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.”