Bewitched

T. H. Matteson, Examination of a Witch, 1853. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

For some in Massachusetts, the mention of the years 1692 and 1693 still reminds us of a very dark and regrettable chapter in our past – a past that still is being written, analyzed, and researched more than three centuries later. The regrettable set of events that unfolded 330 years ago resulted in what we know in American history as the Salem Witchcraft trials. Alive today are countless descendants of those accused of and executed for witchcraft, as well as their accusers, and the judges who passed judgment based on spectral evidence.

From my own early genealogical research, I discovered while still in junior high school that my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Mary (Perkins) Bradbury (1615-1700) of Salisbury, Massachusetts, was an accused witch. She was one of the lucky ones, however, and escaped her execution. Many still ponder whether Mary or her husband Thomas Bradbury bribed the jailor and made it possible for her to vanish into the New England frontier until after the witchcraft hysteria subsided. Often facts like these are lost to history but continue to make us dig and reinvestigate this chapter in colonial New England. As genealogists and historians, we are extremely fortunate to have surviving records from the trials preserved in various archives and available to be discovered digitally online.

In the early eighteenth century, the colony offered financial compensation to many of those accused or their survivors. In 1957, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts officially apologized for the role it played in the Salem Witchcraft trials and pardoned those accused and executed wrongfully so long ago. One accused witch who was pardoned in 1957 was Elizabeth Johnson Sr. of Andover, Massachusetts. Her daughter Elizabeth Johnson Jr., also accused of witchcraft, was never officially pardoned … until 2022.

Original xxamination of Elizabeth Johnson Jr. Courtesy of Massachusetts State Archives

That effort was accomplished in part by the research of junior historians in an eighth-grade civics class at the North Andover Middle School. They worked with Massachusetts lawmakers, and in May 2022 their efforts finally exonerated Elizabeth Johnson Jr., 329 years after she had been accused of witchcraft in 1693. (Perhaps she was overlooked simply because her mother was also named Elizabeth Johnson.) My natural curiosity got the best of me about who the last exonerated accused Salem witch was, and did she in fact have any living descendants?

Elizabeth Johnson Jr. was the daughter of Stephen and Elizabeth (Dane) Johnson of Andover, who were married there on 5 November 1661. Elizabeth’s own date of birth cannot be located, but based upon her age from trial records she would have been born ca. 1671. The search for her living descendants ended as quickly as it began, as I discovered she died unmarried at Andover 3 January 1746/47.

Elizabeth’s mother Elizabeth Dane was the daughter of the Rev. Francis Dane (1615-1697), who settled as a minister in Andover in 1648. It is almost unthinkable that the daughter and granddaughter of a seated minister would be accused of witchcraft, but they were, as would be other members of Dane’s family. Francis Dane was first married to Elizabeth Ingalls, the daughter of Edmund Ingalls (1598-1648) of Lynn, Massachusetts. Rev. Dane’s niece was Martha Carrier – the daughter of Andrew and Faith (Ingalls) Allen, and granddaughter of Edmund Ingalls – who was executed during the hysteria on 19 August 1692. Discovering the Ingalls connection is when I realized that Elizabeth Johnson Jr. and I shared a common ancestry. This makes her my second cousin nine times removed, and the distant cousin of former U.S. President James A. Garfield and author Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) via Edmund Ingalls.

Discovering the Ingalls connection is when I realized that Elizabeth Johnson Jr. and I shared a common ancestry.

That evening after the discovery I went home with genealogical news to the family dinner table, news that brought the story of Elizabeth into the hearts of my family. We never knew our connection to this young lady, who was not much older than my own younger daughter. We can now proudly claim that we are Elizabeth’s distant cousins, something that might have caused earlier generations of my family to fear that the finger of persecution would point their way for even mentioning this once close family connection.

And thank you to the students from North Andover Middle School, who indirectly kindled my own curiosity to seek out Elizabeth, which in turn allowed me to make a connection I would have never imagined. There are countless stories we uncover collectively as genealogists, but this story truly bewitched me, and I am glad it did.

About David Allen Lambert

David Lambert has been on the staff of NEHGS since 1993 and is the organization’s Chief Genealogist. David is an internationally recognized speaker on the topics of genealogy and history. His genealogical expertise includes New England and Atlantic Canadian records of the 17th through 21st century; military records; DNA research; and Native American and African American genealogical research in New England. Lambert has published many articles in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, the New Hampshire Genealogical Record, Rhode Island Roots, The Mayflower Descendant, and American Ancestors magazine. He has also published A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries (NEHGS, 2009). David is an elected Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Mass., and a life member of the New Hampshire Society of the Cincinnati. He is also the tribal genealogist for the Massachuset-Punkapoag Indians of Massachusetts.

22 thoughts on “Bewitched

  1. Here is a perhaps unanswerable question – which one of the many accused witches has the most descendants. It seems that I see Mary (Perkins) Bradbury mentioned many times over the years by many distant people. Personally, I am her 9th great grandson. BTW, I am 2C8R to Elizabeth Johnson Jr.

  2. Appreciate this article, David. I just finished reading Marilynne K Roachʻs “Six Women of Salem”… an excellent book about the trials and tribulations of 1692-93. I was pleased to see mention of my 9th great grandfather, Thomas Farrar, Sr, who, after spending 9 months in jail in Boston, his case was found ignoramus… we do not know… on 12 January 1693. I donʻt know who paid his jail fees but he died just over a year later, presumably at his home in Lynn. Several years ago I was able to see the original document sending him to prison in Boston at an exhibit of original documents at the Peabody Essex Museum… a chicken skin moment for sure!

