John Bliss

John BLISS  (1561 – 1617) was Alex’s 12th Great Grandfather, one of 8,192 in this generation of the Shaw line.

Thomas Bliss – Coat of Arms

John Bliss was baptized 2 Feb 1561 in Daventry, England.  His parents were William BLISS b. ABT 1533 in Daventry, Northampton, England and Elizabeth OLIPHANT  b. 1540 in Daventry, Northampton, England.  His first wife was Agnes or Annes [__?__].  He married his second wife, Alice Smith in 1614.  John died 7 Sep 1617 in Preston Parva, England and was buried 8 Sep 1617 in St. Peters, Preston Capes, Northampton, England.

St. Peters, Preston Capes, Northampton

Agnes or Annes [__?__] was born in 1571 in Daventry, Northants, England. She died before 1614 in Preston Capes, England.

Alice Smith was born about 1553 in Preston Capes, Northampton, England.  Her father was Walter Smith (1525 – 1567). Alice died 26 Mar 1625 in Little Preston, Daventry, Northamptonshire, England.

Children of John and Alice:

Name Born Married Departed
1. Thomas BLISS c. 1588
Preston Parva, Daventry, Northamptonshire
22 Nov 1614
Holy Cross Church, in Daventry, Northampton, England.
7 Oct 1647
Rehoboth, Mass.
2. George Bliss 1591
Preston Parva, Northampton, England
Ann Shaw
30 May 1635
Holy Cross Church in Daventry.
 31 Aug 1667
Newport, RI
3. Elizabeth Bliss 1599
Preston Capes, Norths., England
4. Constance Bliss
5. Agnes Bliss 1593
Preston Capes, Norths., England
John Harding
12 Jul 1629,
Preston Capes, Norths., England
6. Joane Bliss 1595
Preston Capes, Norths, England
John Payne

John was a blacksmith at Preston Parva (a small village near Preston Capes)  His first wife, by whom he had all but one of his children, is unknown. His second wife, who he married in 1614, was Alice Smith, and she was the mother of John Bliss (born 1615, died 1616).


1. Thomas BLISS (See his page)

2. George Bliss

George’s wife Ann Shaw was born 1593 in Preston Parva, Northampton, Devon, England.

George  and his wife joined Thomas and his family in their crossing to America, landing probably at Boston around 1638.  George may have resided a short time at Lynn, then Sandwich, Massachusetts.  On April 16, 1640, George was granted 1.5 acres of land.  He later removed to Newport, RI where he practiced his trade as a blacksmith.  In 1650, George was appointed (along with others) to make and mend all arms in Newport.  In 1657, Gov. Benedict Arnold described George Bliss as one of the original purchasers of the Island of Quononicut.  Later, Gov. Arnold’s daughter, Damaris, married George’s son, John.  George is listed in the Colonial Records as a freeman in 1655/56.

George bought land in Newport March 22, 1660. On that date articles of agreement were made whereby Sosoa, an Indian captain of Narragansett, deeded (June 29, 1660) a large tract of land called Misquamicutt [the Indian name of salmon] to seventy-six of the colonists, George Bliss being one of the number.  In 1669 the territory of Misquamicutt was incorporated under the name of Westerly.

George Bliss died August 31, 1667 at Newport.

Persecuted Cousins

There was another Thomas Bliss who immigrated to Hartford, CT.  Several sources state that he was the cousin of our Thomas and George,  The relationship is unproven, but it is interesting coincidence that both family branches had a Thomas, Johns, George and Jonathan.  This Thomas was from Devon while our Bliss ancestors originated in Northampton.

Tradition has it that Thomas Bliss, the emigrant, was the son and name-sake of a well-to-do, locally influential citizen in the village of Belstone, county Devonshire. In the opening decades of the 17th century the father, Thomas, Sr. had become a determined advocate of the Puritan cause and had participated with like-minded neighbors in the acts of protest against religious oppression. On one particular occasion, he and three of his sons (George, Jonathan and Thomas, Jr.) had accompanied a party, led by the local member of parliament, in riding up to London to engage both king and archbishop in direct confrontation. The upshot was their imprisonment and the levying of heavy fines (said to have been in excess of £1000) in lieu of their freedom. Payment of the fines required the virtual liquidation of the family estate, and even then there was not enough money to free all four Blisses. Thus one of the sons, Jonathan, remained in jail some while longer, was severely whipped in the public square at Exeter, and never thereafter recovered his health.

Impoverished and broken in his own health, Thomas, Sr. subsequently returned to Belstone and lived in the household of his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Calcliffe. She was the wife of a knighted gentleman who had remained a regular communicant of the Anglican church (thus avoiding persecution). As the crisis of the realm deepened, the father summoned his sons, divided among them what patrimony he still retained, and advised them to remove to New England. Thomas, Jr. and George left soon thereafter; Jonathan was too ill to join them, but sent at least one of his sons in their care. During the years that followed, Lady Calcliffe sought to help her relatives across the sea by sending them periodic shipments of clothing and food. And it was in her personal correspondence — regrettably, long since lost — that this part of the Bliss family history was remembered for succeeding generations.

Thomas was born about 1590. The particular location of his birth is not known. He resided in Rodborough, Gloucestershire at one time, and a son Nathaniel was born there. However, there were very few Blisses resident at Rodborough at that time and in fact no Bliss testators lived there during Thomas’ stay. It was not the place of his birth nor the place of his ancestors. The reason for his presence was one Margaret Hulins (or Hulings) of Rodborough whom he married in about 1617. Numerous Bliss records are traced to the Painswick area which has been termed “Bliss Country” by other researchers.

Thomas’ wife Margaret Hulings was born 15 Jul 1595 Rodborough, Gloucestershire, England.  Her parents were John Hulings and Margaret Lawrence. She married Thomas Bliss 18 Oct 1620. Margaret died 28 Aug 1684 – Springfield, Hampden County, Mass., full forty years after the death of her husband, and nearly fifty after she emigrated.

Some sites say that Thomas Bliss Sr was the son of William BLISS, John BLISS’ father so maybe the two immigrant Thomas Blisses really were cousins. Thomas Bliss, Sr. was a wealthy landowner, and was a Puritan, persecuted on account of his faith, by civil and religious authorities, under the direction of the infamous Archbishop Laud, that he was maltreated, impoverished and imprisoned. He was reduced to poverty and his health ruined by the persecution of the Church of England. He is supposed to have been born about 1555-60, and he died about 1635.

When the parliament of 1628 assembled, Puritans or Roundheads, as they were called by the Cavaliers or Tories, accompanied the members to London. Two of the sons of Thomas Bliss, Jonathan and Thomas, rode from Devonshire on iron-grey horses, and remained for some time-long enough, anyhow, for the king’s officers and spies to mark them, and from that time they, with others who had gone on the same errand to the capital, were marked for destruction. The Bliss brothers were fined a thousand pounds for their non-conformity, and thrown into prison, where they lay for weeks. Even their venerable father was dragged through the streets with the greatest indignities. On another occasion the officers of the high commission seized all their horses and all their sheep, except one poor ewe, that in its fright ran in the house and took refuge under a bed. At another time the three sons of Thomas Bliss, with a dozen Puritans, were led through the market place, in Okehampton, with ropes around their necks and also fined heavily.

On another occasion Thomas Sr. was arrested and thrown into prison with his son Jonathan, who eventually died from the hardships and abuse of the churchmen. At another time the king’s officers seized the cattle of the family and most of their household goods, some of which were highly valued for their age and beauty, and as heirlooms, having been for centuries in the family. In fact, the family being so impoverished, by constant persecution, was unable to pay the fines and secure the release of both father and son from prison, so the young man remained and the father’s fine was paid. At Easter the young man received thirty-five lashes.

After the father died, his widow lived with their daughter, whose husband, Sir John Calcliffe, was a communicant of the Church of England, in good standing. The remnant of the estate was divided among the three sons, who were advised to go to America to escape further persecution. Thomas and George feared to wait for Jonathan, who was ill in prison;, and they left England in the fall of 1635 with their families. Thomas, son of Jonathan, and grandson of Thomas Bliss, remained in England until his father died, and then he also came to America, settling near his uncle of the same name. At various times the sister of the immigrants sent to the brothers boxes of shoes, clothing and articles that could not be procured in the colonies, and it is through her letters, long preserved in the original but now lost, that knowledge of the family was handed down from generation to generation.

