“Jury Finds Mary Bliss Parsons Not Guilty of Witchcraft”

Mass Moments is a project of Mass Humanities, whose mission is to support programs that use history, literature, philosophy, and the other humanities disciplines to enhance and improve civic life throughout the Commonwealth. Mass Humanities receives support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Massachusetts Cultural Council as well as private sources. This project is funded in part by a grant from the “We the People” Initiative at NEH. Mass Moments project launched its electronic almanac of Massachusetts history—on January 1, 2005.  I subscribe to their  posts because many of my ancestors emigrated to Plymouth aboard the Mayflower ship and contributed to the development of New England.  In this historic instance, however, my ninth great maternal aunt, Mary Bliss Parsons, finds herself, not once, but twice, accused of being a witch!  Today’s Mass Moments article (below) expands on some of my earlier posts.

On This Day . . .

 May 13, 1675, a Boston jury reached a verdict in the case of Mary Bliss Parsons of Northampton: they found her not guilty of witchcraft. In seventeenth-century New England, virtually everyone believed in witches. Hundreds of individuals faced charges of practicing witchcraft. They were women, or sometimes men, who had “signed the Devil’s Book” and were working on his behalf. Their wickedness was blamed for calamities ranging from ailing animals to the death of infant children. While most of the accused never went to trial or were, like Mary Parsons, acquitted, not everyone was so lucky. Six Massachusetts women were hanged as witches in the years before the infamous Salem witch trials, which claimed 24 innocent lives.

Background . . .

Colonial Massachusetts has a well-deserved reputation as a litigious culture; fortunately it was also a record-keeping one. County courthouses are full of 300 year-old documents — depositions, trial transcripts, judges’ orders — that allow historians to reconstruct the stories of the people accused of witchcraft. One of the best documented, and most unusual, is the case of Mary Bliss Parsons of Northampton.

Mary Bliss and Joseph Parsons married in Hartford in 1646. After several years in Springfield, the Parsons family, which now included three children, moved to Northampton, a brand new settlement some 20 miles up the Connecticut River.

Joseph Parsons soon became one of Northampton’s leading citizens. A successful merchant, he served as a selectman and on the committee to build the first meetinghouse. Since the Parsons also owned the first tavern in town, they were right in the thick of things.

Another couple, Sarah and James Bridgman, followed a similar route but had a very different experience than the Parsons. They also wed in Hartford, moved to Springfield, and then onto Northampton, where a feud developed between the two families.

Soon after arriving in Northampton, Mary Parsons gave birth to a son, the first English child born in the town. That same month, Sarah Bridgman had a baby boy. When he died two weeks later, she claimed it was the result of Mary’s witchcraft. Rumors began to swirl about the town. Joseph Parsons decided to go on the offensive. He charged James Bridgman with slander for spreading rumors about Mary Parsons’s alleged witchcraft.

Even though juries usually sided with the plaintiff in such cases, Joseph Parsons was taking a risk by bringing rumors to the attention of officials. Authorities might decide there was merit to the accusations, and the plaintiff could suddenly find herself the defendant.

The case was heard at the Magistrates’ Court in Cambridge in October 1656; 33 depositions were given. Almost half of Northampton’s 32 households sent a witness; a few others came from Springfield.

Sarah Bridgman related her tale of how in May 1654 she heard a “great blow on the door” and immediately sensed a change in her newborn. Then she saw “two women pass by the door with white clothes on their heads.” The women disappeared, and Bridgman concluded her son would die because “there [was] wickedness in the place.”

Such testimony was the norm in witch trials. An argument took place, and when something went awry later, people attributed the problem to witchcraft. One Northampton woman testified that the yarn she had spun for Mary Parsons ended up full of knots. Since the yarn the woman spun for others had no knots, she concluded that Mary’s witchcraft was the cause. Another woman blamed Mary Parson when her daughter fell ill shortly after she had refused to let the girl work for Parsons. One man stated that the day after “some discontent[ed] words passed” between himself and Mary Parsons, he found his cow in the yard “ready to die,” which it did two weeks later.

A number of people testified in Mary Parsons’s defense. Three women described Sarah Bridgman’s baby as “sick as soon as it was born.” A neighbor stated that the cow in question had died of “water in the belly.” The court ruled in favor of the Parsons. The Bridgmans were given the choice of paying a fine or making a public apology. They paid the fine.

