The Witching Hour and Hallowe’en have come and passed, but there’s still time to think about family history…since, of course, it does involve witches. And ghosts.
We have two witches and one ghost in the family tree, on my mother’s side (my father’s side has pirates, kidnapped settlers, and Captains who start intercontinental wars, but more on that in another post). The witches, of course, were caught up in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and 1693. Otherwise known as the Salem Witch Paranoia. Victims of insecure white men. So what’s new?
My mother’s maiden name was Langworthy, which goes back to the mid-17th century New England (and obviously before that, to England, probably Devonshire). Through the Langworthy line, she was directly related to the Twiss/Twist and West families, all of whom lived in the Massachusetts Bay colony. (So, yes, we’re partly of Mayflower stock. But more on that in another post about indentured servants).
Our most famous witch ancestor is Susannah (North) Martin/Martyn, one of the only “witches” of Salem whose trial record exists. (Although technically she lived outside of Salem, in Salisbury, close to local Native American Pennacook tribe). Susannah is my mother’s 8x great-grandmother, through the Martin-Peasley-Twiss-Langworthy line.
A mother of eight and one of the first white settlers of the northern Boston area, Susannah was reviled by jealous, sexually repressed men in her community for being stubborn, outspoken, and for refusing to allow others to steal her inheritance. Her husband George, a local blacksmith turned town official, had supported her and even sued his neighbors for slander when she was accused twice of witchcraft. Obviously, others in the community simply couldn’t stand the fact that the wife of a blacksmith had a strong will and was treated like an equal by her husband.
But after her husband died, and she became a widow, her fate was sealed. Known as “Goody” Martin, Susannah showed open contempt for the Puritan “fathers” in her third, and final, trial. The “Reverend” Cotton Mathers witnessed the proceedings and wrote about it extensively, calling her an “impudent, Scurrilous, wicked” creature.
In one famous witch trial scene, reproduced to some degree in the movie The Crucible (which focuses on the accuser Abigail Williams and doesn’t even mention Susannah), Susannah laughed, called the accusations foolish, and otherwise behaved more or less like most women in my family’s history:
“[Magistrate] (to the afflicted girls): Do you know this Woman?
[Abigail Williams]: It is Goody Martin. She hath hurt me often.
Others by fits were hindered from speaking. Eliz: Hubbard said she hath not been hurt by her. John Indian said he hath not seen her Mercy Lewes pointed to her & fell into a little fit. Ann Putman threw her Glove in a fit at her. The examinant laught.
[Magistrate] (To Martin): What do you laugh at it?
[Martin]: Well I may at such folly.
[Magistrate]: Is this folly? The hurt of these persons.
[Martin]: I never hurt man woman or child.
[Mercy Lewes]: She hath hurt me a great many times, & pulls me down.
Then Martin laughed again.
[Magistrate] (To Martin): What do you say to this?
[Martin]: I have no hand in Witchcraft.
[Magistrate]: What did you do? Did not you give your consent?
[Martin]: No, never in my life.
[Magistrate]: What ails this people?
[Martin]: I do not know.
[Magistrate]: But w’t do you think?
[Martin]: I do not desire to spend my judgm’t upon it.
[Magistrate]: Do not you think they are Bewitcht?
[Martin]: No. I do not think they are.
She was hung on July 19, 1692, together with several other women, including another relative of ours, Rebecca Nurse.
Her house no longer stands. In its place, there rests a stone with an engraving: “An honest, hardworking Christian woman. Accused as a witch…a martyr of superstition.”
Susannah Martin was finally exonerated, officially, on Hallowe’en 2001 — a mere 309 years after her hanging.
As historian Lynn Stuart Paramore writes, “In patriarchal societies — including our own — post-reproductive women have often been scapegoated as threats and burdens.” And they continue to be accused, scapegoated, and branded as “witches” in many countries such as India, Nigeria…and, of course, the good ole U S of A.
And as for the ghost in the family tree?
Well…let’s hold off on that local Glens Falls, New York, story for a little while yet…