Monday, January 30, 2012

The Toothaker Family: Witches or Witch Killers?

Illustration of the Salem Witch Trials
Roger Toothaker was a farmer and folk-healer from Billerica who specialized in detecting and punishing witches. For several years before the Salem Witch Trials began in 1692, Toothaker had bragged to locals that he had taught his daughter, Martha Emerson, wife of Joseph Emerson, his trade and that she had killed a witch. According to the book “The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege,” the victim is believed to possibly be Mathias Button of Haverhill, Mass.

Toothaker, his wife Mary and their daughters were eventually arrested of witchcraft themselves when they were accused by Mary Warren and Mary Lacey Jr. Roger Toothaker died shortly after in prison but not before telling the court about his skills practicing counter magic against witches and confirming his daughter had killed a witch by boiling the witch's urine in a pot overnight.

After Roger died, his wife Mary confessed to being a witch and confirmed that her husband had once spoken to her daughter about killing a witch named Button. Martha Emerson, upon hearing of her parent's testimony during her trial, confessed that she kept a woman's urine in a glass jar but did not identify the woman, according to the court documents:

Emerson was told: that her father: had s'd: he had tought his Daughter Martha so that she had killed a witch: and: that was to take the afflicted persons water & put in in a glass or bottle: & sett it into an oven: Emerson owned she had [kept] a womans urin: in a glass.”

Emerson then confessed to being a witch and practicing magic against others. After spending several days in jail, she tried to recant her confession but the court kept her imprisoned. Her case was eventually thrown out of court due to a lack of evidence.

It is not known if Mathias Button or anyone in his family was a suspected witch or the victim of the Toothaker counter magic. Button was never accused of being a witch in his lifetime, although he served as a witness in a witchcraft case against his neighbor John Godfrey in 1665. Mathias Button later sued Godfrey in 1669 for allegedly setting a fire in his house that killed his wife, Ann Teagle Button. Mathias Button later remarried, to a woman named Elizabeth Wheeler, before dying of natural causes in August of 1672 at the age of 67.


New Perspectives on Witchcraft, Magic, and Demonology”; Brian P. Levack; 2001

The Salem Witch Trials: a Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege”; Marilynne K. Roach; 2002

Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth-Century New England”; David D. Hall; 1991

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