Sunday, December 9, 2018

Think Massachusetts Militiamen Carried Hatchets on April 19, 1775? Think Again ....

On the eve of the American Revolution, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and its Committee of Safety were scrambling to arm its minute man and militia companies with bayonets. By April 14, 17775, only 10,108 bayonets existed for 21,549 muskets. So how did Massachusetts authorities address this shortage?

Some modern historians, as well as many reenactors, believe minute and militiamen simply armed themselves with hatchets, tomahawks or axes. Unfortunately, existing evidence does not support such a proposition. Instead, it appears that hatchets were seen either as camp tools or as a last choice substitution for bayonets. As a result, the extensive carrying of hatchets by reenactors at living history events may be an over-representation of their intended and actual use on April 19, 1775.

First, a review of Massachusetts militia laws from the 18th Century (1700 - 1775) reveals a single reference to the use of hatchets. Specifically, in 1757, Massachusetts Bay Colony revised its militia laws and started to place an emphasis on men acquiring bayonets. The law does indicate that swords were an acceptable substitute and hatchets were to be treated as a last choice. Specifically, “that any Soldier born on the training Lists in the several Regiments, shall be excluded from any Penalty for not being furnished with Swords, in Case they provide themselves and appear with good Hatchets.”

A review of the resolutions of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the Committee of Safety between October 1774 and April 1775 suggests there was no recommendation for hatchets, tomahawks or axes to be treated as combat weapons. Typically, Congress’ recommendations for arms and equipment of minute companies stated “that each of the minute men, not already provided therewith, should be immediately equipped with an effective firearm, bayonet, pouch, knapsack, thirty rounds of cartridges and balls.”  Any reference to hatchets or tomahawks is noticeably absent.

Likewise, a search of the 1774 and 1775 minutes of both the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the Committee of Safety for various terms synonymous with "hatchets" yielded negative results. For example, a search of the term “tomahawk” produced no results. The term “hatchet” yielded three references, however each was part of correspondence to Native American Tribes. The term “axe” revealed several results, but the item always appeared in conjunction with the terms “shovels”, “spades” and “pick-axes”; which suggests Massachusetts authorities viewed the item as a camp tool rather than a combat weapon.

On the local level, a review of several dozen Massachusetts town orders and resolutions regarding the arms and equipment of its militia and minute companies produced not a single instance of tomahawks or hatchets being ordered as a substitute for bayonets. Similarly, most towns hired local carpenters to modify gun stocks, blacksmiths to make bayonets and edged weapons and saddlers to make cartridge boxes and belting. Surprisingly, there is no known evidence of local tradesmen receiving compensation for the production of hatchets for local minute or militia companies. Finally, a review of the available 1775 returns of arms and equipment for provincial forces does not make any reference to tomahawks or hatchets. For example, A Return of the [Chelmsford] Company of the 7th Regiment of Militia in the County of Middlesex lists canteens, blankets, ramrods, priming wires and brushes and cartridge boxes, but makes no note of hatchets or tomahawks. 

Naturally, some historians have pointed towards the “scalping” incident of a British soldier at the Battle of Concord as evidence that militiamen were armed with hatchets. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that a hatchet or tomahawk was actually used in the incident. In fact, one period descriptions implies the soldier may have been beaten with a blunt instrument and then mutilated with a knife or sword, not a hatchet. As General Gage noted, several of his soldiers in Concord “observed three Soldiers on the Ground one of them scalped, his Head much mangled, and his Ears cut off, tho’ not quite dead; a Sight which struck the Soldiers with horror.”

Of course, the nerds want to be clear that we are not saying tomahawks and hatchets were NOT used by Massachusetts minute and militia companies. A 1776 document purported to be from a Bristol County, Massachusetts militia regiment states "List of Men & accouterments of Each man [illegible words] Regiment in Bristol County [Massachusetts] . . . Men including officers - 678, Firearms - 446, Ramrods - 129, Springs - 9, Worms - 160, Priming wires -193, Brushes - 138, Bayonets - 175, Scabbards - 142, Belts - 181, Cutting swords & hatchets - 255, Cartridge box and powder - 274, Buckshot - 10373, Jackknives - 403, Tow for men - 258 flints for men - 2084, pounds powder - 244 1/2, Bullets - 11934, Knapsack - 365, Blankets - 386, Canteens - 295."

