Old Salem Village lost many innocent lives during the infamous witch-hunting era. The same manufactured delusions brought forth at the witch trials preyed upon a Salisbury woman named Mary Perkins Bradbury. Sentenced to die on Sept. 9, 1692, she must have had a higher power on her side, as she was ultimately spared from that perilous place of no return, the gallows.
Mary was fingered by her accusers long before the hysteria started. A host of personal grudges made her the supernatural scapegoat of a family feud. There was conflict between her and the Carr family; the most venomous was Anne Carr Putnam, a popular instigator of the witch hunts. Carr’s allies, including the Endicotts, were part of the malicious circle adding fuel to the growing fire.
To add insult to injury, some of the indictments brought against Mary were 20 years old. The superstitious squabble between the two families fed on the hysteria brewing in Salem. At the time of her sentencing, the matriarch was 72 years old and in delicate health.
The Bradburys were, by all accounts, pillars of the community. Mary ran a successful butter business out of her home in Salisbury.
The Rev. James Allen testified that she was “full of works of charity & mercy to the sick & poor.” Her husband, Thomas Bradbury, was a schoolmaster, town representative, associate judge and captain of a military company. He was later described as one of the “ablest men in Massachusetts during his life.”
Mary’s ordeal began in May of 1692 when she was named a tormentor of Ann Putnam Jr. and the other afflicted girls who were casting wild accusations, setting the stage for adults. A batch of butter she sold to Captain Smith became suspect. During a voyage, the spread became rancid, but more coincidental was the contaminated testimony from the Carr boys and added provocateur Samuel Endicott.
They claimed Mary’s voodoo butter made them ill and insisted that she had unleashed a storm that “lost our main mast and rigging and fifteen horses.” Her specter even haunted them on “a bright moonshining night.”
Mary was also accused of causing the death of John Carr by “dethroning his reason” and leaving him “weakened by disease, with disordered fancies.” The real skinny on the subject was that John had been slighted in love by Jane True, Mary’s daughter. He pined away for many years and lived a most dismal existence. Anne Putnam Jr. included spectral evidence provided by John Carr’s ghost confirming that Mary had killed him.
Though the ringmaster, George Carr, was long passed, his scorn with Mary was rekindled by his son Richard’s testimony. According to him, Mary transformed herself into a “blue boar” and attacked his father’s horse, causing George to fall outside her home one Sabbath. Zerubabel Endicott came forward to support the ridiculous accusation that Mary had sent her spectator to “dart at Carr.”
William Carr, apparently the only sane one from the tribe, came to Mary’s defense, giving testimony to diminish the manic fantasies of the Carr family’s plot, but it did not have much effect on the court’s noticeably partisan stance. In fact, all efforts to save Mary fell short. Mary’s husband gave a heart-wrenching plea for her innocence. He noted her “wonderful” abilities in industry and motherhood, the 11 children they lovingly shared, and her “cheerful spirit, liberal and charitable.” He asked for compassion for his aged wife who was “grieved under afflictions” and could not speak for herself, hoping the petition signed by 117 district members would speak for her.
There are no official records available to explain exactly how Mary escaped the rope, but there are many entertaining rumors among Bradbury descendants. Dr. Howard Bradbury passed on the story that Mary’s nephew from Boston appeared before Constable Baker in a phosphorescent devil’s costume, prompting him to release her. In Ancestry Magazine, Catherine Moore suggests that Mary’s husband bribed the jailers and staged a breakout with help from a muster.
The disappearance of Samuel Endicott added another mysterious twist to these events. He was found to be missing at the same time Mary got out of jail. After seven years of not turning up, he was finally declared dead.
In 1711, the governor of Massachusetts issued compensation via monetary payment of £20 to the heirs of Mary Bradbury. Although most families were eventually pardoned, this empty gesture was rarely accompanied by true atonement.
The men of the cloth were the real transgressors, and dirty laundry always rings out in the wash. Fourteen years later, Anne Putnam Jr. came clean in front of the church assembly, as pious criminals who fall into the mud must eventually clean up their act sooner or later.
Melissa Berry lives in Beverly.