Monday, April 19, 2010

Susannah Martin, Accused of Witchcraft

Salem, Massachusetts

One of my great grandmother Lorena Murch's ninth generation ancestors was Susannah Martin, who was hanged during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

Born Susannah North in Olney, England, in September 1621, she sailed to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1643.  She married George Martin in the summer of 1646, and they had nine children together.

Susannah's father, Richard North, had also emigrated to Salem, and upon his death in 1667, Susannah was involved in a long court battle over his inheritance.  Maybe not so coincidentally, in 1669, Susannah was first accused of witchcraft in Salem.  It was custom of the time for the Commonwealth and the Church to find ways in which to smoothly transfer probatable property to said Commonwealth and Church.  At the time, religious fervor was already at a fever pitch, and lodging an accusation of witchcraft towards Susannah was deemed suitable for that aim, yet ultimately unsuccessful.

When Susannah's husband George died in 1686, the Commonwealth and the Church recalled her former accusation of witchcraft, and used the rampant testimony of the Salem girls (who were accusing most everyone) as evidence against her, in order to secure the land left to her.

Like many of the victims of the Trials, the Commonwealth would have the right to seize the real property upon her own death (or criminal conviction). That motivation by the Commonwealth, along with the tendency of young girls to clamor for attention during their flu-like symptoms (some historians believe ergot poisoning) and implicate various women they didn’t like as “witches”, in order to deflect from their own tendencies to dance in the woods with Tituba the slave woman, led to the eventual arrest, conviction, and hanging of many people, like Susannah, who was one of the oldest executed.

In the courtroom trial for Susannah, it's notable that she laughed heartily at Abigail Williams' manic seizures upon looking at Susannah, and at Abigail's repeated accusations of being hurt by her.  I'm certain that Susannah's clearly feisty nature, coupled with the prior accusation lodged against her 25 years prior over her father's estate, sealed her doom.

This is a very dark, yet fascinating, part of American history. Witch trials were prevalent at the time in England as well as other places.

Susannah had to undergo regular humiliating bodily examinations for “signs of witchcraft”.  Her breasts were checked morning and night to find evidence of Satan's Milk having passed through them, and such evidence was gained by measuring the size and plumpness of her nipples throughout different times of the day.

Can you imagine the humiliation endured by this elderly lady?  Can you do anything but respect and honor her for her sense of humor in the courtroom prior to her hanging in 1692?

Here is a transcript from the Warrant for her arrest:


To the Marshall of the County of Essex of his Lawful Deputies or to the Constable of Amesbury:

You are in their Majests names hereby required forthwith or as soon as may be to apprehend and bring (before us) Susanna Mertin of Amsbury in ye county of Essex Widdow at ye house of Lt. Nathaniel Ingersalls in Salem village in order to her examination Relating to high suspicion of sundry acts of Witchcraft donne or committed by her upon ye Bodys of Mary Walcot, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam and Mercy Lewis of Salem village or farmes whereby great hurt and damage hath beene donne to ye bodys of said persons according to complt of Capt. Jonathan walcot & Serg Thomas putnam in behalf of their Majests this day exhibited before us for themselves and also for several of their neighbors and here you are not to fail at your peril.

Dated Salem Aprill 30th 1692.

John Hathorn, Jonathan Corwin, Assistants

According to this Warrant I have apprehended Susanna Martin Widdow of Amsbury and have brong or caused her to be brought to the place appointed for her examination pr Me.

Salem Village this 2d May 1692, Orlando Bagley, Const of Amsbury




Amesbury, Massachusetts
Memorial states, "Here stood the house of Susanna Martin. An honest, hardworking, Christian woman. Accused as a witch, tried and executed at Salem, July 19, 1692. A martyr of superstition."
In January of 2016, the exact location of the hangings was revealed by the Gallows Hill Project as Proctor's Ledge, currently located behind a Walgreen's on Boston Street in Salem, soon to be designated as an historic location.
Links for further reading:

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