Andover’s Barker family has one of the most fascinating stories relating to the terrible events of 1692. Several members of this prominent clan were accused of witchcraft during the hysteria that engulfed the town in the summer of that year.
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Patriarch Richard Barker, born in England circa 1621, was one of the original proprietors of Andover, arriving in the new world with his wife Joanna in the late 1630s. In fact, he might even be called the first settler of Andover. He was among a group from nearby Newbury and Ipswich who had petitioned for land in 1640. The first recorded business transaction in Andover, dated August 13, 1643, was Barker’s deed to land and livestock.
Barker originally owned 7 acres, then 10, and eventually, 300 contiguous acres, near “the Great Pond,” or Lake Cochichewick, in what is today North Andover. Barker was one of ten freeholders to establish the First Church of Andover in 1645. In August of 2000, Marjorie Wardwell Otten wrote in the Essex Genealogist (Vol. 20, No. 3), “There was hardly any town affair of importance for 50 years on record which does not bear Richard Barker’s name as party to or witness of, petitioner, etc.”
Between 1644 and 1663, Richard and Joanna had nine children. The families of three of their sons (John, William, and Ebenezer) and one daughter (Hannah) were directly affected by the witch hysteria that first arrived in Andover in May of 1692 with the arrest of Martha Carrier, and escalated in mid-July with ever-increasing accusations against Andover citizens. When all was said and done, more people were accused of witchcraft in Andover than in any other Essex County town.
On August 25, arrest warrants were issued for the Barkers’ second-oldest son, 47-year-old William Barker, as well as his 13-year-old niece Mary Barker (daughter of oldest Barker son John). William’s niece-by-marriage, 27-year-old Mary (Osgood) Marston, stepdaughter of youngest Barker daughter Hannah (who became Christopher Osgood’s second wife in 1680) was also named on the warrant. The complaint against all three was made by Samuel Martin of Andover and Moses Tyler of Boxford. Author Richard Hite, in his book In the Shadow of Salem: The Andover Witch Hunt of 1692, says, “This marked the beginning of the second phase of the Andover persecution.” All three were arrested by August 29, examined, and jailed in Salem.
The three Barker relations were accused of “woefully afflicting and abusing” three recently-afflicted local girls. One was Rose Foster, the teenage granddaughter of Rebecca Eames of Boxford (who had herself been accused of witchcraft earlier in August). Rose’s father was Andover constable Ephraim Foster. Another afflicted girl named in the complaint was Samuel Martin’s 16-year-old daughter Abigail. The third person, soon to be the principal accuser in Andover, was Moses Tyler’s 16-year-old stepdaughter Martha Sprague.
By this point, it was widely-thought that confessing was the only way to save one’s life. During his examination, William made a remarkable and elaborate confession, saying “he has been in the snare of the devil three years, that the devil first appeared to him like a black man and [he] perceived he had a cloven foot, that the devil demanded of him to give up himself body & soul unto him, which he promised to do…” William went on, in great detail, to explain that he had, indeed, tormented his three accusers, that he had signed the devil’s book in blood, and that the devil promised to pay all his debts. William said he previously attended a meeting of about 100 witches in Salem Village, where there was a sacrament of bread and wine, led by Reverend George Burroughs and the devil. (Burroughs had been hanged by this time, on August 19.) William even explained the devil’s intentions to “set up his own worship [and] abolish all the churches in the land.” William begged forgiveness for what he had done and promised to renounce the devil.
Thirteen-year-old Mary Barker also confessed to afflicting her three accusers, and said she had attended the witch meeting with her uncle, had been baptized by the devil in Five Mile Pond (known as Spofford Pond today), and she also accused Goody Johnson and Goody Faulkner of witchcraft (both were members of the extended Ingalls-Dane family), and added this colorful detail, “she has seen no appearance since but a fly which did speak to her, and bid her afflict these poor creatures which she did by pinching with, and clinching of her hands, for which she is sorry.”
Mary Marston’s confession was similar to that of her relatives – she confirmed that her uncle William Barker, her cousin Mary Barker, and she herself were witches, that she had afflicted her three accusers, and that she, too, had attended a witch meeting in Salem Village. When she was asked how long she had been in league with the devil, “she now saith that about the time when her mother died and she was overcome with melancholy, about three years since the black man appeared to her in the great room and told her she must serve and worship him. And so she did.”
On September 1, William’s son, 14-year-old William Barker Jr. was also arrested. He clearly had heard the details of the Barker confessions before him, as well as the news of the day, because his story was similar to his father and cousins, and he named recently-accused “witches.” Like his relatives , William Jr. was accused of tormenting Martha Sprague, Rose Foster, and Abigail Martin “which he did not deny but could not remember it.” He said he’d been a witch for six days and, “as he was going in the woods one evening to look after cows he saw the shape of a black dog which looked very fiercely upon him And he was much disturbed in his mind about it and could not sleep well that night.” He went on to describe a meeting with the devil, his own baptism in Five Mile Pond, and his mark in the devil’s book. He also named Mary Parker as a witch (she’d been accused of witchcraft in late August, along with four of her family members) as well as Samuel Wardwell, his wife Mary, and two of their daughters. The Wardwell family had been accused and arrested in late August and were examined on September 1, the same day as William Jr.
The last Barker family member to be caught up in the Andover witch hunt was Abigail (Wheeler) Barker who had married the third-oldest Barker son, Ebenezer, in 1686. On September 7, at the Andover meeting house, the infamous “touch test” took place. It was believed that an afflicted person would be “cured” if she or he touched a “witch.” The evil, it was thought, would flow back into its source. The touch test had been used in Salem examinations since May, but on this day, all of Andover’s accused and afflicted were gathered together at the meeting house. The accused “witches” were blindfolded and were led to the afflicted girls. If the afflictions ceased after touching one of the accused it was believed a witch had been identified. By the time the touch test was over, all of the accused women and men, at least seventeen people, had been confirmed as witches. Among them were Abigail Barker and Mary Osgood (wife of Richard Barker’s lifelong friend John Osgood).