The feud and Mary Parsons’s ordeal resumed 18 years later, in 1674, when the Bridgmans’ son-in-law filed a new complaint. He “strongly suspect[ed] that [his wife] died by some unusuall meanes, viz, by means of some evell Instrument.” The instrument he had in mind was Mary Bliss Parsons.

On January 5, 1675, the county magistrates summoned Mary to appear before them. Women searched her body for “witch’s teats,” unexplained (to seventeenth-century eyes) protrusions where “imps” were said to suck. The record is silent as to what they did or did not find, but in March the Court of Assistants in Boston sent Mary Parsons to prison to await trial. The records from this trial do not survive, but we know that on May 13, 1675, a jury found her not guilty.

The Parsons returned to Northampton, but in 1679 or 1680, they moved back to Springfield, perhaps to escape the rumors that continued to dog them. Mary Bliss Parsons was in her mid-80s when she died in 1712.

Although Mary Parsons occupied a far more secure social position than almost all of the other women charged with witchcraft in early New England — after all, she was the wife of one of the richest, most respected men in western Massachusetts — her experience fit the norm in other ways. Middle-aged women were the most likely to be accused of witchcraft. The issues of jealousy, personal animosity, and family feuds that were so evident in her case would fuel the Salem witch hysteria of 1692 as well.

The horror that began in Salem Village (present day Danvers) and spread to almost every town in Essex county saw women, children, and men, including the former minister of Salem Village, hauled before magistrates. At one point some 170 accused witches were being held in jails in Ipswich, Salem, Boston, and Cambridge. Between June and September of 1692, authorities hanged 19 people and pressed one to death; four more died in prison, awaiting trial. In 1693 the madness ended. There would be no more convictions and executions for witchcraft in New England, although it would be another century before the belief in witches lost its hold on the people of the region.


A Delusion of Satan, by Frances Hill (Da Capo Press, 1997).

Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England, by John Putman Demos (Oxford University Press, 1982).

“The Goody Parsons Witchcraft Case: A Journey to Seventeenth-Century Northampton.” Available online.

Alarming Witch Hunt – Another Ancestor Accused –

Thirty-seven or so years into researching my family’s history, I still remain committed to it.  Some days my findings seem to be the same old stuff and on others, I am literally knocked out of my seat by them–like today!  I am reviewing hints about family members that I haven’t spent much time with and I stumble right into another witch hunt. This time, 17 years have passed since my ninth maternal great aunt, Mary Bliss Parsons was accused and tried of being a witch and “questionably” acquitted (it is told her acquittal was due to her husband Joseph’s ability to purchase her freedom).

Characteristics of 17th Century Persons Accused Witches

Now, let’s understand just how (in the 17th Century), you might find yourself accused as a witch.  Here’s a list of nine characteristics according to the 17th century British sources used by Massachusetts courts — Richard Bernard’s Guide to Grand Jury Men…in Cases of Witchcraft, William Perkins’s Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, and John Gaule’s Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcrafts — and more recent studies such as John Demos’s 20th century work Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (Oxford):

  1. You are female.
    All through western history more women than men have been accused of witchcraft. It took less for a woman to be considered out of line.
  2. You are middle aged.
    Although suspects in 1692 ranged from Mary Bradbury in her 80s to the approximately five-year old Dorothy Good, most supposed “witches” were in their late 40s and 50s. Maybe other adults were resentful of a bossy mother-figure, or maybe not.
  3. You are related to or otherwise associated with a known suspect.
    As William Perkins pointed out “witchcraft is an art that may be learned,” so even if you weren’t a middle-aged woman you might be accused if you were friends with a suspected “witch” or if the neighbors had had their doubts about your mother, especially in 1692.
  4. You are of an English Puritan background.
    For the most part, the accused came from the same majority ethnic group as the accusers.
  5. You are married but have few or no children.
    Neighbors suffering misfortune might think you were attacking their larger families from jealousy especially if you lacked kin to speak up for you. Unprotected widows were at even more of a risk.
  6. You are contentious and stubborn with a turbulent reputation.
    Where a man might be considered forceful, a woman might have been labeled as contentious. The situation would be worse if you were also at odds with your own family. After all, the Devil encourages discord.
  7. You have been accused of other crimes before such as theft or slander.
    As John Gaule put it a “lewd and naughty kind of life” was just the sort of thing that attracted devils.
  8. You are of a relatively low social position.
    Status and rank was stronger in the 17th century. Being too often dependent on the neighbors’ help could cause them to resent you.
  9.  A confessed “witch” accuses you of being a fellow witch.
    This was a big problem in 1692 when so many suspects “confessed” from fear, confusion, or an attempt to curry the court’s favor. These confessing accusers generally named people already under suspicion.

