My Ancestor, the Witch

My blog is almost always about my exploration discoveries from travels following my retirement. Most of the time I record my observations and experiences but sometimes my exploration adventures come from things I research. In this blog I am recording information about an exploration I have undertaken over several years which resulted in discovering a witch in my family tree.

A Depiction from a Salem Witch Trial

A few years ago I visited Salem, Massachusetts where in 1692-1693 trials were held for several people accused of being witches. The trials resulted in the executions of twenty people, most of them women. This historic place in the early days of European settlement in America was important to me as I stood at the very place where these people were “tried.” One  of those tried in the witch trials, Ann Alcock Foster, is my 11th great grandmother.

The witch hunt of this period is greatly studied and speculation surrounds this dark time in history when people could be accused, tried, convicted, tortured, and put to death based on speculation, false accusation, hearsay, coercion, and whispers.

I learned about Ann Alcock’s story from my ancestry research. There are many interesting stories in my family tree involving several American Revolution patriots, people burnt at-the-stake, American Civil War soldiers on both sides, and people from all over Europe. Ann Alcock’s story is quite interesting and well documented.

In 1692, Joseph Ballard’s wife, Elizabeth, came down with a fever that confounded her doctors. Witchcraft was suspected and a search for the responsible witch began. Two afflicted girls of Salem, Ann Putnam and Mary Walcott, were taken to Andover to seek out the witch and, at the sight of Ann Alcock Foster, the girls “fell into fits,” and Ann, 72, was subsequently arrested and taken to Salem prison.

At her witch trials Ann Alcock initially resisted confessing to the “crimes” she was accused of having committed, despite being put to the question (i.e., tortured) multiple times over several days. But when her daughter Mary Lacey, also accused as a witch, accused her own mother of the crime in order to save herself and her child, Alcock confessed that she rode on a stick with Martha Carrier, a previously convicted witch, to Salem village, that the stick broke and she saved herself by clinging around Martha Carrier’s neck. She said they met three hundred witches at Salem village.

The “examinations” at the trials of Ann Alcock Foster are documented in the Boston Public Library, Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts, and are quoted as written. “The Examination and Confession of Ann Foster at Salem Vilage 15 July 1692 after a while Ann foster confessed that the divill apered to her in the shape of abird at several Times, such abird as she never saw the like before, & that she had had this gift (viz of striking the aflicted downe w’th her eye ever) since, & being ask’t why she thought that bird was the divill she answred because he came white and vanished away black & that the divill told her that she should have this gift & that she must beleive him & told her she should have prosperity & #[that] she said that he had apeared to her three times & was always as a bird & the last time was about halfe a year since, & sat upon atable had two legs & great eyes & that it was the second time of his apearance that he promised her prosperity & that it was Cariers wife about three weeks agoe that came & perswaded her to hurt these people. 16. July. 1692. Ann Foster Examined conffesed that it was Goody Carier that made her a witch that she came to her in person about Six yeares agoe & told her if she would not be awitch the divill should tare her in peices and Cary her away at w’ch. time she promised to Serve the divill, that she had bewitched a hog of John Lovjoyes to Death & that she had hurt Some persons in Salem Vilage that goody Carier came to her & would have her bewitch two children of Andrew Allins & that she had then two popets made and stuck pins in them to bewitch the said Children by which one of them dyed.”

Alcock Grave
Ann Alcock Foster Grave

Convicted, Ann died in jail in the winter of 1693, before the trials were discredited and ended. In total, when the witch hunt ended, nineteen had been executed and at least four (including Alcock) had died in prison from exposure and disease in bad living conditions. One man had been pressed to death. About one to two hundred other persons were arrested and imprisoned on witchcraft charges. Two dogs were executed as suspected accomplices of the witches. The Salem witch trials continue to be studied for their social and judicial implications. They are an interesting, sad part of America’s history and my family heritage.

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