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No Ghoulies, No Ghosties, But a Witch? Yep. Part 3

This entry is part of 3 in the series No Ghoulies, No Ghosties, But a Witch? Yep.

"View from Long Hill looking towards Agawam" by E. H. T. Anthony, stereoscopic card via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. While taken a couple of centuries after the story below, the Connecticut River in Springfield, Massachusetts, likely looked similar in the late 1600s.
“View from Long Hill looking towards Agawam” [Springfield MA] by E. H. T. Anthony, stereoscopic card via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. While taken a couple of centuries after Mary (Bliss) Parson’s life, the Connecticut River Valley in Springfield, Massachusetts, likely looked similar in the late 1600s.
McMurray Family, Burnell Family (Click for Family Tree)

Since this is Friday the 13th, we will continue exploring our ‘ supernatural’ ancestor Mary (Bliss) Parsons of our McMurray line through the Burnells.

Accusations of witchcraft endured by Mary (Bliss) Parsons were described in parts 1 & 2 of this series, both in Springfield and Northampton, Massachusetts. Her ultimate imprisonment, trial, and acquittal in Boston in 1674-5 was also discussed. Incidents of Mary’s ‘bewitching,’ however, had started long before these cases, and led her neighbors to the always-lingering thoughts that she had a pact with the devil, despite being cleared of witchcraft legally.

(There were a number of cases in which an accused witch was acquitted of the crime, but the court actually stated that the person was likely a witch despite lack of admissible evidence. There is no record of that for Mary, but it demonstrates that legality and ‘reality’ were not always the same in cases of witchcraft.)

Sometime back in the 1640s while living in Springfield, Massachusetts, Goody Parsons had an argument with the blind man in town. Shortly thereafter, the man’s daughter began to have fits. Rumors may have circulated then about Mary practicing witchcraft and causing the fits in retaliation, but specific records do not exist today. This incident was entered as evidence, however, years later in the previously- discussed 1656 slander trial of Sarah (Lyman) Bridgman, brought by Mary’s husband Joseph Parsons. Sarah was found guilty at that trial, but rumors of Mary’s witchcraft persisted.

Interestingly, in Springfield at that same time, there was another Mary Parsons living just 10 houses away. (There were only 42 homes in Springfield about 1651.) This was Mary (Lewis) Parsons, wife of Hugh Parsons. (No relation that we know of.) Abandoned by her first husband, Mary had married Hugh, a brick-maker and wood sawyer. Like many of the colonists, Hugh Parsons was a fairly argumentative and contentious person, but probably mores than the norm- he was in court on a regular basis both as plaintiff and defendant. This Mary bore 3 children, but two of them died very young. Despondent, grief-stricken, and possibly dealing with postpartum blues or likely some type of mental illness (or all of these), Mary gossiped that a Springfield newcomer, the widow Marshfield, was a witch. Goody Marshfield countered with a suit for legal slander on 30 May 1649- reputation was incredibly important to our Puritan ancestors. Mary was found guilty, and her sentence was “to be well whipped on the morrow after lecture with 20 lashes…” or pay 3 pounds to Mrs. Marshfield “for and towards the reparation of her good name.” Mary’s husband paid “the heavy Amount with twenty-four Bushels of Indian Corn, and twenty Shillings in Money.”

Not long after this incident, not-our-ancestor Mary’s husband Hugh Parsons decided to not complete the bricks for the Rev. George Moxon’s chimney despite their previous agreement, as the price of materials had increased over his original bid. He ‘had words’ with the reverend, who insisted he complete the bargain as originally agreed, although accounts differ as to what was said; “I’ll be even with him” was what one witness heard from Hugh. That very same week, two Moxon daughters were taken ill with fits (some sources say they died, some just say “succumbed to fits”- the word ‘succumbed’ can be used to mean failed to resist OR actually died from something), and Hugh’s wife Mary was accused of causing the fits through her witchcraft. Interestingly, Mary (Bliss) Parsons, our ancestor, as well as some additional children, also began having fits at that time. One witness claimed “as Mr. Moxon’s children acted, so did Mary Parsons- just all one.” Their fits were such that they all had to be “carried out of the meeting, it being the Sabbath day.” Generally, few adults had these fits, and as Mary was 29 years old (if born in 1620 per some references; others state she was b. 1628, so she would have been just 21), married, and a mother, the townspeople thought her fits suspicious.