And, our lesson learned from all this?

Anyone might be accused of witchcraft. But if you were a widowed middle-aged English Puritan woman with few if any living children and had slim financial resources, were known for having a temper and were suspected of petty crimes (whether justified or not), and might have been related to or were friends with someone else who was suspected of witchcraft — watch out for your neighbors.

In our hunt, however, the accused is not a female, but rather, my 61 year old 9th paternal great grandfather, Robert Williams, a Puritan, emigrant from Norwich County, Norfolk, England, and a cordwainer (leather worker or shoemaker) by profession for a short time (Literally, a “cordwainer” is someone who works in “cordwain,” an archaic word for cordovan leather), who emigrated to Massachusetts aboard the John & Dorothy of Ipswich at age 29 in April 1637.

In 1644 Robert became a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company (the oldest chartered military organization in the western hemisphere).

Twenty-five years later in 1669, we find Robert Williams listed among the accused as a witch in Hadley, Massachusetts. A complaint is filed accusing him of being a witch. He appears before the courts–an indictment preliminary to trial occurs–then he is tried and acquitted of his charges at this trial.

In Law and Liberty in Early New England: Criminal Justice and Due Process, 1620-1692, By Edgar J. McManus (1993), Appendix D., Page 211, cites Robert Williams as being accused of witchcraft and then shows the verdict as acquitted, but adds that he was whipped and fined for lying.

Now, here’s a real lesson for all you budding family historians and researchers 

Please sit up and pay attention here.  How closely did you look at the List of Accused Witches, above?  Did you take a good look at the entry for accused Robert Williams, or did you like me, just drop your jaw, and move forward?  In my case, my “moving forward,” meant looking for more specifics about Robert’s accusal/accuser.

After querying and browsing a few hours searching on Google, I happened upon an Ancestry.com message board entry from “Lois in Michigan” that dated back to 2012. Lois queried:

…I have looked in many, many places, checked out recommended reference books, and looked in the Suffolk Co. court transcripts, but have either missed it or looked in the wrong places. I believe he was associated, at various times, with Roxbury, Hadley, and Stonington [Massachusetts]. Any help would be much appreciated.

(So, I, unknowingly, had followed in Lois’ steps.)  Six hours after Lois’ query came this response from “LSLangille:

Search GOOGLE BOOKS with his name in quotes as such: “Robert Williams” witchcraft Massachusetts.
There’s about 5 or 6 hits.  Search for his name in here too:

And then, Lois’ final comment in this threaded discussions:

Thank you so much! Found him! To my disappointment, the Robert WILLIAMS accused of witchcraft was not the Robert WILLIAMS who was my ancestor….

Once again I followed Lois’ steps to prove for myself her findings.  And my 9th great grandfather Robert Williams was of “Roxbury,” and was a man of means.  Meanwhile, the listed Robert Williams was of “Hadley,” and a servant!

And, here’s the “icing on the cake.”  In the book Colonial Justice in Western Massachusetts (1639 – 1702) THE PYNCHON COURT RECORD,  I find my own proof that in fact there was a Robert Williams of Hadley as well as a Robert Williams of Roxbury:

An entry at the March 29, 1670 court held at Northampton notes that Robert Williams of Hadley, a former servant, was bound over to the court by John Pynchon in ten-pounds bond and, for want of sureties for his appearance, committed to prison. The ground for this action was the offender’s “notorious Lyinge,” but he was also suspected of witchcraft. The evidence of witchcraft was not of sufficient force to keep Williams in prison or to warrant sending him to superior authority. However, for his lying, Williams was adjudged to pay a five-pound fine to the county, to be whipped with fifteen stripes, to pay all charges of his imprisonment, and to stand committed until the court’s order was performed. This punishment, harsher than that appointed by law, was undoubtedly influenced by the suspicion of witchcraft.

