would take out his hands, and put them in again; which would be as fast bound, as ever they were. Thus he would leap over an high gate with his hands fast bound behind his back; which he once did, on an endeavor to make an escape, being let out only to try what he would do.

He did attempt to go out at a Window, the breadth between the Moulins being scarce three inches; yet had gotten his legs

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out, and one arm, and almost all his head, nothwithstanding that divers persons present followed him immediately to pluck him back again, but could not, till some went on the out-side; and then (as he said) the Devil left him. He could (as he affirmed) have put his body out at a Mouse-hole; and did shoot himself into a little hole in the Wall on the side of a Window up the Waste, and further. The hole went through the Wall, in the form of a Pyramid, of no capacity in the ordinary course of nature to contain such a body as his was.

One, among many others, coming toward the house to see him, at a good distance in the field met with the Boys Master, and gave advice to bind him, and not suffer that trouble with him: Who coming immediately into the House, called the Boy by his name, and asked him how he did: Who looking with a furious countenance, answered, Thou rogue, thou sadist I should be bound, didst not? For the Boy counfessed afterwards that the Devil told him ere the person came into the House what he said, and described him unto him.

When the Devil did appear to him (which was very often) it was however variously, and in divers modes: Sometimes pleasantly, shewing him rare things, and presenting to his view the Towns and Villages within two miles compass round about, as plainly as though he had been in them; sometimes, frowning and threatening him: On which the Boy was as variously affected and postured; sometimes smiling, laughing, and playing with his fingers, uttering a childish fawning voice; sometimes yelling and roaring in a very hideous manner, yet in the intervall was rational and sober: Only when any Religious Duties were on foot, he would still hollow, roar, and whistle very shrilly; and so continue for a while, and then fall as if dead, and then on a sudden he would start up, and renew the same out cry again.

Thus for about seven weeks his Master and the Family were exercised with a very sore tryal in him; and knew not what else to do, but to betake themselves to him, who hath Satan in a Chain, and rules him at his will. Hereupon consulting with some Friends, what was now farther to be done in this their

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astonishing perplexity: Some were for making their address to some Ministers: Others were against it, arguing that they were but men the best of them; and others were endued with the same spirit that they were: Some answered, that the Ministers might have a double portion; and that they might expect an answer from Heaven rather on their intercessions, then others.

That therefore at length was the determination. In the pursuance whereof, the Master of the Boy went to Mr. Nicholas Teag a Minister of his acquaintance a few miles distant, (with whom it was Vacation time) and declared the case to him, under what a sad dispensation of Providence they were cast; and with tears besought his advice, what course to steer for deliverance. He was told, that as the disease was, so must be the means for remedy. That he should get some knowing, experienced, pious Christians, or Ministers, or both; and setting apart a day, seek help of God, with the Boy in the midst of them. That this was Gods way, and so the safest and most effectual. That he should take care none did thenceforth apply themselves to Condy in the Boys behalf, for that was dangerous; An that he had cause to thank God, that he was not conscious to former applications in that kind, he being ignorant (as he professed) of the person, and his ways of working.

Upon this he desired that Minister to bear a part n the work of such a day, as was then proposed, and resolved on; who promising him, wished him to get three more, and to carry the business with as little noise as possible might be. Thus he returns to his House, and the next day early, went to procure three Ministers more, to meet as his House on this sad occasion the day after. And therein he did speed, and got Mr. Toms Mr. Travers, Mr. Lydston, Mr. Teag, (who mere all at leisure for such service) though not without a providence casting one of them in his way, without whom he had not (probably) been furnished that time with his desired number.

The very Morning that the Boys Master was gone to procure the Ministers, the Devil appeared, and told the Boy what his.

