Witchcraft in Andover

By: Anne Knowles

WitchThe days are becoming crisp, colors are breathtaking and we know winter is coming. But, after reading more of the history of Andover, I found a really interesting story about Witchcraft in this town. Forty residents of Andover were accused and found guilty of the practice of witchcraft and four of the accused were hanged in 1692.

While reading or seeing the play “The Crucible”, by Arthur Miller, gives an insight into what is commonly called “The Salem Witch Hunt”, it is fascinating to read how the witch scare of 1692 affected the towns surrounding Salem.

The first person to be accused of witchcraft in Andover was Martha Carrier.

She was accused of causing her neighbor’s illness and killing his cow. Martha along with her sister and brother-in-law, her 9 year old niece were arrested and charged On May 31, 1692. Many of Martha’s children were also confined with her in prison.

Martha was found guilty by the three man court of judges and was hanged on August 19, 1692, along with three other citizens of Andover. It is interesting to note that forty people from Andover were accused. “And also hold the dubious distinction of having the most confessed witches and the highest number of children arrested from one town.” Quoted by AHS.

What caused the hysteria about witchcraft?

It was a time of political uneasiness, the Massachusetts Bay Colony Charter had been revoked, conflicts with and about the Puritan church, and numerous Indian raids in Haverhill, Billerica and other towns in the area, all of this had a very direct impact on the residents of this area. Witchcraft had been a major crime in most of Europe from about 1550 and had traveled with the Puritans to the shores of the New World. Among some people of this era, accusing someone of witchcraft was one way of “paying” someone for a real or imagined slight or wrongdoing.

What happened to end the trials? Reverend Francis Dane of Andover wrote too many ministers in the nearby towns stated “knowing the people of Andover, I believe many innocent people have been accused and imprisoned.” Forty one men and twenty one women of Andover also wrote to the Salem Court advocating against the trials.

Royal Governor Williams Phipps, whose wife had been accused of witchcraft, denied any enforcement of executions of convicted persons and pardoned them in1693.

Prominent people on both sides of the witchcraft hysteria were contrite or kept their mouths quiet and in 1702 the General Court of Massachusetts declared the 1692 trials unlawful.

One of the most prominent accusers at the trials was Ann Putman Jr. and on August 25, 1706 she publically apologized “for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken from them. Now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons.”

Relating the 1600’s to our time in history, we have evolved some, but have we learned anything from our past?