Right out of the gate we should note we do have a concern with this document because no one has seen the original. For the past two decades, only a transcription of this privately owned record exists. 

Nevertheless, assuming that the information is accurate, of the 678 men enlisted in this regiment, 255 were carrying swords or hatchets. Unfortunately, what the breakdown is between the two items is unknown. That said, what is of note is that an almost an equal amount (248 men) carried no edged weapons while an additional 175 carried bayonets.   Thus, in a best case scenario, approximately thirty-six percent of the men in this regiment carried hatchets. However, a more likely scenario is approximately twenty percent of the regiment, or two in every ten men, may have carried a hatchet. 

So where did the idea that minute and militiamen used hatchets extensively as a substitute for bayonets come from? Most likely it came from Galvin’s The Minute Men. In that work, the author does suggest that “many” militiamen utilized hatchets as an edged weapon of choice.   Naturally, many historians and reenactors simply ran with the concept and the idea spread.

Obviously, this issue needs to be examined more closely. That said, living historians who portray militiamen who fought at the Battles of Lexington and Concord may want to rethink whether or not a hatchet is an appropriate addition to their respective kits.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

"Massacred By The Inhabitants There" - The Mysterious Death of Captain Thomas Parsons

Yesterday, a c. 1757 needlework sampler by Sarah Sawyer of Newburyport was posted on a facebook page and quickly caught our attention. However, it wasn’t the sampler itself that peaked our interest but rather the reference to Sarah’s late husband. According to the post, Sawyer “was the second wife of Thomas Parsons . . . They married on July 18, 1762, and resided in Newburyport. Thomas Parsons was a mariner who was thought to have been murdered aboard his ship in February of 1772.”

Naturally, any reference to murder or intrigue is going to inspire the nerds to dig further. Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding the demise of Captain Parsons and his crew still remains a mystery.

Thomas Parsons was born April 29, 1739 in Newbury, Massachusetts and was the son of a very well respected Congregationalist minister. His first wife, Mary Gibson, died in August, 1761. Less than a year later, in July of 1762 he married Sarah Sawyer. The couple had three daughters, the last of whom was born in 1771.

From what little information we can gather, Captain Parsons commanded a small schooner with a crew of eight men. On February 10, 1772, the vessel departed Newburyport for the West Indies. While off the coast of St. Mary’s, Nova Scotia, the ship was possibly boarded by local mariners.  According to Joshua Coffin’s 19th Century narrative, A Sketch of the History of Newbury, Newburyport, and West Newbury, the crew “were massacred by the inhabitants there, after plundering the vessel, and setting it on fire.”

The incident understandably horrified New Englanders and royal authorities quickly moved in to arrest the perpetrators. Evidence suggests the men responsible went into hiding. While it is unknown what happened to most of the men, at least one, Bezel Bonderot, remained on the lamb for over four years.

In April of 1776, Captain Hector McNeil of Boston somehow encountered Bezel in an unknown port and learned that he was one of the persons responsible for the murder of Parsons and his crew. The ship captain seized Bezel and transported him to New York City for prosecution.

On July 19, 1776, the Newburyport based newspaper Essex Journal and New Hampshire Packet reprinted a New York City account of what happened next: 

“Last Sunday one Bezel Bonderot, a native of Nova Scotia, was brought to this city from Canada, charged with being a principal in the murder of Captain Thomas Parsons and eight other persons, in Nova Scotia, in February, 1772. Soon after this murder was perpetrated, he fled his country and has been wandering from place to place ever since, till last April, when he was providentially detected by Captain Hector McNeil, properly secured and sent forward to receive the just reward of his crime. He was yesterday sent on from this city to Newbury Port, the place where Captain Parsons last lived, for examination and trial.”

Unfortunately, the story ends here.  What became of Bezel after his departure from New York City is unknown. There is no record of him reaching Newburyport or being prosecuted in Essex County for the murder of Thomas Parsons.  Newburyport and Massachusetts records are silent on the matter as well.

Hopefully we’ll be able to get to the bottom of this mystery soon!