Thomas Bliss sold his property in England and sailed for America, in 1635. The name of the ship has not been revealed. Thomas’ wife, Margaret, accompanied him, along with several of their children, born in England. The Bliss group landed in Boston, then settled for a while in Braintree, Massachusetts. In 1639 they accompanied the Thomas Hooker party to Hartford, Connecticut.

The street where they lived there was first known as Bliss Street but is now called Trinity Street. In 1646, Thomas Bliss was a member of the Hartford Train-Band but the family removed to Springfield, Massachusetts and he died there.

Thomas Bliss’ wife Margaret is said to have been a good looking woman, with a square chin, indicating great strength of character. After the death of her husband, which took place about 1638, she managed the affairs of the family with great prudence and good judgment. She was energetic, efficient and of great intellectual capacity. Her eldest daughter married Robert Chapman, of Saybrook, Connecticut., April 29, 1642, and settled in Saybrook, where Thomas Bliss Jr. also settled, removing to Springfield, Massachusetts, on account of the malarial fevers then prevalent in Connecticut. She sold her property in Hartford and purchased a tract a mile square in Springfield, in the south part of the town, on what is now Main street. Margaret Bliss died August 19, 1684, full forty years after the death of her husband, and nearly fifty after she emigrated.

A large “house lot grant” was given to the Widow Bliss in Springfield. In 1644 the widow Margaret Bliss became one of only two women recognized in her community as a “Freeman.” She earned the esteem of the people of Springfield. John Homer Bliss describes her as follows:

“The Widow Bliss was a handsome woman with broad brow, fair hair and blue eyes, who managed her family’s affairs with great prudence after her husband’s death (about 1639). She was considered a woman of unusual mental ability. She died in Springfield on August 26, 1688”

Margaret was then at least ninety at the time of her death. A long life indeed for her generation. She left her name “Widow Bliss” on many of the pages of the town records, dealing mostly with land acquitions and improvements that affected her properties. On one occasion she was fined two pence for having a defect in her fences, which allowed her cattle to range on other’s property.

One entry in the town records is interesting showing a concern on her part for the rights of the local Indians:

Here ffolloweth Severall Grants of Land, Made by this Towne Beginning wth ye Yeare, 1665″: “Widdy Bliss hath granted unto her soe much of the pond as is at ye end of her lott in Long meddow: provided ye Indians be not molested in comeing to or gathering of their pease”

The inventory of Thomas Bliss of Hartford , husband of Margaret afterwards of Longmeadow , MA was presented 14 Feb 1650 and appears in Longmeadow Centennial, as does his estate. His children, Lawrence, John, Samuel, Elizabeth, Hannah and Sarah are mentioned, as well as daughter Heather who is not mentioned elsewhere. Not mentioned are the children Nathaniel, Anne, Mary, and Thomas, all of whom survived their father. It is to be presumed that they had received their share of the estate upon their respective marriages.

Margaret Bliss house, Springfield. Built 1695, probably by Margaret’s grandson, Thomas Bliss. Photo circa 1890. Courtesy of the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, Springfield, Massachusetts

Children of Thomas and Margaret:

i. Ann Bliss b. 1620 in Rodborough, Gloucestershire, England; d. 20 Nov 1685 Saybrook, Middlesex, CT;  m. Robert Chapman b. 1 Jan 1616 in Hull, Yorkshire, England; d. 13 Oct 1687 in Saybrook, Middlesex, CT

ii. Nathaniel Bliss b. 1622 in Belstone, Devon, England or baptized 22 Dec 1622 at Rodborough, Minchin Hampton, Gloucestershire, England.   m. Catharine Chapin, daughter of Samuel Chapin, Deacon and Cicely Penny, on 20 November 1646 at Belstone, Devonshire, England.  He went to Springfield after his father’s death.  Nathaniel died on 8 Nov 1654 at Springfield, Hampden, MA, at age 31. He was buried on 10 Nov 1654 at Springfield, Hampden, MA.

After Nathaniel died, Catherine married Thomas Gilbert 31 Jul 1655.

iii. Samuel Bliss b. 1624 in Belstone, Devon, England; m. Mary Leonard Nov 10, 1665; d. 23 Mar 1720.

iv. Mary Bliss 16 Mar 1628 in Northampton, Hampshire, Mass.; d. 29 Jan 1712 in Springfield, Hampden, Mass.; m. 26 Nov 1646 Hartford, CT to Cornet Joseph Parsons (1620 – 1683)

Mary Bliss Parsons, wife of Cornet Joseph Parsons, daughter of Thomas and Margaret Bliss of Hartford, Ct., both very prominent families, was born in England about 1628 and came to this country with her parents when she was about eight years old. She was eleven or twelve when they decided on still another move, to the rude little settlement of Hartford. There for a time life stablized, and Mary grew to womanhood as an average member of an ordinary New England community. In 1646 she married Joseph Parsons, a successful merchant, and went to live in Springfield. Henceforth, her life would be increasingly set apart from the average.

This painting is often referenced as Mary Bliss Parsons, but it is not.

In 1654 the Parsonses moved to Northampton. The family, which included eleven children, became members of the church. Local tradition has remembered Mary as being “possessed of great beauty and talents, but…not very amiable…exclusive in the choice of her associates, and…of haughty manners.”

In 1656, Mary was accused of witchcraft by some of her neighbors who were envious of their prosperity and endeavored in this way to disgrace them. She was vigorously defended by her mother, Margaret, but in 1674 a formal charge was made. She was sent to Boston for trial, where the jury gave her a full acquittal of the crime, and she returned home to Northampton. She and her husband removed back to Springfield in 1679. Soon after her acquittal in Boston , her son Ebenezer,was killed by the Indians at Northfield (Sept. 8, 1675). Those who had been instrumental in bringing her to trial said, “Behold, though human judges may be bought off, God’s vengeance neither turns aside nor slumbers.”

Samuel Bartlett complaint against Mary Parsons

Samll Bartlet of Northampton having lately lost his wife to his greate greife as he expresseth and ye rather for ye he strongly suspects yt she dyed by some unusuall meanes, viz, by meanes
of some evell Instruemt he presented to this Corte diverse evedences to shew the grounds of his feares & suspicioun Alsoe Goodman Bridgeman finding so ye Corte & Intreateing that
Diligent inquisition may be made concurring ye Death of ye sayd Woeman his Daughter for yt he also Strongly suspects she come to her and by some unlawfull & unatureall means
& for ye Diverse of ye testemonyes doe reflect on Goodwife Parsones Sen of Northampton yeCorte haveing read ye testemonyes doe thinks it meete yt ye case should be ffurther lookt into & therefore doe refferr ye sayd case & all other things Concerning ye sayd Goodwife Parsons yhave beene now Presented to ye ajournmt of this Corte which is to be kept at Northampton ye 18th Day of November next, for further Disquition & doe order yt she be warned thereto attend to answer wt shall be objected agst her & ye wittnesses are to be warned to appeare to testify before her viva vere wt they have already given in upon oath concerning her.

In 1656, soon after the Parsons family moved to Northampton, Joseph Parsons brought an action for slander against Sarah Bridgeman, charging that Sarah had accused Mary, his wife, of being a witch. On the docket of the Middlesex County Court, for its session of October 7, 1656, is found the following entry: “Joseph Parsons, plaintiff, against Sarah, the wife of James Bridgman, defendant, in an action of the case for slandering her [Parson’s wife] in her name. This action, by consent of both parties, was referred to the judgment of the Honored Bench of Magistrates.” A separate document records the magistrates’ finding in favor of the plaintiff and their order that the defendant make “public acknowledgment” of the wrong she had done. The acknowledgment was to be a dual performance – once in the town of Northampton and again at Springfield. Failure to fulfill either part of this requirement would result in a fine of £10.

The testimony against Mary Parsons was that following hard upon the heels of any disagreement or quarrel between Mary Parsons and any member of the Bridgeman family, a fatal disease would seize upon some horse, cow, or pig, belonging to the Bridgeman family and, as the disease could not be accounted for in any other way, it must be the result of Mary’s uncanny influence exercised by way of revenge.