And, here’s a map that shows the close geographic proximity of Hadley, Roxbury, and Northampton:

So, whatever happened to my 9th paternal great grandfather, Robert Cooke Williams–who was not an accused witch?

Fast forward to 1684. Robert Cooke Williams is now 76 years old.  He is still living in the midst of all this mass hysteria and scapegoating within these dark times in our American History known as The Salem Witch Trial Era.

Four of his five sons are still alive.  Their ages are 44 to 52.  He first wife, Elizabeth died 10 years prior; he has been married to his second wife, Margaret for nine years.  King Charles II has just revoked the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s royal charter, a legal document granting the colonists permission to colonize.   It is still a devout and strongly religious community, with people living in near isolation, and still fearing that the Devil was constantly trying to find ways to infiltrate and destroy their Christian communities. Conversely, King Charles believed the colonists had broken several of his charter’s rules; including basing new laws on their religious beliefs and discriminating against the English Church and Anglicans.

King Charles II died in 1685 and King James II replaced him.  In 1686, King James II merged the Massachusetts Bay Colonies (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island) into one large colony known as the Dominion of New England. And, in 1688 he again expanded the dominion to include New York and New Jersey as well as instituting a royally-appointed government with many new and more strict laws.

Occurring next, The Glorious Revolution in England,  when Mary and William of Orange took over the throne from James II.  Upon learning of Mary and William’s take over in England, the colonists especially in the Massachusetts Bay executed a series of revolts against the government officials appointed by James II. And in 1689, these colonists overthrew the unpopular Dominion of New England.

And now, it’s 1692, Robert Williams’ age is 84 and unperceived to anyone, Robert is living the final year of his life still in the midst of The Salem Witch Trials which were in full stride. The trials began in February 1692.  Finally, the colonists began to doubt that so many people could actually be guilty of witchcraft. They feared many innocent people were being executed. Local clergymen began speaking out against the witch hunt and tried to persuade officials to stop the trials, but the executions continued through September 22 when the last eight people were hanged.  In October 1692, the 52 remaining people in jail were tried in a new court and pardoned or released from jail by May 1693.  In all, more than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft and 20 were killed.

Finally–I am without words!



Witches and Witchcraft Revisited–Another Brick Wall Downed!

Mary Bliss Parsons - 9th great auntJust a short 3-1/2 years ago (November 15, 2012) I wrote my first post Hello World! to this blog site.  In it, I alleged my family may have an ancestor who was accused of being a witch in Massachusetts.  (Note that most women, and men, who were accused of witchcraft in the 15th-19th Centuries were feared for their nonconformist ways more than anything else.)  If you go to this post’s link, you will also find at the bottom of it, links to three more posts that include mentions of witches and witchcraft in them over the next eight-month period.  Despite all my research and readings I didn’t find specific evidence of any alleged witches among my ancestors until today–exactly 341 years after a Boston jury reached its verdict on charges that Mary Bliss Parsons, my 9th maternal great aunt, was accused of being a witch.  Here’s the brief article I discovered:

Jury Finds Mary Bliss Parsons Not Guilty of Witchcraft: May 13, 1675
Published by massmoments.org May 13, 2016

Mary Bliss Parsons and childOn this day in 1675, a Boston jury reached a verdict in the case of Mary Bliss Parsons of Northampton: they found her not guilty of witchcraft. In seventeenth-century New England, virtually everyone believed in witches. Hundreds of individuals faced charges of practicing witchcraft. They were women, or sometimes men, who had “signed the Devil’s Book” and were working on his behalf. Their wickedness was blamed for calamities ranging from ailing animals to the death of infant children. While most of the accused never went to trial or were, like Mary Parsons, acquitted, not everyone was so lucky. Six Massachusetts women were hanged as witches in the years before the infamous Salem witch trials, which claimed 24 innocent lives.