Monday, November 26, 2018

"The Process of Mixing Must Be Diligently Attended To" - Four Historic Drink Recipes to Try This Holiday Season

The holidays are right around the corner, which means it's time for Historical Nerdery to once again share its list of recommended historic alcoholic recipes for the Christmas Season!

A word of caution...we are not responsible if your in-laws get out of control, refuse to leave for days on end or become extra “snugly” after consuming these punches.


Jamaican Punch (17th Century)

1 cup fresh lime juice
2 cups grenadine syrup
2 cups Jamaican white rum
1 cup light rum
2 cups fresh pineapple juice
2 cups fresh orange juice
orange slices for garnish
pineapple slices for garnish

Mix all ingredients together in a pitcher or punch bowl. Chill until serving.

Charleston Light Dragoon Punch (18th Century)

4 quarts of black tea
4 cups sugar
1 quart and 1 cup lemon juice
1 quart dark rum (Jamaican)
4 quarts California Brandy (any non-gourmet brandy)
½ pint peach (or apricot) brandy
Equal parts Club soda

Make the black tea/lemon juice mixture, stirring in sugar when hot. Add the alcohol. Set aside or bottle for later use. In a punch bowl place blocks of ice and garnishes of lemon and orange peels. Pour in equal parts of the tea-brandy-rum mixture with club soda.

Charles Dicken’s Punch (19th Century)

2 cups boiling water
1⁄ 2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest
1⁄ 4 cup borage fresh edible flower
2 cups sherry wine
1 cup brandy
4 cups apple cider

Remove water from the boil. Steep the sugar, lemon zest and borage flowers in the hot water for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain and add the sherry, brandy and apple cider. Serve either hot or cold.

Mrs. Beeton’s “Hot Punch” aka Hot Toddy

½ pint rum
½ pint brandy
½ cup sugar
1 large lemon
½ tsp nutmeg
1 pint of boiling water

According to Mrs. Beeton herself, “Rub the sugar over the lemon until it has absorbed all the yellow part of the skin, then put the sugar into a punchbowl; add the lemon juice (free from pips) and mix these two ingredients well together. Pour over them the boiling water, stir well together, add the rum, brandy, and nutmeg; mix thoroughly, and the punch will be ready to serve. It is very important in making punch that all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated; and to insure success, the process of mixing must be diligently attended to.”

Sunday, November 18, 2018

"Insulted Me On Account Of My Offensive Breath" - The Poet Laureate Jonathan Plummer Jr.

If you’ve ever had the chance to visit Newburyport and take a tour with Untapped History, you will usually hear a story or two about Lord Timothy Dexter, the eccentric millionaire who dominated gossip circles in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. However, very few people know about his poet laureate Jonathan Plummer Jr.

Jonathan Plummer Jr. was born in 1761 Newbury, Massachusetts and was the oldest of eight children. According to historian Roger W. Higgins, Plummer was “sickly through infancy and early childhood was mentally weak and easily imposed upon.” As a teenager, he acquired a “reputation records from for being a strange and wayward boy with a flair for revival meetings.” Even Plummer himself noted “my reading, traveling, and thirst for knowledge, too … began to operate to my disadvantage . . . to make me what they called an odd fellow — that is, different from the young fellows who were not readers . . . I was already so insufferably unfashionable as to begin to talk in young company of religion, virtue, poets, philosophers, lords, generals, statesmen, kings, battles, sieges, &c. &c. . . . this made the young people think that I thought myself better than them, and made them resolve to make me feel the torturing effects of their vindictive vengeance.”

Nevertheless, he was a remarkably intelligent young man who had a photographic memory. As a young teenager, Plummer would often recite poetry in the Newburyport marketplace in exchange for tips. Although Jonathan’s mother was impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit his father was embarrassed by what he perceived as his son’s shortcomings. He forbade any further poetry performances, acquired a wheelbarrow for the boy and forced him to work as a fishmonger. According to Plummer, he was “poorly qualified to endure hardships” and was mercilessly taunted by the other vendors he encountered. Humiliated, the teenager abandoned the job in 1776 and enlisted in a temporary militia company raised to support the Siege of Boston. He garrisoned a fortification in Dorchester for ninety days but saw no action. “At this business we made a pretty lazy appearance. Nothing in it fired us with ambition or captivated our fancy.”