The first set of testimonies was recorded at Northampton on or about the 20th of June. For example: Robert Bartlett testifieth that George Langdon told him the last winter that Goody Bridgman and Goody Branch were speaking about Mary Parsons concerning her being a witch. And the said George told to the said Robert that my [Langdon’s] wife being there said she could not think so – which the said Goody Bridgman seemed to be distates with. As also [according to Langdon] they had hard thoughts of the wife of the said Robert [Bartlett] because she was intimate with the said Mary Parsons.”

The other depositions in this early group enlarge on the gossip theme. The same Hannah Langdon mentioned in Bartlett’s statement testified that “Sarah Bridgman … told her that her boy when his knee was sore cried out of the wife of Joseph Parsons.” Bridgman had also alleged widespread “jealousies that the wife of Joseph Parsons was not right.” For a time Langdon herself had entertained suspicions of Mary Parsons, but recently “it hath pleased God to help her over them, … and [she] is sorry she should have [had] hard thoughts of her upon no better grounds.” These depositions converged on the issue of what Goody Bridgman had said.

The second major group of papers in the case carries a date several weeks later. They were taken before a different official, and probably in a different place (Springfield). They expressed a different viewpoint, as the recorder noted at the top of the opening page: “Testimonies Taken on Behalf of Sarah, the wife of James Bridgman, the 11th day of August, 1656.” The Bridgmans themselves supplied lengthy testimony on the events which had caused them to suspect Goody Parsons.

The previous summer the Bridgemans’ eleven-year-old son had suffered a bizarre injury while tending their cows: “In a swamp there came something and gave him a great blow on the had…and going a little further he…stumbled…and put his knee out of joint.” Subsequently, the knee was “set” but it would not heal properly – and he was in grievous torture about a month.” Then the boy discovered the cause of his sufferings: “He cried out [that] Goody Parsons would pull off his knee, [saying] ‘there she sits on the shelf.’ …I and my husband labored to quiet him, but could hardly hold him in bed for he was very fierce. We told him there was nobody…’Yea,” says he, ‘there she is; do you not see her? There she runs away and a black mouse follows her.’ And this he said many times and with great violence…and he was like to die in our apprehension.” At about the same time the Bridgmans had also lost an infant son:

“I [Sarah] being brought to bed, about three days after as I was sitting up, having the child in my lap, there was something that gave a great blow on the door. And that very instant, as I apprehended, my child changed. And I thought with myself and told my girl that I was afraid my child would die…Presently… I looking towards the door, through a hole…I saw…two women pass by the door, with white clothes on their heads; then I concluded my child would die indeed. And I sent my girl out to see who they were, but she could see nobody, and this made me think there is wickedness in the place.”

The decision of the court was in favor of the plaintiff and against Mrs. Bridgeman, and she was ordered to make public acknowledgment of her fault at Northampton and Springfield, and that her husband, James Bridgman, pay to plaintiff 10£ and cost of court.

But the charge of witchcraft against Mary Parsons did not end with the judgment in the slander suit. Her name was cleared, but only from a legal standpoint. In the years that followed, her husband prospered ever more greatly, her children grew in number and (mostly) flourished, her mother and brothers sank the Bliss family roots deep into the CT Valley. But her reputation for witchcraft hung on.

In 1674 the whole matter was renewed in court – with the important difference that now Mary Parsons was cast as defendant. Unfortunately, most of the evidence from this later case has disappeared. All that survives is the summary material from the dockets of the two courts involved. In August 1674, a young woman of Northampton, Mary Bartlett, had died rather suddenly. She was twenty-two, wife of Samuel Bartlett and the mother of an infant son. More importantly, she was a daughter of Sarah and James Bridgman. Her husband and father jointly believed, as they later testified in court, that “she came to her end by some unlawful and unnatural means, … viz. by means of some evil instrument.” And they had distinct ideas about the person most likely to have used such means.

On September 29, the Hampshire County Court received “diverse testimonies” on the matter. Mary Parsons was also there – on her own initiative: “She having intimation that such things were bruited abroad, and that she should be called in question…”the fact that Mrs. Parsons voluntarily appeared before the court desiring to clear herself of such an execrable crime, and that subsequently she argued her own case before the court must not be overlooked. On both these occasions she met her accusers boldly, protesting her innocence, and showing ‘how clear she was of such a crime.’ In this trial Mrs. Parsons was called to speak for herself and from the meager report upon record, undoubtedly did so most effectively.” The court examined her, considered all the evidence, and deferred further action to its next meeting in November. There followed a second deferral “for special reasons” (about which the court did not elaborate).

On January 5, 1675, the county magistrates conducted their most extended hearing of the case. The previous depositions were reviewed and (apparently) some new ones were taken. Both Samuel Bartlett and Mary Parsons were present in person once again.

Mary was “called to speak for herself, [and] she did assert her own innocency, often mentioning … how clear she was of such a crime, and that the righteous God knew her innocency – with whom she had left her cause.” The magistrates decided that final jurisdiction in such matters belonged not to them but to the Court of Assistants in Boston. Still, considering “the season” and “the remoteness” [i.e., of their own court from Boston] and “the difficulties, if not incapabilities, or persons there to appear,” they determined to do their utmost “in inquriing into the case.” Among other things, they appointed a committee of “soberdized, chaste women” to conduct a body-search on Mary Parsons, to see “whether any marks of witchcraft might appear.” (The result was “an account” which the court did not disclose.) Eventually, all the documents were gathered and forwarded to Boston.

At the same court, and apparently as part of the same proceeding, “some testimony” was offered “reflecting on John Parsons.” John was Mary’s second son: he was twenty-four at the time, and as yet unmarried. How and why he should have been implicated in the charges against his mother cannot now be discovered; but the evidence was in any case unpersuasive. The court did “not find…any such weight whereby he should be prosecute on suspicion of witchcraft” and discharged him accordingly.

Meanwhile, the case against Mary Parsons moved towards its final round. On March 2, Mary was taken to Boston, “presented” at the Court of Assistants, and formally indicted by the grand jury. Thereupon the court ordered her commitment to prison until “her further trial.” The trial came some ten weeks later (May 13, 1675). An imposing roster of Assistants lined the bench: the governor, the deputy-governor, and a dozen magistrates (including her husband’s old associate, John Pynchon). However, her fate rested with “the jury of trails for life and death” – twelve men, of no particular distinction, from Boston and the surrounding towns. The indictment was read one last time: “Mary Parsons, the wife of Joseph Parsons…being instigated by the Devil, hath…entered into familiarity with the Devil, and committed several acts of witchcraft on the person or persons of one or more.” The evidence in the case was also read. And “the prisoner at the bar, holding up her hand and pleading not guilty, …[put] herself on her trial.” The tension of this moment must have been very great, but it does not come through in the final, spare notation of the court recorder: “The jury brought in their verdict. They found her not guilty. And so she was discharged.”

The jury gave her a full acquittal of the crime. Of Mary’s life subsequent to 1674 there is little direct information. She and her husband would eventually give up their home in Northampton and move back to Springfield. Joseph would died in 1683, leaving a substantial estate of £2,088, and Mary would enter a very long widowhood.

She remained thereafter in Springfield, completed the rearing of her numerous progeny, and saw her sons – and then her grandsons – assume positions of prominence in several CT Valley towns. Death claimed her in January, 1712, when she was about eighty-five years old. She was not again tried for witchcraft, but neither was she ever free from local suspicion.

v. Lawrence Bliss b. 628 in Of Rodborough, Gloucestershire, , England; d. 8 Nov 1676 in Springfield, Hampden, Mass.; m. Lydia Wright

vi. Thomas Bliss b. Rodborough, Gloucestershire, England went to Norwich. d. 15 Apr 1688 Norwich, CT  He went to Saybrook, CT after his father’s death.

vii. Hannah Bliss b. 1633 in Rodborough, Gloucestershire, England; d. single 25 Jan 1660

vi. John Bliss b. 1635 in Rodborough, Gloucestershire, England; d. 10 Sep 1702; m. Patience Burt.

vii. Elizabeth Bliss b. 1640 in Hartford, Hartford, CT; m. Miles Morgan (second wife) 15 Feb 1670 and had one child.

viii. Hester Bliss b. 1640 in Hartford, Hartford, CT, m. Edward Foster

Thomas Bliss Springfield – Bio


The first century of the history of Springfield: the official …, Volume 2 By Springfield (Mass.), Henry Martyn (Goody Parsons Witchcraft Case)

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Nine Men’s Misery – 1676

On March 26, 1676 during King Philip’s War, Captain Michael Pierce led approximately 60 Plymouth Colony colonial troops and 20 Wampanoag Christian Indians in pursuit of Narragansett Indians who had burned several Rhode Island towns and attacked Plymouth, Mass. as part of King Philip’s War.

