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.
For additional reading about Susannah see these posts: