Thursday, June 28, 2012

Salem vs. the Witches .. (part 6) Pardons


Burying Point Cemetery, Salem
Items reportedly belonging to Susannah (North) Martin on Display at the Macy Colby House
Items reportedly belonging to Susannah (North) Martin on Display at the Macy Colby House


~~Author Unknown~~

In 1692, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the site of a major historical event. This infamous event, the Salem Witch Trials, was a major injustice in America’s history. Once the accusations started, all Hell broke lose. By the time the trials were over, nineteen people and two dogs were hanged, and one man was pressed. Of the 150 people imprisoned, fifty-five of them had confessed to witchcraft.

To begin to understand how civilized people could act in such barbaric ways, one needs to know some background information about the village and its citizens. The people who lived in Salem Village were Puritans. They followed and interpreted the Bible literally, and without question. As many people know, the Bible states, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Exodus 22.18). To the Puritans, this meant that if there was a witch, they had an obligation to kill him/her. Also, the people of Salem, like the people of Europe, believed that witches existed and that many of them were evil.

People believed in witchcraft, even when it contradicted scientific evidence proving that it did not exist. It is important to note that the magic that was "evil" was black magic, or magic that was used maliciously against another. Black magic witches were

The girls all had the same symptoms (which ranged from becoming mute and blind to having "fits"). On top of that, it was so long ago that their mistakes seem so foreign to us; we can’t really relate to what happened back then. In 1697, the General court proclaimed a fast day, and many of the jurors and judges that convicted "witches" publicly apologized. Many of the accused were easy targets of blame. During Bridget Bishop’s trial, Mercy Lewis screamed, "Oh goody Bishop did you not come to our house the last night?". Lewis was obviously referring to Bishop’s specter, for Bishop was in jail the whole time. As far as the trials having an impact on our lives today, I don’t think it really has one. The adults that led the witch hunts, namely the Putnams, wanted to regain control of Salem Village, and many of the people that were accused were ones standing in the Putnams’ way. If it didn’t happen, we’d still have the McCarthy era, so we didn’t really learn anything from it.

Before that though, in May 1692, the governor appointed the Special Court of Oyer and Terminer, which was comprised of seven judges. By the end of October, he disassembled the court of Oyer and Terminer. After Bridget Bishop was convicted, on June 2, Nathaniel Saltonstall resigned his seat as judge. This is what is believed the girls were doing. Another woman accused, though she admitted to being a witch, was Tituba, who was an easy target. One family, the Porters, who were against the Putnams from the beginning, were staunch objectors to witch trials.

Plaque Reads: "Here stood the house of Susanna Martin. An honest, hardworking, Christian woman. Accused as a witch, tried and executed at Salem, July 19, 1692. A martyr of superstition".

 Susanna North Martin – Name Cleared 288 years after being Hung

 It appears to be a copy / paste from a website but unfortunately doesn’t include the original source information or the authors name.  If you know the source, please let me know so proper attribution can be included.

We can interpolate the probable publication date to be 1999 given the number of years mentioned in the first sentence:

“When the chance came 288 years ago to clear Susannah Martin’s name after she had been hanged as a witch, none of the Amesbury woman’s children or grandchildren stepped forward in her defense.
Nine generations later, however, dozens who proudly draw their family roots to her are using the Internet to do what her children did not — convince the Massachusetts Legislature to give Mrs. Martin some long-awaited justice.

One of those descendants is Bonnie Johnson of Columbia, Md., Mrs. Martin’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter.

”There’s a lot of people who say, ‘What difference does it make? She’ll never know,”’ said Mrs. Johnson. ”But if you believe in an afterlife, you have to believe that she would know, and that she would care.”

Yesterday, Beacon Hill lawmakers held a hearing on a bill that would officially exonerate Mrs. Martin and four other accused witches of the charges of which they were convicted and executed for in 1692.

Mrs. Martin and the other women were overlooked in 1711, when a backlash against the witchcraft hysteria caused the colonial Legislature to drop the charges against accused witches and pay damages to the survivors of those who were executed.

