Witch Trials – Witnesses

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.


James DAVIS Sr. (1583 – 1679)  and his son Ephraim signed a paper presented to Ipswich Court, February, 1658, against John Godfrey, accusing him of witchcraft.  In 1658 when the subject of witchcraft first came to his attention, he came down decidedly against the concept. When John Godfrey was charged with injuring the wife of Job Tyler by “Satanic acts,” Francis Dane judged against the probability

John Godfrey Was Tried 3 Times For Witchcraft – 1658, 1665 & 1669, Each time he was acquitted.   Prior to the Salem witchcraft trials, only five executions on the charge of witchcraft are known to have occurred in Massachusetts.  Such trials were held periodically, but the outcomes generally favored the accused.   A bad reputation in the community combined with the accusation of witchcraft did not necessarily insure conviction.  The case against John Godfrey of Andover, a notorious character consistently involved in litigation, was dismissed.  In fact, soon after the proceedings, Godfrey sued his accusers for defamation and slander and won the case.

Yet another accusation of witchcraft surfaced in 1680, this time involving John  but focusing on a Rachel Fuller , their neighbor in Hampton, New Hampshire who was accused of killing John’s infant son by witchcraft.

John Godfrey arrived in New England in 1634 and from then on, was a transient resident of several Essex County towns, including Haverhill, Newbury, Andover, Ipswich and Salem. He had a local reputation for his feats of strength, boastfulness, sleight of hand and claims of occult powers. He was first tried as a witch in June, 1659, in Andover, when Haverhill and Andover residents claimed they had suffered “losses in their persons and estates, which came not from natural causes but from ill-disposed person, who they affirmed was John Godfrey”. He was acquitted.

From 1658 to his death, John Godfrey was in court at least once a year and in some years many times. As suit and counter-suit piled on top of each other, his record of legal actions became extraordinary, even by the standards of a highly litigious society.  I don’t think the depositions of and James and his son Ephraim survive , but you can see the gist of the 1658 case and more  about the infamous John Godfrey on James DAVIS ‘s page.

Hugh Jones (1635-1688) son-in-law of  John FOSTER Sr.  died Salem in 1688, but testified against another of our relatives from beyond the grave.  The record of his decease of Hugh Jones has not been found, but it may be surmised that he came to a mysterious end, as, during the Salem witchcraft trials in 1692, Elizabeth Booth deposed that the uneasy ghosts of four murdered persons appeared to her; and assured her that Mrs. Elizabeth Proctor (daughter-in-law of our ancestor John PROCTOR) was their murderer.

Elizabeth Booth age 18 or thereabouts testifieth

 that one the 8 of June hugh Joanes Apered unto me & told me that Elesebeth procter Kiled him be Cause he had a poght of sider of her which he had not paid her for

The 8 of June Elesebeth Shaw apeared unto me & told me that Elesebeth proctor & John wilard Kiled Her Because she did not use those doctors she Advised her too

that one the 8 of June the wife of John fulton Apered unto me & told me that Elesebeth proctor Kiled her Because she would not give her Aples when she sent for sum

that one the 8 of June Doc’r Zerubabel Endecot Apered unto me & told me Elesebeth proctor Kiled him because they difered in their judgments a bout thomas veries wife & lickwis the saide Elesebeth proctor would have kiled doct Endecots wife but Cold not But lamed her a Good while

Hugh may have testified twice in the witch trials because we also find this passage in The Salem Witchcraft Papers,Vol 3.  John Willard, was one of the people executed for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, during the Salem witch trials of 1692. He was hanged on Gallows Hill on August 19. At the time of the first allegations of witchcraft Willard was serving as a constable in the village of Salem and his duties included bringing the accused before the court. Soon, however, he began to doubt the truth of the accusations and in May 1692 he refused to make any more arrests. In retaliation Ann Putnam and others accused him of witchcraft, and of murdering thirteen citizens.  Verbatim Transcripts of the Legal Documents of the Salem Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692…….

 Susannah Sheldon v. John Willard

The 9’th of may 1692 this #[this] Is the first to bee Read the testimony of Susanah Shelton Aged 18’ten yers or there About testifieth And saith the day of the date hereof I sawe at natt Ingersons house the Apparitions of thes 4 persons William Shaws first wife, the widdow Cooke, gooman Jons And his Child [Goodman Hugh Jones and his child] And Among these Came the Apparition of John Willard to whome these 4 said you have murdered us these 4 haveing said thus to willard thay turned As Red As blood And turning About to look on mee they turned As pale as deth these 4 desiered mee to tell Mr. hathorn willard hering them pulled out a knife saying If I did hee would Cut my throate the second to be Read

John GRIFFIN (1641 – 1688)  was deputy constable of Haverhill in 1664; served on the trial jury in 1666 and 1667; was deputy marshall of the county in 1666; and kept the Haverhill ferry across the Merrimac river in 1669.  In 1669 he was a witness against John Godfrey who was suspected of witchcraft, testifying that when he started on a journey from the Merrimac river to Andover on horseback he saw Godfrey setting out on foot and yet, although he ran his horse, Godfrey was comfortably seated by the fire in Goodman Rust’s house when he arrived there. Much other testimony dealt with Godfrey’s ability to be in two places at one time.’

