Monday, February 27, 2012

Who Brought the Bed Bugs?

Bed Bugs
Bed bugs, the little parasites that feed on the blood of people and animals, are not native to North America and were actually first brought to the continent either by explorers or the pilgrims.

Some sources indicate that the bed bugs, which have plagued Europe, Asia and Africa for thousands of years, first came to North America with Christopher Columbus and his crew, while other sources, such as the book “Studies in Insect Life and other Essays,” suggest the parasites emigrated on the Mayflower:

Cimex [the Latin word for bed bugs] is particularly common in ships, especially emigrant ships, and although unknown to the aboriginal Indians of North America, it probably entered that continent with the 'best families' in the 'Mayflower.'”

In fact, the pilgrims and early settlers of North America have been accused of not only introducing bed bugs to the continent but other non-native insects as well, such as cockroaches and lice. According to the book “Insect Biodiversity,” thirteen different types of insects and parasites that were common in England but unknown to North America were introduced to the continent before the year 1800.

Ever since bed bugs made their debut in North America, people have been trying to find ways to control or eradicate them. These attempts were mostly unsuccessful until the introduction of pesticides such as DDT in the 1940s. Although the pesticide was highly effective and nearly wiped out the parasites completely, it was also very toxic and harmful to the environment. The U.S. government officially banned DDT in 1973 and since then bed bugs have been on the rise again, reaching epidemic proportions in just the past few years.


"Insect Biodiversity: Science and Society”; Robert G. Foottit, Peter Holdridge Adler; 2009

"Studies in Insect Life and Other Essays”; Sir Arthur Everett Shipley; 1916 

"Historical Lights and Shadows of the Ohio State Penitentiary”; Chapter: The Great American Bed-Bug; Daniel J. Morgan; 1918

Monday, February 20, 2012

Animals in the Salem Witch Trials

Illustration of a witch with her cat familiar
Animals played an important role in the Salem Witch Trials. Since it was believed at the time that witches had animal familiars, or helpers, that they used to do their bidding, many villagers were often on the look out for these possessed animals, which were thought to take the form of almost any creature, from cats and dogs to birds, oxes, cows or pigs.

Animals were also accused of witchcraft themselves and executed. The list of accused witches during the Salem Witch Trials includes not only women, men and children but also two dogs.

In October of 1692, an afflicted girl in Andover accused a neighbor's dog of trying to bewitch her. The villagers shot the dog immediately. Only after its death did the minister, Cotton Mather, declare the animal innocent. Mather reasoned that if the dog really was the devil in disguise, it would not be possible to kill it. Since the dog did die, Mather determined it was not bewitched and was therefore innocent.

Around the same time, after a dog in Salem Village began behaving strangely, the afflicted girls of the village accused John Bradstreet of Andover of riding and tormenting the dog with his spirit. Although it was considered a victim, the people of Salem village killed the dog and Bradstreet fled Andover for the Piscataqua colony.

Woodcut of a witch riding a cat
Dogs were also used to identify witches. An example of this is when Tituba made a “witch cake” out of rye meal and the urine of the afflicted Salem Village girls and fed it to a dog in an attempt to find the person responsible for bewitching the girls. This was a traditional type of English counter magic that was supposed to cause the witch pain, therefore identifying the witch.

Animals that suddenly became sick, injured or died without any apparent cause were thought be victims of witchcraft. Villagers believed that witches kidnapped animals and rode them around to their witch meetings at night, resulting in weakness, injury, strange behavior and the eventual death of the animal. If an animal suddenly appeared tired or sick one morning, it was suspected of being “hag-ridden” the night before.

In the modern world, the villager's actions against these animals would be illegal. Instead of being cared for and looked after by their owners, these animals were abused and mistreated. Whether they were considered victims or villains, animals were unwilling participants in the Salem Witch Trials and, much like their human counterparts, suffered because of it.


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

The Salem Witch Trials Reader”; Frances Hill; 1974

Witch Hunts in Europe and America: an Encyclopedia”; William E. Burns; 2003

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Susannah Martin: Accused Witch from Salisbury

Susannah North Martin was one of a handful of accused witches during the Salem Witch Trials who did not actually live in Salem. Born in Buckinghamshire, England to Richard and Joan North, Susannah relocated with her father and stepmother to the Merrimack plantation in Salisbury, Massachusetts in 1639.

Martin's marker at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial
The North family were some of the first settlers of Salisbury, which is located 40 miles north of Boston and was originally called Colchester before being renamed Salisbury in 1640. The family lived with the other settlers on plots along the “circular road,” now known as the triangle formation of Elm street, School street and Bridge road in Salisbury square. At the time, the area was inhabited by Penacook Native Americans, wolves and wild animals. After Susannah grew up, she married a blacksmith from Salisbury named George Martin in 1646 and eventually gave birth to eight children. In 1654, George and Susannah moved to nearby Amesbury.

