Sunday, May 17, 2020

Black Sheep Sunday - Grandma the Witch

I was asked to write a brief bio of my 9th great-grandmother who was accused of witchcraft in 17th century Massachusetts.  I realized that, although I briefly referred to her on this blog, I never dedicated a post to her.  Odd, because she is definitely one of my favorites to talk about.

So, here follows the story of my "witch" Mary Bliss Parsons.

      Mary Bliss was born in England about 1626, the daughter of Thomas Bliss and Margaret Hulins. They were a Puritan family and emigrated to New England in 1639. She married Cornet Joseph Parsons on 26 November 1646 in Hartford, CT.  He was a merchant and political figure and they first settled in Springfield, MA. By 1654, they had moved upriver to Northampton. It was there, in September 1656 that Mary and Joseph brought defamation charges against their neighbor Sarah Bridgman. Sarah blamed Mary for the death of her infant son and accused her of witchcraft.
            Mary Bliss Parsons was described as a proud and nervous woman, haughty in demeanor. She belonged to the aristocracy and considered herself a dame of considerable importance. She was a woman of forcible speech and domineering ways and felt that her neighbors should have the benefit of her opinions. She was not well liked in Springfield and this dislike followed her to Northampton.
            The problem started when Goody Branch came from Springfield to visit Goody Hannum and several women gathered to visit. The conversation began with the usual gossip, then turned to a discussion of personalities and then to witchcraft. The insinuation that Mary Parsons was a witch was amplified and enlarged upon until all present believed that it simply must be true. It was then repeated and embellished upon to other neighbors who added their own “evidence”. When Joseph Parsons heard the accusations, he enlisted the aid of the law to clear his wife’s name.
            After hearing all of the testimony, the decision of the court was that “the defendant hath without just ground raised a great scandal and reproach upon the plaintiffs wife” and “the defendant shall make acknowledgment before the inhabitants of the places where the said parties dwell ... Northampton and also Springfield ... at some public meeting.” The Bridgmans were ordered to pay damages of 10 pounds and court costs of 7 pounds, 1 shilling and 8 pence.
            But the story does not end there. Eighteen years later, in September 1674, charges of witchcraft were formally brought against Mary, again by the Bridgmans and their son-in-law Samuel Bartlett. They blamed Mary for the death of their daughter Mary Bartlett.
            Because witchcraft was a capital crime, it could not be tried in the county courts. That lower level court simply determined if enough evidence existed to warrant the attention of a higher court. This was apparently the case because it was forwarded to the Court of Assistants in Boston. Mary’s husband Joseph posted bond of 50 pounds. Mary was indicted by a grand jury in March 1675 based on evidence sent from the County Court. She was tried for “not having the fear of God before her eyes and ... at one or other of times ... entered into familiarity with the devil and committed several acts of witchcraft”. She pled not guilty. They jury found her not guilty of witchcraft and she was discharged in May 1675.
            Mary and Joseph spent their later years in Springfield.  They had a total of 12 children, four of whom reached adulthood.  Joseph died on 9 October 1683 in Springfield at the age of 63.  Mary outlived him, dying on 29 Jan 1712 in Springfield.

This story will appear, along with other biographies of accused witches on the website of the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches at 

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