I referred to the following free e-book on Google Play to learn further facts about the allegations of witchcraft against Mary Bliss Parsons. Page 15 is the digital page number where her story begins:

Parsons family: descendants of Cornet Joseph Parsons, Springfield, 1636–Northampton, 1655, Volume 1 

Frank Allaben Genealogical Company, 1912
The Strong Witch SocietyD. H. Parsons (9th great grandson of Mary Bliss Parsons), on January 19, 2011, authored a much different perspective of Mrs. Parsons’ involvement in Witchcraft and Witch Societies in his 4-star rated book:  The Strong Witch Society: The Diary of Mary Bliss Parsons.  The following is Amazon’s summary about it:
In 1675, Mary Bliss Parsons, the author’s great grandmother nine times removed, was tried for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. She was acquitted only because her husband, Joseph, was able to purchase her freedom. Such is the known history of Mary Bliss Parsons. What is not so well known is that Mary was a member of a small but powerful group of witches, The Strong Witch Society. After her death in 1712, it became Mary’s purpose to somehow “awaken” in the mind and spirit of one of her future descendants in order to reinstitute The Strong Witch Society. The author is that grandchild. What unfolds on the pages of this book is a rollercoaster of supernatural events and ‘lessons’ designed with the express purpose of calling together the remaining Strong Witches in order to divert an impending world disaster. This book is about far more than just Witches. It introduces and covers many other subjects including Alien Contact, Inter-Dimensional Travel, the Natural Disasters our world is facing today, political crises, and etc. It offers Simple solutions on how to deal with all of those problems before it is too late. It gives information on how you the reader can actually help to solve the problems without much effort at all. But time is running short. And always remember that this book is true, not fiction, not conjecture, not theory.
This jury remains out for me, and many references have surfaced since my initial research. So, I guess I have a lot more reading to do before I draw my conclusions about my 9th great aunt, Mrs. Mary Bliss Parsons.

“A Sad Mistake”

NewspaperslogoEach January I renew my subscription to Ancestry.com.  This year my annual fee increased by nearly 30 percent.  However, two additional tools were incorporated into my Worldwide subscription: full access to Fold3.com (the web’s premier collection of original military records) and also newspapers.com (digital access to 2,200 U.S. Newspapers dating from 1700 to current day).  And, I really liked the integration of features, options, and navigation across all of the tools now at my fingertips. The user experience was consistently good, so little to no learning curve needed to adapt to and navigate between applications. So naturally, with these new tools and toys in my research and documentation wheelhouse–along with Findagrave and Family Tree Maker at my disposal–I set out to see what I could discover and ultimately produce into a new and interesting story for this blog post.

The silly story spoke to me…

After creating a search and browsing its results for a few minutes I came across an article from an 1886 Greenville, Pennsylvania Newspaper.  The names of the people in the article initially got my interest, then the silly story that unfolded spoke to me and I surmised…”Regardless of the age or era, people will always be people–some rich, some poor, some fashioning their lives through clever and creative choices–and some just making stupid or sad mistakes that prohibit them from moving forward.”  The article follows:

A Newspaper Clipping from The Greenville AdvanceArgus, Greenville, PA,
11 March 1886Page 1

Greenville Advance Argus

A Sad Mistake

Why Gus Snobberly Failed to Negotiate a Loan

gentleman attire 1886Gus Snobberly make a good appearance on the streets of New York, but most of the time he is really hard up.  He often has to borrow a few hundred dollars from his friends to help him pull through, although none of his friends are aware of his distress.  He has been in the habit of sending flowers to his lady friends, and this has been a heavy tax on his feeble finances.  He mentioned his embarrassment to the florist from whom he has been purchasing his floral tributes.  The latter said:

“Mr. Snobberly, I think I can suggest a plan to help you over the difficulty.  You can get your flowers regularly and not pay any cash for them.”

“Let’s have it.”

“You wear a good many fine clothes, but you don’t wear them entirely out– We are about of a size.  Don’t you catch on?”

“Well, no.”

“You give me your clothes when you are through with them, and I’ll let you have a bouquet every week.  I’ll send it to your room.”vintage floral bouquet

“That’s a splendid idea.  You will save money and so will I.”

The arrangement was kept up from some time to the mutual satisfaction of both the contracting parties.

One day Gus sent a beautiful bouquet which he had just received from the florist to a married lady living on Fifth avenue, Mrs. Montgomery Chamwhooper, with whose husband, Sam Clamwhooper, he was on very friendly terms.  Gus’ object was to take Clamwhooper for a hundred dollars or so, hence the floral tribute to Mrs.Clamwhooper.

That same evening Gus called at the Clamwhooper mansion.  Mr. Clamwhooper was at home, but he received Gus with freezing dignity.

“What’s the matter” asked Gus, “got the toothache?”

