Witnesses, Jurors and Defendants: Salem Witch Trial Connections

I learned about the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 as a child and wondered if I had any ancestors who were affected, but I assumed there was no way to know.  When I began my family history research in 2002 I found that both of my parents had deep roots in the area, so that their ancestors inevitably participated in the crisis.  Looking only at direct ancestors the following people were involved:

John Putnam (1627-1710)  and Rebecca Prince (c. 1630-1704) who married in Salem in 1652 are two of my mother’s 8th great grandparents.  They both signed a petition in defense of accused witch Rebecca (Towne) Nurse, affirming with 37 neighbors that “we have known her for many years and according to our observation her life and conversation was according to her profession [as a Christian] and we never had any cause or grounds to suspect her of any such thing as she is now accused of.” In spite of all the people who defended her—at some risk to their own safety—Rebecca Nurse was executed 19 Jul 1692.


The home of Francis and Rebecca Nurse.

John and Rebecca also deposed that their former minister George Burroughs behaved very badly during the nine months in 1680 when he and his wife were guests in their home.  This must have been an uncomfortable period because according to their testimony “he was a very sharp man to his wife” even though she was good to him.  They said that at one point Burroughs wanted his wife to sign a written statement that she would never reveal his secrets, which makes you wonder what were those secrets?  George Burroughs was executed 19 Aug 1692.

John’s brother Nathaniel Putnam (1619-1700) is another of my mother’s 8th great grandparents, and wrote his own letter in defense of Rebecca Nurse, saying she “hath brought up a great family of children and educated [them] well, so that there is in some of them apparent s[avor] of godliness.”  He was also a participant in a very strange inquest, in which he and 11 other men determined that Daniel Wilkins died of “some cruel hand of witchcraft or diabolical art” after noting that he had many puncture wounds, bruises and contusions.

Nathaniel Putnam for Rebecca Nurse

Nathaniel Putnam Sr.’s statement on behalf of Rebecca Nurse.  From the Salem Witchcraft Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society online at the University of Virginia’s website.

Andrew Elliott (1627-1704) and Henry Herrick (1640-1703) were jurors.  Each is a 9th great grandfather to my mother, and both signed the Declaration of Error after the trials.  In this moving document the jurors expressed their deep remorse, saying “we fear we have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon ourselves and this people of the Lord the guilt of innocent blood.”


Indicted witches Anne (_____) Foster (c. 1617-1692), her daughter Mary (Foster) Lacey(1652-1707),  and her daughter in turn Mary Lacey Jr. (1674-?) lived in Andover.  Though the crisis originated in Salem Village (now Danvers), it quickly spread to neighboring areas.  They are my father’s ninth, eighth and seventh grandmothers respectively.

Anne was the 75 year old widow of Andrew Foster.   She was arrested in July 1692 on “spectral evidence”:  Two of the so-called “afflicted girls” claimed they had seen Widow Foster’s specter tormenting Elizabeth Ballard of Andover.  As had become typical, charges then dogpiled, and the accused was presumed guilty and harshly examined in the hope they would confess and also implicate other “witches.”

Under duress Anne did provide a very colorful (and inconsistent) confession, saying among other things that she had bewitched a neighbor’s hog to death, that she rode to a large witches’ meeting on a stick, and that she used poppets (small effigies) to injure people.  She spent 21 weeks in Salem’s jail, dying there 3 Dec 1692.  Her son Abraham had to pay £2 10s in expenses in order to retrieve her body.  In 1710 he petitioned the court to clear her name.

Anne’s daughter Mary (Foster) Lacey and granddaughter Mary Lacey, Jr. also confessed, providing many dramatic details concerning local Satanic activities.  Mary Lacey, Sr. was convicted at her trial 17 Sep 1692 but reprieved when the crisis abated.  Mary Lacey Jr. was released on a bond dated 6 Oct 1692 with everything winding down before she could be tried.  Like many others, she eventually left the area, marrying Zerubbabel Kemp in 1704 and settling with him in Groton, Massachusetts, where she was able to join the church in 1707.


By Tim1965 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (Creative Commons)], via Wikimedia Commons



The McGreevys of Cloondaff, Addergoole, County Mayo

Finding the Irish townland of origin of my husband’s McGreevy ancestors was much easier than I expected it to be.  To confirm it I used a technique that has paid off twice with my Irish research:  Writing to total strangers in Ireland because they have the same surname and live in the same townland that my husband’s ancestor left 140 or so years ago.  There is often some related person still living on the land, and both times I have tried this I have received a quick response from incredibly nice people in Ireland who are my husband’s cousins.  There is nothing like an Irish-accented voice assuring you “Oh yes, you have the right family.”  In my experience the descendants of the people who stayed in Ireland often know far more about their American cousins than their American cousins know about each other.

