More About Hobbs Family Home, Site of

Historian Mary Beth Norton, in her 2002 work In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692, quotes one genealogist who believes that William Hobbs may have originally come from Hampton, New Hampshire. In 1660, he appears to have been living in Lynn, Massachusetts while also purchasing some property in Topsfield with a partner. It was not until 1668 that Hobbs was recorded as a resident of Topsfield. He and his wife Avis (maiden name unknown) had a daughter, also called Avis, in 1670, and son William followed. More children were born up until 1682, when, says Norton, the Hobbs family disappeared from Topsfield church records. When William Hobbs next appeared in Topsfield, it was 1689, leading Norton to conclude that the Hobbs family likely lived in Casco (Falmouth), Maine from 1683 until a Wabanaki attack drove them back to Essex County. By 1692, says Norton, William had been married to his second wife, Deliverance, for at least eighteen months. Details of the death of Avis are unknown.


The first colonial settler of what is today the eastern part of Middleton was William Nichols, who settled in the Nichols Brook valley, on Copper Mine Road, near present-day Locust Street. William Hobbs was his nearby neighbor, living on land formerly owned by Thomas Putnam, according to Lura Woodside Watson in her 1970 book Middleton: A Cultural History.  He willed the farm to his grandson also named William Hobbs, who lived there until 1743, when he moved to New Hampshire.


Although the exact age and birthdate of young Abigail Hobbs is not definitive, she was between the ages of 14 and 17 during the 1692 trials. This colorful character is credited with changing the course of the Salem witch trials by Mary Beth Norton: she was only the third to confess to practicing witchcraft (after Tituba and 4-year-old Dorothy Good) and accused many, and she was the first to describe meeting the Devil in Maine, thus widening the area of fear and accusations. Reverend George Burroughs, former Salem Village minister and frequently a resident of Maine, came under scrutiny after the link to the northern frontier was made, and Abigail would accuse him directly during her May examination in Salem prison.


Whatever her exact age, Abigail’s impudent and shocking behavior as revealed in the records make her sound like a seventeenth-century juvenile delinquent. Her specter was first seen in mid-April, 1692, by four of the afflicted girls – Ann Putnam Jr., Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcott, and Elizabeth Hubbard. Historian Marilynne Roach, in her book The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege says, “…[she] had told people for over a year that she had sold herself to the Devil. They had thought this behavior was nothing more than a tasteless jest, like the time she mocked baptism by flicking water in her stepmother’s face, or publicly talked back to her … Unlike everyone else who feared guerilla attacks, Abigail rambled the hills and fields at all hours of the day and night, protected, she said, by the Devil’s power.” Once witchcraft accusations began to proliferate, Abigail Hobbs was an obvious target.


On April 18, Ezekiel Cheever and John Putnam Jr. filed a complaint, on behalf of Ann Putnam Jr., Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcott, and Elizabeth Hubbard, against Abigail Hobbs, Mary Warren, Giles Corey, and Bridget Bishop. An arrest warrant was issued. A day later, Abigail was in custody and brought to Salem Village for examination. On April 21, arrest warrants were issued for both her stepmother Deliverance and her father William.


According to Charles Upham in his 1867 book Salem Witchcraft, “Abigail … appears from all the accounts to have acted at this stage of the transaction a most wicked part, ready to do all the mischief in her power, and allowing herself to be used to any extent to fasten the imputation of witchcraft upon others.”


In her remarkable examinations, Abigail claimed to have covenanted with the Devil three or four years earlier while living in Maine’s Casco Bay. He promised her all manner of fine things if she would sign his book, she said. It was this claim that first connected the Devil to Maine and revealed some significant players’ connections with each other. Says Mary Beth Norton, “Mercy Lewis [later, a Putnam family servant and afflicted accuser herself] and Abigail Hobbs probably lived in close proximity to each other in Falmouth Village during the mid-1680s. Another quarter mile west of their homes lay [Reverend George] Burroughs’ remaining 23 acres. Since he undoubtedly farmed or cut wood on that land, the clergyman would have regularly passed the Lewis and Hobbs households as he moved from his house (to the east of Fort Loyal) and his land on the west side of town. Thus, in Falmouth George Burroughs, Mercy Lewis, and Abigail Hobbs must have encountered each other, perhaps on a daily basis.” (Burroughs, who would end up accused, convicted, and hanged in August 1692, would be infamously named “the King in Hell.”)


Abigail also reported seeing the Devil’s minions, in the shape of dogs, cats, and men, all encouraging her to sign the Devil’s book. She declined to do so, but agreed to act as his servant for varying periods of time. She agreed to the charges that she had afflicted Ann Putnam Jr., Mercy Lewis, and Abigail Williams, and claimed to have attended a diabolical sacrament in Reverend Parris’ pasture, where she ate red bread and drank red wine. One of the most outrageous statements attributed to Abigail was during the testimony of 17-year-old neighbor Lydia Nichols, who said, “about a year and a half ago I asked Abigail Hobbs how she dared lie out at nights in the woods alone. She told me she was not afraid of anything for she had sold herself body and soul to the old boy.” While Abigail had fearlessly been making shocking statements for years, she did, when examined, say, “I will speak the truth, I have seen sights, & been scared: I have been very wicked, I hope I shall be better: & God will keep me.” Interestingly, the afflicted Putnam, Lewis, and Williams were quiet during Abigail’s confession and expressed sympathy for her.


One has compassion for Deliverance Hobbs, who was not only treated with flippant disrespect by her stepdaughter Abigail, but who was also clearly bullied and pressured to confess by the magistrates. Deliverance is an interesting figure, in that she herself claimed to be afflicted early on, saying she heard a voice and saw animal specters in the meeting house.  Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, in their 1974 book Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft, point out the odd circumstances of Deliverance, in which she found herself on both sides of the issue. “Deliverance Hobbs, a middle-aged woman who had for a time been afflicted, was herself on the examination stand by late April, accused of witchcraft: ‘Is it not a solemn thing, that last Lord’s Day you were tormented, and now you are become a tormentor, so that you have changed sides? How comes this to pass?” she was asked.


Deliverance was arrested by Constable Ephraim Wildes, the only son of fellow-accused Topsfield witch Sarah Wildes. In her April 22 examination, Deliverance insisted on her innocence, but claimed she had seen specters of both animals and people, including Sarah Wildes (“who tore me almost to pieces”) and Mercy Lewis. In later testimony, Ephraim Wildes recounted that when he’d arrested Deliverance, she’d given him such a malevolent look that he believed she named his mother out of revenge.


Eventually Deliverance grew weak under the questioning and confessed to witchcraft. Charles Upham points out that in April, when Deliverance finally became overwhelmed by the judges’ leading questions, she named several people but never mentioned Reverend George Burroughs. By the time Burroughs was arrested and brought in to Salem the following month, Deliverance now had details about the Reverend presiding over a witch’s meeting in Parris’ pasture. Upham concludes this is proof that she learned what to say from fellow prisoners. Boyer and Nissenbaum describe her confession: “Deliverance Hobbs revealed that at another large assemblage of Village witches – a kind of strategy session – George Burroughs had issued instructions ‘to bewitch all in the Village . . . gradually, and not all at once.”


Perhaps the most notable role Deliverance Hobbs played in the Salem tragedy was at the July trial of Rebecca Nurse, with whom both Deliverance and Abigail were imprisoned. The two Hobbs women had earlier testified that they witnessed Rebecca Nurse acting as a Deacon at the notorious witch meeting in Samuel Parris’ pasture. When they were brought in to testify at her trial, Rebecca famously said, “What? Do you bring her? She is one of us.” Following a Not Guilty verdict, the afflicted who were present raised an outcry. Chief Justice William Stoughton, unsatisfied with the judgement, sent the jury out to deliberate again. The question was raised – what did Nurse mean by ‘one of us?’ Upon her return to the stand, the elderly, weak, and hard-of-hearing Rebecca was asked to explain the comment. She did not reply. The jurists took her silence as an admission of guilt, that Rebecca was admitting Deliverance was “one of our company of witches.” They changed Nurse’s verdict to Guilty. A subsequent letter from Rebecca Nurse explaining she had not heard the question, and only meant Deliverance was “one of the prisoners,” went unheeded. Rebecca Nurse was hanged with four other innocent women on July 19, 1692.


While wife Deliverance Hobbs succumbed to the pressure of the magistrates, her husband William denied everything. Despite the dramatic behavior of the afflicted witnesses at his examination, he remained steadfast. “I can speak in the presence of God safely, as I must look to give account another day, that I am as clear as a new-born babe,” he said. When asked why he hadn’t been to church in some time, he explained he’d been sick. Additional prodding did nothing to change his statements. “You may judge your pleasure, my soul is clear.” When asked if he could deny the suffering of the afflicted, he said, “I can deny it to my dying day.”


Abigail Hobbs was convicted and sentenced to death on September 17, along with Margaret Scott, Wilmott Redd, Samuel Wardwell, Mary Parker, Abigail Faulkner, Rebecca Eames, Mary Lacy, and Ann Foster. Scott, Redd, Wardwell, and Parker were among those who hanged on September 22. The rest escaped the hangman’s noose, although the elderly Ann Foster died in Salem jail on December 10.


William Hobbs remained in jail until December 14, when two neighbors, John Nichols and Joseph Towne, paid his £200 bail. It’s unclear when Deliverance and Abigail were released from prison, although jail bills suggest they did not gain their freedom until the spring of 1693, a full year after their arrests. William was officially cleared of charges on May 11, 1693. Again, the women’s details are unclear.


William petitioned for reparations in September of 1710; early the following year, he was awarded £10 for Abigail. In a footnote in Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt editor Bernard Rosenthal notes, “It is conspicuous, but not unique, that Abigail Hobbs received compensation in spite of her having been a confessor.”


Locating the site of the Hobbs home in Middleton has proved difficult. In 1970, Lura Woodside Watson noted in her book Middleton: A Cultural History, “A cellar hole on the east side of Locust Street not far from its junction with East Street is thought to be the site of the Hobbs house.” Fifty years later, that hole is long gone. The intersection of Locust Street and East Street is pictured.