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Master was gone (though the thing was carried out very secretly) viz. to get thither four Black Rogues, (as his stile was) and described to him each of them in particular, what manner of men they were that would come, giving him evident characters of their persons, which the Boy presently made a recital of to those about him, though he know not these Ministers before. Besides, that one of them fell in unexpectedly, when another was designed, whom the Boy knew, but said expressly, He was not to come, (being indeed absent that day from his House) yet he spake directly of the feature and stature of him, who was least likely to come together with the other three: But the Devil then charged him, not to hearken to any one word those black Rogues should say unto him.

On the morrow Mr. Toms, Mr. Travers, Mr. Lydston, Mr. Teag met; but met with more company there, then they thought of, and yet not without a good providence, (as it fell out afterwards) by reason of the various reports about the business.

These Ministers, when the came into the House, found the Boy sitting in a Chair, with a dreadful Visage, looking fiercely upon them. They spake to him in words as suitable as the could, to his condition, and with much mildness, endeavoring to gain a little on his affections, and to engage his attention: But they received no other answers from him, save, thou Fool, and, thou Rogue, what care I for thee, I’le fight with thee. A furious spirit against the Minister seeming to dart out at his eyes, and to flame through his whose visage. Sometimes he fell a strugling violently, to get loose from them that held him, erecting himself on the ledg of the Chair, as though he meant to rush upon the Ministers; but was told, that they were come in the Name and Strength of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ, to be employed in his Work; and that they feared not him, nor whatever power acted in him, so much to Gods dishonor.

While the Ministers were whispering with their heads together at the Table, this Lad at the other end of the Room said, He know what they spake: And immediately he leaped out of the Chair, and like a Tumbler jumped on the top of an high Table, and so down again on the inside, and crept un-

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der it, roaring much like a Bull. Mr. Teag one of the Ministers pluckt him with some violence thence, and set him in the Chair again.

Then the Devil appeared to him in a Stair-Case, that was over against him in the same Room, all in black, like Velvet, and told him, he should not hearken to the se Black Rogues. The Boy held up his finger and smiled, making a Childish noise to it by way of answer, and then began to roar again, yet earnestly looking ever and anon towards the Stair-Case. On this, a Woman of his intimate acquaintance asked him privately what he said, who told her as it is before related. Then she stept directly before him, interposing her self directly between him and the Stairs, to hinder his sight of what he fixed his eyes upon: Bu the raised himself up in the Chair on sudden, higher then her head, with his feet on the Seat of the Chair, and say it again, making the same signs to it.

Now Mr. Teag on of the Ministers took a portion of Scripture suitable to the occasion, and spake on it a while and then addressed himself, and then the rest there present with him, to God in prayer. In the beginning of these exercises the Boy did hout, roar, and whistle, but after a little while fell as dead. Then were his Arms, and other parts, one while as plyant as a Glove, and on a sudden as stiff as a Stake, no bowing of them. He would sometimes start up suddenly, and stare with his eyes, hout, and roar, and whistle, but soon fell back in the Chair as dead again. A strong young man held his arms all the while, and a Gentlewoman (Sister to a Justice of Peace, not far from thence) held his legs, kneeling before him.

This the Ministers went on in prayer by turn, with some little intermission betwixt each of them, in which they spake to the Boy, and to one another, with the rest of the company. A bout the middle of that days duty the Boy was very unruly & made an hideous noise, causing great disturbance, so that the remaining part of that service was in danger to be confounded, the voice of the Minister then in prayer being almost wholly drowned for a good while together. But Mr. Teag, one of the Ministers removed from kneeling at the Table, and placed