The records and scholarship are confusing for this time. John Demos, in  Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England, page 270, states that Mary Bliss Parsons had given birth to twins that summer of 1649, but they died shortly after birth. Other references list twins as being born later, and some do not include twins at all. A majority of sources (but not Demos) state that Mary and Joseph Parsons had a son named Benjamin who was born in January, 1649 and died in April or June, 1649; that timeline most likely would not have allowed for twins in the summer, unless she had become pregnant right after the birth of Benjamin- unlikely as she would have been nursing him- or the twins were born premature. (Double-dating was also used at this time due to calendar changes, so that adds another bit of confusion- which year was it??)

Whichever scenario is true, poor Mary would have likely had raging hormones from pregnancy, possibly mind-altering postpartum blues from a January and/or summer birthing, plus the grief of losing a 4-6 month old son- and twins, if she did indeed birth them that summer. Her father died that next February (1650), so he may have been ill that previous year, and Mary would have been worried about losing him. In addition to her “fits,” our Mary roamed about the countryside, even at night, alone and in a disturbed, sometimes distressed, and usually distracted manner. It was claimed that she could walk through water without getting wet, after some men saw her and followed, themselves getting wet at least to the knees. Joseph Parsons locked his wife in the house, and sometimes in the cellar, but she was always able to ‘magically’ find the hidden key and get out. She said she had to fight evil spirits when in the cellar, and her husband claimed she “would go out in the night…a woman went with her and came in with her.” Of course, there was no such other woman in the house, so it was assumed to be a supernatural being.

Mary (Bliss) Parsons and her family moved to Northampton in 1654, but the shadows of the devil and witchcraft accusations followed her, as we have seen. Next, our last installment of Mary (Bliss) Parsons and her ‘supernatural’ life. It didn’t end after her witchcraft trial.

NOTE: Listed below are the majority of sources used in researching Mary (Bliss) Parsons for ALL of the posts in this series.

