Welcome to Fantastic Women Fridays! This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the nineteenth amendment, granting women the right to vote. As we come upon this important milestone, it is worth pausing to consider the close links between women’s history and the history of witchcraft. Though anyone could be accused of witchcraft, the individuals who were the most susceptible to these accusations were women. Though estimates vary, approximately 75% of witchcraft accusations were brought against women in most regions of Europe. Women’s history and the history of witchcraft are closely connected, and thus will be a focus for our museum this year. In recognition of this important milestone, we are highlighting the stories of amazing women from both Salem and witch history that deserve recognition!
Friday, January 31
Three Defiant Women of the Witchcraft Trials: Sarah Good, Susannah Martin, and Martha Carrier
Women were accused of practicing witchcraft in 1692 Essex County for a number of reasons. Some were widows, wealthy or otherwise, who had no one to defend them. Some were suffering from physical or mental ailments that caused them to behave strangely, or to miss regular church meetings.
Frequently, women who were bold and argumentative were the ones who brought on their neighbors’ accusations, especially if they, or members of their families, had been accused previously. Three such women were Sarah Good, Susannah Martin, and Martha Carrier. All three were accused, convicted, and hanged for witchcraft in 1692.
Thirty-eight-year-old Sarah Good was one of the first three to be accused. Sarah had been cheated out of her inheritance by her stepfather, and, after two poor choices for husbands, was reduced to homelessness and begging by 1692. With her four-year-old daughter Dorothy in tow, Good traveled door-to-door, asking for help and making her neighbors uncomfortable with her grumbling. Despite her circumstances, she was a proud woman, and claimed her innocence to the end. Good is remembered for the words she spoke from the gallows on July 19, 1692, as Reverend Nicholas Noyes pressured her to confess. “I am no more a witch than you are a wizard and if you kill me, God will give you blood to drink!” she said.
Widow Susannah Martin, 71-years-old in 1692, was the only person from Amesbury to be executed for witchcraft. By all reports, her reputation made her a prime target. A victim of decades of gossip, she was no stranger to altercations with her neighbors. Forthright and confrontational, Goody Martin’s past included six unsuccessful lawsuits to inherit her father’s estate and she had appeared in court as a defendant numerous times for a variety of offenses. She was accused of witchcraft on two occasions before 1692, with the charges eventually dropped. Martin was hardened by thirty years of gossip. She laughed at her accusers during her May examination, treating them with contempt. Skeptical of the witch hunt, when confronted with the afflicted girls’ charges, Martin replied, “I have led a most virtuous and holy life.” Cotton Mather, who observed her trial, called Martin one of the most “impudent, Scurrilous, wicked creatures in the world.” A memorial marker in Amesbury notes that, in truth, Susannah Martin was an honest, hard-working Christian woman and was “a Martyr of Superstition.” She was hanged on July 19, 1692.
The first person to be accused of witchcraft in 1692 Andover was Martha Carrier, aged fifty-eight. Wife of the Welshman Thomas Carrier and raising five children at the time of the trials, Carrier was another rebellious and unruly woman. She was fearless in confrontations with her neighbors, many of whom suspected her of witchcraft because the town’s 1690 smallpox epidemic began in her home. They blamed her for the bewitchment of their family members and their livestock. As the Andover hysteria grew, four of her children were also accused of witchcraft and jailed, as were her sister Mary, brother-in-law Roger Toothaker, and their daughter Margaret, all of whom lived in neighboring Billerica. Unlike many in Andover who confessed in order to save their lives, Carrier remained defiant. Faced with afflicted accusers who claimed the Devil himself had promised her the title “Queen in Hell, and pressured by relentless magistrates, Carrier said, “It is a shameful thing that you should mind these folks that are out of their wits.” Carrier was hanged on August 19, 1692.