“No sire, I’ve not got the toothache; but I’m very much disgusted, to say nauseated, with your conduct in sending my wife the bouquet.”

“But, my dear fellow, I’ve often sent your wife bouquets, and you never raised any objections.”

“I don’t object to any gentleman, who is my friend, sending my wife a bouquet, but I do object to you sending her notes in the bouquet.”

“Note!  I didn’t put a note in the bouquet.  “Twasn’t me.”  “I’ll swear to goodness it wasn’t me!” howled Gus.

“Here, sir, is the note that was in the bouquet,” said Clamwhooper, holding a note under the nose of the bewildered dude.  It was in the handwriting of the accommodating florist.

“Please send me that pair of stockings you promised me.  How do you like these flowers?”

“That’s a pretty note to send a lady.  If I didn’t think you were drunk when you wrote it, I’d twist your nose for you.”

Mrs. Clamwhooper stuffed her handkerchief in her mouth and turned away to conceal her emotion.

Gus got out into the street, but how he got there he doesn’t know.  He left his hat and cane in the house.

Next day he called at the office of Clamwhooper and explained the matter in strict confidence, but the latter was never afterwards sufficiently affectionate to justify Gus in attempting to borrow the hundred dollars.

Hello Again, World – My 145th Post

My First Post – Eight Months Ago

salem-witches 1692-1693

salem-witches 1692-1693

Eight months ago on November 15, 2012, I published “Hello World“–my 341-word first blogpost ever, under the category of Witches and Witchcraft.  I wondered then if some of my family from among the 40 generations I have traced back could have been among those accused of witchcraft in Connecticut or Winston-Salem, Massachusetts.  I noted that most women and men who were accused in the 15th-19th centuries were feared for their nonconformist ways more than anything else.  And, I wondered if I inherited my self initiative and personal drive from anyone of those accused. By the way, the jury remains out on those issues.

So, despite only six people reading my first post, I went on to write 144 others on a variety of categories over the next eight months; making today’s post number 145!  And today, I took to data mining my blog’s statistics to see just how readership and visits stand at my 100th post.

Understanding my blog’s readership demographics

On April 25, 2013, Our Heritage:  12th Century and Beyond, captured its largest number of readers in one day–totalling 74:  as you can see, many people that day were drawn to my Home page/Archives (24), and the Plymouth Pilgrims, Puritans, The Great Migration…post (10).

April 25-2013Stats

On June 19th, one of my most popular posts was about a  “dragon boat racing event” to end hunger in Calvert County.  It received 39 views, but a total of 66 views were made of the blog site that day.  This post had nothing to do with my family genealogy but did hit a home run on topic and history of a little known sport for a good cause.  And, today I have 88 blog followers and the following keeps growing, too.

The United States’ State Department recognizes 195 independent countries from around the world.  The U.S.Census Bureau posts today’s world population at 7,097,725,000 and counting.   My blog’s readership in comparison is small, but steadily growing.  To date, 3,350 people from 64 countries–one third of the world’s countries, have read at least one of my posts.  Below are the top five countries based on overall readership, with the remaining 190 countries making up 6.1 percent of the world’s remaining readers to visit my site.  The Census Bureau’s total estimated population for today (and counting) is 316 million. That means a little over one percent of the U.S. population has read a post from my blog during the past eight months.

Blog Readership

Googling for other genealogy-based blogs

I then googled “genealogy blogs,” to see just how many I might find out there.  There actually is a site Genealogy Blog Finder that tracks 1,782 blogs worldwide.  It lets you filter by:  recently updated, what’s new, and who’s blogging where in the world:Genealogy Blog FinderSo, it made sense to me when I learned that nearly 86 percent of my readership is in the United States. Pingdom.com’s study of blog readership states that there are actually over 157 million blogs on Tumblr and WordPress, alone.  Comparing the 157 million blogs number to the 1,782 genealogy blogs, I see that just 1.14 percent of all of those blogs are genealogy-based posts.  

And finally, according to Blogpulse.com; “No wonder many bloggers have a hard time getting noticed.  There are more than 144 million blogs in the world, publishing 1 million posts per day. So there is some competition.”

When I reflected on these staggering facts, I can only feel very appreciative for all readers who have taken their time to find and read my posts.  Happy blogging and reading.  Hope you will visit with me again!