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. “Goody” was a title of the time and a shortened version of “Goodwife,” with “Goodman” used for males. These terms were given to those in the middle and lower classes. A person of higher status would be given the title, “Mr.” or “Mrs.”
  2. Mary (Lewis) Parsons killed her child and was indicted for murder and witchcraft. She was found not guilty of witchcraft, but guilty of murder, and was sentenced to execution. She most probably died in jail prior to being hung. She had also accused her husband, Hugh Parsons, of witchcraft over the years, and he too was tried and acquitted.
  3.  There are two novels written by descendants of Mary Bliss Parsons that may be of interest. Silencing the Women: The Witch Trials of Mary Bliss Parsons by Kathy-Ann Becker was excellent, and maintained the historical facts while adding a good narrative flow. My Enemy’s Tears: The Witch of Northampton by Karen Vorbeck Williams is another that looks good, although I have not yet read it.
  4. The Strong Witch Society: The Diary of Mary Bliss Parsons by DH Parsons is another book written by a descendant, and part of a trilogy. It would be wise to read the description of this book and his other two carefully if you are planning to order, as there is more than history going on in this series.
  5. Mary Parsons of Springfield, part of Women in the Valley at https://pvhn2.wordpress.com/1600-2/mary-parsons-of-springfield/
  6. “The Goody Parsons Witchcraft Case” at http://ccbit.cs.umass.edu/parsons/hnmockup/has an excellent overview of Mary’s life including a good timeline that integrates a lot of the players and incidents in Mary’s life.
  7. An interesting poem by Margaret Atwood details her supposed-ancestor’s hanging as a witch and her survival. “Half-hanged Mary” is about Mary Webster who was accused of witchcraft in Hadley, Massachusetts in 1684. She was acquitted, but later attacked and lynched by a gang of her neighbors. She hung from the tree all night, and when they returned to cut down her corpse, they found that she was still alive. Of course, for any who had doubted before, her survival proved that she was a witch. She lived a number of years after the incident, but likely was an outcast in her community. There is no evidence that Mary Webster had children, so she would not have descendants today, but the poem has much of interest for those trying to understand the witchcraft hysteria. http://www.emerycsd.org/webpages/dcarter/salem.cfm?subpage=1143672
  8. Witch Hunting in Seventeenth Century New England. A Documentary History 1638–1693, edited by David D. Hall, 2nd Edition, Duke University Press Books, 2005. Includes (partial) trial transcriptions, etc.
  9. “The Early Parsons Families of the Connecticut River Valley” by Gerald James Parsons. Part 1: Vol. 148, pp. 215- 238; Part 2: p335-360; Vol. 149: Part 3- pp53-72. The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1847-. (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2013.)
  10. A Place Called Paradise. Culture and Community in Northampton, Massachusetts 1654-2004. Edited by Kerry W. Buckley, Historic Northampton Museum & Education Center/ University of Massachusetts Press. Chapter 3 is “Hard Thoughts and Jealousies” by John Putnam Demos, from his excellent, very comprehensive book Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England, New York, 1982.
  11. The History of Northampton, Massachusetts from its settlement in 1654, by James Russell Trumbell and Seth Pomeroy, 1898. (Seth Pomeroy is a very distant cousin too.) Available on Internet Archive- https://archive.org/stream/historyofnortham00trum#page/n11/mode/2up
  12. Cornet Joseph Parsons one of the founders of Springfield and Northampton, Massachusetts, by Henry M. Burt, Garden City, 1898.     https://archive.org/stream/cornetjosephpar00parsgoog#page/n10/mode/2up
  13. Parsons Family. Descendants of Cornet Joseph Parsons Springfield 1636- Northampton 1655, by Henry Parsons, New Haven, 1912.
  14. Genealogy of the Bliss family in America, from about the year 1550-1880, by Bliss, John Homer, b. 1832, 1881. https://archive.org/stream/genealogyofbliss00blis#page/n3/mode/2up
  15. Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England by John Demos, 2nd ed., 2004. Updated volume- an excellent book on all facets of witchcraft by one of the premier scholars in the field.
  16. Annals of Witchcraft in New England, and Elsewhere in the United States, from Their First Settlement: Drawn Up from Unpublished and Other Well Authenticated Records of the Alleged Operations of Witches and Their Instigator, the Devil, by Samuel Gardner Drake. W.E. Woodward, 1869. GoogleBooks, p. 72.
  17. An excellent family history website has a wonderful and well-researched history of Springfield: http://josfamilyhistory.com/locations/springfield-ma.htm (Main website is http://josfamilyhistory.com; the Sheldon page link at the bottom no longer works.)

 

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Family history is meant to be shared, but the original content of this site may NOT be used for any commercial purposes unless explicit written permission is received from both the blog owner and author. Blogs or websites with ads and/or any income-generating components are included under “commercial purposes,” as are the large genealogy database websites. Sites that republish original HeritageRamblings.net content as their own are in violation of copyright as well, and use of full content is not permitted.
 
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No Ghoulies, No Ghosties, But a Witch? Yep. Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series No Ghoulies, No Ghosties, But a Witch? Yep.
Painting that many attribute as Mary Bliss Parsons, but it is not. No known images exist of her. Unknown source.
Painting that many attribute as Mary Bliss Parsons, but it is not. No known images exist of her. Unknown source.

McMurray Family, Burnell Family (Click for Family Tree)

Well, sort of.

Ghoulies and ghosties are fun Halloween fantasies, and witches would be too if there had not been real women- and some men too- who were accused of witchcraft in the very early years of our country. Some would be convicted and executed, as in the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials of 1691-2. However, the Salem hysteria was predated by even earlier accusations and trials- and in places where our ancestors lived.

In fact, if you are a McMurray or Burnell,

one of our ancestors was accused, and tried, as a witch.

Really.

(Did Grandma tell this family story?? Likely, she did not even know of it.)