At the end of his enlistment, he returned home. “Not relishing the trade, I returned to my father and resumed the farming business, which though not very agreeable, suited me better than handling leather.”

The following year, Plummer tried to join a Newburyport privateer. According to Plummer “hard usage from my father, the love of Daphne, the want of money and a regard for my country prompted me to go forward.” Plummer asserts he joined the privateer Hero, but deserted the day before the ship left port. 

 The Hero and its crew were lost at sea in August of 1777.

Later that year, Plummer enlisted in a militia regiment raised in response to Burgoyne’s invasion from Canada. As with Dorchester, Plummer saw no combat and was discharged from service in the Fall of 1777.

Upon his return to Newburyport, he became a peddler and sold “spectacles, scissors, thimbles, combs, needles, pins,and verses” to local residents. He often spent his time “trading and chatting with the ladies here and there, being kissed and hugged by some females and, disdained on the account of the lowness of my business by others.”

However, following a very public and cruel practical joke, Plummer closed his peddling business and left Newburyport to become a teacher in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Unfortunately, he lost the job due to an insufficient number of students. He quickly lost other teaching posts for a variety of reasons, including complaints of odd behavior. “Finding that I sung a great number of songs and tunes in my apartment alone, they concluded that I was insane”

He then bounced from odd job to odd job until he was hired as a boot cleaner in a local tavern. Unfortunately, the job was short lived as the tavern keeper informed him one day “we’ve found a better Negroe than you.” 

Plummer then decided he wanted to become a Congregationalist minister. He quickly branded himself the “lay bishop extraordinaire” and tried unsuccessfully to have various rural congregations hire him. Unfortunately, most were either underwhelmed or unimpressed by his ministerial skills. Apparently, Plummer often argued that millions of other planets were inhabited and claimed that God was too busy dealing with alien life than to care about mere Earthlings. Plummer also promoted his belief in the science of dreaming. “I often continued my discourse on dreams after people told me to my face, in plain words, that I was crazy.” As one exasperated Newburyport minister declared from the pulpit upon receiving correspondence from him: “O Lord, have mercy on this over-pompous brother, whose wordy rhetoric has just startled our ears; save us from cant, bombast, and all the wiles of the devil. Amen.”

To his credit, Plummer refused to be deterred and continued to plod ahead. He returned to Newburyport and once again took up a variety of odd jobs, including “farming, repeating select passages from authors, selling holibut, sawing wood, selling books, ballads, and fruit in the streets, serving as a porter and post-boy , filling beds with straw and wheeling them to the owners thereof, collecting rags, &c. &c.” One period account suggests he even peddled pornography to make ends meet.

Plummer eventually found success through the self-publishing of books, broadsides and sermons. His popularity grew even further when he started to release poetry and essays he composed to woo a variety of New England women. One such work, entitled Plumer's Declaration of War with the Fair Ladies of the Five Northern States, swore off young women and argued for the courting of "vigorous and antiquated virgins.”

Of course, despite his literary talents, he found little success in the romance department. It appears this may have been the result of his chronic bad breath. As Plummer recalled “they thought a ballad feller too mean to associate with, and often insulted me on account of my offensive breath, cruelly despisin me because I was unwell.”

By the mid 1790s, Plummer caught the attention of Timothy Dexter, the eccentric Newburyport merchant who made a fortune through imaginative business deals such as exporting mittens, warming-pans, and stray cats to the West Indies. He recognized Plummer’s intelligence and offered to set him up as either a physician or minister. Plummer couldn’t decide and instead accepted the post of Poet Laureate. The merchant provided him with a handsome annual stipend, a black suit adorned with stars and fringe, a large cocked hat, shoes with silver buckles and a gold headed cane.

Plummer’s poetry about Dexter was not necessarily cutting edge and rarely impressed the elite of Newburyport. In 1806, Timothy Dexter passed away and the annual stipend ended. To support himself, Plummer apparently returned to peddling goods in the streets of Newburyport.

