If her friends and family hadn’t believed in her innocence and broken her out of Ipswich Jail, Salisbury’s Mary Perkins Bradbury would have been hanged as a witch 320 years ago this month because of a grudge held by a disappointed suitor.
Bradbury’s tale of what could have been a fatal case of revenge isn’t uncommon in the scope of the Salem witch trials during the late 17th century. But the happy ending in Bradbury’s story came because the wife of 55 years and mother of seven children was rescued. She was able to live out the remainder of her 80 years in what is now Amesbury before dying in 1700.
By Oct. 29, 1692, when Gov. William Phips dissolved the Court of Oyer and Terminer that held the trials, the 10 months of hysteria that overwhelmed the Massachusetts Bay Colony resulted in 27 people dying after being convicted of practicing witchcraft. Seven died while imprisoned, 19 by hanging, and one was pressed to death.
In 1692 Essex County, the witch trials hysteria appeared to have been born from a perfect storm of misfortunes and dangers that befell the young colony — such as small pox epidemic — combined with a fear of Satan, religious fanaticism and opportunists who saw the trials as a way to get back at their enemies. According to some historians, as the trials progressed, allegations of witchcraft even came as blackmail meant to extricate money from those accused.
Bradbury’s story encompasses several towns in Greater Newburyport as she crisscrosses numerous family trees. Many who live in Seabrook and Amesbury, as well as Salisbury, can find Bradbury’s story in their family’s geneaology, according to Seabrook Historical Society president Eric Small. Prior to the drawing of the state line between Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 1742, Salisbury extended right up to what is now Hampton, N.H., Small said.
“I was working on my family’s genealogy when I ran into Mary,” Small said. “A lot of Seabrook residents would find her in their family trees. Former fire Chief Jeff Brown is one of those.”
Brown, a lawyer, was intrigued when told of his famous ancestor.
“That’s really interesting,” he said. “I’m going to go to Salem and look up the trial.”
But as captivating as it might be to find a convicted witch among one’s relatives, the experience was terrifying for Bradbury herself.
Born in Hilmorton, England, to John and Judith Perkins in 1615, Perkins immigrated to America in 1631. Arriving at the age of 16, she married Thomas Bradbury of Salisbury five years later. According to all accounts, Thomas Bradbury was an upstanding citizen, often referred to as “Captain Bradbury,” and both he and his wife were considered prominent citizens in Salisbury before her tribulations.
Beverly Gulazian of the Salisbury Historical Society said her research indicates that Bradbury was living on Mudnock Road in Salisbury, when she was charged with witchcraft.
According to “The Family of John Perkins of Ipswich, Massachusetts,” written in 1882 by George Perkins of Salem, Bradbury was placed on trial because of bitterness attributed to the man she didn’t marry, George Carr, and their long-standing disagreement. Perhaps through his influence, his sons became her accusers, swearing she’d assumed animal form and ominously appeared out of nowhere on troubled ships.
According to Perkins, Richard Carr and Zarubabel Endicott gave testimony that they’d seen a blue boar come from and re-enter her yard and window. This spectral evidence was made even more damning when Richard’s brother, Samuel, told the court he’d seen her perched on the capstan of a ship at sea when things were going badly.
Carr family collusion again comes into the picture, for researchers found that all but one of the depositions against Bradbury were in the handwriting of Sgt. Thomas Putnam, who just so happened to be married to Ann Carr of Salisbury.
During the trial, Bradbury refused to repent and plead guilty, which could have saved her from the death penalty. Instead, she swore she was not a witch and went to trial.
“I am wholly innocent of such wickedness through the goodness of God that hath kept me hitherto,” Mary is quoted to have said. “I am the servant of Jesus Christ and have given myself up to him as my only Lord and Savior.”
And Mary wasn’t alone in protesting her innocence, for 118 of her friends and neighbors defended her, insisting she was “a lover of the ministry,” “a diligent attender upon God’s holy ordinances” and always ready to help others. Included among her defenders were the Rev. James Allin and Norfolk Magistrate of Justice Robert Pike.
And for his part, Thomas Bradbury did his best to save his wife, praising her as “loving and faithful,” insisting on June 28, 1692 that “To this day, she hath been wonderful, laborious, diligent and industrious ... prudent and provident, and of cheerful spirits, liberal and charitable.”
But it was all of no consequence. On Sept. 9, 1692, Bradbury was convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to die on Sept. 22.
According to Perkins, Thomas Bradbury and others of her friends broke her out of jail. Some say she and Thomas fled to Maine first, returning to Amesbury only after the witchcraft craze calmed down. But it was there she apparently died of natural causes.
In late October 1692, when Gov. Phips ended the trials, all those who had been convicted had their sentences commuted by the governor, according to Perkins’ account.
And in December 1711, when payments were authorized to those who had been convicted, Bradbury’s heirs were given 20 pounds in compensation, and her descendants had a fascinating tale to tell.