Mary (Ayer) Parker, a widow in her mid-50s in 1692, was the only accused person in present-day North Andover who was hanged for witchcraft.
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Of the forty-four Andover residents who were accused of witchcraft in 1692, three were hanged for the crime. The widow Mary (Ayer) Parker, in her mid-50s, was the only accused person from present-day North Andover to be executed.
By 1692, Mary Parker had been a widow for seven years. Her husband Nathan, one of the “original proprietors of Andover” and one of the original ten members of the First Church, died in 1685. It is believed Widow Parker was living with her son John, the oldest of the couple’s five living children, in the North End. The property, inherited from Nathan Parker, was near the Town Common in North Andover today. Mary’s sister Rebecca, who was married to another “original town proprietor,” John Aslebee, lived nearby.
The first witchcraft accusations in Essex County began in Salem Village in early 1692, but didn’t reach the town of Andover until late May, when Martha Carrier was accused. Carrier was a perfect target. She was blamed for bringing smallpox to town two years earlier, resulting in the deaths of thirteen townspeople. She frequently had altercations with her neighbors. Most importantly, her brother-in-law, Roger Toothaker, was already in jail, accused of witchcraft. Toothaker’s wife Mary (Martha’s sister) and daughter were accused and arrested at the same time as Carrier. People believed witchcraft ran in families, particularly among the women.
After Martha Carrier’s arrest, there was a quiet period in Andover of about six weeks. Then Joseph Ballard, who had an ailing wife that he suspected might be under the influence of witchcraft, invited two of Salem Village’s afflicted girls to Andover to confirm his fear. Their visit, in mid-July, set off what would become the largest witch hunt in any Massachusetts town. More and more people were accused and arrested, and most confessed, believing it was the only way to survive. By this time, it was clear those who maintained their innocence were hanged, while those who confessed were not.
It was in late August when two of the most active afflicted girls in Andover, Martha Sprague and Rose Foster, claimed the specter of Mary Parker tormented them. Parker was arrested, and shortly thereafter, so were her daughter Sarah, two of her nieces, and her grandniece.
Mary Parker was first examined by Salem Magistrates John Hathorne, Jonathan Corwin, Bartholomew Gedney, and John Higginson Jr. (son of Salem’s elder minister, Reverend John Higginson). The afflicted witnesses writhed in torment in her presence, and were “cured” after being touched by Parker. The touch test was used in Salem from May until the fall, the belief being that if a witch touched an afflicted person, the evil would flow back into its source and the torment would cease. It was thought to be an acceptable method to identify the guilty.
Mary Parker was stunned by the accusations against her and asked if it was a case of mistaken identity. There was another Mary Parker in Andover, perhaps they meant her? No, there was no mistake, said the witnesses. One witness who was present was Mary Warren from Salem, John Proctor’s servant. She had a fit during Parker’s examination, and came forward with a pin stuck in her hand and a bloody mouth, saying it was Mary Parker who was to blame. Parker was held for trial.
[One can see on the map created by the Andover and North Andover Historical Societies in 1992, the Plan of Andover in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, Essex County, 1692, that there was another Mary Parker in Andover, located in the home of Stephen Parker. The home is located on the Cochichewick River, on the “way to Haverhill.” According to Charlotte Helen Abbott’s Early Records of the Parker Family of Andover, available at Memorial Library in Andover, Nathan Parker’s brother, Joseph Parker, was married to Mary Stevens. Joseph died in 1678, leaving Mary a widow. Mary, one of the couple’s two sons, and some other boys in the Stevens line, are described as non compos mentis, meaning not sane or in one’s right mind, or, as in the annotated genealogy notes, “not all right.” Mary (Stevens) Parker died in 1695, so she was alive during the time of the witch hysteria. Joseph and Mary’s son Stephen Parker was also married to a Mary, Mary Marston, who died in 1693, so she was also alive. We’ll never be sure which other Mary the accused Mary Parker was suggesting – her sister-in-law, or her niece by marriage.]