Nevertheless, he still managed to enjoy continued attention and was an honored guest among many literary circles. The poet John Greenleaf Whittier recalled “twice a year, usually in the spring and autumn, we were honored with a call from Jonathan Plummer, maker of verses, peddler and poet, physician and parson,—a Yankee troubadour,—first and last minstrel of the valley of the Merrimac, encircled, to my wondering young eyes, with the very nimbus of immortality. He brought with him pins, needles, tape, and cotton-thread for my mother; jack-knives, razors, and soap for my father; and verses of his own composing, coarsely printed and illustrated with rude wood-cuts, for the delectation of the younger branches of the family. No lovesick youth could drown himself, no deserted maiden bewail the moon, no rogue mount the gallows, without fitting memorial in Plummer’s verses. Earthquakes, fires, fevers, and shipwrecks he regarded as personal favors from Providence, furnishing the raw material of song and ballad . . . we listened with infinite satisfaction to his readings of his own verses, or to his ready improvisation upon some domestic incident or topic suggested by his auditors. When once fairly over the difficulties at the outset of a new subject, his rhymes flowed freely . . . He was scrupulously conscientious, devout, inclined to theological disquisitions, and withal mighty in Scripture. He was thoroughly independent; flattered nobody, cared for nobody, trusted nobody. When invited to sit down at our dinner-table, he invariably took the precaution to place his basket of valuables between his legs for safe keeping.”

Plummer eventually launched a New England speaking tour  and combined his assorted talents into a single, dazzling performance. Witnesses described it as a combination of preaching sermons, reciting or singing topical ballads (often made up on the spot) and a show and tell of his basket of sundry goods which often included medicines, toiletries, sewing notions, and his own broadsides about the latest murders and disasters.

Unmarried, Plummer spent his final days living with several of his cousins. He fell into a depression and at least one historian has suggested that the poet made several attempts at self mutilation or suicide between 1816 and 1818. 

Jonathan Plummer Jr. passed away in 1819. 

Following his death, Newburyport poet Henry S. Ellenwood published Elegy and Eulogy, and Epitaph, of That Famous Poet, Mr. Jonathan Plummer. In his introductory comments, Ellenwood noted “it may be proper here to remark, that the character of Jonathan was, as far as I know, irreproachable in every particular. He was most scrupulously conscientious; flattered nobody; cared for nobody; was seldom long in a place; and, with as unaffected an independence as ever was known, despised all the fashions of this world, and minded his own business. I wish it were it my power to say so much in favor of any other person upon earth.”

Sunday, November 4, 2018

"In a Riotous Manner Asaulted in the Kings Highway " - When A Newburyport Mob Turned on Joshua Vickery

Admittedly, we have always been drawn to period accounts of mob violence in Pre-Revolutionary War Boston. Little did we know that forty miles to the north the seaport town of Newburyport was carrying out its own brand of mob justice that rivaled that of Boston or Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

In September of 1768, word reached Newburyport that British troops had been dispatched by His Majesty’s government to Boston. Naturally, the news caused great concern and stress. Worse, rumors began to surface in the town that spies and informants working on behalf of royal custom officials were visiting seaport communities to identify smuggling operations.

Understandably, coastal towns that were invested in illicit trafficking did not take kindly to those who reported the activities to royal custom officials. For example, in Salem, an informant was discovered and quickly seized by an angry mob. Afterwards, "his Head, Body and Limbs were covered with warm Tar and then a large quantity of Feathers were applied to all Parts, which by closely adhering to the Tar, Exhibited an odd figure, the Drollery of which can easily be imagined." He was set in a cart with the placard "Informer on his breast and back and escorted out of town" by the mob, who warned him of worse treatment if he returned.

In early September, 1768, a Newburyport captain and smuggler named John Emery arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. While on shore he was arrested by custom officers for violation of the royal revenue laws. Word traveled back to Newburyport and Joshua Vickery, a ship’s carpenter, and Francis Magno, a Frenchman, were quickly identified as the informants who disclosed Emery's smuggling ring.

The alleged basis for the accusation was simply that the two men were present in Portsmouth at the time of Captain Emery's arrest.

On September 10, 1768 a large mob armed themselves with clubs and began to search for the two men. According to the September 27th edition of the Essex Gazette, Vickery was quickly found and "in a riotous manner asaulted in the Kings Highway in Newbury-Port, seized and carried by Force to the public stocks in the said Town, where he sat from three to five o'clock, in the afternoon, most of the Time on the sharpest stone that could be found, which put him to extreme Pain, so that he once fainted."