But the Legislature ignored six women because none of their family members appeared in court.
Another attempt to finally absolve the women was made in 1957, but the law was badly written and only cleared one of them. Paula Gauthier Keene, a Salem, Mass., resident, discovered the error last year and filed a bill to correct it.

After stories about the bill appeared in The Eagle-Tribune and other newspapers and were posted on the Internet, word spread.

Through Internet chat rooms, postings on genealogy Web sites and e-mails, Mrs. Johnson contacted descendants across the nation, informing them an effort was afoot to clear her distant relative’s name.
”I posted information on (two Web sites) where I knew a bunch of folks were descendants of Susannah Martin,” said Mrs. Johnson. ”I also personally contacted 20 to 25 other people, and asked them to spread the word.”

As was the case in 1711, none of Mrs. Martin’s relatives came to the hearing yesterday to ask that her name be cleared. But several had already made their thoughts known through e-mail and letters to the Legislature.

”Some of the people I contacted sent me copies of the letters and e-mails they sent,” said Mrs. Johnson, who also submitted a letter. ”I would have given anything to be there today, but it’s a pretty long way.”

Craig D. Martin of Stow, a direct descendent, also sent a letter urging lawmakers to clear Mrs. Martin’s name.

”It’s hard to imagine the extreme pain and suffering that these women and their families experienced, knowing in their hearts of their innocence, not to mention the descendants who were tied to the stigma of witchcraft for years after the trials,” he wrote.

The Judiciary Committee, which held the hearing, waded through more than 130 bills yesterday and spent little time on the witchcraft bill. The bill is actually a ”resolution,” which the Legislature routinely passes.

Mrs. Martin was one of 20 people executed during the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692.

Like several other women who were accused of witchcraft, she was a strong-willed, outspoken, elderly widow who owned a sizeable amount of land. She had also run afoul of her neighbors in the past.

In 1669, she was accused of witchcraft, but the charges were dropped and her husband successfully sued for slander.

But when the witchcraft hysteria broke in 1692, some of her old enemies resurfaced and provided damaging testimony against her.

Mrs. Martin ridiculed much of the evidence against her, and laughed out loud when the ”afflicted girls” writhed on the floor and screamed — a sight that the judges deemed credible evidence of witchcraft.

Asked why she was laughing, she replied, ”Well, I may at such folly.”

Her vigorous defense and constant denials of witchcraft were ignored by the court, and she was sentenced to death June 26. Less than a month later, she and four other women were taken from their cells, put in a rickety cart, and driven to the gallows.

They were buried in a shallow grave there, and their bodies may still be there.

If the resolution passes, Mrs. Keene plans to hold a memorial service for Mrs. Martin.

Once again, the descendants plan to use the Internet to rally for Mrs. Martin and spread the word, said Mrs. Johnson.

”If the memorial service is held, I definitely plan to attend that,” she said.”

 Salem Memorial for those who died during the Salem Witch Trials

31 Oct 2001 | Boston, Massachusetts

On October 31, 2001, acting governor of Massachusetts, Jane Swift, signed a law that formally pardoned Susanna Martin, Bridget Bishop, Alice Parker, Margaret Scott, and Wilmot Redd.

This is the memorial park in Salem, Massachusetts dedicated to those who lost their lives during the persecutions in the early 1690's. Each stone protruding from the walls on the left and right bears the name and date of execution of one of the condemned.

Susannah North Martin Was Not A Witch

While reviewing death certificates in my filing cabinets recently, I found notes about the murder of my ancestor, Susannah North Martin, in Salem during the witch trials of 1692.

I assume that they were accidentally inserted there by one of our granddaughters when I was teaching them how to record and store documents associated with our lineage.

The notes referred to and at least partially quoted a newspaper article that I’d read years before that talked about the exoneration of Susannah and four others who were similarly murdered in Salem as witches in 1692.
The Massachusetts State Legislature in 1999 passed the “Massachusetts House Bill No. 4457 – The witchcraft trial of 1692” that was signed into law by the Governor of Massachusetts to eliminate the stigma associated with the deaths of the final five thus killed.