What could have brought Widow Parker to the attention of the afflicted accusers? One event from the past, involving her husband Nathan Parker, may provide some explanation. More than thirty years earlier, in 1658, prominent Andover resident Thomas Chandler agreed to take on Job Tyler’s son, Hopestill, as an apprentice. The legal contract for this arrangement was held, for safekeeping, by Nathan Parker. Four years later, for reasons unknown, Job wished to break the contract. He arranged for his eldest son Moses Tyler to steal the document from the Parker home when Nathan and Mary were away. Their children and servants informed Goodman Parker about the theft and, in the ensuing trial, Parker testified against Job and Moses. The Tylers lost the suit. Thirty-four years later, as the witchcraft accusations increased, Martha Sprague was the first to accuse Widow Parker. Sprague was the stepdaughter of Job Tyler. Perhaps there was lingering animosity.
Mary Parker was tried during the week of September 13, 1692. Two other accused Andover residents, William Barker Sr. and Mercy Wardwell, both of whom had confessed to witchcraft, claimed that they had seen Mary Parker afflict Martha Sprague and the ailing Timothy Swan. Parker claimed innocence to the end. She was hanged, along with Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Martha Corey, Samuel Wardwell, Margaret Scott, and Wilmot Redd, on September 22 on Proctor’s Ledge at Gallows Hill. Reverend Nicholas Noyes was quoted as saying, “What a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there.”
The location of Mary Parker’s remains is unknown. Perhaps her body was brought home by family members and buried on their property, as popular tradition holds for a number of the executed.
In November of 1692, Mary’s oldest sons, John and Joseph Parker, petitioned the governor regarding property wrongfully seized, saying that Sheriff George Corwin “seized our cattle, corn and hay, to a considerable value” and claimed that he had demanded an additional £10 when they complained.
In 1711, Mary Parker’s name was formally cleared of the accusation of witchcraft.
Like many 17th century women, little is known about Mary Parker’s early life. She was born circa 1637, most likely in England. Her father’s name was John Ayer. It is believed her mother, name unknown, died in England or onboard ship as the family emigrated to the colonies. Ayer and his seven children first settled in Salisbury, MA, and then moved to Haverhill, MA after Ayer remarried, possibly to Hannah Webb.
Nathan Parker and his brother, Joseph Parker, were among the “original proprietors of Andover,” arriving in Andover from Newbury, MA, in 1645. Nathan was a scrivener and Joseph was a wheelwright. According to Charlotte Helen Abbott’s Early Records of the Parker Family of Andover, Nathan married his first wife, Susan Short of Newbury, in 1648. They had one son, Nathan. Susan died in 1651. Nathan married his second wife, Mary Ayer, around 1653. The couple had ten children, not all of whom lived to adulthood. One son, James, was killed by natives at Black Point in 1677.
Additional note: Rebecca Johnson, Mary Parker’s grandniece, who was seventeen when she was arrested for witchcraft in 1692, married Joseph Ballard Jr. in 1698. Ballard was the son of the man who first triggered the massive witch hunt in Andover, when he invited two afflicted girls from Salem Village to visit his ailing wife Elizabeth.
According to the Plan of Andover in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, Essex County, 1692, a map created by the Andover and North Andover Historical Societies in 1992, Widow Parker was living with her son John in 1692, near the present-day North Andover Town Common, catty-corner from the North Andover Historical Society.
Another possible location is suggested in Charlotte Helen Abbott’s Early Records of the Parker Family of Andover: “Nathan’s estate was in North Parish on the site of the present Unitarian parsonage on Chestnut Street, and at his death, the widow Mary and son John are executors.”
View from the North Andover Historical Society
View from the Unitarian Universalist First Parish Church
Another view of the likely site of the Parker home
Across from the presumed Parker site
The Parker site from Andover Street
The gravestone of Hannah (Farnum) Stevens. Mary Parker's granddaughter was born the year after her grandmother's execution. She died in 1784.
The graves of Benjamin and Hannah Stevens.
Mary Parker bench at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Salem, MA.
North Andover Old Center, 1880s, from Sutton Hill. Parker land was to the left in the 1600s. From the archives of the North Andover Historical Society.