When he regained consciousness, Vickery was "taken out of the Stocks, put into a cart and carried thro' the Town with a Rope about his Neck, his Hands tied behind him until the Dusk of the Evening, during which time he was severely pelted with Eggs, Gravel and Stones, and was much wounded thereby; he was then taken out of the Cart, carried into a dark Ware-houfe, and hand-cuffed with Irons, without Bed or Cloathing, and in a Room where he could not lay strait, but made the Edge of a Tar Pot serve for a Pillow, so that when he arofe the Hair was tore from his Head."

Vickery spent the next day (Sunday) under guard in the warehouse. Several of his friends attempted to visit the carpenter, only to be rebuffed by the mob. Only his wife, "who with Difficulty obtained Liberty to speak to him" was granted access.

On Monday, September 12th, Vickery was dragged out of the warehouse and subjected to intense questioning. Surprisingly, he was able to convince mob leaders "that he never did, directly or indirectly, make or give Information to any Officer of the Customs, nor to any other Person, either against Cap' John Emmery or any other man whomsoever."

Magno did not fare as well. He remained in hiding until Monday morning when he was captured. While in custody he confessed to being an informant for royal custom officials in Newburyport and Portsmouth. He was carried to a horse cart and tossed into it. Although exonerated of his accusations, Vickery was still compelled to lead the cart through the town. Afterwards, Magno "was stripped naked, tarred and then Committed to Gaol for Breach of the Peace."

What became of Magno after his release is unknown but it’s almost certain he fled Newburyport. Vickery and his wife remained in Newburyport until 1783 when they moved to Hampton Falls, New Hampshire. According to early 19th century accounts from the town, "he was a good penman, and reputed to have been a good citizen."

Sunday, October 28, 2018

"I Do Not Desire To Spend My Judgm’t Upon It" - The Amesbury Witch Susannah Martin

Usually around this time of the year, the nerds usually receive multiple requests to share tales of New England hauntings and mischief. We usually try to avoid discussing questionable or undocumented stories as it could lead to a slippery slope of fabrication and exaggeration. That said, no semi reputable blog...which we occasionally rise to the level of…. could expect to survive in New England without a witch story. As a result, allow us to share the story of Susannah Martin, the witch of Amesbury, Massachusetts.

Susannah North was born in England in 1621. When she was 18 years old, her family immigrated to Salisbury, Massachusetts. The family lived with other settlers on plots of land along the “circular road,” known today as the triangle formation of Elm Street, School Street and Bridge Road in Salisbury square. 

When she turned 25, Susannah married a blacksmith named George Martin. Eight years later, the couple moved to Amesbury. Over the years, they had eight children.

Susannah was no stranger to the early Massachusetts judicial system. In 1669, Susannah was formally accused of witchcraft by William Browne. According to court documents she allegedly tormented his wife Elizabeth with her spirit. Shortly after her arrest, the charges were dropped. 

A few years later, she was accused by William Sargent, Jr. of fornication, killing her infant and witchcraft. In response, her husband sued Sargent for two counts of slander against Susannah - one for accusing her of being a witch, and another for claiming one of her sons was a bastard and another was her "imp". Eventually, a Massachusetts high court found Sargent liable and cleared Martin of the witchcraft accusation.

Unfortunately, Susannah’s legal troubles extended beyond witchcraft claims. She was prosecuted for a variety of criminal offenses, including calling one neighbor a liar and a thief. Likewise, when her father, Richard North, died and left a sizeable inheritance to Susannah’s sisters, a granddaughter and his second wife, she sued the estate. From 1671 to 1674 she was embroiled in a series of legal disputes over the estate, all of which were ultimately unsuccessful.

Susannah was left a poor widow when her husband George died in 1686.

When the witchcraft hysteria erupted in 1692, Martin quickly became a target of wild accusations.  Inhabitants of nearby Salem Village, including Joseph and Jarvis Ring, named Susannah a witch and asserted she had attempted to recruit them into a covenant with the devil. She was also accused by John Allen of Salsbury, a man who claimed that she had bewitched his oxen and drove them into the Merrimack River where they later drowned. 