My husband’s paternal grandmother Claire (McGreevy) Willis died in 1922 in Chinchilla, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania at age 25 from complications of childbirth.  My mother-in-law told me that her parents were Bernard John McGreevy and Mary Ann Ludden.  I researched Bernard in the censuses and other available records, then obtained his 1915 death certificate from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.  (These are now online at Ancestry.com.)    The certificate said his parents were “Bernard McGreevy” and “Katherine Walsh.”

I also ordered his 1888 Lackawanna County marriage license which said his parents were “Bryan McGreevy” and “Catharine McGreevy.”  (These are now free online at the Lackawanna Public Inquiries website.)  At first the Bryan / Bernard discrepancy bothered me but I soon learned that these names are interchangeable in Ireland.

McGreevy, Claire E. 2

Claire (McGreevy) Willis (1896-1922)

Very few Irish records were online in the early 2000s, but at some point the free website familysearch.org or its predecessor put up Irish Civil Registrations of births for the first several years after their inception in 1864.  Bernard was born about 1855 so he did not appear, but his younger siblings Bridget and William did, parents “Bryan McGreevy” and “Catherine Walsh,” registered in the Newport Registration District in Mayo.

There were only two Bryan McGreevys in Griffith’s Valuation, the closest thing to a surviving census of Ireland before 1901, which captured occupiers of property in the mid 19th century.  One lived in County Down, and one lived in the townland of Cloondaff in Mayo.  Cloondaff fell within the Newport Registration District at the time these children were born, so I was pretty sure Bernard was from Cloondaff.

McGreevy, Bryan 1855 Valuation Office Books House Book (2)

Bryan McGreevy in the Valuation Office Books 1855 found on familysearch.org.

At the time there was a website that listed people who had lived in Cloondaff at the time of Griffith’s Valuation (1857 in this area), people who lived there as of the 1901 census, and people who live there today.  I wrote my letter and a week later got an e-mail from the daughter of the gentleman I wrote saying he would call me.  He  soon did, we had a very nice conversation and he told me that Bernard was definitely the son of Bryan and Catherine from Cloondaff.

Annagh Cemetery (2)

Annagh Cemetery.

In 2013 we were finally able to go to Ireland and meet the McGreevys, and not just the ones who still lived in Mayo, but also others who were visiting from England.  They took us to Annagh Cemetery where “a lot of characters are buried,” we had a great time at Matt Molloy’s pub in Westport, and they gave us a stone from the original McGreevy house.  It was the best part of a trip that was pretty magical from beginning to end.

McGreevy Home Exterior

The original McGreevy home.

At one point we were sitting around and I was asking questions, taking notes and getting some good stories about Bryan and Catherine and their children, and I said “They must have gone through some hard times” which made everyone laugh because it was probably the understatement of the year.  They gave me information that helped me figure out all of Bernard’s siblings, most of whom went to the U.S.

Amazingly both Bryan and Catherine lived extremely long lives, and Bernard and his sister Bridget were able to visit them in Ireland in 1908, three years before Bryan’s death in 1911.  Bryan’s death certificate is my favorite of all that I have collected, giving his age as 100 and the cause of death as “old age probably.”

McGreevy, Bryan 1911 Death

Lost at Sea: Henry Oblenis 1797-1818

The song “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” popped into my head the other day.  Looking for its history I found that the cowboy song evolved from a sailors’ song that began “Oh bury me not in the deep, deep sea.”  And this made me think of my 5th great uncle Henry Oblenis.

Henry was the son of Bernard / Barent Oblenis and his wife Gertrude Sanders.  Bernard was born 1771 in what is now Rockland County, New York, but lived in New York City from young adulthood to middle age.  He was Clerk of the New York City Police from 1797 to 1819.  One of his many duties was to publish newspaper notices regarding police orders, for example that people were not to play fifes and drums late at night, nor to shoot guns off within the city limits.

Oblenis, Bernard 1812 Police Order The_Evening_Post_Mon__Jul_20__1812_

Notice regarding loud music late at night from the New York Evening Post 20 Jul 1812, found on Newspapers.com.

Henry was born in 1797 and baptized at the Dutch Reformed Church in New York City.  He was sent to school in Danbury, Connecticut by September 1808, when the schoolmaster Colonel Elias Starr wrote to Bernard saying that he had already resorted to using the rod to correct Henry, but that Bernard should let him know if he did not approve of corporal punishment.

Today Henry would probably be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  It’s impossible not to feel sorry for the 11 year old when reading Starr’s letter:  “I believe he has made as rapid progress as any Boy of his age and habits would have made.  To withdraw the attention of youth from the objects which usually attract them is very difficult, and particularly one of Henry’s vivacity and fondness for novelties.  I have subjected him to a rigid course of discipline, not on account of a mischievous disposition or obstinacy, but for his inattention…”

A life at sea must have appealed to this active and curious young man, and in April of 1814 16 year old Henry wrote to his parents from off Sandy Hook, New Jersey:  “I have just time to inform you that we are driving out with a good N.W. wind…fear nothing untill I return…give my love to all the family.”