The text below is obviously a newspaper article but the scrap of paper containing the words does not accredit the author or publisher. We’ll say “Thanks” to them now hoping their words may continue to shed light on this tragic series of events and offer solace to the descendants of these women.

AMESBURY — The wheels of justice sometimes take a long time to grind out the truth. For Susannah Martin, the wait will be more than three centuries. 

The Amesbury woman was hanged as a witch 307 years ago, and her bones long ago moldered into dust. But lawmakers on Beacon Hill are only now preparing to clear her name and right the wrong done during the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692. 

The hysteria claimed 20 lives in all. 

Fifteen of the condemned later had their names cleared when family members petitioned the Legislature. But Mrs. Martin and four others who had no surviving relatives to speak up for them remained branded as witches. 

Paula Gauthier Keene, of Salem, hopes lawmakers will correct that within the next few months. 

”These five women . . . are the last five alleged witches whose souls I believe are still crying out for justice and vindication,” wrote Mrs. Keene in a letter to state Rep. Michael Ruane, D-Salem, who is sponsoring a bill to clear the women. 

Mrs. Keene, who described herself as a reformed witch who is now a Roman Catholic, said she hopes to organize a memorial Mass for the women in Salem once they are cleared. 

Mrs. Martin was a smart woman with a sharp tongue, living when Puritan society expected women to be meek and obedient, and in a world that believed the supernatural lingered behind every good and evil event. Her demeanor was viewed by her enemies as a sure sign that the devil was working inside her. 

According to local history, she was accused of witchcraft in 1660, and again in 1669.
The charges were dropped, in part, because her husband successfully sued for slander.
By 1692, however, her husband was dead and the 67-year-old woman lived alone in a house on Martin Street. 

Today, Interstate 495 passes over the site of the old Martin house, which stood a few hundred yards northeast of the Amesbury Sports Park. A stone memorial marks a spot near where her house stood.
As the witchcraft hysteria mushroomed beyond Salem, Mrs. Martin’s enemies again seized their chance to press charges against her. 

On April 30, 1692, an arrest warrant was issued. The trial continued through June, during which a steady parade of witnesses testified against her. 

One witness claimed that Mrs. Martin walked to Newbury on a muddy day in the 1670s but arrived with her dress unsoiled. 

The court decided Mrs. Martin must have flown there. 

After a spirited self-defense, and showing utter contempt for the charges, Mrs. Martin was found guilty and sentenced to death on June 30. She was hanged July 19. 

Due to throat surgery, Rep. Ruane was unable to comment on his bill to clear Mrs. Martin and the others, but he provided detailed information on why they were mot cleared along with the others. 

In 1711, the colonial General Court, the predecessor of today’s Legislature, set aside the convictions of all but six of the victims who had no family members petitioning to overturn the verdicts. 

Martha Carrier, of Andover, was one of the accused witches whose verdict was overturned. 

Over the next several years, efforts to overturn the remaining six convictions failed, in part because officials feared having to pay damages to descendants. 

In 1948, a Louisiana man who was related to one of the six renewed the effort. Nine years later, lawmakers passed a resolution exonerating the Louisiana man’s relative, Anne Pudeator, and ”others” who were never named. 

”Based on this technicality of omission, the last five alleged witches have never been legally cleared,” said Mrs. Keene. 

Rep. Ruane’s bill will clearly state the names of the other five women, officially ending this final chapter in the witchcraft trials. Besides Mrs. Martin, the women to be cleared are Wilmot Redd of Marblehead, Alice Parker and Bridget Bishop, both of Salem, and Margaret Scott of Rowley.

1 comment:

  1. Susannah is my 4th cousin, and I claim her proudly as an outspoken, intelligent and independent woman who was the murdered victim of a superstitious age in which women were regarded as simple, simpering property unworthy of the respect Susannah most certainly deserved.


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