Martha Carrier

This entry was posted on Aug 17 2011

in-the-devils-snare Continuing our look at historians’ view of the five accused witches who were hanged on August 19, 1692, we turn to In the Devil’s Snare by Mary Beth Norton:

From Some Usual and Unusual Suspects, pages 182-183

Prominent among those accused in late May were two sisters, Mary Allen Toothaker of Billerica and Martha Allen Carrier of Andover.  Martha Carrier, later termed by Cotton Mather the “Queen of Hell,” eventually became a key figure in the crisis, but Mary Toothaker, probably targeted primarily because of suspicions of her already-jailed husband Roger, aroused less concern.  (Indeed, she may not have been arrested until late July, since the existing records in her case date from that period.)

Daughters of a large and prosperous family that settled in Andover before 1662, neither Mary nor Martha married well.  Roger Toothaker, though a doctor, had only a small amount of inherited property, and and Thomas Carrier, Martha’s husband, was a young Welshman who fathered her first child before their marriage.  Both couples live at first in Billerica.  Although Mary and Roger remained there, the Carriers moved back to Andover, probably during the late summer or early fall of 1690.  Unfortunately, they appear to have carried New England’s then-raging smallpox epidemic to the town- or at least the selectmen thought they did – and town officials ordered the family quarantined lest through “wicked carelessness” they spread the disease further.  But that step came too late.  Ultimately, the town’s vital records attributed ten deaths to the devastating illness; the deceased included four of Martha Carrier’s own relatives.  Statements by the afflicted and her neighbors showed that gossip laid three additional deaths to her charge as well, and that people in both Billerica and Andover had suspected her of malefic activity for some time.

As had by then become commonplace, the interrogation of Martha Carrier, in front of “spectators Magistrates & others,” revolved around the statements and actions of the afflicted.  Williams, Hubbard, Walcott and Warren complained of spectral torments; Putnam Jr. indicated that she had been struck with a pin; Sheldon saw “the black man”; and Lewis’s “violent fit” was cured by a touch test.  Goody Carrier denied seeing any “black man,” though some of the afflicted said he was “wispering” [sic] in her ear.  “You see you look upon them & they fall down,” observed Hathorne.  “It is false the Devil is a liar,” Carrier retorted, and she boldly scolded the magistrate:  “it is a shamefull [sic] thing that you should mind these folks that are out of their wits.”

The afflicted, exhibiting “the most intolerable out-cries & agonies,” alleged that she had “killed 13 at Andover,” claiming they saw “13 Ghosts” in the room.  Finally, Samuel Parris recorded, “the Tortures of the afflicted was so great that there was no enduring of it, so that she was ordered away & to be bound hand & foot with all expedition.”  As soon as that aim was effected, the afflicted had “strange & sodain ease.”  And Parris added on more point that underscored the ongoing shift in power from the justices to the suffering teenagers:  “Mary Walcot told the Magistrates that this woman told her she had been a witch this 40 years.”  Evidently at the examination itself, Walcott had elicited a confession that Hathorne, Corwin, and Gedney had been powerless to obtain.  The role of the afflicted in communicating with the invisible world had assumed such centrality in the legal proceedings that it was even encroaching on the magistrates’ function within the public space of the courtroom.

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