And to make the story even better, apparently another family line was quite involved, but not in a good way. (New England was a small place in the 1600s.)

Mary Bliss was born in England about 1628, a time when witches and Satan populated the world in Puritan minds, and those of other religious persuasions as well. Even literate people felt these entities were very real, and just waiting to harm them or their crops, livestock, homes, property, and family; for illiterate people, the fantastical was even more acceptable. Just imagine the darkness of New England in the winter, being in a small home with little light from handmade candles and the fireplace, possibly a woman alone with many children to protect while her husband was out hunting for days or traveling for trade. Add the damp cold and mist, the forest nearby with animals and natives rustling about and howling, and a Halloween setting was in place- but this occurred every day of the colonists’ lives. Fear of the physical and the spiritual reigned.

Mary Bliss’ family migrated from Olde England to New England when she was about eight. She married Joseph Parsons in Hartford, Connecticut, and then they moved to Springfield for several years and had a few children. As Northampton, Massachusetts began to be settled in 1654, Joseph and Mary Bliss Parsons moved their household out into the wilderness. Joseph was quite successful in both towns, and they had one of the nicer homes and better furniture than many of their neighbors. They eventually had eleven children who survived into adulthood- thus were more successful in myriad ways as compared to many of their neighbors.

Mary Bliss Parsons was apparently something of a contentious person- not unusual for the times in men, but as a woman, her haughty and strong mannerisms and ways of dealing with people caused problems, and engendered gossip. The family’s constant rise economically, socially, and politically made Mary the envy of some of her neighbors, and enemies to others. Joseph apparently was contentious as well, and very litigious- both traits common in successful businessmen, then as now.

One of their Northampton neighbors, Sarah (Lyman) Bridgman, accused Mary of causing the death of her two-week old son through the use of witchcraft. Sarah and her husband James Bridgman had followed a similar life-path as the Parsons had with their migrations, including being born in England, then migrating to Springfield, Massachusetts, and then Northampton after the Parsons family had moved there. James had not done as well as Joseph, however, and Sarah’s children frequently died young.

A feud seemed to have developed between the families, especially after an earlier incident in Springfield in which the Bridgman’s older son had been tending their cows in the swamp, when he received a ‘great blow to the head.’ He stumbled and injured his knee. The knee had been set but was painful and did not heal properly. One day the child screamed that Mary Parsons was pulling his leg off. He said he saw her on the shelf on the wall, and then she disappeared, with a black mouse following her. This could only be caused by supernatural evil, and Sarah spread malicious gossip around Springfield in those years. Once the Bridgmans moved to Northampton, the gossip continued, even escalated. Sarah Bridgman (and others) definitely claimed that Mary Parsons was a witch. Many felt that Mary’s witchcraft was how the family did so well for themselves.

To stop the rumors, Mary’s husband Joseph Parsons filed a lawsuit against Sarah Bridgman citing slander. (Women, of course, could not file a lawsuit at that time- their husband had to do any legal work needed.) Joseph and Mary were taking a risky path with the lawsuit, as it might draw greater than normal attention by the authorities if they felt the rumors were true, and Mary could end up having to defend herself from the accusation witchcraft.

The court was held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as the higher Magistrate’s Court was required to hear such serious accusations concerning witchcraft. Thirty-three depositions were taken from friends, family, and neighbors in October of 1656, with families from both Northampton and Springfield testifying. Sarah Bridgman told her story that in May two years earlier, as she was with her newborn in her home, “having my child in my lap, there was something that gave a great blow on the door, and at very instant as I apprehended my child changed: and I thought with myself and told my girl I was afraid my child would die.’ She then saw “two women pass by the door with white clothes on their heads” when her girl had seen no one. Sarah then knew her son would die soon because there was “wickedness in the place.” Her son was dead in just two weeks.

