Mary Bradbury and the Salem Witchcraft Trials

On May 26, 1692 three women made complaints against Mary Bradbury, Sarah Rice, Wilmot Reed and Elizabeth Fosdick, accusing them of practicing witchcraft. Mary Bradbury was the 77-year old wife of Captain Thomas Bradbury of Salisbury in the colony of Massachusetts. On July 2nd, she was charged with "certaine detestable arts called Witchcraft and Sorceries Wickedly Mallitiously and felloniously hath used practised and Exercised at and in the Towne of Salem...the said Sarah Vibber the second day of July aforesaid & divers other days and times both before and after was and is Tortured Afflicted Consumed Pined Wasted & Tormented & also for sundry other acts of Witchcraft by the said Mary Bradbury Comitted Acted and done before and since that time against the peace of our Sov'r Lord..." Mary Bradbury was brought before the court of Essex on July 26th, this time charged with practicing her witchcraft in the Township of Andover in the County of Essex against one Timothy Swann.

The Salem Witch Trials began on January 20, 1692 when two young Salem girls began to display strange behavior including blasphemous screaming, convulsions, trance-like states and mysterious spells. Shortly afterward, several other Salem girls began to display similar behavior. Unable to find any physical explanations for the behavior, physicians concluded the girls were under the influence of Satan. A strange combination of religion and sorcery followed. Reverend Samuel Parris led prayer services and community fasting to rid the girls of the evil forces. John Indian baked a witch cake of rye meal and the afflicted girls' urine. This magic, it was thought, would reveal the identities of the "witches" to the afflicted girls. Pressured to identify their tormentors, the girls named three women, including Parris' slave, Tituba, as witches. On February 29, warrants were issued for Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. The other women maintained their innocence, but Tituba confessed to seeing the devil. She testified there were witches in Salem. On March 1, before magistrates John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin, Tituba confessed to practicing witchcraft.

Over the next weeks, other townspeople came forward with accusations against community members. By the 10th of May, twenty-five people stood accused of witchcraft in Salem. On May 27, Governor Sir William Phips set up a special Court of Oyer and Terminer appointing seven judges to try the witchcraft cases. Judgments were not based on fact, but on intangible evidence including direct confessions, supernatural attributes and the reactions of the afflicted girls. Spectral evidence, based on the assumption the Devil could assume the "specter" of an innocent person, was relied upon despite its controversial nature. In the initial session of the court, Bridget Bishop was the first to be pronounced guilty and condemned to death. She was hanged in Salem eight days later, the first official execution of the Salem Witch Trials. By mid July, the hysteria had spread to nearby Andover and engulfed Mary Bradbury.

Mary Bradbury was one of the most socially eminent women of her region. Her arrest aroused the public sentiment of the entire district. A petition was signed by more than 110 people and presented to the court on her behalf attesting to her good character and disposition. Her husband, Captain Thomas Bradbury, testified on July 28th "Concerning my beloved wife Mary Bradbury this is that I have to say: wee have been married fifty five yeare: and shee hath bin a loveing & faithful wife to mee, unto this day shee hath been wonderfull laborious dilligent & industryous in her place and imployment, about the bringing up o'r family (w'ch have bin eleven children of o'r owne, & fower grand-children; shee was both prudent, & provident: of a cheerful Spiritt liberall Charitable: Shee being now very aged & weake, & grieved under her affliction may not bee able to speake much for herselfe, not being so free of Speech as some others may bee: I hope her life and conversation hat been such amongst her neighbours, as gives a better & more reall Testimoney of her, then can bee exprest by words." Despite the outcry, Mary Bradbury was ordered to appear in Salem on September 5, 1692 to be tried for witchcraft.

Mary Walcott and Elizabeth Hubbard testified they had witnessed the 77-year old Mary tormenting, choking, and "redy to kill" others. Hubbard testified she had long been tormented by a woman who identified herself as "Mist. Bradbery of salisbury" and, on the day of Mary Bradbury's July 2nd examination, saw that Mary was the same woman who had previously identified herself as Hubbard's tormentor. During the examination, Hubbard testified "...for if she did but look upon me she would stick me down or allmost choake me also on the day of hir Examination I saw Mist. Bradbery or hir Apperance most greviously afflect & torment mary wolcott Sarah Vibber and Ann Putnam and I beleve in my hart that Mist. Bradbery is a wicth..." Both women alleged Mary Bradbury "sense she has been in prison she or hir Apperance has com to me and most greviously tormented me..."

