The 1600s was a time of growth in the New World. It was also a time of suspicion. Surprisingly, it was also a time of important firsts. The state of Wyoming claims the first all female jury in 1870, but other records tell of a much earlier jury. While the date of the very first one is not known, one of the earliest was the 1656 trial of Judith Catchpole. Not much is known about Catchpole, except for this one moment in time. The young woman arrived to be charged with witchcraft and infanticide. Her accuser said that she given birth while on the ship and murdered the child. He further said that she had stabbed a sailor and slit another woman’s throat. He said that these last two had been healed due to Catchpole’s witchcraft. A jury was assembled and met for the first time on September 22, 1656. The all-female jury consisted of seven single women and four married women. Considering that all-female juries were exceedingly rare until well after the Nineteenth Amendment was passed and the future Salem witch trials, the assembling of this jury created quite a bit of surprise. However, the judges in this time period did take a very pragmatic view of juries. One judge decided that women would be best fitted to accurately judge whether or not Catchpole was telling the truth. Catchpole, naturally, maintained her innocence and even declared that she had never been pregnant. After the jury examined her, they were convinced that Catchpole had been telling the truth. It was evident that she had never been pregnant, and the accusations were made up. So Judith Catchpole was acquitted of all charges and set free. Aside from a few days recorded for posterity, her life has been lost to history. No information is known about her future after the trial, but her trial remains an important part of colonial history.
NOTE: The main image is a general depiction of a young women in the Colonial period, not Judith Catchpole.
Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw by Richard Franscell (pg. 172)