Michelle Ann Kratts

Are Any of Your Ancestors in the Book of Witches?

In Societies, Witchcraft on April 4, 2013 at 1:56 pm
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A witch trial

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Exodus xxii, 18.

The book finally arrived. Set against a stark black cover is the gilded title: “Associated Daughters of Early American Witches, Roll of Ancestors.” It is quite impressive to look at and I must admit the pages are burning with a little more than just history and genealogy. There is something more in here.
Of course, I poured through it, wondering if my own family might be included. There are over 300 “witches” mentioned and each entry includes birth, death, parents, spouse, children, accusation and references. There is a handy index in the back, as well. And you might be surprised how many national figures from our early American history actually show up in this book! John and Priscilla Alden, Ann Hutchinson….and ancestors of many famous people. But what about my own? I wondered.

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Anne Hutchinson on Trial

Most of my early Americans were in Virginia during this time period. This society (and this book) honors the ancestors of women who were mistreated during the Witch Hysteria in Colonial America prior to 31 December 1699. It covers all of the colonies, however, unfortunately not much remains from the south as many court houses and records were destroyed during the Civil War. But I do have some New England lines and I decided to check them out.

The first thing I did was to open up the index and browse through for any familiar names. And there were a few: Carter, Crawford, Harding, Hobbs, Jones, Taylor, Abbott, and Sanford. As crazy as it seems, some of these very early families are my most documented. But nothing seemed to work out until I came to the last name on the list: Sanford. And this is where I found my “witches.”

I journeyed back in time to a world of treachery and suspicion. No one was safe. If you were beautiful, you had sold your soul to the devil. If you danced in the woods, you were worshipping Satan. If you were a healer, a visionary, if you were gifted in any sort of way, if you had different opinions or beliefs…it was very likely that you would be accused of witchcraft. Those accused were imprisoned, tried, tested, tortured and either acquitted or put to death. Imprisonment was awful. Some were taken from their sickbeds and locked away for months. Women gave birth in these prisons, in shackles and in chains. Others died due to the deplorable conditions before their sentence was announced.

Dunking a Witch

Dunking a witch

You could always confess and that might buy you some time. They wanted you to confess; to justify their accusations. However, such a confession would imply your guilt and complicity in various crimes—often that crime was murder, for unusual and unexplained deaths (especially children’s deaths) were usually blamed on “witches.”

My part in this story begins in 1607, with Thomas Andrew Sanford, my 10th great grandfather. The lineage is a long one: myself, my father, Ada Johanna Knuppel (my grandmother), Mary Winifred Chambless (my great grandmother), Mary Virginia Brown (2nd great grandmother), Sarah Amanda Roberts (3rd great grandmother), Eliza Brown Lancraft (4th great grandmother), Nathaniel Lancraft (5th great grandfather), Sarah Jocelyn (6th great grandmother), Abigail Abbott (7th great grandmother), Anna Sanford (8th great grandmother), Thomas Sanford (9th great grandfather) Thomas Andrew Sanford (10th great grandfather).

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My third great grandmother, Sarah Amanda Roberts

I never knew that Thomas Andrew Sanford existed until now. There are hundreds of sets of grandparents in our family trees but that does not make any one of them any less significant. If just one of them did not exist, we would not exist. It is a matter of science. All we are is the sum product of every person who preceded us. Nothing more and nothing less. Some scientists say that, perhaps, we even carry their memories. Everything is recorded in our DNA. Even our memories and life experiences. Even the memories and life experiences of our ancestors.

Thomas Andrew was born in Essex, England, around 1607/1608, to Ezekiel Sanford and Rose Warner. He came to America on the Arabella in March of 1631 and settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Eventually he was granted land in Milford, Connecticut, where he settled permanently. Thomas had a brother named, Andrew, who also came to America, and settled in Hartford, Connecticut. Herein lies our family witch story.