John Godfrey was tried three times for witchcraft – 1659, 1665 & 1669.  He apparently was a roving herdsman who demanded jobs and threatened people when he did not get them. He also caused accidents to happen to these animals, but was never caught doing it. He was also accused of arson, suborning witnesses and theft. He did not limit his activities to extra legal and illegal acts. He also liked to sue people. He usually won, but that did not stop other people from suing him.

Mary (Parker) WEBBER  (1639 -1716)  testified in George Burrough’s Witch Trial (Wikipedia) in Salem 2 Aug 1692.  She repeated accusations she heard from Burrough’s deceased wife.

Salem – 2 Aug 1692 Mary Webber wid aged aboute 53 years Testifieth and sayth that she liveing at Casco Bay aboute six or seaven years agoe, when George Burroughs was Minester at s’d place, and liveing anner – Neighbour to s’d Burroughs, was well acquainted with his wife w’ch was dauter to mr John Ruck of Salem she hath heard her tell much of her husband unkindness to her and that she dare not wright to her father to acquaint [him] how it was with her, and soe desired mee to wright to her father that he would be pleased to send for her and told mee she had beene much affrighted, and that something in the night made anoise in the chamber where she lay as if one Went aboute the Chamber, and she calling up the negro. to come to her the negro not Comeing sayd that she could not Come some thing stopt her, then her husband being called he came up. some thing Jumped down from between the Chimney & the side of the house and Run down the stairs and s’d Burroughs followed it down, and the negro then s’d it was something like a white calfe: another tyme lyeing with her husband some thing came into the house and stood by her bed side and breathed on her, and she being much affrighted at it, would have awakened her husband but could not for a considerable tyme, but as soone as he did awake it went away., but this I heard her say. and know nothing of it myselfe otherwise Except by common report of others also concerning such things.

George Burroughs Fact Sheet

  • He was the second Salem Village minister, but quarreled over his salary and left.
  • He had five children.
  • He was widowed three times.
  • His second wife died about a year after their arrival in Salem Village.
  • After his second wife’s death, he remarried and moved to Maine.
  • He was rumored to have mistreated his wives.
  • One of his children was not baptized; a fact that was brought up in his trial.
  • He was well known for his physical strength.
  • Upon his arrest for witchcraft, his wife took everything that was valuable in the house, sold his books and loaned the money for interest. She then took her own daughter and left George’s children to fend for themselves.
  • During his trial, witnesses testified that his two dead wives came to them in their dreams explaining that he had killed them.
  • He was also identified by the afflicted girls as the “Black Minister” and leader of the Salem Coven.
  • At his execution, he repeated the Lord’s Prayer flawlessly.

Mary’s son Samuel WEBBER (1658 – 1716)  testified on 2 Aug 1692 at the Salem Witch Trial about Rev. George Burroughs’ super human strength.

Samuel Webber aged about 36 years Testifieth and sayth that  aboute seaven or eight Yeares agoe I Lived at Casco Bay and George Burroughs was then Minester there, and haveing heard much of the great strength of him s’d Burroughs; he Coming to our house wee ware in discourse about the same and he then told mee that he had  put his fingers into the Bung of a Barrell of Malasses and lifted it up, and carryed it Round him and sett it downe againe.

Though the jury found no witches’ marks on his body Burroughs was convicted of witchcraft and conspiracy with the Devil. While standing before the crowd at the gallows, he successfully recited the Lord’s Prayer, something that was determined by the Court of Oyer and Terminer to be impossible for a witch (or wizard) to do.

The stunned crowd became restless until Cotton Mather, a minister from Boston, reminded the crowd from atop his horse that Burroughs had been convicted in a court of law. George Burroughs was executed on Gallows Hill, Salem, on the 19th of August, the only minister who suffered this extreme fate.

But the death of George Burroughs brought about a change in attitudes amongst the citizens of Essex County and was a contributing factor to the end of the hysteria.

Thomas LOW (c. 1605 – 1677) and other prominent men of Ipswich, Chebacco Parish, signed a letter declaring the innocence of Witchcraft charges against their neighbors, John Proctor (son of John PROCTOR Sr.) and his wife, Elizabeth.

Robert RING’s (1614 – 1691) sons Jarvis and Joseph both testified against Susanna MARTIN   Susannah was executed for witchcraft on 19 Jul 1692 in Salem, Essex, Mass.