  3. My equally great-great, etc Grandmother signed the petition to support Mary Bradbury. My Grandmother’s name was Sarah Bernard Hackett. I have a copy of the petition.

  4. Thank you, David, for a fascinating bit of history. Hooray for the North Andover students. I know that you have let them know about the personal importance of their work.

  5. Mr. Lambert: thank you for furthering the Salem witchcraft research. Bridget Playfer Wasselbe Oliver Bishop is my ninth great grandmother and was the first wrongly accused “witch” to be hanged on 10 June 1692. She was not pardoned until 2001.

  6. What a fabulous story! Kudos to the teacher that showed those students to research and how to think critically. I am one of the thousands of Perkins-Bradbury descendants. Thanks, David. That made my day.

  7. Thanks for the interesting piece. I am related to Abigail Dane Faulkner, who along with her two daughters, was condemned for being a witch. She and her children were imprisoned but released due to insufficient evidence, the intersessions of her father Rev. Francis Dane and her husband, Francis Faulkner and the fact she was pregnant. As you no doubt know, she continued to attest strongly that she was not guilty. In 1711, Governor Dudley issued a warrant as recompense to pay the sum of 578 pounds, 12 shillings to those who had been falsely accused. Abigail received 20 pounds.

  8. “Our sin of ignorance, wherein we thought well, will not excuse us when we know we did amiss,” Francis Dane Sr. wrote 2 January 1693, in his beautiful secretary hand, in a statement whose original recently figured in an exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem (“The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming,” 10 Sept. 2021-20 March 2022). Thanks to a friend’s kindness, I was able to go twice, and was endlessly fascinated by the original documents and artifacts–even a sundial once owned by victim John Proctor, who asked for a short time to reconcile himself to his fate, but was denied. A modern centerpiece of the exhibit was a full-length gown completely covered with black glass beads, darkly glittering in the low light, and a focal point in the late British fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s fall/winter 2007 collection, In Memory of Elizabeth How Salem 1692. From a blog post by Paula Richter on the museum’s website, I learned that McQueen (1969-2010), who was somehow descended from victim Elizabeth How, had traveled to Salem in 2006 and carried out research there and in Danvers (Salem Village). He must have seen the testimony by her father-in-law James How Sr. to Elizabeth’s innocence, also in the exhibit. I haven’t yet been able to determine McQueen’s line from Elizabeth How and sadly, can’t ask him; he died by suicide a few short years later. London friends of the PEM donated the gown shortly thereafter to the museum’s permanent collection.

    Dane’s words haunt me. Peace to all of them. And thank you, David, for this important post.

  9. My thanks also to the Middle School students but Elizabeth Johnson Jr. has not, in fact, been cleared – yet. The Massachusetts Senate approved the move to exonerate her and attached the required wording that would do that to the current budget. This still has to be approved by the House and then signed by the governor. The budget needs to be finalized soon and Elizabeth’s supporters hope she will not be overlooked yet again.

    1. Does the wording for Elizabeth Johnson, Jr.’s exoneration have a name or number of its own, or is it rolled up in the whole budget bill? It would be helpful to have this information to give to my House rep.

  10. I descend from a brother of the three Towne sisters accused of witchcraft – Sarah Cloyce, Rebecca Nurse, and Mary Easty, and the last two were executed. Their mother Joanna (Blessing) Towne is considered an “accused witch” since the 1692 trial transcripts of her daughters refer to them as witches “like their mother before them,” although Joanna had died nine years before this public accusation was made.

  11. I recently stumbled upon my own family connection to the Salem Witch Trials — the prosecutor! William Stoughton (1631-1701) was a colonial magistrate of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and in that capacity acted as both chief judge and prosecutor at the trials. He was a grandson of Thomas Stoughton (1557-1622) and Katherine (died 1603), which makes William my 1st cousin 12 times removed.

  12. Rebecca (Towne) Nurse was my 8th gr-grandmother accused and executed for witchcraft in Salem, Mass in 1692. It actually hurts even today to think about what she must have gone through before and during her execution, and also to think how it must have affected her family. Jeanine (Gross) Lawrence

  13. Thank you for an article very timely for my own research. Just last week I documented my own descent from Mary (Perkins) Bradbury, and a few months ago documented my descent from Hannah (Sewell) Tappan, sister of Judge Samuel Sewell, who later repented of his role in the trials.

  14. I have the consolation that my 8th great-uncle, Rev. Samuel Willard, was one of those who spoke out against the Salem witch trials.

  15. Rebecca (Towne) Nurse, Martha Allen Carrier, and Rachel Varney – my ancestral grandmothers. May they rest in peace.

  16. One of my family mysteries is finding out what Rev. Abner Morse referred to in his History of Sherborn, noting that Mary Bullen (1723-1810) was a witch. “She D. Apl. 24, 1810, A. 87, And Was The Last Witch In S. Accused Of Miraculous Power Derived From Satan.” [S=was Sherborn, Mass, not Salem.] This is far beyond 1692-3. Was Morse repeating some local joke?

  17. Thank you for this article
    I found through my research that Jonathan Proctor is a Grandfather of mine and William Stoughton is an Uncle of my Wife
    May all the executed and accused rest in peace

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.