Much like the other accused witches, Susannah was also viewed by others as a troublemaker and her name appears numerous times in court records prior to the Salem Witch Trials. Like Bridget Bishop, Susannah had also been accused of witchcraft twice before 1692. During her first witchcraft case, she was accused by William Browne of tormenting his wife Elizabeth with her spirit.  After her arrest, Susannah was released on bail and the charges were eventually dropped. She was accused again in 1669, this time by William Sargent Jr, who also said he witnessed Susannah give birth to and kill an illegitimate baby. Susannah posted bail, promising to return to court for her trial but, again, the charges were dropped. Her husband, George, later sued Sargent for slander. The court held Sargent libel for slander in accusing Susannah of fornication and infanticide but the court sided with Sargent on the witchcraft accusations.

After several failed court battles to inherit the bulk of her father's estate in 1671 and with the death of her husband in 1686, Susannah was left a poor, defenseless widow. When she was accused of witchcraft for the final time in 1692, she had no one to come to her rescue. According to Susannah's arrest warrant, she was accused by the afflicted Salem village girls: Mary Walcott, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam and Mary Lewis. Since they lived in different villages, it is not known how these girls knew Susannah, but it is possible they heard about her bad reputation from others and made the decision to accuse her.

After her arrest in Amesbury on May 2, Susannah was brought to Salem where she was questioned by Judge Hathorne and Judge Corwin and twice underwent a humiliating physical examination in an effort to find a witch's teet that prosecutors believed witches used to feed their familiars. No such mark was found but the examiner did make a note that "in the morning her nipples were found to be full as if the milk would come," but later in the day "her breasts were slack, as if milk had already been given to someone or something."

Although most of the court records from her trial were lost, Cotton Mather, a well known minister at the time, personally documented her trial:

“Magistrate (to the afflicted girls): Do you know this Woman?
Abigail Williams: It is Goody Martin she hath hurt me often.
Others by fits were hindered from speaking. Eliz: Hubbard said she hath not been hurt by her. John Indian said he hath not seen her Mercy Lewes pointed to her & fell into a little fit. Ann Putman threw her Glove in a fit at her. The examinant laught.
Magistrate (To Martin): What do you laugh at it?
Martin: Well I may at such folly.
Magistrate: Is this folly? The hurt of these persons.
Martin: I never hurt man woman or child.
Mercy Lewes: She hath hurt me a great many times, & pulls me down
Then Martin laught againe
Mary Walcott: This woman hath hurt me a great many times.
Susan Sheldon also accused her of afflicting her.
Magistrate (To Martin): What do you say to this?
Martin: I have no hand in Witchcraft.
Magistrate: What did you do? Did not you give your consent?
Martin: No, never in my life.
Death warrant for Susannah Martin
Magistrate: What ails this people?
Martin: I do not know.
Magistrate: But w't do you think?
Martin: I do not desire to spend my judgm't upon it.
Magistrate: Do not you think they are Bewitcht?
Martin: No. I do not think they are
Magistrate: Tell me your thoughts about them.
Martin:Why my thoughts are my own, when they are in, but when they are out they are anothers.”

Despite the lack of evidence against her, Susannah was found guilty of witchcraft and hanged at Gallows Hill on July 19 along with Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, and Sarah Wildes. She was buried in a shallow grave on Gallows hill with the other victims but since many family members of the victims dug up and secretly reburied their loved ones, it is not known where her body currently lies.

In 1857, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who was a direct descendent of Susannah Martin, honored Susannah in a poem titled The Witch's Daughter:

"Let Goody Martin rest in peace, I never knew her harm a fly,
And witch or not - God knows - not I?
I know who swore her life away;
And as God lives, I'd not condemn
An Indian dog on word of them."

Residents of the town of Amesbury later placed a stone marker near Susannah and George Martin's home that read:

"Here stood the house of Susannah Martin. An honest, hardworking Christian woman accused of being a witch and executed at Salem, July 19, 1692. She will be missed! A Martyr of Superstition. T.I.A. 1894"

In 1711, the Massachusetts legislature passed a resolution clearing the names of the convicted witches and offered financial restitution to their descendents. Susannah Martin's family did not wish to be named in the law and did not seek restitution. In 1957, the Massachusetts legislature formally apologized to the victims of the Salem Witch Trials but did not specifically mention any of the victims by name. Finally, in 2001, the Massachusetts legislature passed a resolution officially exonerating five of the victims not mentioned in the previous resolutions: Susannah Martin, Bridget Bishop, Alice Parker, Wilmot Redd and Margaret Scott.