Will Baby be Witch or Warlock?–Revisited

2 Mar 2013:

While continuing my research into accused witches in New England, I discovered additional resources1. It appears that Mrs. Rachel Fuller, wife of John Fuller of Hampton, CT, may replace Lydia “witch” Gilbert (still looking for maiden name confirmation that she might have been a Lathrop), on my list of possible ancestors who were accused of sorcery and witchcraft in New England. Once again, the research continues, and I follow the paths redrawn for me by this additional resource. However, I remain compelled to correct and/or redact earlier writings as new information becomes available. I would never want inaccuracy or incomplete stories left untold because I didn’t take time to update my work.


The following blog, the first of at least two, looks at Witches and Witchcraft during the 15th Century–a period most commonly known as The Salem Witchcraft Trials. The second blog planned will focus on our family’s very own Lydia “witch” Lathrop Gilbert.

I lifted the article below directly from The Tuscaloosa News – Sunday, August 15, 1993, written by: Jane Alexander of The Associated Press, to frame the history around the topic and to show that witches and witchcraft continue to be of interest and concern today.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The descendants of the accused witches in Salem, Mass., 300 years ago include three former presidents and such disparate people as Clara Barton, Walt Disney, and Joan Kennedy. Now comes along a couple that only recently found out that their unborn child belongs in that company.

NEW YORK–I’m going to have my first child any day now. Girl or boy? My husband and I haven’t tried to find out. We’re more concerned about which ancestors the baby might take after. Will the child be curious or quiet? Tall or short? Witch or warlock?

Well, we’re not really concerned to tell the truth, but I will admit that I was astonished to discover that not long ago 300-year-old witch skeletons hung–literally–from my husband’s family tree.

Family Tree of Edward William Knight

Family Tree of Edward William Knight

Unbeknown to him and the rest of his immediate family, his ninth great grandmother, Sarah Towne Bridges Cloyce, and her two sisters, were accused of witchcraft in 1692 in Salem, Mass. Although Sarah escaped the noose, her sisters, Rebecca and Mary, were hanged.

Sarah’s name was buried in the family records as Sarah Towne, who married Edmund Bridges, Jr. in 1660. But after Edmund’s death in 1680, she married the widower Peter Cloyce. Only when reading accounts of the trials during last year’s tricentennial did it dawn on me that Sarah Cloyce, accused witch, was the same woman as Sarah Towne Bridges, esteemed ancestor.

Ed’s line of descendancy from Sarah is contained in the family history, “The Paddock Heritage,” which was self-published by some of his relatives in 1985.

Story lost

It’s not surprising that Sarah’s story was lost. Only in 1957 did the General Court of Massachusetts resolve “that no disgrace nor cause for disgrace” be borne by descendants of witch-trial victims.

Over the centuries, many families have indeed felt disgrace and distress.

New England author Enders Robinson calls the witch trials “the grimmest of stories and one in which my father believed plunged the family into ignominy, and was best “forgotten.” His sixth great grandfather, Samuel Wardwell, was hanged from a locust tree the same day as Ed’s Aunt, Mary Towne Estey.

Presidents, too

Three presidents–Taft, Ford, and Arthur–also are descended from one of Salem’s 20 executed witches or their siblings. So are Clara Barton, Walt Disney and Joan Kennedy. And, of course, our descendant in-the-making.

During the Salem hysteria, being related to an accused witch, was enough to cast doubt on one’s own innocence. Ed’s Sarah was likely singled out because her older sister had been accused.

So were they witches? No. The Towne sisters were devout Puritans. Then why were they accused? Theories range from the simplistic–boredom–to the bizarre–hallucinations brought on by eating moldy bread. The truth is likely more complex: a combination of family rivalries, fights over property, and grabs for power.

Rebecca Towne Nurse and Mary Estey were among 13 women, six men, and two dogs hanged as witches. Another 80-year-old man, Giles Corey, was tortured under a pile of stones as townspeople tried to force him to enter a plea. His only answer before being crushed to death was immortalized in Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible. “More weight,” he said. Eight more accused witches died in jail.

Must confess

Only those who did not confess to witchcraft were considered dangerous. Those who admitted to guilt were not treated as harshly, particularly if they conjure up names of other “witches.” Those who refused to say they consorted with the evil were imprisoned, usually in irons, often tortured, and sometimes executed.