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himself besides the Chair, where the Boy sate; then took he the Boy by the hand with his, as he was raving, and presently he became as silent, and dead, as before. After a while he took off his hand softly from the Boys; which was no sooner done, but he started up, giving a sigh, opened his eyes & brake into out-rage, as at other times. Then Mr. Teag took hold on his hand again, & immediately the Boys spirits sunk away, and he became as dead. This was done sundry times, partly to avoid the trouble which the Minister found in keeping still in that posture and action of holding the Boys hand, and partly for tryal, whether it would prove alike, being often reiterated, and that sometimes after a longer cessation, but still the effect was the same; that if he withdrew his hand never so insensibly, the Boy raged forth-with; but laying it on, he fell in an instant, and lay in appearance as dead as a stock: Only now and then the Minister felt at his Wrist a sudden vibration and quivering of the spirits within, but no part moved outwardly. So after full tryal this Minister kept on his hand, till the duties of the day were concluded. That which gave the first occasion and motive to this course, was an observation made in the morning, upon the Ministers first entring discourse with the Boy, that his enmity to them was such, as he would not endure any of their hands should touch his, but declined it with much vehemence; and if they caught hold of him unavoidably, he fell into a dead fit, but not so, when others did take him by the hand: Which occasioned that expression of some afterwards, that in this the Devil was out-witted, though indeed there was a special Providence so ordering & directing it at that time, as is for good reason acknowledged by the most concerned in that particular. Yet towards the close of that days work; about a quarter of an hour before the end, the Devil told the Boy (as he since affirms) while he lay in his dead Fit, that if he would look the other way, and not in the Ministers face, he should open his eyes, and roar, & disturb them again, notwithstanding the Ministers hand which held his; which he began to do, with mighty struggling, his face being turned away directly from the Ministers even into the bosome of the man that held him on the other side of the Chair. Mr.

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Teag the Minister did not perceive this at first (his thoughts being otherwise exercised) not indeed, when he looked up at the noise did he understand the meaning of it, nor what more to do; so that the Boy made a little disturbance, but it so fell out, that Mr. Teag raised himself a little somewhat higher on his knees, and stretching over, looked the Boy in the face, and rebuked him, whereupon he presently fell dead, but within little that Mr. Teag the Minister was returned to his former posture, and had with-drawn his head, the Boy was up again, beginning to hollow again aloud and again sunk dead on his looking over upon hi,. But Mr. Teag the Minister did not remove the other side of the Chair, to look stedfastedly and constantly on his face; so that these changes in him were sundry times repeated in that short space, till Prayer was ended.

When the duty was over, and the day spent, the Boy was not much altered, yet was thought somewhat better, in that he went up and down the House very quiet, and walked fort into the entry, and did not essay to run away. But still the Ministers had no other language from him then before. And he said, their words were ugly words. Only he uttered more calmly and modestly, as though he had been ashamed.

Thus they departed, commending the Family and company to the Grace of God, desiring the Lord to make some return to their prayers, and to remember that poor creature in mercy, &c. leaving some charge concerning him that night.

As soon as they were gone, the Boy desired to go to Bed, where he no sooner was, but he fell into a dead sleep, (as was thought) and so lay till the next morning. Thee persons did watch by him that night, who heard a noise, as of horses running furiously into the Court, the doors unlatched and unlockt, so that they were in a very great fear. The next morning the Boy rose somewhat early, and told his Master, he would go into the Field to the Harvest work, whither he went, but being come thither, he fell into his roaring fits, making a great noise, so they bound him, and laid him down, and went a little distance from him to their work.

The Boy, though his hands were bound behind him, and

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his legs fastened together, yet would leap upright upon his feet, and move forward leaping, and then fall down again, & move on his side towards the hedg. This drew his Master and all the people about him, who brought him back to the place where they had left him. And after they had dealt seriously with him a little while, they returned to their work again, leaving him bound; but he began to make toward the hedg as before. On which they all came about him again & sate down with him.

And whereas no perswasion or means could bend his obstinancy though the whole course of these his extravagancies to make any mention of God, of shew himself active and willing in any duty of Religion, they now found upon their urging him that way (though it had often been done before) some passionate relent and meltings in him.