She was arrested in Amesbury on May 2, 1692 and transported to Salem for judicial examination. Justices John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin subjected her to intense questioning and twice ordered humiliating physical examination in an effort to find a witch’s teat that prosecutors believed witches used to feed their companions. No such mark was found but the examiner did 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.” 

 Martin was quickly incarcerated and ordered held for trial.

The next month when her trial commenced, Martin was denied the right to representation by legal counsel. At least nine and as many as twenty-four neighbors traveled to Salem to testify against her. Among the personal grievances harbored over the years were claims that her specter had stalked a farm hand, she had bitten another man’s hand, she had driven a neighbor mad, and she had been seen at witch meetings. In response Martin simply exclaimed “I have led a most virtuous and holy life.”

The Reverend Cotton Mather assertted that she was “one of the most impudent, scurrilous, wicked Creatures in the World.” 

Nevertheless, Martin refused to allow her accusers intimidate her. Standing in the courtroom, confronted by girls seemingly writhing from "afflictions" they blamed on her, she maintained that she only “desire[d] to lead my self according to the word of God.” Asked what she then made of the afflicted girls, Martin suggested that they might be the ones under the devil's influence, reminding the judges that, “He [the devil] that appeared in the sam[e] shape a glorifyed saint can appear in any ones shape.”

According to trial notes maintained by the Reverend Mather, the following interaction took place between Martin and one of her accusers:

“[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 laughed again

[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.

[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.”

Susannah mounted a vigorous defense but ultimately was found guilty of witchcraft.  She was sentenced to death. 

On July 19, 1692, she was escorted to Proctor’s Ledge along with Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Sarah Wildes and executed by hanging.  She and her fellow “witches” were buried in a shallow grave near the execution site. 

In 1711, the Massachusetts colonial legislature passed a resolution clearing the names of the convicted witches and offered financial restitution to their descendants. Surprisingly, Susannah Martin’s family did not wish to be named in the resolution 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. Years later, in 2001, the Massachusetts 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.

Famed Massachusetts poet John Greenleaf Whittier was a direct descendant of Susannah Martin. In 1857, he honored his ancestor in a poem titled The Witch’s Daughter. As Whittier noted:

“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.”

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

"The Body Of The Maid Was Found By An Indian" - The Murder of Mary Sholy

For the past two weeks, the nerds of have been hard at work assisting Untapped History conduct research for its October Haunted Candlelight Tours. If you want to avoid the rush and oddities of Salem in October, be sure to travel a bit further north and check out a historical tour that prides itself in accuracy, entertaining stories and historic alcoholic drinks!

Anyway, the nerds were researching 17th and 18th century homicide cases and came across the murder of Mary Sholy.

In 1635, English settlers anchored off the coast of Massachusetts Bay Colony, rowed up the Parker River and established the village of Newbury. Meanwhile, thirty miles to the north, another group of settlers had established a village along the Piscataqua River in 1630. That settlement was called by a variety of names but eventually became known as Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 

One of the Portsmouth residents was Mary Sholy.  Little is known about Mary other than she was possibly a maid, a servant girl or indentured servant. In 1636, she traveled south to Newbury to attend to some personal business. The journey was difficult as she had to traverse along a “narrow path” for several days and then had to find a way to cross the treacherous Merrimack River (ferries had yet to be established).

Nevertheless, despite the hardships, she successfully reached Newbury without incident.

After spending a few weeks tending to her personal matters, Sholy decided she wanted to return home. She posted an advertisement in town seeking to hire a guide to escort her back to Portsmouth. 

It was at this time she had the misfortune of meeting William Schooler. 

While in England, Schooler was employed as a “vintner with intemperate habits.” Though he had been married to “a handsome, neat woman,” he was, by his own admission, a common adulterer. After wounding a man in a duel, he fled to Holland to avoid prosecution. He then abandoned his wife and traveled to New England. By 1636, he was living in a shack along the Merrimack River with another man. Many Newbury residents referred to Schooler and his roommate as “atheists”.

Schooler answered Sholy’s advertisement and offered to lead her north for a fee of fifteen shillings.  Unfortunately, Mary was completely unaware that Schooler had no experience as a guide and was not familiar with the route between Newbury and Portsmouth.  Sholy agreed and the pair departed Newbury. 

