On July 19, 1692, three hundred and twenty years ago today, Susannah (North) Martin (ca. 1621-1692) was hanged following her conviction of witchcraft along with four other women during the Salem Witch Trials in Salem, Essex Co., Massachusetts, USA. Although I am not a descendant of Susannah Martin, I am (unfortunately) a descendant of one of her accusers, William Brown (ca. 1622-1706).
Susannah (North) Martin was born in about 1621 in England and immigrated with her family in 1639 to Salisbury, Massachusetts. In 1646, she married George Martin, with whom she had eight children. In 1669, she was accused of witchcraft, but was acquitted. In 1692, when witchcraft accusations were again being made in Puritan Massachusetts, Susannah was once more a target. On April 30, 1692, a warrant for her arrest was made, ordering that she be examined by the court for “high suspicion of sundry acts of Witchcraft done or committed by her upon the bodies of Mary Walcot, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam, and Marcy Lewis of Salem Village or farms.”
It is clear from the warrant for her arrest that her principal accusers were the four young women. However, these were not the only persons that testified against Susannah. In most cases in Puritan Massachusetts, more than just the accusations of children were required to convict a person of a crime such as witchcraft. Thus, there are usually many others offering testimony against the accused in court, particularly for those that were convicted and executed. In the case of Susannah Martin, there were at least fourteen additional accusers offering testimony before the court. One of these accusers was William Brown (ca. 1622-1706), my 10th great grandfather.
William was born in about 1622 in Wiltshire, England and had immigrated to Salisbury, Massachusetts in about 1640/41 with his brothers and mother. In 1645, he married Elizabeth Murford, with whom he had at least six children. William’s testimony against Susannah Martin centered on the condition of his wife, Elizabeth, who suffered from mental illness. It was alleged by William that this mental illness began thirty years ago following a dispute and legal case with Susannah Martin. The following is a transcription of the deposition of William Brown against Susannah Martin, given May 11, 1692:
The deposition of William Brown of Salisbury, aged seventy years, who, testifying, saith: That about one or two and thirty years ago Elizabeth, his wife, being a very rational woman and sober, and one that feared God, as was well known to all that knew her, and as prudently careful in her family, which woman going upon a time from her own house towards the mill in Salisbury, did there meet with Susanna Martin, the then wife of George Martin of Amesbury. Just as they came together the said Susanna Martin vanished away out of her sight, which put the said Elizabeth into a great fright; after which time the said Martin did many times appear to her at her house, and did much trouble her in many of her occasions; and this continued until about February following, and then, when she did come, it was as birds pecking her legs or pricking her with the motion of their wings; and then it would rise up into her stomach, with pricking pain, as nails and pins; of which she did bitterly complain, and cry out like a woman in travail; and after that it would rise up to her throat in a bunch like a pullet’s egg, and then she would turn back her head an say, ‘Witch, ye sha’nt choke me.’
In the times of this extremity the church appointed a day of humiliation, to seek God on her behalf, and thereupon her trouble ceased, and she saw goodwife Martin no more for a considerable time, for which the church, instead, of a day of humiliation, gave thanks for her deliverance. She came to meeting and went about her business as before. This continued ‘till April following, at which time the summonses were sent to the said Elizabeth Brown and goodwife Osgood by the court to give their evidences concerning the said Martin; and they did, before the grand jury, give a full account.
After which time the said Elizabeth told this deponent that, as she was milking her cow, the said Susanna Martin came behind her and told her that she would make her the miserablest creature for defaming her name at the court, and wept grievously as she told it to this deponent. About two months after this deponent came home from Hampton, and his said wife would not own him, but said they were divorced, and asked him whether he did not meet with one Mrs. Bent of Albury, in England, by whom he was divorced. And from that time to this very day she has been under a strange kind of distemper and frenzy, incapable of any rational action, though strong and healthy of body.
He further testifyeth that when she came into that condition this deponent [got] Doctors Fuller and Crosby to come to her for her release, but they did both say that her distemper was supernatural, no sickness of body, but that some evil person had bewitched her.
Sworn the eleventh day of May Anno Domini 1692, before me, Robert Pike, Assistant.
Although there were many others that provided testimony against her, William’s testimony before the court helped to convict Susannah, who was put to death nearly two months later. The tragic death of Susannah Martin, and all the victims of the Salem Witch Trials, has never been forgotten. Her memory is kept alive by her many descendants, one of which was Chester A. Arthur (1829-1886), 21st President of the United States of America.
Although petitions were granted and legislative acts were passed to reverse the convictions of victims of the Salem Witch Trials, Susannah Martin’s family was never a part of them. It was not until 2001 that a 1957 Act was ammended to include Susannah (and others) among those whose convictions were reveresed.
William Brown and Elizabeth Murford’s daughter, Mary Brown (1647-?), along with her husband Thomas Hoyt (1641-1691), is a direct ancestor of Jemima Hoyt (1729-ca. 1762), my 6th great grandmother, who, along with her husband Samuel Stearns (1720-1776), is a direct ancestor of my 2nd great grandmother, Maudena Elizabeth Stearns (1885-1936), who married George Edward Kernan (1884-1960).