The elderly Mary Bradbury, loved and respected by most of the members of her community, was convicted of witchcraft in September of 1692.
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Accusations of witchcraft had been growing for close to three months when, on May 26, 1692, Salisbury’s Mary (Perkins) Bradbury was accused of tormenting Mary Marshall of Reading, and Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis, and Ann Putnam Jr. of Salem Village. Around June 23, Timothy Swan of Andover fell ill, claiming to have been attacked by a pack of witches who flew into his father’s house in Haverhill. Mary Bradbury’s specter was specifically identified as one of the attackers. Shortly thereafter, on June 28, she was arrested by Constable William Baker and transported to Salem jail.
Mary Perkins, of Ipswich, had been married to Thomas Bradbury since 1636. By 1692, Captain Thomas Bradbury, one of the first colonial settlers of Salisbury in 1639, was arguably the most prominent citizen in town, respected by all. The elderly Mistress Bradbury, too, was a beloved member of the community. (“Mistress” denoted a woman of higher social standing than “Goodwife” or “Goody,” the polite salutation for a woman from the fourteenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries). Mary’s exact age is unclear. She was born in England circa 1615-20. Charles Upham says, in his 1867 work Salem Witchcraft, “She had been noted, through life, for business capacity, energy, and influence; and, in 1692, was probably seventy-five years of age, and somewhat infirm in health.” George A. Perkins’s 1889 work The Family of John Perkins of Ipswich, Massachusetts, states that Mary was born in England in 1620, making her age 72 in 1692. Yet another source, Bradbury descendant Martin Hollick, writing in the Harvard Crimson in 1997, says she was 77.
On July 2, Bradbury was questioned in Salem Town. Her accusers – Elizabeth Hubbard, Sarah Bibber, Mary Walcott, Mary Warren, and Ann Putnam Jr. – alleged she was a leader of the spectral attacks against 29-year-old Timothy Swan, whose mysterious illness remained unexplained. Mary Walcott and Ann Putnam Jr. also claimed to see the ghost of Putnam’s uncle, John Carr, in the courtroom. The ghost, in a winding sheet, accused Bradbury of murdering him.
On July 22, 18-year-old Richard Carrier, the son of Martha Carrier (both of whom were in jail, accused of witchcraft), said Mary was present at a Satanic baptism at Newbury Falls, along with Rebecca Nurse and Elizabeth How, two women who had been hanged only days before.
Around this same time, 115 friends and neighbors of Mary Bradbury signed a petition in an effort to save her. It read, in part, “… [she has] a courteous and peaceable disposition and carriage. Neither did any of us (some of whom have lived in the town with her above fifty years) ever hear or ever know that she ever had any differences or falling-out with any of her neighbors – man, woman, or child, – but was always ready and willing to do for them what lay in her power night and day …” Among her supporters were town luminary, Major Robert Pike, and Salisbury’s pastor, James Allen. Mistress Bradbury herself wrote to the judges, insisting she had led a good and upright life. Her husband added that she had been a good neighbor and a good mother to their eleven children and four grandchildren.
Depositions were sworn against her in Salem Town on September 9. Although the list of past grievances were many, they were largely presented by members of two families. The Endicotts claimed that butter purchased from Bradbury had turned rancid, and they claimed she had raised a storm at sea resulting in the loss of horses in a ship’s hold. Richard Carr told a fascinating story from 13 years earlier, saying Bradbury had turned herself into a wild boar and attacked his father’s horse, and, as previously mentioned, Mary was accused of causing John Carr’s death.
What was behind these accusations against Mary Bradbury, who lived more than 20 miles from Salem Village and was one of the most widely-respected members of her community? How did she become a target?
The records reveal that a majority of Mary Bradbury’s accusers were from, or related to, the Carr family, early Salisbury settlers and nearby neighbors on Mudnock Road. Thomas Bradbury had been a leading figure in Salisbury for more than 50 years, functioning as a magistrate, confirming land grants, surveying highways, and rising to command the local militia. Beginning in 1641, Carr patriarch George ran the ferry from Salisbury to Newbury, described on a modern-day historic sign as, “the only route from Boston to the eastern frontier,” which meant north to what is, today, New Hampshire and Maine. Travelers crossed from Salisbury to the island in the middle of the Merrimack (called Carr Island to this day) and on to Newbury, or vice versa. George Carr was also a ship builder. Although he died in 1682, past disputes between the Bradburys and Carrs appear to have influenced the trials a decade later.
Son Richard Carr testified about an incident in 1679, saying, “…after some difference that happened to be between my honored father, Mr. George Carr, and Mrs. Bradbury, the prisoner at the bar, upon a sabbath at noon, as we were riding home, by the house of Captain Tho. Bradbury, I saw Mrs. Bradbury go into her gate, turn the corner of, and immediately there darted out of her gate a blue boar, and darted at my father’s horse’s legs, which made him stumble; but I saw it no more.”
The phrase “some difference that happened to be” is not explained in the record, but a 2015 article by Melissa Berry in GenealogyMagazine.com suggests unrequited love. “The tribal wars between the two families were sparked when Mary passed over an offer of marriage from George Carr and married Thomas Bradbury,” says Berry. That would be fascinating if true.
What can be confirmed in the records is romantic trouble between two Carr sons and two Bradbury offspring.