Nine Men’s Misery Monument

Pierce’s troops caught up with the Narragansett Indians but were ambushed in what is now Central Falls, Rhode Island. Pierce’s troops fought the Narragansetts for several hours, but were surrounded by a larger force of Narragansetts. The battle was one of the biggest defeats of colonial troops during King Philip’s War with nearly all killed in the battle, including Captain Pierce and the Christian Indians (“Praying Indians”) (exact numbers vary by account somewhat). The Narragansetts lost only a handful of warriors.

Nine of the colonists who were among the dead were first taken prisoner (along with a tenth man who survived). These men were purportedly tortured to death by the Narragansetts at a site in Cumberland, Rhode Island, currently on the Cumberland Monastery and Library property. The nine dead colonists were buried by English soldiers who found the corpses and buried them in 1676. The soldiers created a pile of stones to memorialize the colonists. This pile is believed to be the oldest veterans’ memorial in the United States, and a cairn of stones has continuously marked the site since 1676.

A more personal and detailed account of the massacre of Pierce’s party by the Indians gives us a flavor of the emotion felt by the English:

“Sunday the 26th of March was sadly remarkable to us for the Tidings of a very deplorable Disaster brought unto Boston about 5 a Cloak that Afternoon, by a Post from Dedham, viz., that Captain Pierce (of) Scituate, in Plimmouth Colony, having Intelligence in his Garrison at Seaconicke, that a Party of the Enemy lay near Mr. Blackstones, went forth with 63 English and twenty of the Cape Indians, (who had all along continued faithful, and joyned with them;) and upon their March, discovered rambling in an obscure woody Place, four or five Indians, who, in getting away from us, halted, as if they had been lame or wounded.

But our Men had pursued them but a little Way into the Woods, before they found them to be only Decoys to draw them into their Ambuscade: for on a Sudden, they discovered about 500 Indians, who in very good order, furiously attacqued them, being as readily received by ours. So that the Fight began to be very fierce and dubious, and our Men had made the Enemy begin to retreat but so slowly that it scarce deserved that Name, when a fresh Company of about 400 Indians came in; so that the English and their few Indian Friends were quite surrounded, and beset on every Side. Yet they made a brave Resistance, for about two Hours: during all that Time they did great Execution upon the Enemy, whom they kept at a Distance, and themselves in Order.

For Captain Pierce cast his 63 English and 20 Indians into a Ring, and fought Back to Back, and were double-double Distance, all in a Ring, whilst the Indians were as thick as they could stand, thirty deep. Overpowered with those numbers, the said Captain, and 55 of his English and ten of their Indian Friends were slain upon the Place; which, in such a Cause, and upon such Disadvantages, may certainly be stiled ‘The Bed of Honour.’ However, they sold their worthy Lives at a gallant Rate; it being affirmed by those few that (not without wonderful Difficulty, and many Wounds) made their Escape, that the Indians lost as many Fighting Men, (not counting Women and Children,) in this Engagement, as were killed at the Battle in the Swamp, near Narraganset, mentioned in our last Letter, which were generally computed to be above three Hundred

The “Nine Men’s Misery” site was disturbed in 1790 by medical students led by one Dr. Bowen looking for the body of one of the dead colonists, Benjamin Bucklin, who was said to be unusually large with a double row of teeth. They were stopped by outraged locals. The site was desecrated several more times until 1928 when the monks who then owned the cemetery built a cemented stone cairn above the site. The cairn and site can still be visited on the Monastery grounds.

Pierce’s Fight was followed by the burning of Providence three days later, and then the capture and execution of Canonchet, the chief sachem of the Narragansetts. The war was winding down even at the time that Pierce’s party was destroyed, and in August, King Philip himself was killed.

John LOW (1629 – 26 Mar 1676)  died  at Nine Men’s Misery a site in current day Cumberland, Rhode Island where nine colonists were tortured by the Narragansett Indian tribe during King Philip’s War. A stone memorial was constructed in 1676 which is believed to be the oldest veterans memorial in the United States.  Cumberland was originally settled as part of Rehoboth, Mass  which is listed as the location of John’s death.

Our ancestors’ children, John Millard, son of John MILLARD , Benjamin Buckland, son of William BUCKLAND  and John Sprague, son-in-law of William BASSETT  also died in the battle.

Respecting Rev. John HOWSE‘ grandson Respecting Shubael Linnel little is known. He is named in 1667 as a guardian of the children of the second Thomas Ewer. A Samuel Linael of Barnstable was killed at the battle of Rehobeth, and as the only Samuel Linnel of Barnstable in 1776 was Samuel, son of David, and as he is named as living in 1688 he could not have been the man killed in 1676. To reconcile these conflicting statements Amos Otis supposed that there is an error in the records, that Shubael, the guardian, is the same person who is called Samuel in the returns of the killed March 26, 1676

John WHELDON served in Plymouth’s 4th expedition against the Narragansett Indians, March, 1675, otherwise known as Pierce’s Ambush, then was exempted from military training in October, 1677 “on consideration that hee hath three sons fitted with armes for publicke service.”.

The site is located on the grounds of the former Trappist monastery of Our Lady of the Valley, now the Cumberland public library, and is an approximately 15 minute walk behind the main building on a rise in the woods.

Directions:  Follow the road to the right past the main building, you will come to a low white building on your left and at that point should see a break in the chain link fence that is on your right. There is a low metal guardrail in the break, step over and you should be on a walking path. Turn right and not far up the path will divid, take the left path, it will bring you through a field. In the field, it again branches out – take the left again and keep walking out of the field through the trees. From leaving the field to reaching the monument is about the same distance that you walked to get out of the field from the start. Coming down over a small rise, there is a path to the right that brings you to the elevated area that the monument occupies – you can see the monument from the rise when on the path.


Posted in History, Violent Death | 13 Comments

Battle of Havana – 1762

The Battle of Havana had by far the most America deaths of any battle up until that time, especially for Connecticut, but until I found family casualties in this genealogy project, I had never heard of it.

File:British fleet entering Havana.jpg

The British fleet closing in on Havana in 1762

The Battle of Havana (1762) was a military action from March to August 1762, as part of the Seven Years’ War. British forces besieged and captured the city of Havana, which at the time was an important Spanish naval base in the Caribbean, and dealt a serious blow to the Spanish navy. During the siege the British had lost 2,764 killed, wounded, captured or deserted, but by 18 October also had lost 4,708 dead from sickness. One of the most depleted brigade was transferred to North America where it lost a further 360 men within a month of his arrival.  Havana was subsequently returned to Spain under the 1763 Treaty of Paris that formally ended the war, but Spain was required to cede Florida and Minorca to Great Britain and pay the Manila Ransom. Spain received French Louisiana as a payment for intervening in the war on the side of the French and as compensation for having lost Florida.

Capt. Joseph SEXTON’s (1666 – 1742) son Charles Sexton died 16 Sep 1762 at sea on the expedition from Somers to “the Havannah”.   According to the Barbour Collection, his son Charles Jr appears to have died on the expedition a week later 25 Sep 1762.

-Two sons of Stephen GATES IV (1690 – 1782) died in October and November 1762.  A 19th Century genealogy said they died in the French and Indian War.  I was confused because the French and Indian War ended that September.  I found their unit and commanding officer and through Major General Phineas Lyman found that they were casualties of the Battle of Havana.

Azariah Gates (1725 – 1762) was a solider in the Seven Years War, Battle of Havana from 25 Mar 1762 until 14 Oct 1762 when he died, probably of Yellow Fever in Cuba.   He was in the First Connecticut Regiment under Major General Phineas Lyman, Fifth Company under Captain John Stanton.   In 1762 Lyman was sent with 2,300 men to command the colonial contingent of Lord Albemarle’s army in the capture of Havana.

Phineas Gates (1731 – 1762) was a solider in the Seven Years War, Battle of Havana from 20 Mar 1762 until he was died 30 Nov 1762, like his brother probably of Yellow Fever in  Cuba.   He served with his brother Azariah in the First Connecticut Regiment under Major General Phineas Lyman, Fifth Company under Captain John Stanton.

