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: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/02/us/massachusetts-clears-5-from-salem-witch-trials.html

University of Virginia: Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County; Volume IV: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/salem/witchcraft/Essex/vol4/images/essex129.html

University of Virginia; Salem Witch Trials; Susannah Martin: http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/texts/tei/BoySal2R?div_id=n92

Welcome to Salem, Massachusetts: Salem Witch Trials: Chronology of Events: http://www.salemweb.com/memorial/chronology.shtml

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

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