Others stated that the rumors were ‘truth,’ not slander, and returned to past ill words and unpleasant interactions with Mary. One neighbor related that Mary complained to her that the yarn she had spun for Mary had knots, as did the second batch she sent to replace it; the spinner related that other persons did not have the same problem with the yarn she had spun for them, so Mary’s witchcraft had likely caused the knots. Mary had asked this same neighbor to let their daughter work for her, but the rumors of witchcraft had already taken hold, and they refused; the daughter became ill shortly thereafter- again, the neighbor testified, evidence of witchcraft. After an argument with Mary about missing yarn, the husband of the spinner found his cow “ready to die” and it did, within two weeks- of course that too would have been caused by Mary’s witchcraft, as revenge for the “discontented words passed” between them. “Hard thoughts and jealousies” abounded concerning Mary Parsons (with ‘jealousies’ at that time meaning accusations, not envy).

Incidents in Springfield from years before were also brought before the court, such as Mary in a ‘fit’ moving through water but not getting wet, Mary walking about at night, sometimes with an unknown woman (thought to be a spirit), or Mary being able to find the key her husband hid from her when he locked her in their house or cellar. (He also beat her in front of others, and their child. They had a stormy relationship.)

Other witnesses, more favorable to Mary, testified that Sarah Bridgman’s baby had been sickly since birth and that the cow died of “water in the belly” rather than some unnatural cause.

Numerous witnesses then recanted their testimony, stating that they had been induced by the Bridgmans to lie or that whatever incident they had related may have had natural causes. Mary was not above reproach in such evidence tampering matters either- she and her husband had influential friends who tried to suppress or alter testimony.

As proving Sarah’s slander was actually the point of the lawsuit, Mary’s mother, Margaret (Hullins) Bliss told the court that she had been told by Sarah Bridgman that “her daughter Parsons was suspected to be a witch.”

Thirty-seven persons in two communities were involved in the trial, with 15 families who lived in Northampton, and 7 from Springfield. It had taken an entire summer to gather all the evidence- it was quite a big event in the two little frontier towns on the edge of wilderness.

That fall the court ruled that Sarah Bridgman had indeed committed slander. Repentance was important to a Puritan community, and Sarah Bridgman was given the choice of a public apology to be done in both Northampton and Springfield, or pay a fine that they really could not afford. The Bridgmans decided to pay the fine instead of backing down, probably to avoid the humiliation.

The trial was over, but suspicions and the troubles of Mary Parsons were not.

 

To be continued…

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. We have the ‘Lyman’ and ‘Bartlett’ accuser’s surnames in the family as well, but this author is just beginning to research those relationships.
  2. There is quite a lot of information online about Mary Bliss Parsons- with 11 children surviving to adulthood, she has a LOT of descendants. Not all is fully accurate,  so reading more scholarly journals and genealogical and other books concerning Mary will be the best sources. Following are just a few of the very many sources consulted for this blog post and those upcoming about Mary.
  3. A Place Called Paradise. Culture and Community in Northampton, Massachusetts 1654-2004. Edited by Kerry W. Buckley, Historic Northampton Museum & Education Center/ University of Massachusetts Press. Chapter 3 is “Hard Thoughts and Jealousies” by John Putnam Demos, from his excellent, very comprehensive book Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England, New York, 1982.
  4. The History of Northampton, Massachusetts from its settlement in 1654,

    by Trumbull, James Russell, (1825-1899); Pomeroy, Seth, (1706-1777), 1898. (Seth Pomeroy is a very distant cousin too.)  Available on Internet Archive- https://archive.org/stream/historyofnortham00trum#page/n11/mode/2up

  5. Cornet Joseph Parsons one of the founders of Springfield and Northampton, Massachusetts, by Henry M. Burt, Garden City, 1898.     –https://archive.org/stream/cornetjosephpar00parsgoog#page/n10/mode/2up
  6. Parsons Family. Descendants of Cornet Joseph Parsons Springfield 1636- Northampton 1655, by Henry Parsons, New Haven, 1912.

(Journals will be added with Part 2.)

 

 

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Original content copyright 2013-2015 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.

Family history is meant to be shared, but the original content of this site may NOT be used for any commercial purposes unless explicit written permission is received from both the blog owner and author. Blogs or websites with ads and/or any income-generating components are included under “commercial purposes,” as are the large genealogy database websites. Sites that republish original HeritageRamblings.net content as their own are in violation of copyright as well, and use of full content is not permitted.
 