On 28 Jul 1762  1,400 militia from Connecticut arrived in time to aid in the defense of the batteries from the one Spanish sally. Prado gathered together a rather motley collection of 1,200 militia and threw them against the English lines. Although the opening attack was a surprise, the English recovered quickly and beat back three charges. On the 30th the engineers mining the walls finally had their charges set and blew a breach in the Morro’s walls. Albemarle’s two brothers led the English charge and they made short work of the defenders. Luis de Velasco, commander of the Morro, died defending his flag.

I counted 43 dead and 27 survivors in Azariah and Phineas’s 5th Company, 1st Connecticut Regiment from the Rolls of Connecticut men in the French and Indian War, 1755-1762, Volume 2 By Connecticut Historical Society.   Extrapolating this 61% casualty rate to the entire regiment gives 860 deaths.  I couldn’t find the actual total from this little remembered conflict.  The Connecticut Colony’s total population was 142,000 in 1760.  A similar casualty rate if applied today’s United States would equal 1.8 million deaths.  This was a lot of carnage for a fight not much in the interest of the Connecticut settlers, though maybe the commander did benefit.

William CLARK’S grandson Capt. Israel Loomis (b. 29 Sep 1715 in Lebanon – d. 2 Oct 1801 in Lebanon)  was on the 1762 pay role of  Capt. Robert Durkee’s Ninth Company, Major General Phineas Lyman’s First Connecticut Regiment

Campaign of 1762 - 1st Regiment - Rolls of Connecticut Men in the French and Indian War, 1755-1762, Volume 2  By Connecticut Historical Society

Rolls of Connecticut Men in the French and Indian War, 1755-1762, Volume 2 By Connecticut Historical Society.   As you can see on this page, the casualty rate in Israel Loomis’ group was almost 50%, mostly from malaria and yellow fever.

In 1763, Phineas Lyman went to England where he remained until 1772, endeavoring to obtain a grant of land in west Florida, a tract near Natchez (now Mississippi) being granted by royal charter in 1772. Lyman led a band of settlers to the region in 1773.

Posted in History, Veteran, Violent Death | 7 Comments

Pequot War

Pequot War  1634 – 1638

Maj. John MASON (1600 – 1672) was the commanding officer in the Pequot War.   At the time, he was a victorious hero who later became  Deputy Governor of Connecticut and founded Norwich, Connecticut.  Now, he is viewed by some as a war criminal due to his responsible for the Mystic Massacre.

Capt. William HEDGE (1602 – 1670)  is favorably mentioned by a soldier in the Pequot War , who served with him, as a gentleman, of Northamptonshire, England. He was several times captain of the military company in Yarmouth and of the council of war.

26 May 1637 -Participated in the Mystic Massacre. During the Pequot War, English settlers under Captain John Mason, and Narragansett and Mohegan allies set fire to a fortified Pequot village near the Mystic River. They shot any people who tried to escape the wooden palisade fortress and killed the entire village, consisting mostly of women and children, in retaliation for previous Pequot attacks. The only Pequot survivors were warriors who had been with their sachem Sassacus in a raiding party outside the village.

The Pequot were the dominant Native American tribe in central to eastern Connecticut. They had long competed with the neighboring Mohegan and Narragansett. The Pequot eventually allied with the Dutch, while the Mohegan and others allied with the British. European population growth led to greater land demands, leading to eventual conflict with indigenous populations.

The tensions erupted into the Pequot War when a trader named John Oldham was killed and his trading ship looted by natives suspected to be Pequot. Some retaliation raids by settlers and natives alike ensued, and Pequots responded in kin.

The Connecticut towns raised a militia commanded by Captain John Mason consisting of 90 men, plus 70 Mohegan under sachems Uncas and Wequash. Twenty more men, including William Hedge, under Captain John Underhill joined him at Fort Saybrook.

The Pequot sachem Sassacus, meanwhile, gathered a few hundred warriors and set out to make another raid on Hartford, Connecticut.

At the same time, Captain Mason recruited more than 200 Narragansett and Niantic warriors to join his attack force. On the night of May 26, 1637, the forces of English and Native American attackers arrived outside the palisade-surrounded Pequot village near the Mystic River, which had only two entrances/exits. The English attempted to attack the villagers by surprise, yet met with stiff Pequot resistance. Underhill gave the order to set the village on fire and block off the exits. The Pequot were trapped inside. Those who tried climbing over the palisade were shot; anyone who succeeded in getting over was killed by the Narrangasett forces

A Brief History of the Pequot War Page 9 -
The Fire was kindled on the North East Side to windward; which did swiftly over-run the Fort, to the extream Amazement of the Enemy, and great Rejoycing of our selves. Some of them climbing to the Top of the Palizado; others of them running into the very Flames; many of them gathering to windward, lay pelting at us with their Arrows; and we repayed them with our small Shot: Others of the Stoutest issued forth, as we did guess, to the Number of Forty, who perished by the Sword.

In reference to Captain Underhill and his Parties acting in this Assault, I can only intimate as we were informed by some of themselves immediately after the Fight, Thus They Marching up to the Entrance on the South West Side, there made some Pause; a valiant, resolute Gentleman, one Mr. HEDGE, stepping towards the Gate, saying, If we may not Enter, wherefore came we hear; and immediately endeavoured to Enter; but was opposed by a sturdy Indian which did impede his Entrance: but the Indian being slain by himself and Serjeant Davis, Mr. Hedge Entred the Fort with some others; but the Fort being on Fire, the Smoak and Flames were so violent that they were constrained to desert the Fort.

Thomas CLARKE (1605 – 1697) Headed list of volunteers to act against the Pequot Indians in 1637 in Plymouth being then mentioned as of Eel River now Chiltonville.

Robert  CROSS (1613 – 1693) was one of the young men of Ipswich, seventeen in number, who saw service as soldiers in the Pequot war. The war lasted six months and the men were paid at the rate of 20s. a month.

Posted in History | 4 Comments

Great Swamp Fight

The Great Swamp Fight on December 19, 1675 was the most significant battle of King Philip’s War, what has been called the bloodiest (per capita) conflict in the history of America.  It was a critical blow to the Narragansett tribe from which they never fully recovered.  In April 1676, the Narragansett were completely defeated when the Wampanoag sachem Metacom was shot in the heart by John Alderman, a Native American soldier.  The Narragansett tribe was not recognized by the Federal Government until 1983 and today includes 2,400 members.

As I worked out our family genealogy, the Great Swamp Fight kept appearing again and again.  Our family seems to have an especially intimate relationship with this battle, but I’m beginning to think that every family was equally involved.  Nine direct ancestors participated, four were officers and one was killed.  27 close relatives were part of the fight of whom 6 were officers, six were killed or died of their wounds and six were wounded and survived.  Of the three small regiments involved, eleven officers were our ancestors or their children.

Navigate this Report
1. Overview
2. Background
3. The Battle

4. General Staff
5. Massachusetts Regiment
6. Plymouth Regiment
7. Connecticut Regiment

8. Joshua Tefft – the Only American Drawn & Quartered

9. Aftermath

1. Overview

King Philip’s War  was an armed conflict between Native American inhabitants of present-day southern New England and English colonists and their Native American allies in 1675–76. The war is named after the main leader of the Native American side, Metacomet, known to the English as “King Philip”.

King Phillip by Paul Revere - Illustration from the 1772 edition of Benjamin Church's The Entertaining History of King Philip's War

The war was the single greatest calamity to occur in seventeenth-century Puritan New England. In little over a year, nearly half of the region’s towns were destroyed, its economy was all but ruined, and much of its population was killed, including one-tenth of all men available for military service.  Proportionately, it was one of the bloodiest and costliest wars in the history of North America.   More than half of New England’s ninety towns were assaulted by Native American warriors.

Great Swamp Fight Compared to Today’s Population


Today’s U.S. Equivalent





Killed Great Swamp Fight



Wounded Great Swamp Fight (Many later died)



Colonists Killed and Wounded



Naragansett Warriors Killed

30 to 40

180,400 – 240,500

Naragansett Old Men, Women, Children Killed



The Great Swamp Fight Monument is in the woods three or four miles from the University of Rhode Island Campus  (Google Maps Satellite View)

The Great Swamp Fight Obelisk - In 1906 a rough granite shaft about 20 feet high was erected by the Rhode Island Society of Colonial Wars to commemorate this battle. Around the mound on which the shaft stands are four roughly squared granite markers engraved with the names of the colonies which took part in the encounter and two tablets on opposite sides of the shaft give additional data.

