The Death of Susannah Martin & My Family Connection to the Salem Witch Trials

Susannah (North) Martin Praying in Prison

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 Brown Deposition against Susannah Martin

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.

Memorial Marker of Susannah (North) Martin at The Salem Witch Trials Memorial Park in Salem, Massachusetts.

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).

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16 thoughts on “The Death of Susannah Martin & My Family Connection to the Salem Witch Trials

  1. It seems so sad that after surviving the journey to America, which must have been horrendous, she then gets accused in this way. My, times were hard in those days!

    1. Yes that is a shame. It must have also been really difficult to try and defend yourself in a situation like that. I mean, the records for Susannah state she was asked to quote scripture from the Bible if she is not a servant of the Devil. Despite being able to do so, and very well apparently, the Magistrate said that the servants of the Devil are able to act innocent and holy. Just amazing. Today, we call this (among many other instances in these trials) “the willing suspension of disbelief” at the very least.

      I have always been fascinated by this period in American history–how it could happen, etc. Accusations of witchcraft were made before in Salem and it did not turn out like it did in 1692. I think one interesting explanation is the possibility of ergot poisoning.

      1. Could be. The witches were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. If you ask me, it was a case of mass hysteria at Salem. Just another case of the Church asserting its power over all the lesser mortals. So called witches or wise men and women were very knowledgeable about herbs and potions and as such they wielded a lot of power. This power had to be subjugated as quickly as possible.

      2. Very true. Of course, a lot of research has also gone into the economic interests of certain members of town, particularly the Putnam family. Almost everyone that was accused and/or executed was in a financial dispute with their accusers. It is well known fact that many had land disputes, particularly with the Putnam family. If you wanted someone’s land in Salem, it seems one way to get it was to have your daughter (Ann Putnam Jr.) say they are attacking you and putting spells on you. Money, Power, Revenge seem to be the story of the Salem Witch Trials, sadly.

  2. I had this fascination with this time period when I was about 14. I read about Mary Eastey’s christ-like martyrdom in 1692. Her last words were something along the lines that if she had to be taken down like this, for the rest of the world to understand that she was a good person, she would let them have it. Joan of Arc was driven crazy by the accusations of Pope Benedict XV. You just be yourself, and be proud of your heritage, is what I say! Good blog, by the way.

    It’s really sad, P.S., to read your latest comment. I didn’t know they used this as an excuse to take land in those days.

    1. Thank you. 🙂

      And yes, sadly, it was a way to get your hands on other people’s property. If the person was found guilty, the accusers were compensated or given the chance to purchase (at a lower price) the forfeited property. Many believe that Ann Putnam Jr. was doing this for her father, who had many financial and property disputes with many of the accused and executed.

      1. What a shame. Here’s a thought: Try communication. Why can’t we ask questions, shoot later, instead of living the other way around. This world is a bit backwards, at times, but I think we can rectify the situation if we try. What do you think?

  3. Wow I have found the witch trials both Salem and Pendle fascinating for a very long time, while this is a very sad story I must admit I’m glad I read it, it was fascinating. I feel for all the accused of the witch trials and think it was such a shame for the women to be persecuted in such a way, however I think fining a family link even to one of the accusers is very interesting! Thank you for sharing your story.

  4. In the process of researching my 9th ggrandmother, Susannah North Martin, I came across your ancestor’s involvement in her trial. William and Elizabeth (Murford) Brown were also my 9th ggrandparents. I descend from Thomas Hoyt and Mary Brown, Mary Hoyt (5th ggrandmother) married Joseph Felch. The Felches married into the Thompson family (my grandfather) and the rest is history. Back then the world was pretty small. I think that today Susannah would be considered a roll model for standing up for herself and her beliefs and daring to be involved despite the fact that she was a woman. Your distant cousin.

  5. My husband is a direct descendant of Susannah Martin. She is his great great …..grandmother. it’s so sad a 70 year old mother of eight could be accused and put to death on such a horrible way on accusations alone.

    1. I, too, am descended from Susannah North Martin through her daughter, Abigail Martin Hadlock–

  6. Who is the author if this article? I am a grandson of Susannah and I am always on the look out for my cousins who are also descended from her. To anyone reading this, if you are related I would love to add you to my tree! I have an extensive family tree – nearly 10,000 people – on Ancestry.com. Please contact me. [bellamycay AT yahoo DOTCOM]

    1. I wrote this article. However, I am not a descendant of Susannah, but from William Brown–one of her accusers. I know that many who have commented are descendants of hers, however.

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