Abigail Barker is particularly remembered for an account of the touch test in “an undated declaration prepared and signed by six suspects [one of whom was Abigail] just prior to the resumption of trials in January 1693,” according to author Richard Hite. All of the accused had been forced to participate, and all were found guilty. Said the remarkable declaration, “…we knowing ourselves altogether innocent of the crime, we were all exceedingly astonished and amazed, and consternated and affrighted even out of our reason; and our nearest and dearest relations, seeing us in that dreadful condition, and knowing our great danger, apprehended there was no other way to save our lives, as the case was then circumstanced, but by confessing ourselves to be such and such persons as the afflicted represented us to be, out of tenderness and pity, persuaded us to confess what we did confess.”
Although the date is uncertain, it is known that after his indictment, William Barker Sr. somehow escaped from jail and fled. As a penalty, his cattle were seized, and his brother John had to pay £2 10s to get them back. (William’s descendant George Barker has a theory that William may have hidden on an island in a nearby swamp, until it was safe to emerge after the trials.) Once the hysteria subsided, William Barker Sr. lived in Andover for the rest of his life, holding various jobs in town, including fence viewer and constable. He and his wife Mary Dix had thirteen children. William died in 1718 and is buried in the First Burial Ground in North Andover.
On October 3, 1692, John Barker and Francis Faulkner paid the bond for the release of three of the youngest accused: John’s daughter Mary Barker (aged 13), her cousin William Barker Jr. (aged 14), and Mary Lacy Jr. (aged 18). John Barker and John Osgood (whose wife Mary was also accused) later paid for the release of the rest of the jailed Andover children.
Mary Barker and William Barker Jr. were tried and acquitted by a jury in May of 1693. In 1704, the cousins, who had shared such a traumatic experience twelve years earlier, got married. The couple had eight children. They continued to live in Andover for the rest of their lives: William Jr. died in 1745 and Mary died in 1752. Both are buried in the First Burial Ground in North Andover.
Mary (Osgood) Marston and Abigail (Wheeler) Barker were both tried and acquitted in January of 1693. The former died in Andover in 1700, the latter in 1743. Abigail’s husband Ebenezer, who had waited until he was 35 years old to get married, lived to be 95, dying in 1746.
Patriarch Richard Barker died in March of 1693, and his good friend John Osgood died shortly thereafter.
Not everyone involved in the Salem witch trials is remembered in the same way. It’s important to highlight this quote from Marjorie Wardwell Otten in the Essex Genealogist, “Three men of Andover stand out in their efforts to defuse and to bring forth the falsities of the accusations: John Barker, John Osgood, and Reverend Francis Dane.” John Barker, who married Mary Stevens in 1670, was not only one of the voices of reason during the terrible events of 1692, and one of the men who paid to release the accused children, but he was a Deacon of the First Church, became a Sergeant in the militia in 1702, and a Captain in 1708. He died of smallpox in 1732, and is buried in the Mount Vernon Cemetery in Boxford.
What led to the accusations against so many members of such an upstanding and respected Andover family? Sometimes the reasons are hinted at in the records – family feuds, personality clashes, long-standing neighborly accusations. In the Barkers’ case, there is nothing in the records that explains it. Author Richard Hite speculates that there may have been some dispute between the accuser Moses Tyler and the accused William Barker Sr. Their farms were only a mile apart, possibly even abutting, so perhaps there had been previous altercations. We will likely never know.
There are two additional family connections to the witchcraft trials worth mentioning: Rebecca Eames of Boxford, and her son Daniel, were both accused and jailed. Daniel was married to Lydia Wheeler, sister of Abigail (Wheeler) Barker.
The other intriguing relationship involves Andover’s Samuel Wardwell (hanged on September 22). When Wardwell was examined after being accused of witchcraft, he spoke of a disappointment in love from twenty years earlier: “He said the reason of his discontent then was because he was in love with a maid named Barker who slighted his love.” The target of his affections was oldest Barker daughter Sarah, who chose to marry John Abbot instead of Wardwell.
Today, the Barkers remain a pillar of the North Andover community. Barker’s Farm was established in 1642, and has been run by 10 generations of the family, making it the oldest continuously owned and operated family farm in the United States. Barker’s Farmstand on Osgood Street in North Andover is one of our favorite places.
Special thanks to George and Dorothea Barker, and Karen, Laurie, Beth, Dianne and Sam, for their help and generosity researching their family history.
Barker’s Farmstand is at 1267 Osgood Street (Route 125) in North Andover.
A view of the Barker farm buildings, and site of where John Barker once lived, from the top of Carter Hill.
John Barker lived on Bradford Street, south of Barker Street, his brother Ebenezer lived north of Barker Street.
John Barker, whose daughter Mary was accused, lived on this site, south of the intersection of Barker Street and Bradford Street.
The old Barker cow barn was built circa 1700 and stands opposite the John Barker site, on Bradford Street.
Ebenezer Barker, whose wife Abigail was accused, lived north of the intersection of Barker Street and Bradford Street. Perhaps his home was near where the water tower stands today.
William Barker and his son, William Jr., were both accused. They lived here on Dale Street, near Winter Street. The oldest part of this house was built in 1688. This is a private residence, not open to the public.
William Barker Jr. and his cousin Mary Barker confessed to being baptized by the devil in Five Mile Pond, called Spofford Pond today.
The grave of William Barker Sr., in the First Burial Ground in North Andover.
Barker's Farmstand is at 1267 Osgood Street in North Andover.