More About Roger, Mary, and Margaret Toothaker Home, Site of

Roger arrived in the New World from England in 1635, when he was about a year old. A sister, Martha, was born to his parents Roger and Margaret before the death of Roger Sr. a few years later. It seems the Toothakers initially settled in Plymouth, because in December of 1638, the widow Toothaker married Ralph Hill there. The Hills moved to Woburn, and then to Billerica by 1653, where they were among the earliest settlers. Hill was granted a large parcel of land.


Roger Jr. may have worked as a servant in Malden, MA for a time, and arrived in Billerica by 1660. He was given land by his stepfather, “on the east side of the Concord River, below the great bridge.” His was one of the northern-most houses in Billerica, remote from the town center. On June 9, 1665, Roger married Mary Allen of Andover. The couple’s eight children, three of whom did not reach adulthood, were born over the next 18 years.


It is unclear what Roger Toothaker’s profession was in Billerica. Although he is referred to as “Doctor” or “physician” in accounts surrounding the Salem witch trials, there are no Billerica records that label him as such and his education is unknown. Roger bragged about his abilities with counter-magic, so he clearly knew some of the healing and natural arts of the time.


In the seventeenth century, Billerica was an isolated area in Middlesex County, to the west of Essex County. It was replete with wolves and Indigenous people, likely the two biggest fears of the colonial residents. Interestingly, the local Pawtucket Sachem, Passaconoway, was a peaceful man, advising his people to find a way to get along with their new, and ever-encroaching, neighbors. He eventually moved north, and his role was filled by his also-peaceful son, Wannalancet. The natives from Canada, however, allied with the French, were not so passive. A dozen garrisons were built for protection in Billerica during King Philip’s War (1675-6), but it wasn’t until King William’s War 15 years later, around the time of the Salem witch trials, when French and Indian raids descended on Billerica and surrounding towns. Fear of attack was constant for decades. Mary Toothaker lived with great anxiety and dread.


As if these two very real worries were not enough, Mary had suffered another alarming event in 1669. A town swineherd and ne’er-do-well, Thomas Wilkinson, known for his lazy and insolent ways, had accosted Mary in her own home while her husband was absent. She rebuffed his advances, but it must have been frightening. Roger did not pursue the matter when he found out about it, cowed by threats from Wilkinson and concerned about a charge of slander.


Despite all of these dangers lurking in Billerica, town selectmen records reveal that Roger Toothaker did not take care of his family. In 1683, “Roger Toothaker, being sent for and spoken unto concerning many things being amiss in his family, he desired they would exercise a little more patience with him and promised amendment.” The situation did not improve, and by the next year, he seems to have abandoned his wife and children, relocating to Salem. The selectmen wrote him a letter, “’to come for his wife the middle of next week and that they would help away with his family – in case of need and help fit them out.’ There was ‘need’ enough, but he did not heed it. His wife received charitable aid, and two of his children were put out by the Selectmen to Joseph Walker and Edward Farmer.” Perhaps the two unnamed Toothaker children were apprenticed to two families, to learn a trade, or to work as servants, or to make life manageable for their abandoned mother.


It seems likely that Roger’s bragging is what brought the Toothaker extended family into the web of witchcraft suspicion. According to author Richard Hite, “[Toothaker] made the mistake of boasting that he had taught his daughter [this was his oldest living child, Martha, married to Joseph Emerson of Haverhill] how to kill a witch and she had done so by taking the urine of someone who was afflicted by a specific witch (who was not named), putting it into an earthen pot, and leaving the pot in a hot oven overnight. The next morning, Toothaker claimed, the witch was dead. Though a resident of Billerica, Toothaker had related this story to at least two residents of Beverly, a town very close to Salem Village … He was arrested on May 18, ten days before his sister-in-law, Martha Carrier, and it is noteworthy that his own wife Mary (Martha’s sister) and nine-year-old daughter Margaret were also included in the same complaint as Martha.”


Roger never came to trial. He died in Boston jail on June 16. The coroner’s inquest that followed found he had died of natural causes.


Mary Toothaker, born Mary Allen in Andover in the mid-1640s, was approximately 47 years old when she was accused of witchcraft ten days after her husband. She was arrested on May 28, along with her youngest child, 9-year-old daughter Margaret, and taken to Salem jail. By the time Mary was questioned two months later, on July 30, she was a widow. One wonders about her emotions upon learning her husband had died, as she waited her own fate with her daughter.


Mary is one of the most sympathetic figures to emerge from these terrible events. Not only was her married life clearly challenging, raising a family at the edge of a frightening wilderness without the support of a reliable husband, but when reviewing her testimony, it’s clear just how terrified she was of native attack.


As previously mentioned, in 1669, Thomas Wilkinson had accosted Mary in her own home. Wilkinson had slept at the Toothaker house overnight, a stopping point “on his return journey from the bay,” but as soon as Roger left in the morning, Wilkinson approached Mary for sex, offering “shirt cloth for her husband” and a cheese, if she would comply. Mary’s deposition says, “She againe replyed that shee would see him hang’d first, and was not he ashamed to offer such abuse to another man’s wife whenas he had a wife of his owne …” Wilkinson eventually left, not before exposing himself to Mary, but when told of the incident, Roger declined to report it, saying he’d been threatened by Wilkinson if he did so, and also wanted to avoid charges of slander. After all, Mary was the only witness.


At some point, Mary’s younger sister Martha came from Andover, either to live with the Toothakers or to work in Billerica. Martha met her future husband, the Welshman Thomas Carrier (aka Morgan), in Billerica and married him in 1674. The Carriers moved back to Andover by 1690.


