Saturday, October 5, 2013

Salem, Massachusetts, My Ninth Great-Grandmother and The Original Mean Girls

You never know who you're going to discover when you go ancestor hunting!

A few months ago I was researching my New England ancestors and was astounded, dumbfounded and speechless when I found Sarah Towne Bridges Cloyes, my ninth great-grandmother.

Home of my 9th great-grandmother, Sarah Towne Bridges Cloyes and her 2nd husband Peter Cloyes

I wasn't thrilled or happy when I read her history. You see, Salem, Massachusetts was a scary place to live back in the 1690s. And my 9th great-grandmother was accused and tried of practicing witchcraft during the notorious Salem Witchcraft Trials. Her two sisters, Rebecca Nurse and Mary Esty were tragically accused, tried and hung.  Fortunately, Sarah's (2nd) husband, Peter Cloyes, proved to be loyal and brave. He helped Sarah escape from jail and led her to a safe place, a cave, where they lived until the hysteria was over.

When I discovered Sarah my first thought was, "this would make a great Halloween story for my blog!" I was immediately ashamed of myself. It is so wrong to make light of something so serious and something so scary and to use it for my own benefit. Three hundred years and many generations later, Sarah's 9th great-granddaughter felt her anguish and helplessness at the unfit judicial system that existed during this time.

Deposition against Sarah Towne Bridges Cloyes

There have been many stories written and movies made about the notorious Salem Witchcraft Trials. And there have been many theories about the reason why it all began in the first place. After researching and reading I have decided it was out of ignorance, jealousy, issues within the church and boredom. People are not so different these days. Salem was settled by Puritans, but my research indicates they weren't so pure. There were arguments within the town. Some families had more land, possessions and influence than others and this led to jealousy. And the teenage girls who accused Sarah and many other people of practicing witchcraft were the Original Mean Girls and bored little drama queens. I've always said, "If it's born with an ovary, there's bound to be drama." It was true in the 1690s and it's still true today.

You can find a lot of information about Salem, Massachusetts on the internet.  Because of the witchcraft trials it's become a tourist destination and I intend to visit it one day. Not to "celebrate" the trials, but to honor to my ninth great-grandmother, Sarah. I've read so much about her and her sisters and each time the writers speak of their good character.

From The American Genealogist (pub. 1958), Volume 23 , page 205:
....the three daughters (of William and Joanne Blessing Towne), Rebecca Nurse, Mary Esty and Sarah Cloyes gained a tragic prominence in one of the most unhappy chapters of Salem's history, the witchcraft delusions.  The story has been told many times, but always the nobility of character of the three sisters gains our admiration and respect.

From The Essex (Massachusetts) Genealogist, Volume 23, page 238:
Mary Esty was condemned on September 9, 1692, and it was while she was awaiting execution that she wrote her "humble petition" to Judge William Phipps, the judge and the bench in Salem. It is one of the most touching documents of the year 1692.  She wrote in part, "I petition to your honors not for my own life, for I know I must die and my appointed time is set, but for others, that if it be possible no more innocent blood may be shed." And in fact after the September 22, 1692 hanging of Mary Esty and seven others, there were no more executions for witchcraft in New England.

Eventually, the witchcraft hysteria subsided, but only when the Governor's wife was accused. The Original Mean Girls later apologized for their accusations. How they lived with themselves after causing so much death, pain and hurt is beyond me. So many innocent people lost their lives during this frightening time of early American history.

PBS produced an excellent movie entitled "Three Sovereigns for Sarah" in which Vanessa Redgrave portrays my ninth great-grandmother, Sarah Towne Bridges Cloyes. I would recommend this movie if you are interested in the Salem Witchcraft Trials. I've inserted a clip from the movie and the scene is the hanging of Sarah Good (1st woman) and my 8th grand-aunt, Sarah Cloyes sister, Rebecca Nurse. It's not for the faint-hearted and I actually shed a few tears for this poor soul.

Here's the ancestry line-up:
Sarah Towne Bridges Cloyes b.1636 in Yarmouth, England d. 1703 Massachusetts Colony

Sarah's daughter: Hannah Bridges Barton b. 1669 d. 1727 Massachusetts Colony
Hannah's son: Elisha Barton b. 1701 d. 1776 Massachusetts Colony
Elisha's son: David Barton b. 1739 d. 1833 Massachusetts Colony and U.S.A. (Revolutionary War Patriot)
David's daughter: Lucina Barton Burchard b.1768 Granby, Massachusetts d.1854 New York 
Lucina's son: Horace Burchard b.1801 Massachusetts d.1885 New York 
Horace's son: Hamilton Burchard b.1828 New York d.1906 Tennessee
Hamilton's son: Henry Franklin Burchard b.1864 Tennessee d.1903 Alabama (coal-mining accident)
Henry's  son: Grant Warren Burchard b.1893 d.1939 ( tree limb fell on him 2 weeks after his wife's death) 
Grant's son and my Papaw: Thurston Claude Burchard b.1913 d.1984
Thurston's daughter and my Sweet Little Momma: Alyne Burchard Parker b. 1934

The Governor of Massachusetts, Jane Swift approved a bill that exonerated the accused "witches". This was on Halloween 2001, which seems like a stunt to me, instead of a heartfelt righting of a wrong.

Sarah's Family History

The is really a good movie! I checked it out from the local library.
Thanks for reading my blog.