James Carr testified that, more than 20 years earlier, he had been courting, at her invitation, Widow Rebecca (Wheelwright) Maverick, daughter of Reverend John Wheelwright. On one occasion, William Bradbury also came to call and “the widow did so coarsely treat him that the said William Bradbury went away angry,” said Carr. Shortly thereafter, James Carr felt tormented and believed he’d been cursed by William’s mother, Mary Bradbury. “I believe in my heart that Mistress Bradbury, the prisoner at the bar, has often afflicted me by acts of witchcraft,” he said in his September 9 testimony. It was William Bradbury who won the romantic battle; he married Rebecca in 1671, while James Carr struggled to regain his health.
Another Carr son, John, fell in love with Jemima True (although sometimes identified as Mary Bradbury’s granddaughter, she was actually Mary’s daughter Jane’s sister-in-law) in his youth and, according to an account by his brother William Carr, “… my father being persuaded by [ ] of the family (which I shall not name) not to let him marry so young, my father would not give him a portion, whereupon the match broke off, which my brother laid so much to heart that he grew melancholy, and by degrees much crazed, not being the man, that he was before, to his dying day.” When John Carr died in 1689, some said Mary Bradbury had bewitched him to death (and as previously said, Ann Putnam Jr. claimed John’s ghost accused him of murder in her testimony). Not only did William Carr dispute this version of events, saying “… he died peaceably and quietly, never manifesting the least trouble in the world about anybody; nor did not say any thing of Mrs. Bradbury nor anybody else doing him hurt…,” but both he and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Major Robert Pike, signed the petition in support of Mary Bradbury, in opposition to the rest of the Carr family.
Perhaps the most important Carr targeting Mary Bradbury was Ann (Carr) Putnam, sister of the aforementioned Richard, James, John, and William. All but one of the depositions against Mary were recorded in the handwriting of Sargent Thomas Putnam, Ann’s husband. The principal accusers during the entirety of the Salem witch trials were Thomas, Ann, and their daughter Ann Jr. Charles Upham speculates that the un-named person who prevented the courtship and marriage of John Carr and Jemima Bradbury was not actually Mary Bradbury, but Ann Putnam Sr. “Wishing to be relieved from the self-reproach of having caused his derangement and death, when the witchcraft delusion broke out at Salem Village and she became wholly absorbed by it … she avowed and maintained the belief … that the happiness, health, reason, and life of her brother had been destroyed by diabolical agency, practiced by Mrs. Bradbury.”
The July petition signed by 115 supporters was not enough to save Mary Bradbury. She was convicted and sentenced to death on September 10. In fact, all of the defendants tried this week were found guilty and sentenced to hang: Bradbury, Martha Corey, Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, and Dorcas Hoar.
Corey, Easty, Parker, and Pudeator were executed on September 22. Dorcas Hoar confessed the night before she was scheduled to be hanged and was given a month to prepare to meet her maker. By then, the hangings were over and she escaped with her life, although she ended her days in poverty.
While the overwhelming backing of her friends and neighbors did nothing to change the judges’ minds, Bradbury too eluded the hangman’s noose. With the help of her many friends, and her wealth, she escaped from jail and lived as a fugitive. She remained in hiding into 1693, finally returning to her family in May of that year. She died in Salisbury in 1700, aged 80-85.
In September of 1710, Mary Bradbury’s daughter Jane and Jane’s husband Henry True petitioned the court for a reversal of Bradbury’s conviction and restitution of costs. On October 17, 1711, “An Act to Reverse the Attainders of George Burroughs et al. for Witchcraft” was passed by the Massachusetts General Court. Among those cleared was Mary Bradbury. The family received £20 in restitution.
Additional note: One of Mary Bradbury’s eleven children, her oldest son Wymond, married Sarah Pike, daughter of Major Robert Pike. Her son William married Reverend John Wheelwright’s daughter Rebecca, and her daughter Elizabeth married Reverend John Buss (or Busse). Buss, who ministered in Dover, NH, “was cried out upon but escaped formal charges of witchcraft,” according to Emerson Baker in his 2015 book A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience. Baker suggests that because Buss had served on the frontier, and had a mother-in-law accused of witchcraft, he became a target for witchcraft accusations himself. Among Mary Bradbury’s descendants are two distinguished literary figures: Ralph Waldo Emerson (a fourth great-grandson) and Ray Bradbury (a seventh great-grandson). Also among her descendants are Mercury and Apollo astronaut Alan Shepard, Superman actor Christopher Reeve, and President Ulysses S. Grant.
The Bradbury’s home was on the original circular road – Mudnock Road today – on the southernmost part, where they had a view to the south of Town Creek. George Carr’s property was to the east of them, on Mudnock Road, and the route to Carr’s Ferry was to the west. It is likely Mary and Thomas are buried in the Colonial Burying Ground, although their stones are long gone. The gravestones of grandsons Thomas and Jacob still stand.
The location is near 43-44 Mudnock Road (both sides of the street). The houses that stand in this neighborhood today are private residences, not open to the public.
Mudnock Road, looking southwest toward Bradbury site.
The Bradbury property was on both sides of the circular road, just before the road turns toward the northwest.
View from Mudnock Road toward Town Creek.
These shards were once thought to be from Mary and Thomas Bradbury's graves, but they are likely from a different generation.
Shards in the middle of other Bradbury graves.
After a 5-year campaign by Bradbury descendant Rae Bradbury-Enslin, memorial stones for Mary and Thomas were unveiled in the Colonial Burying Ground on June 10, 2023.
The New Plimmoth Gard honors Mary and Captain Thomas Bradbury.
The grave of Bradbury grandson Thomas.
The grave of Bradbury grandson Jacob.