Elderly widow Margaret Scott was the only person from Rowley who was executed for witchcraft in 1692.
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Widow Margaret Scott was in her early-mid 70s in 1692, and had been a widow for more than twenty years. She married her husband Benjamin Scott in 1642, and never remarried after he died in 1671. Like several other women accused of witchcraft, she was a perfect target – an elderly widow whose circumstances reduced her to begging to survive.
Very little is known about Margaret Scott. Our impression of her is gathered from the existing court records, of which there are few, as she was convicted almost entirely based on accusations from just two neighboring families and one servant. According to author Mary Beth Norton in In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692, “The prosecutions of [Wilmot] Reed [of Marblehead] and [Margaret] Scott are sparsely documented, perhaps suggesting the haste with which the evidence against them was compiled.”
One accuser was Frances Wicom (alternate spellings Wicomb, Wycomb, Wycombe), the daughter of Rowley luminary Captain Daniel Wicom. In mid-April, said Frances, she started experiencing afflictions, and claimed she was choked by Margaret Scott, although she wasn’t sure if it was Widow Scott in the flesh who tormented her, or her specter. Wicom’s afflictions continued into August. Because of the sparse evidence, it is not clear if Wicom complained about her torments in April, or if she only gave details when she was deposed in September before Scott’s trial.
More than three months after Wicom’s first troubles started, another neighbor, Mary Daniel, became afflicted in late July. Within a week of Daniel’s accusation, Margaret Scott was arrested and jailed. During her August deposition, nineteen-year-old Daniel, who may have been a servant in the home of Rowley’s minister, Reverend Edward Payson, said that Margaret Scott’s specter pinched her, pricked the soles of her feet, and tipped her out of her chair. She also claimed that Scott was accompanied by the specter of Goody Jackson on one occasion. Could this Goody Jackson have been a relative of John Jackson Sr. and his son John Jackson Jr. of Rowley, who were also accused? Or did she mean John Jackson Sr.’s sister Elizabeth (Jackson) How of nearby Ipswich, who had been accused and executed on July 19? It’s possible the family connection brought the Jacksons under suspicion. Mary Daniel was supported in her accusations against Margaret Scott by Mary Warren and Elizabeth Hubbard from Salem Village, who, like Daniel, were household servants. Under oath they both affirmed that they saw Margaret Scott afflict Mary Daniel, when they were questioned on September 15. They both claimed Scott hurt them as well. Another Salem Village accuser, Ann Putnam Jr., joined Mary Warren in affirming that she saw Margaret Scott afflict Frances Wicom.
According to notes Reverend John Hale of Beverly took during Margaret Scott’s August 5 examination, an un-named confessor to witchcraft, going by the initials “M.G.,” claimed to be a witch and to have tormented Captain Daniel Wicom in the company of fellow witch Margaret Scott. Scott denied this and all charges, but she was held for trial.
Two families, and servant Mary Daniel, were the principle accusers during Scott’s September 15 trial. The Grand Jury heard from fifty-seven-year-old Captain Daniel Wicom about an altercation he’d had with Widow Scott five years earlier, when she asked to glean (or gather the leftovers) from his corn field. Wicom asked her to wait until he’d gathered what he wanted. That evening, after this encounter, Wicom’s oxen were unable to haul the corn cart from his field, cursed by Scott, he thought. His daughter Frances, as described above, was also tormented by Scott’s specter.
Members of the Nelson family contributed their stories about Widow Scott. Sgt. Thomas Nelson was the son of original Rowley settler Thomas Nelson (who established the first fulling mill in the country in 1643). Nelson described an encounter from half a dozen years earlier, when a disagreement with Scott about the delivery of wood led to Nelson’s cattle being bewitched. Two of his cows died. “I do verily believe that she is a witch,” he said. Philip Nelson and his wife Sarah described how another neighbor, Robert Shilleto, had complained for years that Scott was a witch. Shilleto had since died.
Although she claimed her innocence to the end, Margaret Scott was found guilty of witchcraft, based on neighborhood stories and gossip. She was sentenced to death on September 17, and hanged on September 22, along with seven others: Ann Pudeator, Alice Parker, Mary Easty, Martha Corey, Mary Parker, Samuel Wardwell, and Wilmot Redd, on Proctor’s Ledge at Gallows Hill. When all eight were dead, Reverend Nicholas Noyes was quoted as saying, “What a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of Hell hanging there.”
It is not known what happened to Margaret Scott’s remains. A stone was erected in her memory on Route 1A in Rowley in 1992.
Margaret Scott was among the last of the Salem Witchcraft Trials victims to have her name cleared, by legislation passed by the Massachusetts State Legislature in 2001.
Margaret Stephenson was born in England circa 1616, of parents possibly named Edward and Margarita (Dunn). She immigrated to Massachusetts with her family, and married Benjamin Scott in 1642. The Scotts began their married life in Cambridge, before moving to Rowley. Of the couple’s seven children, only three lived to adulthood. “Children, the first four born in Cambridge, the rest in Rowley.” (The Scott Genealogy). The “Benjamin Scott House” in Rowley was likely built by her son Benjamin in 1676.
Additional note: The original deposition of Mary Daniel vs. Margaret Scott was auctioned by Christie’s in 2017, the first Salem witchcraft trials document to go to public sale since the 1980s. It sold for more than $137,000.
A memorial stone to Margaret Scott, erected in 1992, can be found at the intersection of Main Street (Route 1A) and Pleasant Street. It is not clear where Widow Scott was living in 1692. She was poverty-stricken, certainly, begging for corn and wood in years past. Perhaps she lived with her son Benjamin, whose house was built in 1676 on Central Street, although that doesn’t seem likely. The Central Street house has been beautifully restored. This is a Private Residence. Not open to the public.
A memorial to Margaret Scott, erected in 1992.
The stone is on a triangle of grass at the intersection of Main Street (Route 133) and Pleasant Street.
The Benjamin Scott House.
The Benjamin Scott House, built in 1676.
Margaret Scott bench at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Salem MA.
The grave of Susannah (Scales or Searle) Scott, married to Margaret Scott's son Benjamin. She died in 1719 and is buried in the Rowley Burying Ground.