In earlier posts I have mentioned my love of genealogy and through my research discovered an ancestor named Susannah North. The ‘North’ family is related to me on my maternal side. Susannah was accused and found guilty of witchcraft and died by hanging in 1692. She proclaimed her innocence up until the end.
The witch hunts ended almost abruptly as they started, lasting from 1692 to early 1693. Many villagers stopped hunting for witches because they had lost friends and family during previous trials. They felt that innocent people were being executed and wished to end the witch hunts. Another villagers began to doubt the evidence provided in court. They claimed that some of the evidence was not practical and that confessions were being forced through torture and were not true. When Salem villagers realized that the witch hunt had resulted in executing innocent people, they greatly regretted their actions and the jurors and judges of the court began to lose their status as villagers. These accusations eventually forced the jurors to flee the village or apologize.
In May of 1693, Governor Phipps pardoned all accused “witches” currently in custody. Later, on January 14, 1697 the general court of Salem ordered a day of fasting to commemorate the innocent lives that were lost during 1692 and 1693. In 1702 the general court of Salem named the 1692 witch trials un-lawful. The trials then became a dark part of American history.
My ancestor, Susannah, was born in Buckinghamshire, England in 1621. Her mother died when she she was a young child and she later emigrated with her father, Richard North, her stepmother Ursula and at least one sister to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and settled in Salisbury, Mass in 1639, about 40 miles north of Boston. The North family was one of the first families to settle in that area which at that time was inhabited by Penacook Native Americans and surrounded by wilderness.
On August 11, 1646 Susannah married a widowed blacksmith named George Martin and they had eight children. In 1654 Susannah and George moved to nearby Amesbury.
Descriptions of Susanna say that she was short, slightly plump, active, and “of remarkable personal neatness.” She was also said to be very outspoken, contemptuous of authority, and defiant in the face of slander which had followed her for years.
Over time Susannah, much like the other accused witches, was viewed as a troublemaker and her name appears numerous times in court records even prior to the Salem Witch Trials. In one trial she was accused by a William Browne of tormenting his wife Elizabeth with her spirit. She was released on bail and that charge was eventually dropped. In 1671, George and Susannah (her sister Mary Jones would join them later) became involved in lengthy litigation over Susannah’s father’s estate. Both she and her sister Mary expected to inherit a large share of it. However, their stepmother produced what they considered a fake Will which left almost all the estate to her. In October 1674, their inheritance would be lost when the court found against them. After her husband George Martin died in 1686, Susannah was left a poor widow. Her reputation as a troublemaker, her previous witchcraft accusation, and litigious nature, made her even more vulnerable. When Susannah was accused of witchcraft in 1692 she had no one to come to her rescue. There was no mention of her children at that time and I have always been curious why they did not come to the aid of their mother unless they were too afraid of being accused along with her?
On April 30, 1692, a warrant was issued for Susannah’s arrest on a charge of witchcraft, and she was arrested on May 2nd. A personal longstanding friend of hers, Orlando Bagley, was the one who approached her on the morning of her arrest.
On May 2, Susannah was taken to Ingersills Tavern in Salem Village for examination. She pleaded not guilty, and answered the charges against her. She underwent the indignity of a physical examination on June 2, 1692. The examinations were intended to discover whether the accused had any physical abnormalities, especially anything that could be used to suckle a familiar or even the devil himself. Susanna was examined twice during the same day; at neither examination was any abnormality discovered. According to her arrest warrant she was accused of witchcraft by four girls who lived in Salem Village, Mary Walcott, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam Jr and Mercy Lewis. It is not known how these girls knew Susannah, as they did not live in the same village, but perhaps they heard about her bad reputation from others and made the decision to accuse her? The history books do not really say. After her arrest in Amesbury on May 2nd she was brought to Salem Village and questioned by Judges John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin. She was one of the few people accused of witchcraft not from Salem. Despite the lack of concrete evidence against her, Susannah was found guilty of witchcraft and hanged at Proctor’s Ledge near Gallows Hill on July 19 along with Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe and Sarah Wildes. She was aged 71. She was buried in a shallow grave near the execution site with the other victims but because the exact location of the executions has never been found, it is not known where her body currently lies.
Residents of the town of Amesbury later placed a stone marker near Susannah and George Martin’s home that read: “Here stood the house of Susannah Martin. An honest, hardworking Christian woman accused of being a witch and executed at Salem, July 19, 1692. She will be missed! A Martyr of Superstition. T.I.A. 1894”
In 1711, the Massachusetts legislature passed a resolution clearing the names of the convicted witches and offered financial restitution to their descendants. Susannah Martin’s family did not wish to be named and did not seek restitution, perhaps out of fear or shame?
In 1957, the Massachusetts legislature formally apologized to the victims of the Salem Witch Trials but did not specifically mention any of the victims by name. Finally, in 2001, the Massachusetts legislature passed a resolution officially exonerating five of the victims not mentioned in the previous resolutions: Susannah Martin, Bridget Bishop, Alice Parker, Wilmot Redd and Margaret Scott.
I can only imagine what my ancestor and her family went through but it does mean something even after so many many many years to know that she and the others with her at that time were finally left to rest in peace.