Then some that were by, put him upon repeating the Lords Prayer, as that which they judged most familiar to him. Having rehearsed these words, he began to make some noise, and falling backwards, cried out, He is gone, He is gone. His Master asked what? The Boy said the Devil, that hat troubled me all this while. Then he presently enquired for Mr. Teag the Ministers, that had prayed for him the day before, and would be carried to them. This was observed to fall out about the same hour that the Ministers fell to work the day fore-going.

Then they took up the Boy, and carried him into the House. For he that just before could leap, and do such strange feats of Activity, now could not stand alone, not had and strength to feed himself, but was fed on a Womans knee as a child. His spirits and voice were very low, and his body exceeding sore all over.

As soon as he had recovered so much strength of nature as to be able to utter so many words with an audible voice (which was about a week after.) He confessed not only what hath been already mentioned, which he farther confirmed, but moreover, as followeth.

1. That towards the end of the day of seeking God, when Mr. Teag the last of the Ministers was drawing to a close, he felt somewhat within him creeping up towards his Throat like a living creature, & striving (as it seemed to him) to force its pas-

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sage out at his mouth, which caused a great commotion in him, and exceedingly afflicted him with torture in his body. And he was farther told by that which so vexed him, that he should be tormented yet worse, if that black Rogue did not leave praying the sooner. And he verily thought that if the duty had continued a while longer, some strange effect had followed on the place, and the Devil had then gone out of him. This was about the time, when he was bid turn away his face from Mr. Teag the Minister who held his hands (as was mentioned before) that he might make farther disturbance.

2. That the night after the Ministers went away, though he went to Bed, and seemed asleep, yet he was not asleep all that night, but saw all the Chamber, and all the World (as he thought) in a flame about him. And once that night the Devil came to the top of the stairs, and holding up his fist, did grin at him, threatening him that if he had him in his power, he would tear him in a thousand pieces.

3. That what went out his Mouth in the Field next morning, when he said, he is gone, he is gone, was like a Rat, and went into a Fire, which did appear near the hedg of that Field in a Ditch, towards which he was moving, when left bound as before, and that the fire did ascend into the Air, and the Rat in it, and he saw it pass over to Saint Germans Town two miles from thence.

4. That this Field, and that very part of it, where the Fire appeared, was the place appointed before for meeting. The time then very neer approaching, being on the Lords Day in the afternoon next following (which was termed in their contract the Ugly Day) when and where he was to have received money enough, and gone away with the Devil: From whom God hath now graciously and mercifully delivered him.

After the noise of this stupendious Providence was somewhat over (for much discourse there was about it. Some said, It was the Fanaticks work. Others that ‘twas a Presbyterian Juggle, but the more sober and wiser sort, and those in power, after narrow scrutiny, did acknowledg themselves fully satisfied, and openly confessed Digitus Dei est hic) the Ministers met

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in the same place with the same company to return praise to God, where the boy was also present in his former soundness of mind, and freedom from that power, which had so cruelly infested him. Yet was he still under much faintness and debility of spirits. And there did he Ioyn in that Days service, demeaning himself soberly and modestly, affectionately acknowledging Gods mercy in his great deliverance (seeing the very next Lords Day after was like to have proved so critical and fatal to him) and applying himself to the Ministers, gave them all great thanks for their great care and pains.

Since that he hath recovered bodily strength and liveliness, and his Master keeps him to School. The Lord power his Spirit on him, and purge him, that he may be a Vessel of  Honor, who hath been as a brand pluckt out of the Fire.

The Boy can go in the dark into the Chamber, where he lay under this dreadful Visitation, and walk abroad without fear.

The truth of this is attested by:

(ministers named)

(several people named who gave witness. Notably, John Roberts, the boy’s master, Dorothy Sawdie, the mother)


How to Cite

Anon. Return of Prayer: Or a Faithful Relation of Some Remarkable Passages of Providence concerning Thomas Sawdie. ed. Kirsten C Uszkalo. The Witches in Early Modern England Project. 2011. [date of access]. <http://witching.org/>.

All site content copyright © Uszkalo except where noted. Images courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.