More Ancestral Family Murders in Salem

I was happy to discover that my ancestors, William and Joanna (Jone) Blessing Towne died before three of their daughters were accused of witchcraft and two were murdered in the Salem Witch Trials.  They didn’t have to witness with abject horror the destruction of a large swath of their families by village and community liars.

The three were my 9th great aunts were Rebecca, Mary and Sarah Towne, sisters of my ancestor Susanna Towne Hayward

Rebecca was married Francis Nurse, Mary to Isaac Estey and Sarah to Peter Cloyce.

Rebecca was hung on 19 July 1692 in Salem on the same day as my grandmother Susannah North Martin.  Mary was hung in Salem on 22 Sept 1692.  Sarah was accused and arrested but after the shame of the hysteria finally rose to rational thought in the conscious minds of Massachusetts authorities, she was released.

Their sister, grandma Grandma Susanna Towne Hayward, died naturally in 1678.  The youngest sister in the family, Sarah, died in 1703 in Salem of natural causes, no doubt aggravated by the accusations, shame and imprisonment she had endured.

Grandma Susanna Towne Hayward was probably spared the the hangman’s noose too because she died before the rabid citizens and preachers could accuse her as well.

More on Susanna North Martin – Name Cleared 288 years after being Hung

The below information wasn’t written by me.  I found it misfiled this week stuck to the back of a death certificate.  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 Witch Trials–Hysteria
Copyright (c) Lee Drew 2011-05-24 13:25:00
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