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No Ghoulies, No Ghosties, But a Witch? Yep. Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series No Ghoulies, No Ghosties, But a Witch? Yep.
"Don't text and fly." Unknown source but all over the internet. Very clever.
“Don’t text and fly.” Unknown source but all over the internet. Very clever. Photos give us a lot of clues- for instance, the family that lives here probably has teenagers. ;D And there are just no images of Mary Bliss Parsons.

McMurray Family, Burnell Family (Click for Family Tree)

If you haven’t completely overdosed on sugar and chocolate from Halloween, you may remember that we have our own accused witch in the family tree.

Hopefully not in the above kind of tree.

Let’s return to our own Mary (Bliss) Parsons…

Rumors about Mary continued to ‘fly’ in Northampton and Springfield despite her winning the slander case against Sarah (Lyman) Bridgman. Life, however, seemed to go on with townspeople trading with each other despite the fear of evil in the neighborhood. This is one of the most curious things about a ‘witch’ in the community- despite the animosity of the accusations, the accused witch and her family were generally still able to do business in town, work for others, sell their crops or other goods, etc. The interdependence of a small frontier community always had to come first.

Eighteen years passed without significant incident, but bad feelings and nasty rumors continued concerning Mary and witchcraft. Joseph and Mary had more healthy children, prospered, as had most of their adult children as well. Mary’s mother, Margaret (Hullins) Bliss, along with Mary’s brothers, had also become successful after their move to Northampton after the death of Thomas Bliss, Mary’s father.

The bad luck of Sarah and James Bridgman continued, however. James had not moved up in the community economically, socially, or politically. Their married daughter, Mary (Bridgman) Bartlett died at about age 22 in August of 1674. The young mother had been healthy and then died suddenly, with no apparent illness. James Bridgman and his son-in-law Samuel Bartlett later testified that, “she came to her end by some unlawful and unnatural means.” They thought her death had been, “by means of some evil instrument.” The men appeared in the county court and requested inquiry into the matter. Mary (Bliss) Parsons knew the gossip, so decided to appear in court of her own accord, “desiring to clear herself of such an execrable crime.” The local magistrates did listen to Mary and evidence given, but deferred any decision until their next meeting, which was to be in November. Very little of the court records survive, but the second hearing was deferred until 5 January 1675.

In January more depositions were taken, and the court called Mary “to speak for herself.” Mary asserted her own innocence and continued, saying she was clear of the crime. The court records stated that she added,  “the righteous God knew her innocency- with whom she had left her cause.” For a woman of that time, standing up in court to magistrates and the community was impressive, but Mary had the courage to do so. The young widower, Samuel Bartlett, was also in court this time, and provided the magistrates with testimonies, “many and various, some of them being demonstrations of witchcraft, and others sorely reflecting upon Mary Parsons as being guilty that way.”

Winter in New York- similar to that in Massachusetts. William Rickarby Miller [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Winter in New York- similar to that in Massachusetts.
William Rickarby Miller [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The county court decided to invest in more inquiry, although they had determined that the case should go on to a higher court, in Boston. Because it was winter in New England, and there was quite a distance for all those involved to travel to Boston, the court ordered her person to be examined by “Soberdized, Chast women” who would “make Diligent Search upon ye body of Mary Parsons, whether any marks of witch craft might appear.” These marks could include a mole or birth mark, an anatomical deformity, or even a bruise or insect bite- it was believed that any of these types of ‘witch marks’ would prove that Mary had a ‘familar’ (a devil or spirit that could take various shapes, often as a cat) and therefore truly a witch. This report (which has not survived) along with the case documents was sent to Boston. Mary Bliss Parsons now was in the fearful position of being officially the defendant, accused of murder via her witchcraft.

Interestingly, most likely at the same proceeding, there had been testimony that Mary’s 24 year old unmarried son John Parsons had a part in his mother’s witchcraft, or that he was a witch himself- the specifics are just not available. Few men were prosecuted as witches, and the court decided there was not, “any such weight whereby he should be prosecuted on suspicion of witchcraft.”

