, Newburyport, MA


September 28, 2012

A harrowing piece of history

Salisbury families delve into family tree, arrive at Salem witch trials

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.

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