Two days after their departure, William Schooler returned to Newbury alone. When asked why he had returned so quickly, he simply replied that he had guided Mary to “within two or three miles of Pascataquack (Portsmouth), where she stopped, saying she would go no farther.” Schooler allegedly left her there and returned to Newbury. 

The settlers were naturally suspicious. Several people noted Schooler had a scratch on his nose and blood stains on his clothes and hat. When pressed, he explained the blood came from a pigeon he had killed to eat and the scratch was from a branch. Schooler was promptly arrested and hauled before a magistrate in Ipswich to be examined. The magistrate, although highly suspicious, found there was no evidence that a crime had taken place and released him.

Mary was never seen alive again.

Several months later, an Agawam Indian was passing through the Winnacunnet woods, about three miles north of the Merrimack River, when he discovered the decomposed body of a young white woman. She was stripped naked and her clothing was in a neat pile nearby. The Indian immediately reported his discovery to the residents of Newbury and led several Englishmen back to the crime scene. The woman was eventually identified as Mary Sholy.

Meanwhile, fighting had broken out between the Pequod tribe and the English colonists. William Schooler was drafted to serve in the militia but publicly spoke out against it. His actions were considered “mutinous and disorderly,” and the Massachusetts colonial governor issued a warrant for his arrest. When he was approached by the authorities, Schooler assumed they were there to arrest him for the murder of Mary Sholy. He began to loudly proclaim his innocence. The protest revived suspicions that Schooler had not told the truth about Mary Sholy’s fate and he was once again brought before a magistrate.

This time, authorities developed a circumstantial case against Schooler. Witnesses noted that Sholy’s body was found well off the path leading to her intended destination of Portsmouth. Others noted that following his quick return, Schooler was flush with money he previously didn’t have. The scratches on his face and bloodstains on his clothes naturally didn’t help and Schooler only made things worse when he escaped from the local jail. He eventually returned to face his accusers.

Schooler was indicted for the murder of Sholy. According to the charging documents:

1.  He had led a vicious life and now lived like an atheist.

2.  He had sought out the maid and undertook to carry her to a place where he had never been.

3.  When he crossed Merrimack he landed in a place three miles distant from the usual path from whence it was scarce possible he should get into the path.

4.  He said he went by Winicowett house which he said stood on the contrary side of the way.

5.  Being as he said within two or three miles of Swanscote when he left her, he went not thither to tell them of her, nor stayed by her that night, nor at his return home did tell anybody of her ’till he was demanded of her.

6.  When he came back he had above 10ƒ in his purse, and yet he said she would give him but 7ƒ, and he carried no money with him.

7.  At his return he had some blood upon his hat, and on his shirts before, which he said was with a pigeon which he killed

8.  He had a scratch on the left side of his nose, and being asked by a neighbour how it came, he said it was with a bramble, which could not be, it being of the breadth of a small nail; and being asked after by the magistrate, he said it was with his piece, but that could not be on the left side.

9.  The body of the maid was found by an Indian about half a year after in the midst of a thick swamp, ten miles short of the place he said he left her in, and about three miles from the place where he landed by Merrimack (and it was after seen by the English) the flesh being rotted off it, and the clothes laid all on a heap by the body

10.  He said that soon after he left her he met with a bear, and he thought that bear might kill her, yet he would not go back to save her.

11.  He broke prison and fled as far as Powder Horn hill, and there hid himself out of the way for fear of pursuit, and after, when he arose to go forward he could not, but as himself confessed, he was forced to return back to prison again.

Authorities successfully portrayed him as a man who callously robbed, raped and murdered Sholy. He was quickly “condemned by due proceeding” and sentenced to death by public hanging. Surprisingly, several local ministers came forward and pleaded with authorities to spare his life. These pleas were rejected and on September 28, 1637 Schooler was executed.

According to a period account he protested his innocence to the very end. “At his death he confessed he had made many lies to excuse himself, but denied that he had killed or ravished her. He was very loth to die, and had hope he should be reprieved, but the court held him worthy of death in undertaking the charge of a shiftless maid, and leaving her, when he might have done otherwise, in such a place as he knew she must needs perish, if not preserved bv means unknown. Yet there were some ministers and others who thought the evidence not sufficient to take away life.”