Mary was taken to Boston on 2 March 1675,  stood before a Grand Jury, and was indicted on charges of witchcraft. Additionally, she was to be imprisoned in Boston for ten weeks while awaiting trial. Mary’s incarceration, being well-to-do, would not have been quite as miserable as for the lower classes in jail, but it surely was a horrible two and a half months after her comparative life of luxury. In those days, a family had to bring in or pay for meals, clothing, bedding,- even water for the prisoner. Mary’s family could easily afford her meals and warm clothes for a still-cold March and April in Boston, and probably paid for a larger cell that she could have to herself. Joseph owned warehouses in Boston so he had a place to stay and could conduct business, and visit his wife regularly. Still, being jailed and with a trial for witchcraft looming, it must have been a terrible and frightening experience.

"Marched from jail for the last time," fictional character Dulcibel Burton, illustration, Dulcibel : A tale of old Salem, by Henry Peterson, Philadelphia : John C. Winston, 1907, painting by Howard Pyle (1853-1911) via Wikimedia Commons; public domain.
“Marched from jail for the last time,” fictional character Dulcibel Burton, illustration, Dulcibel : A tale of old Salem, by Henry Peterson, Philadelphia : John C. Winston, 1907, painting by Howard Pyle (1853-1911) via Wikimedia Commons; public domain. Hopefully it was not this dramatic for Mary as she was taken to the courtroom, but she likely was thinking it could end up this way if she was found guilty of witchcraft.

The official charge was read at Mary’s trial on 13 May 1675: “Mary Parsons, the wife of Joseph Parsons, …being instigated by the Devil, hath entered into familiarity with the Devil, and committed several acts of witchcraft on the person or persons of one or more.” Mary was standing at the bar as she listened to the charge, raised her hand, and stated that she was not guilty. Although the court was filled with the elite of the colony including the governor, indicating Mary’s social rank and her husband’s connections, it was a jury of twelve men from the local area who decided her fate. Mary spoke on her own behalf, and part of the minimal records remaining state simply, on 13 May 1675: “The jury brought in their verdict. They found her not guilty. And so she was discharged.”

As had been the case before, although Mary (Bliss) Parsons had been legally cleared of witchcraft, the stigma of evil did not leave her. We will explore more about her life in upcoming posts, including more instances in which “hard thoughts and jealousies” affected her life.

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. Witch Hunting in Seventeenth Century New England. A Documentary History 1638–1693, edited by David D. Hall, 2nd Edition, Duke University Press Books, 2005.
  2. “The Early Parsons Families of the Connecticut River Valley” by Gerald James Parsons. Part 1: Vol. 148, pp. 215- 238; Part 2: p335-360; Vol. 149:Part 3- pp53-72. The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1847-. (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2013.)
  3. A Place Called Paradise. Culture and Community in Northampton, Massachusetts 1654-2004. Edited by Kerry W. Buckley, Historic Northampton Museum & Education Center/ University of Massachusetts Press. Chapter 3 is “Hard Thoughts and Jealousies” by John Putnam Demos, from his excellent, very comprehensive book Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England, New York, 1982.
  4. The History of Northampton, Massachusetts from its settlement in 1654,

    by Trumbull, James Russell, (1825-1899); Pomeroy, Seth, (1706-1777), 1898. (Seth Pomeroy is a very distant cousin too.)  Available on Internet Archive- https://archive.org/stream/historyofnortham00trum#page/n11/mode/2up

  5. Cornet Joseph Parsons one of the founders of Springfield and Northampton, Massachusetts, by Henry M. Burt, Garden City, 1898.     –https://archive.org/stream/cornetjosephpar00parsgoog#page/n10/mode/2up
  6. Parsons Family. Descendants of Cornet Joseph Parsons Springfield 1636- Northampton 1655, by Henry Parsons, New Haven, 1912.
  7. Genealogy of the Bliss family in America, from about the year 1550-1880by Bliss, John Homer, b. 1832, 1881. https://archive.org/stream/genealogyofbliss00blis#page/n3/mode/2up

 

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