Jarvis Ring Witch Trial

Jarvis Ring of Salisbury maketh oath as followeth, That about seven or eight years ago he had been several times afflicted in the night time by somebody or something coming up upon him when he was in bed and did sorely afflict by laying upon him and he could neither move nor speak while it was upon him, but sometimes made a kind of noise that folks did hear him and come up to him and as soon as anybody came, it would be gone. This it did for a long time before and since but he did never see anybody clearly, but one time in the night it came upon me as at othr times and I did then see the person of Susanna Martin of Amesbury. This deponent did perfectly see her and she came to this deponent and took him by the hand and bit him by the finger by force and then came and lay upon him awhile as formerly, and after a while went away. The print of the bite is yet to be seen on the little finger of his right hand for it was hard to heal (he further saith). That several times he was alseep when it came, but at that time when bit his finger he was as fairly awake as ever he was and plainly saw her shape and felt her tooth as aforesaid.

Sworn by Jarvis Ring above said May the 13th 1692
Before Me
Robt. Pike Assit. at Salisbury
Jurat in Curia

Joseph Ring Testimony against Susannah Martin

13 May 1692 | Salem, Massachusetts

Joseph Ring of Salisbury aged 27 years having been strangely handled for the space of almost two years maketh this Relation upon oath as followeth, viz: That in the month of June next after Casco Bay fort was taken this deponent coming between Sandy Beach and Hampton Town met with Thomas Hardy of Great Island and a company of several other creatures with him which said Hardy demanded of this deponent two shillings and with that dreadful noise and hideous shapes of these creatures and fireball, this deponent was almost frightened out of his wits and in about a half an hour (or indeed he could not judge of the time) they left him and he came to Hampton. About ten days after as the deponent came from Boston this deponent was overtaken by a company of people on horseback who passed by him and after they were passed by him, the aforesaid Thomas Hardy turned about his horse, and ame back to this deponent with his horse in hand and desired this deponent to go to Mrs. White’s and drink with him, which being refused he turned away to the Company and they all came up together such a weth (i.e. with so many horses) that it seemed impossible to escape being trod down by them, but they went all past and then appeared no more.

About October following coming from Hampton in Salisbury Pine Plain a company of horses with men and women upon them overtook this deponent and the aforesaid Hardy being one of them came to this deponent as before and demanded his 2s of him and threatened to tear him in pieces to whom this deponent made no answer, and so he and the rest went away and left this deponent. After this this deponent had divers strange appearances which did force him away with them into unknown places where he saw meetings and feastings and many strange sights, and from August last he was dumb and could not speak till this last April. He also relates that there did use to come to him a man that did present him a book to which he would have him set his hand with promise of anything that he would have and there were presented all Delectable things, persons and places imaginable, but he refusing it, would usually and with most dreadful shapes, noises and screeching that almost scared him out of his wits, and this was the usual manner of proceeding with him. And one time the book was brought and a pen offered him to his apprehension there was blood in the ink horn, but he never touched the pen. He further say that they never told him what he should write nor he could not speak to ask them what he should write. He farther in several of their merry meetings he have seen Susanna Martin appear among them.

And that day that his speech came to him again which was about the end of April alst as he was in bed she did stand by his bed’s side and pinched him.

Joseph Ring abovesaid made oath of the truth of all that is above written this 13th day of May 1692.
Before Me
Robt. Pike Assist.
Jurat in Curia the substance of it viva voce.

It is to be understood that the matter about that two shillings demanded of said Ring was this, viz: That when Casco was assaulted before it was taken, Capt. Cedric Walt was going from Great Island in Patascataway with a party for their relief of which party said Ring was one and said Hardy coming up into the room where said Ring [was] before they sailed and played at shovelboard or some such like game and urged said Ring play, said Ring told him he had no money and said Hardy lent him 2s and then said Ring played with him. Said Hardy who won his money away from him again so he could not then pay him this account was by said Ring given to me.
Robt. Pike Ast

13 May 1692 | Salem, Massachusetts

The deposition of Joseph Ring at Salisbury aged 27 years being sworn saith, That about the latter end of September last being int he wood with his brother Jarvis Ring hewing of timber, his brother went home with his team and left this deponent alone to finish the hewing of the piece for him, for his brother to carry when he came again, but as soon as his brother was gone, there came to this deponent the appearance of Thomas Hardy of the great Island at Patascataway and by some impulse he was forced to follow him to the house of ___ Tucker which was deserted and was about half a mile from the place he was at work in, and in that house did appear Susanna Martin of Amesbury and the aforesaid Hardy and another female person which the deponent did not know. There they had a good fire and drink, it seemed to be cider, there continued most part of the night, said Martin being then in her natural shape and talking as she used to do, but toward the morning the said Martin went from the fire, made a noise and turned into the shape of a black hog and went away and so did the other two persons go away and this deponent was strangely carried away also and the first place he knew was by Samuel Wood’s house in Amesbury.
Sworn by Joseph Ring May the 13th 1692
Before Me
Robt. Pike Assist.
Jurat in Curia

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