1814 Apr Henry Oblenis to his parents 1

Oblenis Family Papers , Mss 1090, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, New England Historic Genealogical Society.

In April 1815 Bernard sent a letter to his son via the ship Elizabeth, bound for the Dutch East Indies.  Addressed to Henry, “Seaman on Board the Ship Rufus King, Capt. [Samuel] Chew, Batavia [now Jakarta],” this letter is naturally full of fatherly advice:  “…be careful of your morals and of your health and above all endeavor to cultivate peace with all your companions….”  It chides Henry for his earlier lack of attention to his studies, reminds him of “the principles of religion,” and is signed “I remain your affectionate father B:Oblenis.”


Map of Batavia and surrounding countryside, 1800-1850. By Nationaal Archief [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

In August of 1815 Henry was back at Sandy Hook, and wrote to his father that he expected to sail the next day for Guadeloupe with “a noble crew and as fine a Captain as ever stept on a vessel.”  He asked his father to assure his mother that “she need not be the least uneasy” about him.

In March of 1816 Henry again sailed for Batavia on the Rufus King with Captain Chew.  The 18 year old must have had a sweetheart or at least a crush by this time, since he wrote his father before departing, asking him to remember him to all the girls he knew “and particularly to ——–.”

Sadly he was lost overboard 26 Jun 1816 in a severe storm off the Cape of Good Hope.  As was the custom, most of his possessions were auctioned off on board the ship.  Besides clothing and bedding, he had a chest, a candle, two books, two jack knives and some chocolate.  The captain returned the proceeds, his final pay, and two personal items, a quadrant and razor case, to Bernard and Gertrude, who must have been devastated.

1817 Sep Samuel Chew to Henry sic Oblenis (2)

Oblenis Family Papers , Mss 1090, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, New England Historic Genealogical Society.

Henry’s obituary mentions his perseverance, courage and “the agreeableness of his manners,” saying also that “he was one of those nautical gentlemen who labor to adorn and decorate the stern and masculine character of the sailor with the milder graces and softer embellishments.”

David Hamlin (1774-1833): From Brick Wall to Mayflower Descendant

My ancestor Catherine Livingston Hamlin (1807-1852) married physician John Kipp Vermilyea 20 Nov 1832 at St. John’s Reformed Church in Red Hook, Dutchess County, New York.  None of our family papers gave the names of her parents.  At first I thought she must be related to the prominent Livingston family, but Frank J. Doherty, author of Settlers of the Beekman Patent, told me that many unrelated Dutchess County girls were named after major area landowner Catherine Livingston.

Fortunately John Kipp Vermilyea was a graduate of Yale Medical School, and the Obituary Record of Graduates of Yale University says that his wife Catherine was the daughter of “David Hamlin, who was captain of a line of packet sloops plying between Red Hook Landing (now Tivoli) and New York City.”  I soon found David and his wife Louise listed in Old Gravestones of Dutchess County, New York, among those buried in the town of Red Hook at the Dutch Church at Madalin, which is also known as the Old Red Church.

Dutch Church at Madalin

The Dutch Church at Madalin, which was undergoing restoration when I visited.

I obtained David’s will dated 16 Oct 1833, which mentions “my daughter Catherine L. the wife of John Vermilyea.”  It also mentions his daughter Frances Harriet (Hamlin) Flagler, to whom he left “the likeness of myself and her mother.”  Googling “portrait of David Hamlin” in 2009 brought up a pair of paintings that had recently come up for auction “thought to be David Hamlin and Lois Davis Hamlin” and attributed to the noted itinerant portrait painter Ammi Phillips.

At first I wondered if Lois Davis was a different person from the Louise in the graveyard,  but records for her and her children seem to use either of these names, and I have since found other women in my family who went by both of these names, so I don’t think that is a problem.

In 2011 I found a daguerreotype of the painting of David at my mother’s house.  I recognized it instantly but if I had not already seen the original I would never have known who it was.

Hamlin, David

Daguerreotype I found at my Mom’s house, taken of a portrait of David Hamlin which has been attributed to Ammi Phillips.  This image is in reverse.

David lived in the town of Rhinebeck by 1800, when he appears in the census with a female 16-25 (presumably Lois / Louise) and two boys under 10.  (The part of Rhinebeck in which he lived was set off as the town of Red Hook in 1812.) He is described as an inn holder in the 1801 deed to property at Red Hook Landing that he purchased from Peter Cantine. David’s packet sloops transported “country produce” including salted meat, apples, potatoes, grain and butter to the city, and also ferried passengers up and down the Hudson.