New York Times; Massachusetts Clears 5 from Salem Witch Trials; November 2, 2001:

University of Virginia: Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County; Volume IV:

University of Virginia; Salem Witch Trials; Susannah Martin:

Welcome to Salem, Massachusetts: Salem Witch Trials: Chronology of Events:

"The Salem Witch Trials: a Reference Guide”; K. David Goss; 2008

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Accused Witches of Gloucester

A lithograph of Gloucester, circa 1836
Not all of the accused witches of the Salem Witch Trials actually lived in Salem. A number of the accused also came from nearby towns such as Salisbury, Ipswich, Andover, Topsfield and Gloucester.

Andover and Gloucester had more accused witches than any other towns outside of Salem. A total of nine Gloucester women were accused of witchcraft during the hysteria of 1692: Esther Elwell, Margaret Prince, Elizabeth Dicer, Joan Penney, Phoebe Day, Mary Rowe, Rachel Vinson, Abigail Rowe and Rebecca Dike. 

Not much is known about these cases since many of the records have been lost. What we do know is that the accusations began in September of 1692, when Gloucester resident Ebenezer Babson asked some of the afflicted Salem village girls to visit his mother, Eleanor, who was complaining of spectral visions of Indians and French soldiers. Upon visiting Eleanor, the girls accused Margaret Prince and Elizabeth Dicer of bewitching her. Around the same time, four more women were accused: Mary Rowe, Phoebe Day and Rachel Vinson, although it is not known who accused them, and Joan Penney, who was accused by Zebulon Hill, a former Gloucester resident who had recently moved to Salem town.

Shortly after, in October or November, James Stevens, a deacon of the local church and lieutenant in the militia, sent for the afflicted girls of Salem village to name the witch he believed was bewitching his sister Mary Fitch, wife of John Fitch. The girls named Rebecca Dike, Esther Elwell and Abigail Rowe.

It's interesting to note that, much like the accused of Salem, the accused women of Gloucester were also either prominent, wealthy citizens or trouble-makers or relatives of other accused witches.

The Accused:

Esther Elwell (Elwell's witchcraft case was featured on an episode of the popular NBC genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? after actress Sarah Jessica Parker discovered she is descended from Elwell); her maiden name was Dutch and she was from a prominent family that lived at the Harbor in an area known as Dutch's Slough. She later married a wealthy man named Samuel Elwell. Her mother, Ruth Dutch, had also once been accused of witchcraft, although it is not known when.

Rebecca Dike: her maiden name was Dolliver and she married a man named Richard Dike who held a large amount of land in Gloucester. Rebecca was neighbors with the in-laws of the Stevens family, the Eveleths, and had many problems with them.

Abigail Rowe was the 15-year-old daughter of Hugh and Mary Prince Rowe of Little Good Harbor. The family had a large amount of land in the Little Good Harbor area. Abigail's mother and her grandmother, Margaret Prince, were also accused. 

Petition from the accused held in Ipswich
Mary Prince Rowe was the mother of Abigail Rowe and daughter of Margaret Prince. She was held at a jail in Ipswich, along with Elizabeth Dicer and Joan Penney. Their names appear on an undated petition asking to be released on bail until their trial.

Margaret Prince was the grandmother of Abigail Rowe and mother of Mary Prince Rowe. She was known for being troublesome and having a sharp tongue.

Rachel Vinson was the widow of William Vinson who's first wife had also been accused of witchcraft along with Ruth Dutch.

Phoebe Day's maiden name was Wildes and she was related to Sarah Wildes, of Topsfield, who was hanged for witchcraft on July 19, 1692 in Salem.

Elizabeth Dicer had been fined thirteen times in the past for calling Mary English's mother a “black-mouthed witch and a thief.”
Joan Penney had numerous squabbles with neighbors over land and had also been brought to court a number of times for such crimes as wearing a silk scarf and “breach of sabbath” after she carried bushels of corn on her way to church.

Fortunately for the accused, it appears that these cases never went to trial because the use of spectral evidence was banned in October of 1692, giving prosecutors little evidence to go on, and the special court set up to hear the Salem Witchcraft cases was disbanded. In November, public officials set up the Superior Court of Judicature to hear the remaining witchcraft cases but between January and May of 1693, most of the accused were released due to a lack of evidence or tried and found not guilty.


"The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England"; Carol F. Karlsen; 1998

"The Salem Witch Trials: a Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege”; Marilynne K. Roach; 2004

"The Geography and Genealogy of Gloucester Witchcraft"; Jedediah Drolet:


University of Virginia; Salem Witch Trials; Massachusetts Archives: Superior Court of Judicature Witchcraft Trials (January - May 1693), Cases Heard:


Wicked Local: Sarah Jessica Parker Traces Her Roots Back to Gloucester, Salem Witch Trials: