More About Ipswich Jail in 1692, Site of

It is estimated that 150-200 innocent people were accused of practicing witchcraft, arrested, and imprisoned in Massachusetts jails during the terrible events of 1692. No single jail was large enough to hold so many prisoners (not to mention what this added to the usual prison populace), thus four prisons were required to house all the accused witches. The jails were in Boston, Salem, Cambridge, and Ipswich.


Ipswich historian Thomas Franklin Waters provides fascinating details about the Ipswich jail in his 1905 work Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. By 1652, Boston jail could no longer accommodate all the criminals in the Colony, and so the General Court ordered that a second jail, a county prison, be built in Ipswich. It was erected on Meetinghouse Hill, near the meeting house, court house, watch house, and animal pound. Town records reveal specific details – the building had three floors, was twenty feet long and sixteen feet wide, and cost £40 to construct. The first jailkeeper, Theophilus Wilson, was paid £3 per year, plus 5 shillings for each prisoner, and, despite a 1659 instruction to “get locks to secure the prison & what is wanting else to make the doors of the prison strong,” Ipswich jail was the scene of the first jailbreak in the country, in 1662, when a prisoner pulled up the flooring of his cell to escape. It wouldn’t be the last time an inmate escaped from Ipswich jail.


Several who were accused of witchcraft in 1692 from the more northern parts of Essex County (Haverhill, Gloucester, Salisbury, Ipswich, and even Rowley) were incarcerated in Ipswich jail. Among the accused witches held here were Rachel Clenton, from the Chebacco Parish section of Ipswich, from April 11 to January 12; John Jackson Sr. and his son John Jackson Jr. (brother and nephew of the accused Elizabeth How), and John Howard, all from Rowley, from August 27 to January 12; Mary Bradbury from Salisbury – she wrote her plea of innocence to the authorities from here on September 9; Hannah Bromage and Mary Green from Haverhill; and several people from Gloucester. Mary Easty was also held here (perhaps after her second arrest), as the Ipswich jailkeeper Thomas Fossie (alternately spelled Fossey) and his wife Elizabeth are quoted as saying they “saw no evil carriage or deportment,” while she was confined. According to Ipswich historian Thomas Franklin Waters, Easty was carried to her execution from here. A bill submitted by Ipswich Deputy Sheriff John Harris details the costs for transporting other accused witches to and from Ipswich jail, or to Salem Court, or to Gallows Hill. Among those named are Sarah Good, Sarah Wildes, and Ann Pudeator.


Escapes from Ipswich jail continued. Mary Green, with the help of her brother-in-law John Shepard, escaped twice, on August 2 and 23, recaptured both times in a matter of days by Constable William Baker. While the details are unknown, it is clear that Mary Bradbury, with the help of friends and family, also escaped from jail and fled to avoid execution after her conviction. As she wrote her plea from Ipswich jail, it is likely that she escaped from here. She remained in hiding until the trials were over.


Sometime between late October and early December, a petition was submitted to the General Court from ten women (“besides three or four men”) jailed in Ipswich, as winter was coming on and the remaining trials were not likely to resume until spring: “some of us have lyen in the prison many months, and some of us many weekes … being like to perish with cold lying longer in prison in this cold season of the year, some of us being aged either about or neare fourscore, some though younger yet being with Child, and one giving suck to a child not ten weekes old yet, and all of us weak and infirme at the best, and one fettered with irons this half yeare and almost destroyed with so long an imprisonment….”


Those who signed the petition were Widow (Joan) Penny, Widow (Rachel Vinson) Vincent, Widow (Margaret) Prince, Goodwife (Mary) Greene of Haverhill, the wife of Hugh Roe (Mary Row) of Cape Ann, Mehitabel Downing, the wife of Timothy Day [this is Phebe Day, sister of Sarah Bishop and daughter-in-law of Sarah Wildes], Goodwife (Elizabeth) Dicer of Piscataqua, Hannah Brumidge (Bromage) of Haverhill, and Rachel Hafield (Rachel Clenton). Marilynne Roach speculates that the “one fettered with irons this half yeare” was likely Rachel Clenton.


In 1771, a new jail was built in the same location, the old jail was removed from Meetinghouse Hill, and the property was sold to Reverend David Kimball, who built his parsonage there. From 1806-1828, a stone jail, built near what is County Street today, was used, and then from 1828 to 1930, a combination jail and insane asylum, with a workhouse, was built on Green Street. When this county jail (the fourth and last in Ipswich) was demolished in 1933, the location was used to build a high school; that building is the Ipswich Town Hall today.


8 Meetinghouse Green (the David T. Kimball House, built in 1808, stands there today). Private residence. Not open to the public.