2. Background

In 1636, the Narragansett sachems (leaders), Canonicus and Miantonomi sold the land that became Providence to Roger Williams. During the Pequot War, the Narragansett were allied with the New England colonists. However, the brutality of the English shocked the Narragansetts, who returned home in disgust.   After the defeat of the Pequot, the Narrangansett had conflict with the Mohegans over control of the conquered Pequot land.

In 1643 the Narragansett under Miantonomi invaded what is now eastern Connecticut. The plan was to subdue the Mohegan nation and its leader Uncas. Miantonomi had between 900-1000 men under his command.  The invasion turned into a fiasco, and Miantonomi was captured and executed by Uncas’ brother. The following year, the new war leader Pessicus of the Narragansett renewed the war with the Mohegan. With each success, the number of Narragansett allies grew. The Mohegan were on the verge of defeat when the English came and saved them. The English sent troops to defend the Mohegan fort at Shantok. When the English threatened to invade Narragansett territory, Canonicus and his son Mixanno signed a peace treaty. The peace would last for the next 30 years, but the encroachment by the growing colonial population gradually began to erode any accords between natives and settlers.

In King Philip’s War, the Native Americans wanted to expel the English from New England. They waged successful attacks on settlements in Massachusetts and Connecticut, but Rhode Island was spared at the beginning as the Narragansett remained officially neutral.

The United Colonies of New England declared war against the Narragansett Indians on November 2, 1675, charging them, among other things, with “relieving and succouring Wampanoag women and children and wounded men” and not delivering them to the English, and also because they “did in a very reproachful and blasphemous manner, triumph and rejoice” over the English defeat at Hadley. They voted to raise a thousand soldiers to be sent against the Narragansetts unless their sachems gave up the fugitive Wampanoags.

On 2 Nov 1675, General Josiah Winslow led a combined force of over 1000 colonial militia including about 150 Pequot and Mohegan Indians against the Narragansett tribe living around Narragansett Bay.

Several abandoned Narragansett Indian villages were found and burned as the militia marched through the cold winter around Narragansett Bay.  The forces of the United Colonies under Governor Winslow marched across Rhode Island and on December 14 attacked the village of the Squaw Sachem Matantuck near Wickford and burned 150 wigwams, killing seven Indians and taking nine prisoners. The Narragansetts then began a guerrilla warfare, sniping Colonial troops wherever occasion offered. The tribe had retreated to a large fort in the center of a swamp near Kingston, Rhode Island.

A fort in the Great Swamp had been built by the Narragansett Sachem, Canonchet, as a place of refuge. Because of its location on a small island of dry land in the midst of a great swamp, he no doubt considered it impregnable. The massive fort occupied about 5 acres of land. It was, however, only partially completed and consisted of “pallisadoes stuck upright in a hedge of about a rod in thickness.” Two fallen trees formed natural bridges which were the only entrances and the principal one was guarded by a block house. Inside the fort the stores, harvests and accumulated wealth of the Narragansetts had been brought and there asylum had been offered the aged and infirm and the women and children of the Wampanoags of King Philip.

The building of such a defensive structure gives credence to the argument that the Narragansett never intended aggressive actions, thus the colonist’s preemptive attack may have been unwarranted and overzealous.

On the night of December 15 the Indians surrounded Jireh Bull’s large stone house on Tower Hill and massacred all but two of the occupants. The smoldering ruins of the house were found by English scouts the next day. It is possible that the Indians had learned of a plan for the Connecticut contingent to join the other forces at this house and had destroyed it in order to handicap the colonies. Three days later the two English forces joined at Pettaquamscutt and planned to attack the Indians the next day.

3. The Battle

Ordinarily the swamp was practically impenetrable, as it is to this day, but due to the severe December weather the marshy ground had frozen and the English soldiers gained easy access to the island. The Indian outposts retreated into the fort where they were followed by the English. The terrible battle which then began took place amidst ice, snow, under brush and fallen trees.

It had been at 5 AM that the white soldiers had formed up after their night in the cold snow without blankets, and set out toward this Narragansett stronghold. They had arrived at the edge of the Great Swamp, an area around , at about 1 PM. The Massachusetts troops in the lead were fired upon by a small band of native Americans and pursued without waiting for orders. As the natives retreated they came along across the frozen swamp to the entrance of the fort, which was on an island of sorts standing above the swamp, and consisted of a triple palisade of logs twelve feet high. There were small blockhouses at intervals above this palisade. Inside, the main village sheltered about 3,000 men, women, and children.

The Massachusetts troops had been enticed to arrive at precisely the strongest section of the palisade where, however, there was a gap for which no gate had yet been built. Across this gap the natives had placed a tree trunk breast height, as a barrier to check any charge, and just above the gap was a blockhouse. Without waiting for the Plymouth and Connecticut companies, the Massachusetts soldiers charged the opening and swarmed over the barrier.  Of the Massachusetts troops Capts. Mosely and Davenport led the van and came first upon the Indians, and immediately opened fire upon them,  Five company commanders were killed in the charge but the troops managed to remain for a period inside the fort before falling back into the swamp.

The Massachusetts men, now joined by Plymouth, gathered themselves for a second charge. Meanwhile, Major Treat led his Connecticut troops round to the back of the fort where the palisade had not been finished. Here and there the posts were spaced apart and protected only by a tangled mass of limbs and brush. The men charged up a bank under heavy fire and forced their way past the palisade. As they gained a foothold inside, the second charge at the gap also forced an entrance and the battle raged through the Indian village.

Great Swamp Fight Painting

It was a fight without quarter on either side, and was still raging at sunset when Winslow ordered the wooden lodges put to the torch. The flames, whipped by the winds of the driving snowstorm, spread quickly, burning 600 wigwams in the crowded fort. The “shrieks and cries of the women and children, the yelling of the warriors, exhibited a most horrible and appalling scene, so that it greatly moved some of the soldiers. They were in much doubt and they afterwards seriously inquired whether burning their enemies alive could be consistent with humanity and the benevolent principle of the gospel,” says one early account.

Winslow decided that the army had to fall back to the shelter of Smith’s Trading Post in Coccumscossoc (Wickford), where some resupply ships might have arrived. The English gathered their wounded, the worst being placed on horseback, and fell back toward Wickford. It would not be until 2 AM that the leading units would stumble into the town. Some, losing their way, would not get shelter until 7 AM.

The retreating Indians were driven from the woods about the fort, leaving the English a complete, though costly, victory. They had lost five captains and 20 men and had some 150 wounded that must be carried back to a house some ten miles distant. To the terrors of the battle and fire were added the bitter cold and blinding snow of a New England blizzard through which the English toiled back to Cocumcussa. The hardships of that march took a toll of 30 or 40 more lives. The Indians reported a loss of 40 fighting men and one sachem killed and some 300 old men, women and children burned alive in the wigwams.

Many of the warriors and their families escaped into the frozen swamp. Facing a winter with little food and shelter, the whole surviving Narragansett tribe was forced out of quasi-neutrality some had tried to maintain in the on-going war and joined the fight alongside Philip. The colonists lost many of their officers in this assault and about 70 of their men were killed and nearly 150 more wounded. The dead and wounded colonial militiamen were evacuated to the settlements on Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay where they were buried or cared for by many of the Rhode Island colonists until they could return to their homes.

Great Swamp Fight 1906 Map - Rhode Island Society of Colonial Wars' Record of the Unveiling of the Monument Commemorating the Great Swamp Fight, - The site of the Narragansett fort is marked with a red X

A portion of the high ground had been enclosed, and from a careful comparison of the most reliable accounts, it seems that the fortifications were well planned.  Mr. Hubbard says: “The Fort was raised upon a Kind of Island of five or six acres of rising Land in the midst of a swamp; the sides of it were made of Palisadoes set upright, the which was compassed about with a Hedg of almost a rod Thickness.” A contemporary writer says: “In the midst of the Swamp was a Piece of firm Land, of about three or four Acres, whereon the Indians had built a kind of Fort, being palisadoed round, and within that a clay Wall, as also felled down abundance of Trees to lay quite round the said Fort, but they had not quite finished the said Work.” It is evident from these, the only detailed accounts, and from some casual references, that the works were rude and incomplete, but would have been almost impregnable to the colonial troops had not the swamp been frozen.

