Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thriller Thursday - My Family Connection to the Salem Witch Trials

My 8th great grandfather, Humphrey Woodbury along with his father John Woodbury were some of the earliest settlers of Salem, Massachusetts.  It is believed that they arrived in Salem in about 1627.

Humphrey married Elizabeth Hunter in 1638.  They had a number of children including a daughter, Christian Woodbury, who was born on April 20, 1661.  

Christian married John Trask in 1679.  They had 5 children together.

In 1689, Christian came into a dispute with one of her neighbors, Sarah and Edward Bishop.

The following testimony was given by Reverend John Hale in 1692 during the Salem Witch Trials:

About 5 or 6 years ago.....Christian wife of John Trask (living in Salem bounds boarding on the above said Beverly) being in full communion in our church came to me to request that Goodwife Bishop her neighbors wife of Edward Bishop Jr. might not be permitted to receive the Lord's Supper in our church till she had given her the said Track satisfaction for some offenses which were against her. vis because the said Bishop did entertain people in her house at unseasonable hours in her house in the night to keep drinking and playing at shovel board whereby discord did arise in other families and young people were in danger to be corrupted and that the said Trask knew these things and had once gone into the house and finding some [guests] at shovel board did take the pieces and they played with and threw them into the fire and had reproved the said Bishop for promoting such disorder. 
The next news of Christian Trask was that she found herself being unusually distracted.  She continued for sometime distracted.  She sought sought the Lord with fasting and prayer & the Lord was pleased to restore the said Trask to her reason again.  I was with her often in her distraction and took it then to be only distraction, yet fearing sometimes somewhat worse) but since I have seen the fits of those bewitched at Salem Village I call to mind some of hers to be much like some of theirs. The said Trask when recovered as I understood it did manifest strong suspicion that she had been bewitched by the said Bishop's wife & showed so much averesness from having any conversation that I was then troubled at it hoping better of said Goody Bishop at that time for we have since [torn] At length said Christian Trask [was] again in a distracted fit on a Sabbeth day in the forenoon at the public meeting to public disturbance & so continued sometimes better sometimes worse unto her death, manifesting that she under temptation to kill herself or somebody else. 
I inquired of Margaret Ring who kept at or night the house, what she had observed of said Trask before this last distraction she told me Goody Trask was much given to reading & search the prophecies of scripture. 
The day before she made that disturbance in the meeting house she came home & said she had been with Goody Bishop & that they two were now friend or to that effect. 
I was oft praying with & counseling of Goody Trask before her death and not many days before her end being there she seemed more rational & earnestly desired Edward Bishop might be sent for that she might make friends with him, I asked her if she had wronged Edward Bishop she said not that she knew of unless it were in taking his shovel-board pieces when people were at play with them & throwing them into the fire & if she did evil in it she was very sorry for it & desired he would be friends with her or forgive her. this was the very day before she died, or a few days before. Her distraction (or bewitching) continued about a month and in those intervals wherein she was better she earnestly desired prayers & the Sabbeth before she dyed I received a note for prayers on her behalf which her husband said was written by herself & I judge was her own hand writing being well acquainted with her hand. 
As to the wounds she dyed of I observed 3 deadly ones; a piece of her wind pipe cut out & another wound above that through the windpipe & gullet & the vein they call jugular. So that I then judge & still do apprehend it impossible for her with so short a pair of scissars to mangle herself so without some extraordinary work of the devil or witchcraft.

As you can read above, Christian Woodbury Trask killed herself after disagreements with Edward and Sarah Bishop and a period of distraction where she acted erratically.  The case that this might be due to the fact that she was bewitched didn't come out until during the Salem Witch Trials.  
The Salem Witch Trials was a period of hysteria which resulted in at least 20 people being executed as witches.  Edward and Sarah Bishop were accused of witchcraft, but according to wikipedia they escaped and were not executed.

Source: Essex County Archives, Salem -- Witchcraft Vol. 1