Two months after her arrest, Mary was examined on July 30 by magistrates Bartholomew Gedney, John Hathorne, Jonathan Corwin, and John Higginson Jr. Says historian Mary Beth Norton, “Mary Toothaker clearly illustrates the connection between the ongoing Indian wars, the fear that instilled, and the witch trials. ‘This May last,’ she told the Essex magistrates, ‘she was under great Discontentedness & troubled with feare about the Indians, I used often to dream about fighting with them.’ After acknowledging that she had afflicted [Timothy] Swan and unnamed others, Goody Toothaker revealed that ‘the Devil appeared to her in the shape of a Tawny man and promised to keep her from the Indians and she should have happy dayes with her sone,’ who had been wounded in the war.” She confessed to making a mark on a piece of bark, a pact with the Devil, to protect her from the Indians.


Mary detailed two witch gatherings in Salem Village, with a cast of accused attendees, drums and trumpets, and preaching from former Salem Village minister George Burroughs. “Because Mary Toothaker confessed to being a witch on July 30, she was in jail in Salem two days later on August 1, when a small party of Indians attacked her neighborhood in Billerica. All the occupants of two households near hers were killed. Had she been home, she too would probably have died. Upon hearing the news, she undoubtedly concluded that Satan had fulfilled his promise to ‘delyver her from the Indians.’ Perhaps that was why she never retracted her confession,” says Norton.


Mary Toothaker’s confession had another important effect on the trials, according to author Richard Hite. “Hers was the eighth confession in less than two weeks, but it was the first one by a suspect who had already been jailed for an extended period of time. This fact is crucial: it may have been the first piece of evidence the public witnessed that one could, by confessing, at the very least postpone facing trial or perhaps avoid being tried altogether.”


Mary was not tried until January of 1693. It is unclear if 9-year-old Margaret remained imprisoned with her for those many months, but the child was never tried. On January 31, the quarterly court in Charlestown, MA indicted Mary for Covenanting, referencing her confession of the mark she had made on a piece of bark, which made her a “Detestable Witch.” On February 1, Mary pled Not Guilty and, shortly thereafter, the jury found her so. She was likely released from prison after payment of any outstanding jail fees.


Although not a Billerica resident, Roger and Mary Toothaker’s oldest child, 24-year-old Martha, was married to Joseph Emerson of Haverhill. Martha Emerson was accused of witchcraft and arrested two months after her mother and sister, on July 22, accused by Mary Lacy of Andover (an accused witch herself) and Mary Warren, John Proctor’s servant. While Martha initially refused to confess, she eventually succumbed to the pressure. Says Richard Hite, “Finally Martha Emerson gave up when reminded that her father had said he had taught her to kill a witch by boiling the urine of an afflicted person. She admitted to having collected a woman’s urine in a glass, though she did not indicate if the witch afflicting the woman had died.” She would finally admit she had falsely confessed, and was found Not Guilty on January 10, 1693, due to lack of evidence.


(To add to the tragic and amazingly dramatic tale of this extended family, Joseph Emerson was the cousin of Haverhill’s Elizabeth Emerson, who had accused Timothy Swan of rape in 1685, delivered a child from that encounter, and become pregnant again – still unmarried – a few years later. She either delivered still-born twins or murdered the babies, and buried them in her parents’ yard. Elizabeth was hanged for murder in 1693. And Elizabeth’s sister? Hannah (Emerson) Duston became infamous in 1697 when taken captive by Abenaki during a raid of Haverhill. After the natives killed her days-old baby, Hannah and two other captives killed and scalped ten of the Abenaki, escaping from an island in the Merrimack River by canoe to Haverhill, and finally traveling to Boston to tell the tale.)


Roger and Mary’s oldest living son, 22-year-old Allen Toothaker, was an accuser during the witch trials, testifying against his Aunt Martha Carrier and cousin Richard Carrier. Writing contemporaneously, Reverend Cotton Mather included this in his government-sanctioned account of the Salem witch trials, The Wonders of the Invisible World, “This Toothaker, had Received a wound in the Wars; and he now testify’d, that Martha Carrier told him, He should never be Cured. Just afore the Apprehending of Carrier, he could thrust a knitting Needle into his wound, four inches deep; but presently after she being seized, he was thoroughly healed. He further testify’d, that when Carrier and he sometimes were at variance, she would clap her hands at him, and say, He should get nothing by it; whereupon he several times lost his Cattle, by strange Deaths, whereof no natural cause could be given.”


Mary Toothaker’s sister Martha Carrier was hanged for witchcraft on August 19, 1692. Of her four accused and imprisoned children – Richard, Andrew, Thomas, and Sarah – only Richard was indicted, and none went to trial. All were released after payment of jail fees, and eventually relocated to Colchester, Connecticut with their father Thomas.


After their release from prison, one would have hoped that the long-suffering Mary Toothaker and her daughter Margaret would be able to live out their lives in peace. It was not to be. On August 5, 1695, Mary’s worst fears came true. A raid by natives on horseback swept through the northern part of Billerica, either killing or capturing fifteen people. Mary Toothaker was among the dead, and daughter Margaret, now 12-years-old, was taken captive and never seen again. As historian Henry Allen Hazen said, “If the remembrance and sympathy of later generations could afford any compensation for the sorrows of such a life, we might search far to find a person better entitled to them than Mary Allen Toothaker.”


The Toothaker property included what is today 20 Rogers Street, in North Billerica. Nothing of the original house stands, although the two rectangular additions on the back of the present-day house are said to be approximately where the Toothaker home stood. Private residence, not open to the public.