At the corners and exposed portions, rude block-houses and flankers had been built, from which a raking fire could be poured upon any attacking force. Either by chance, or the skill of Peter, their Indian guide, the English seem to have come upon a point of the fort where the Indians did not expect them. Mr. Church, in relating the circumstances of Capt. Gardiner’s death, says that he was shot from that side “next the upland where the English entered the swamp.” The place where he fell was at the “east end of the fort.” The tradition that the English approached the swamp by the rising land in front of the “Judge Marchant” house, thus seems confirmed. This “upland” lies about north of the battlefield.

Posted in History | Tagged | 45 Comments

Witch Trials – Jury

Our ancestors, noted below by Bold CAPITALS, played every role in the 17th Century Witch Trials: Accused, Accuser, Witness, Neighbor, Jury and the Law.  Seeing all their stories together, shows that the witch trials weren’t an isolated incident.  Since all the players were family, the message I get is that everyone in their society was responsible for what happened.

1. Victims
2. Accusers
3. Witnesses
4. Supporters and Neighbors
5. Constabulary
6. Jury

It is generally accepted that the Salem trials were one of the defining moments that changed American jurisprudence from the English system of “guilty, ’til proven innocent” to the current American system of “innocent until proven guilty”. In addition, the jury pool in trials was changed from “church-members only” to “all those who have property” in an act which was passed by the General Court on 25 Nov 1692. Finally, these cases caused Americans to take their first steps away from what we now know as “cruel & unusual punishment” when trying to get someone to confess. It had been a staple of the English legal system, but after 1692 even Cotton Mather urged judges to use “Crosse and Swift Questions” rather than physical torture to gain the truth. These were three significant changes to the nascent American legal system. In May of 1693, Governor Phips pardoned the remaining accused of witchcraft.

William Stoughton (1631 – July 7, 1701) was the grandson of our ancestor Rev. Thomas STOUGHTON.  He was a colonial magistrate and admininstrator in the Province of Massachusetts Bay.


William Stoughton c. 1700

Stoughton was in charge of what have come to be known as the Salem Witch Trials, first as the Chief Justice of the Special Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692, and then as the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Judicature in 1693. In these trials he controversially accepted spectral evidence (based on supposed demonic visions). Unlike other magistrates, he never admitted to the possibility that his acceptance of such evidence was in error.

In 1692, when Increase Mather and Sir William Phips arrived from England carrying the charter for the new Province of Massachusetts Bay and a royal commission for Phips as governor, they also brought one for Stoughton as lieutenant governor.

When Phips arrived, rumors of witchcraft were running rampant, especially in Salem. Phips immediately appointed Stoughton to head a special tribunal to deal with accusations of witchcraft, and in June appointed him chief justice of the colonial courts, a post he would hold for the rest of his life.  In the now-notorious Salem Witch Trials, Stoughton acted as both chief judge and prosecutor. He was particularly harsh on some of the defendants, sending the jury deliberating in the case of Rebecca Nurse  [daughter of our ancestor William TOWNE and sister of  Mary Towne ESTEY] back to reconsider its not guilty verdict; after doing so, she was convicted.  Many convictions were made because Stoughton permitted the use of spectral evidence, the idea that a demonic vision could only take on the shape or appearance of someone who had made some sort of devilish pact or engaged in witchcraft. Although Cotton Mather argued that this type of evidence was acceptable when making accusations, some judges expressed reservations about its use in judicial proceedings. Stoughton, however, was convinced of its acceptability, and may have influenced other judges to this view.  The special court stopped sitting in September 1692.

In November and December 1692 Governor Phips oversaw a reorganization of the colony’s courts to bring them into conformance with English practice. The new courts, with Stoughton still sitting as chief justice, began to handle the witchcraft cases in 1693, but were under specific instructions from Phips to disregard spectral evidence. Because of this, a significant number of cases were dismissed due to a lack of evidence, and Phips vacated the few convictions that were made.  This turn of events angered Stoughton, and he briefly left the bench in protest.  Historian Cedric Cowing suggests that Stoughton’s acceptance of spectral evidence was based partly in a need he saw to reassert Puritan authority in the province.

Deacon William FISKE (1643 – 1728), Joseph BATCHELLER’s son John (1638 – 1698) and Daniel WARNER’s son-in-law John Dane (1645 – 1707) were on the Jury during the witchcraft cases in Salem.  They signed a Declaration of Regret asking forgiveness for the error of their judgement.

“We whose names are under-written, being in the year 1692 called to serve as jurors in court at Salem, on trial of many who were by some suspected guilty of doing acts of witchcraft upon the bodies of sundry persons, we confess that we ourselves were not capable to understand, nor able to withstand, the mysterious delusions of the powers of darkness and Prince of the air, but were, for want of knowledge in ourselves and better information from others, prevailed with to take with such evidence against the accused, as, on further consideration and better information, we justly fear was insufficient for the touching the lives of any (Deut. xvii) whereby we fear we have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon ourselves and this people of the Lord the guilt of innocent blood; which sin the Lord saith in Scripture he would not pardon (2 Kings xxiv. 4)–that is, we suppose, in regard to his temporal judgments. We do therefore hereby signify to all in general, and to the surviving sufferers in special, our deep sense of, and sorrow for, our errors in acting on such evidence to the condemning of any person; and do hereby declare, that we justly fear that we were sadly deluded and mistaken–for which we are much disquieted and distressed in our minds, and do therefore humbly beg forgiveness, first of God, for Christ’s sake, for this our error, and pray that God would impute the guilt of it to ourselves nor others, and we also pray that we may be considered candidly and aright by the living sufferers, as being then under a strong and general delusion, utterly unacquainted with, and not experienced in, matters of that nature.

“We do hereby ask forgiveness of you all, whom we have justly offended, and do declare, according to our present minds, we would none of us do such things again, on such grounds, for the whole world–praying you to accept of this in way of satisfacton for our offense, and that you would bless the inheritance of the Lord, that he may be entreated for the land.”
John Bacheler

Thomas Fisk, Foreman
William FISK
John Bacheler (son of Joseph BACHELER)
Thomas Fisk
John Dane (Son-in-law of Daniel WARNER)
Joseph Evelith
Thomas Pearly, Sr.
John Peabody
Thomas Perkins
Samuel Sayer
Andrew Eliot
Henry Herrick, Sr.

Jury foreman Capt. Thomas Fiske and Deacon William Fiske were third cousins once removed; Capt. Thomas Fiske, jr., and Deacon William Fiske were fourth cousins;

Many genealogies state that Robert Paine Jr. (1627 in Newton, Suffolk, England – d.  Dec 1693 in Ipswich, Essex, Mass  ) , the grandson of William PAYNE, was the foreman of the Grand Jury that found all the indictments for witchcraft at Salem.   However,  as far as I can tell,  he became foreman in Jan 1693 and only returned findings of “Ignoramus   [The legal definition of this word is uninformed.   It is written on a bill by a grand jury, when they find that there is not sufficient evidence to authorize their finding it a true bill. Sometimes, instead of using this word, the grand jury endorse on the bill, “Not found.”]  

Sarah Bassett,  like so many of her neighbors, was accused of being a witch in 1692. She was tried at Salem on 21 May 1692 and imprisoned in Boston until 3 Dec 1692.   Sshe gave birth to her son, Joseph, on 15 Dec. In addition, she took her 22-month old child (probably Ruth) with her to prison. She named her next daughter “Deliverance” in honor of her freedom. In 1693, she was recompensed a whopping £9 for her experience.

Indictment v. Sarah Bassett

Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England Essex \ Ano RR & Reginae Gulielmi & Mariare Angliae &c Quarto Anoq’e\Dom. 1692.

The Jurors for o’r Sov’r lord & Lady the King & Queen pr’sent The Sarah Bassett wife of William Bassett of Lyn in the County of Essex aforesaid Upon or about the 23’rd day of May last Anno:
1692 aforsaid

And Divers other Days & Times as well before as after Certaine Detestable Arts Called Witchcraft & Sorceries Wickedly Mallitiously & felloniously hath used practised & Exercised at & in the Towne of Salem, in the County of Essex aforesaid Upon & Against One Mary Walcott of Salem Single Woman By Which Wicked Arts The Said Mary Walcott is Tortured aflicted Tormented Consumed Wasted & Pined the Day & yeare aforesaid & Divers other Days & times as well before as Contrary to the peace of o’r Sov’r lord & lady the King & Queen their Crowne & Dignity & the Laws in that Case made & provided.