“They lost their lives because they commited the error of truth,” said Enders Robinson, author of “The Devil Discovered: Salem Witchcraft 1692.”

Rebecca, Mary, and Sarah were daughters of English-born William and Joanna Blessing-Towne. They moved their family to the settlement with the hopeful name of Salem, from the Hebrew word for peace.

It was there nearly 50 years later that their daughters would be tested.

“What sin has God found me unrepented of, that he could lay such an afflicition on me in my old age?” asked Rebecca. The 70-year-old matriarch was nearly deaf, was taken from her sickbed on March 24, 1692, and arrested for witchcraft.

Kids tormented

Local children said her “specter” tormented them. She was condemned, brought in chains into the First Church in Salem and–most horrific to the God fearing woman she was–excommunicated by unanimous vote. Rebecca was hanged on Gallows Hill on July 19, 1692.

Meanwhile, Mary and Sarah also had been jailed. Mary would not enter a false confession. “I dare not belie my own soul.” Mary was hanged, along with seven others, on a cold and rainy Thursday, September 22.

Sarah was spared. Though kept in irons for nearly a year, she fought back against her accusers. Upon hearing testimony of John Indian, one of the minister’s servants that she was a witch, she snapped in court: “Oh! you are a grievous liar.”

Eventually the political winds shifted, Sarah was freed on January 23, 1693, and spent 10 years before her death trying to clear her sisters’ names. A movie version of her battle, “Three Sovereigns for Sarah,” stars Vanessa Redgrave.

Today, Towne descendants have a 442-member family association. It features a quarterly newsletter, “About Towne;” coffee mugs; “Remember Rebecca” T-shirts; annual reunions, and the determination not to let history be forgotten.

Some descendants of witch-trial players would rather it be forgotten. The fact that Magistrate John Hathorne wore the robes of chief witch hunter haunted his great-great grandson, who altered his own last name to distance himself. In his essay “The Custom-House,” Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote of his ancestors: “I, as their representative, hereby take shame on myself for their sakes, and pray that any curse incurred by them may now and henceforth be removed.”

Five of the 20 who were executed had no known children or grandchildren. They leave only a legacy of refusing to betray their beliefs. I hope our child were inherit that, along with a drop of Sarah’s blood and bear Towne proudly as a middle name.–End of Article.

1Samuel Gardner Drake, Annals of Witchcraft in New England (Boston:W. Elliott Woodward, 1869), pgs. 150-156.

Hello world!

salem-witches 1692-1693

salem-witches 1692-1693

This is my very first post.    I’m looking forward to sharing with you many interesting facts and stories about the nearly 40 generations of people in my family and their times from around the world.  Many of the stories were unearthed through my 20+ years of  genealogical research.  As in most families, ours has the good , the bad, the beautiful, the not so beautiful, the oppressed, founding fathers–leaders, dignitaries, kings, princes, princesses; scholars, ministers, musicians, and even one alleged witch in Winston-Salem, Massachusetts.  (Note that most women, and men, who were accused of witchcraft in the 15th-19th Centuries were feared for their nonconformist ways more than anything else.   But it still is fun to claim a witch in our family)  (Hmmm…I wonder if I get my self determination from her?) Excerpt from:  Hunting for Witches in the Family Tree By Kimberly Powell, About.com Guide…

Witchcraft in Europe & Colonial America

Talk of witches often brings the famous Salem Witch Trials to mind, but punishment for practicing witchcraft was not unique to colonial Massachusetts. A strong fear of witchcraft was prevalent in 15th century Europe where strict laws against witchcraft were put into effect. It is estimated that around 1,000 people were hanged as witches in England over a 200-year period. The last documented case of an individual found guilty of the crime of witchcraft was Jane Wenham, Woman of Walkern, in 1712. She was reprieved. The largest group of convicted witches in England were nine Lancashire witches sent to the gallows in 1612, and nineteen witches hanged at Chelmsford in 1645. Between 1610 and 1840, it is estimated that over 26,000 accused witches were burned at the stake in Germany. Between three and five thousand witches were executed in 16th and 17th century Scotland. The anti-witchcraft sentiment that had been growing in England and Europe undoubtedly had an impact on the Puritans in America, ultimately leading to the witch craze and subsequent Salem Witch Trials I hope you will enjoy reading my blogs and provide feedback on topics and discussions. Happy Blogging and Reading!