The testimony of Samuel Endicott: "Sam'll Endecott aged thrity one years or thereabout Testifies Thatt about eleven years since being bound upon a vioage to sea w'th Capt Sam'll Smith Late of Boston Diceas'd, just before we sayl'd mrs Bradbery of Salisbury the prisoner now att the barr came to Boston w'th some firkins of buffer of w'ch Capt Smith bought two, one of them proved halfe way butter and after wee had been att sea three weekes our men were nott able to eat itt, itt stanck soe and runn wi'th magotts, w'ch made the men very much distrub'd about itt and would often say thatt they heard mrs Bradbury was a witch and thatt they verily beleived she was soe or else she would nott have served the Capt soe as to sell him such butter. And further this deponent Testifieth that in four dayes after they sett sayle they mett w'th such a violent storm that we lost our main mast and rigin " Lost fifeteen horses and thatt about a fortnight after we sett our jury mast and thatt very night there came up a Shipp by our side and Carried away two of the mizon shrouds and one of the Leaches of the mainsaile: And this deponent further sayth thatt after they arived att Barbados and went to Saltitudos & had Laden their vessell the next morning she sprange a leake in the hold w'ch wasted sevrall tunns of salt in soe much thatt we were forct to unlade our vessell again wholy to stopp our leake there was then four foot of water in the hold after we had taken in our lading again we had a good passage home butt when we came near the Land the Capt sent this deponent forward to looke out for land in a bright moone shining night and as he was sitting upon the windless he heard a Rumbling noise under him w'th thatt he the s'd deponent Testifieth Thatt he looked one side of the windless and saw the leggs of some pson being no wayes frighted & Thatt presently he was shook and looked over his shoulder, " saw he appearance of a woman from her middle upwards, haveing a white Capp and white neckcloth on her, w'ch then affrighted him very much, and as he was turning of the windless he saw the aforsaid two leggs."

Richard Carr and Zerubable Endicott testified to an event occurring about thirteen years prior when, riding by the house of Captain Thomas Bradbury with Carr's father, they saw Mary Bradbury go into her gate. Immediately after Mary turned the corner of her gate, a "blue boar" darted out of the gate towards the legs of their horse, making the animal stumble. Then the blue boar darted in at Mary Bradbury's window, leading the three men to conclude that it was "mrs Bradbury that so app'rd as a blue boar."

James Carr testified that "...about 20 years agoe one day as I was accidently att the house of mr wheleright and his daughter the widdow maverick then lived there: and she then did most curtuously invite me to com oftener to the house and wondered I was grown such a stranger and with in a few days affter one evening I went thether againe: and when I came thether againe: william Bradbery was there who was then a suter to the said widdow but I did not know it tell affterwards; after I came in the widdow did so crosely treat the s'd william Bradbery that he went away semeing to be angury: presently after this I was taken affter a strange maner as if #(every) liveing creature did run about every part of my body redy to tare me to peaces and so I continued for about 3 quarters of a year by times " I applyed myself to doctor crosbe who gave me a grate deal of visek but could make non work tho he steept tobacco in (bofit) drink he could make non to work where upon he tould me that he beleved I was behaged: and I tould him I had thought so a good while: and he asked me by hom I tould him I did not care for spaking for one was counted an honest woman. but he uging I tould him and he said he did beleve that mis Bradbery was a grat deall worse then goody mertin: then presently affter this one night I being a bed and brod awake there came sumthing to me which I thought was a catt and went to strick it ofe the bed and was (seud) fast that I could not stir hedd nor foot but by and by coming to my strength I hard sumting a coming to me againe and I prepared myself to strick it: and it coming upon the bed I did strick at it and I beleve I hit it: and affter that visek would work on me and I beleve in my hart that mis Bradbery the prison'r att the bar has often afflected me by acts of wicthcraft."

Ann Putnam testified her deceased uncle, John Carr, had appeared to her and told her Mary Bradbury had murdered him. William Carr, brother of the deceased uncle, refuted her testimony. William testified he was with his brother John when he died. William affirmed that John died peaceably, quietly, never manifesting the least trouble in the world and never said anything about Mary Bradbury or anyone else harming him.

On September 9, 1692, Mary Bradbury and five other women were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. Four of the women were among the group of eight hanged on September 22nd. Dorcas Hoar's execution was delayed when she became the first to plead innocent, then confess. Mary Bradbury escaped the gallows through an "irregularity", she was not to be found. It is believed she was aided in her escape from prison then hidden by her friends and family. The authorities searched, though apparently not with much diligence.

By October 8, 1692, twenty people had been executed in the Salem Witch Hunt. Governor Phips ordered that spectral and intangible evidence no longer be admitted in the trials. On October 29th, Phips dissolved the special court set up to prosecute the accused. A new court was created to try the remaining cases, which took place in May, 1693. No one was convicted and the Salem Witch Hunt came to an end.

Mary Perkins Bradbury, born 1615 in England, died on December 20, 1700 at the age of 85.

Richard H. Blake
2922 Thomas Avenue
Huntington, West Virginia 25705
304-522-3706

Created 6 Jun 2006 with RootsMagic Genealogy Software