Ann Putnam
Marcy Lewis
Robert Payne foreman
Salem Court 3 Jan 1693

Sarah Cloyes,, daughter of  William TOWNEher two sisters, Rebecca Nurse and Mary ESTEY already having been hung, was examined in the early part of the trials in January of 1693.  The three indictments against Sarah Cloyes are all legal forms written in the same clerkly hand. They are for having performed witchcraft on the body of Abigail Walcott in April and for having performed witchcraft on the body of Abigail Williams during that month. The third indictment is for a much later date. It is for having performed witchcraft on the body of her niece, Rebecca Towne of Topsfield on, before and after September 1st. The words of Sarah Cloyes, wife of Peter Cloyes of Salem Village are evidently written in the same hand.” Many indictments were written out in advance with the name of the accused written in later. “All three indictments against Sarah Cloyes have the word ‘ignoramus’ written in still another hand on the reverse. After the word ignoramus, in yet another hand occurs Robert Payne’s distincitve signature on all three indictments.” Robert Payne was the new jury foreman in January of 1693.

(Indictment v. Sarah Cloyce , No. 1)

The Jurors for our Soveraigne Lord & Lady the King and Queen
doe present That Sarah Cloyce Wife of Peter Cloyce of Salem –
in the County of Essex Husbandman upon or about the n’th Day of April — In the yeare aforesaid and divers other Days and times as
well before as after Certaine Detestable Arts called Witchcraft and
Sorceries Wickedly Mallitiously and felloniously hath used practised
and Exercised At and in the Towne of Salem in the Country of
Essex — aforesaid in upon and against one Abigail Williams of Salem –
aforesaid Single Woman — by which said Wicked Acts the said Abi-
gaill Williams the Day & Yeare — aforesaid and Divers other Days
and times both before and after was and is Tortured Aflicted Con-
sumed Wasted Pined and Tormented against the Peace of our Sov’r
Lord and Lady the King & Queen theire Crowne and Dignity and
The Law In that case made and Provided

Sarah Cloyes Indictment

Sarah Cloyes Indictment

Robert Payne

Robert Payne Signature to

Robert Payne Signature to

Robert  Jr., graduated at Harvard University in the class of 1656, and studied for the ministry. Whether or not he actually practiced his profession does not certainly appear, but Felt speaks of him as “a preacher.”  There is reason to believe that he was not an active prosecutor of the accused, or if at any time he was so, he changed his mind before his death and took measures to allay the delusion.

An Aug 9 1692 letter  to  Jonathan Corwin, one of the trial judges, signaled the end of the Salem hysteria.  Most historians think the letter was written by Robert Pike, , son-in-law of our ancestor Joseph MOYCE  (See my post Witch Trial Supporters)

Robert Pike had a long history of opposing religious tyranny, for example, denouncing in 1655 the law forbidding to preach if not Ordained,  but the actual letter just contains the initials “RP” and the name Robert Payne was added later in a different hand, so an early record keeper thought Robert Payne was the author.  Here is a detailed discussion of who wrote the letter and here is another.

The letter is a tightly reasoned attack upon the use of spectral evidence and the testimony of the ‘afflicted girls’ in general. While the author, like all Puritans, believed witches and witchcraft existed and were the work of Satan, he was questioning the current methods of the court in determining credibility and guilt.   The letter makes several points:

  • Citing 1st Samuel xxviii 13, 14: Any person, virtuous or not, may be in truth a witch.
  • A poor reputation does not suggest or substantiate guilt (as with Sarah Good).
  • Satan is capable of presenting anyone’s specter to a tormented person (not only a witch’s specter).
  • How can it be known if Satan acts with or without the permission of any specific (accused) person.
  • It is completely contrary to a witch’s well-being for them to practice witchcraft within a courtroom.
  • It is likewise contrary for witches to accuse others of witchcraft (as was the case), as “they are all part of Satan’s kingdom, which would fall, if divided against itself”.

It is not known just how the letter was received, since there is no written response, but with it he became one of the first of several prominent men to question the handling of the witchcraft crisis. Within a few weeks Thomas Brattle and Samuel Willard of Boston wrote their own manuscripts, using some of the same arguments Pike had documented. By October of 1692 the activity of the courts was greatly diminished, the executions had ended, and the witchcraft crisis was effectively over.


The Salem witchcraft papers, original volumes  edited by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum (1977) / revised, corrected, and augmented by Benjamin C. Ray and Tara S. Wood (2010) University of Virginia Archives

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Witch Trials – Constabulary

Our ancestors, noted below by Bold CAPITALS, played every role in the 17th Century Witch Trials: Accused, Accuser, Witness, Neighbor, Jury and the Law.  Seeing all their stories together, shows that the witch trials weren’t an isolated incident.  Since all the players were family, the message I get is that everyone in their society was responsible for what happened.

1. Victims
2. Accusers
3. Witnesses
4. Supporters and Neighbors
5. Constabulary
6. Jury

It is generally accepted that the Salem trials were one of the defining moments that changed American jurisprudence from the English system of “guilty, ’til proven innocent” to the current American system of “innocent until proven guilty”. In addition, the jury pool in trials was changed from “church-members only” to “all those who have property” in an act which was passed by the General Court on 25 Nov 1692. Finally, these cases caused Americans to take their first steps away from what we now know as “cruel & unusual punishment” when trying to get someone to confess. It had been a staple of the English legal system, but after 1692 even Cotton Mather urged judges to use “Crosse and Swift Questions” rather than physical torture to gain the truth. These were three significant changes to the nascent American legal system. In May of 1693, Governor Phips pardoned the remaining accused of witchcraft.


Richard ORMSBY (1602 – 1664) was a constable in Salisbury in 1656 and testified he saw something on Eunice Cole’s breast when he was about to administer a public whipping.

The deposition of Richard Ormsby constable of Salisbury. That being about to strip Eunice Cole to be whipped (by the judgment of the court at Salisbury) looking upon her breasts under one of her breasts (I think her left breast) I saw a blue thing like unto a teat hanging downward about three quarters of an inch long not very thick, and having a great suspicion in my mind about it (she being suspected for a witch) [I] desired the court to send some women to look of it and presently hereupon she pulled or scratched it of[f] in a violent manner, and some blood with other moistness did appear clearly to my apprehension and she said it was a sore. John Goddard doth testify that he saw her with her hand violently scratch it away. Sworn in the court at Salisbury. 12th, 2d. month 1656, Thomas Bradbury Vera Copia per me Thomas Bradbury recorder. Sworn in the court September 4, 1656.

Edward Rawson affirmed I stood by and saw the constable rip her shift down and saw the place raw and fresh blood where Good[y] Cole [ends abruptly].

The court presently stepping to her saw a place raw with some fresh blood but no appearance of any old sore: Thomas Bradbury recorder in the name of the court. Sworn in court September 4, 1656 Richard Ormsby Edward Rawson Secretary.

Also Abraham Perkins and John Redman affirmed on oath that they stood by and saw the constable tear down her shift and saw the place raw and where she had [tore?] of[f?] her teat and fresh blood come from it and saw her [ ] her hand to tear of[f] it was torn off. Sworn in court September 4, 1656 Edward Rawson Secretary.

A resident of Hampton in present-day New Hampshire, Mrs. Cole had been in and out of the courts of Essex and Norfolk counties, Massachusetts, since the 1640s. She was tried on charges of witchcraft for the first time in 1656. It is probable that she was convicted, instead of ordering her execution, the court sentenced Mrs. Cole to imprisonment in Boston and a public whipping. She was in and out of prison for the next decade, during which time, in 1662, her aged husband William died. Eunice was charged again with witchcraft in 1673; the court criticized her, though the formal verdict was innocence. In the years before and after this trial she lived in Hampton in a destitute condition. Her third court hearing on charges of witchcraft occurred in 1680; though not indicted, she was put in prison. The depositions from 1673, which are the fullest surviving records of community suspicions, describe Eunice Cole as attempting to persuade a ten-year-old girl, Ann Smith, to live with her.

Orlando BAGLEY Jr. (1658 – 1728) was Susannah Martin’s arresting Amesbury constable. See his page for images of the original summons, examination and death warrant.  Susannah was found guilty, and was hanged on July 19, 1692 in Salem.

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