As I delve into my past this week, I thought it only fitting that since we are approaching that “haunting” time of year, I bring up a very strange moment in American history.
The Salem Witch Trials.
I’m sure most people are at least vaguely familiar with this dark moment in time. They occurred in Colonial Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693. Prior to this, there had been accusations and rumors of witchcraft in neighboring towns and villages. A group of girls began to have “fits”. With no other explanation, it was decided that it must be the work of witchcraft. The first three to be accused were Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba. What would follow was mass hysteria ending with 4 people dying in prison, 1 person pressed to death with stones, and 19 people who were hanged to death.
A quick google search will turn up an astounding number of interesting reads on what they know about the trials. A recent fact is that a research group called the Gallows Hill Project has discovered that the hangings took place on Proctor’s Ledge. One of the researchers, from the University of Virginia, has written about it here.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller was required reading when I was in High School English and of course I have taken classes on American History. I’ve mentioned before that I was a math and science girl and was not fascinated by history until I began working on my genealogy a few months ago.
Many people who can trace their lines back to early America may weave their way back to this period. This step into the past doesn’t belong to me, but belongs to my children. What?! Yep. This piece of history is passed on by their father. The genealogical work to trace his line to the Salem Witch Trials was not done by me. His aunt had put in lots of time and effort and shared this with us many years ago. I just had to type it into my tree and the program did all the work to tell me how far back to count.
Susannah (North) Martin (1621-1692) had been accused of witchcraft on two other occasions. In 1692, she found herself accused again. This time, she was a widow and poor (she had been involved in a lengthy litigation over her father’s estate and the court found against her). She was required to undergo a physical examination in search of a “witches teet”. She was tried in the June 29th session of court and on July 19, 1692 she, along with four other women, were hanged to death for witchcraft.
Susannah (North) Martin is my children’s 10th great-grandmother. They descend from her daughter Esther (Martin) Jameson.
In tracing my line, I discovered that I descend from the Howletts and Cummings, both of which were in the area at the time of the Salem Witch Trials. My 10th great-grandfather, Isaac Cummings (1601-1677) was father to one of those who testified against Elizabeth Howe, a woman hanged the same day as Susannah Martin. I descend from a different son, John Cummings (1630-1700) who was married to Sarah Howlett (1634-1700). I am just at the beginning of discovering how all those lines interconnect.
A horrible moment in history. A moment overlapping with accuser and accused in the lives of my children.
How about you? Any interesting tales you’ve stumbled across in your family’s history?
Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we are here. -Sue Monk Kidd
Thanks for traveling along this Tuesday.
Let your light shine!