Salem, that village whose name is synonymous with witch hysteria, had a rival in the panic of the 1600’s and it was Hartford, Connecticut. In fact, Connecticut’s witch hysteria preceded Salem’s by decades. There is an interesting book, The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut, 1647-1697, by John Taylor, that provides some excellent resources for anyone interested in this often neglected part of the story and of the history of our fascination with witchcraft. It contains all the details of the old texts and their descriptions of how to know a witch, how to examine a witch, how to punish and execute a witch. Here is a link to an online version of the book:

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12288/12288-h/12288-h.htm

Most importantly, for me personally, this book also contains the story of my uncle and aunt, Thomas and Mary Sanford.
According to written documents, Andrew and Mary were indicted on witchcraft charges on 6 June 1662, based on the confessions of Rebecca Greensmith. The Greensmiths were not popular citizens. They had been accused and convicted for stealing and other petty crimes over the years. It was in prison that Goodwife Greensmith indicted the others.

“I also testify that I being in ye wood at a meeting there was with me Goody Seager Goodwife Sanford & Goodwife Ayres; and at another time there was a meeting under a tree in ye green by or house & there was there James Walkely, Peter Grants wife Goodwife Aires & Henry Palmers wife of Wethersfield, & Goody Seager, & there we danced, & had a bottle of sack: it was in ye night & something like a catt cald me out to ye meeting & I was in Mr. Varlets orcherd wth Mrs. Judeth Varlett & shee tould me that shee was much troubled with ye Marshall Jonath: Gilbert & cried, & she sayd if it lay in her power she would doe him a mischief, or what hurt shee could.”

Goodwife Greensmith and her husband were both found guilty and executed in January of 1662 on Gallows Hill—near Trinity College, where a large crowd gathered to enjoy the entertainment.

Another accusation came from Robert Sterne.

“Robert Sterne testifieth as followeth.
“I saw this woman goodwife Seager in ye woods with three more women and with them I saw two black creatures like two Indians but taller. I saw likewise a kettle there over a fire. I saw the women dance round these black creatures and whiles I looked upon them one of the women G: Greensmith said looke who is yonder and then they ran away up the hill. I stood still and ye black things came towards mee and then I turned to come away. He further saith I knew the persons by their habits or clothes haueing observed such clothes on them not long before.”

Their actual crime was conducting public meetings other than those held by the elders of the village—which, in turn, meant that they were consorting with Satan. The actual offense? They were caught dancing in the woods, drunk on alcohol. Andrew was acquitted, but Mary was found guilty and hanged on Gallows Hill. (Although one account I found said the following: Like some weird spectre of the spirit world, she disappeared!) Whatever actually happened to her, Mary, the mother of five, was only about 42 years old.

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Andrew moved his family to Milford, following the tragic loss of his wife and lived out the rest of his life near his brother, my grandfather. He remarried and died in 1684. My grandfather died in 1681. Although witch accusations were very commonplace in New England during this time, Andrew (and the rest of our family) must have been very fearful of repercussions. For it never ended in their lifetime. Just a few miles away in Salem, Massachusetts, something else was brewing and more lives would be lost.

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Hanging witches

If you are interested in finding if you have any family connected to the early American witches, make an appointment with me at the Lewiston Public Library.  Email : mkratts@gmail.com.   You never know!

Direct lineage to an accused “witch” may make you eligible for membership in the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches.  This is a society of women who claim lineage to one of the individuals who were accused in early America before 31 December 1699.  It is a genealogical society that seeks to preserve the names of those accused.

Check out their website at:

http://www.adeaw.us/

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  1. Thanks for posting this! I just found out my 9th Great Grandmother Ann Alcock Foster was accused, convicted, and died in Salem jail in 1692. It’s pretty interesting stuff How did you receive a book from them? My sister told me about the adeaw and was looking up info on it when I happened upon your blog.

    • Hi Nicole! Yes it is very interesting. I believe I actually emailed the President General or the Registrar General and they were able to help me to purchase a copy. It is a terrific book!

  2. I am a Jones…but i do not know more about this familiy..but one thing i know is that i have Many Gifts …i feel IT and i do practice some of IT …but not all of them but i do know that i am capable of many Things…what should i do and Where do i start looking for more information on thé Jones Family …IT would be appréciate IT so much!!!

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