Sloop on the Hudson

But where was David before he showed up in Red Hook, and who were his parents?  I gradually eliminated other contemporary David Hamlins except one who was the closest fit in age, born 7 Aug 1774 in Salisbury, Litchfield County, Connecticut to a David and Silence Hamlin.  This date was only one month off from the age given on his gravestone according to Old Gravestones:  59 years 3 months.  When we were able to visit the Old Red Church I was really happy to see that the marker actually says 59 years and 4 months, which aligns perfectly with the Salisbury birth.

Hamlin, David 1833

Another interesting thing at the cemetery is a stone in the middle of all the Hamlin family markers carved only with the letters D. and S.  David and Silence Hamlin moved to Great Barrington, Mass. about 1806, and are buried at the Mahaiwe Cemetery there, but perhaps David Junior erected this simple monument to his parents.   David Hamlin Sr. is a proven descendant of Mayflower passenger John Howland.

Hamlin, D. S.

When I determined that Lois / Louise Davis was the daughter of Jacobus Davis and Eunice Bunce of Salisbury, Conn. I became fairly certain that David of Red Hook was the son of David and Silence of Salisbury.  Jacobus was originally from Ulster County, New York and the Bunces are an old Connecticut family.  Lois was baptized 1777 at the Old Dutch Church in Kingston, Ulster County, N.Y., the daughter of “Jacobus Davids” and “Junus Bons” with sponsors “Hansje Ostronder and his wife Maria” as well as her aunt “Lois Bons.”

Jacobus and Eunice had moved to Litchfield County, Conn. by 1787 and are buried at Salisbury Center Cemetery.  I have not been able to find David and Lois’s marriage record, but I believe they must have known each other in Salisbury and probably married there about 1795, then moved about 31 miles to the west to take advantage of the opportunities on the Hudson River.

The clincher is that “David Hamlin of Red Hook” / “David Hamlin Jr.” was a co-administrator of the estate of Barnabus Hamlin of Greene County, N.Y. in 1813–if David was the son of David and Silence, Barnabus would be his younger brother born in Salisbury in 1780.

On top of all this circumstantial evidence, my mother and my aunt are showing up as 4th to 6th and 5th to 8th cousin AncestryDNA matches with other descendants of Eleazer Hamlin and Sarah Sears, the parents of David Hamlin, Sr.  My main genealogical goals this year were to start this blog and to complete my Mayflower Society application and I think I am ready to finish it.  If my application is accepted, I will be the first person to join based on David and Silence Hamlin.

Sheffield Steel: Robert Marsden (1755-1834)

Once I realized that the Alice Marsden baptized in 1789 at Queen Street Independent Chapel in Sheffield, Yorkshire was the same Alice Marsden who married Wakefield wine merchant Robert Whitworth in 1815, I had to wonder who were her parents, Robert and Hannah Marsden?  As a secondary resource I had the book Genealogical Memoirs of the Family of Marsden, which is reliable on later 19th century branches of the family but which has proven to have mixed up Robert and Hannah’s children, and admits uncertainty about Hannah’s surname with a question mark.  It may be right about Robert and his parents but it may very well not be.

This book says that Robert was “bapt. at Baslow 8 Oct 1749 (3rd. son of Robt. and Elizth. of Oxclose) went to Sheffield and learned the business of a cutler and merchant…Although brought up a churchman he became a Congregationalist, and in 1794 was elected one of the first four deacons of Queen St. Chapel, Sheffield.  He married Hannah (or Johannah) Smith (?), by whom he had issue, 2 sons and 3 daughters.  He died on the 12 Aug 1834, aged 84 years, and she died 10 Jul 1827, aged 76.  Both he and his wife were buried in the graveyard attached to Queen St. Chapel Sheffield.”

I was hoping to find informative gravestones for Robert and Hannah, but a representative of the Sheffield Local Studies Library told me that all of the gravestones from Queen Street Chapel were removed in 1970 and used for rubble, which was a little upsetting.  At least the ones that were legible at that time were transcribed, but none of the legible stones were for anyone with the surname Marsden.  The formerly very polluted air in Sheffield may have caused gravestones to deteriorate rapidly.

Robert’s death notice in the Sheffield Independent 16 Aug 1834 confirms the death date given in the Memoirs and his position as deacon though not his age:  “At Pitsmoor, on Tuesday last, in the 80th year of his age [age 79], Mr. Rt. Marsden, razor smith.  Mr. Marsden was the last survivor of the first deacons chosen by the independent church assembling in Queen-street chapel.”  If his death notice is correct, Robert was born about 1755, not 1749.  There was a Robert Marsden baptized 8 Oct 1749 at Baslow in Derbyshire to parents Robert and Elizabeth, but he may have been born 6 years too early.

Both Robert and Hannah’s deaths are confirmed in the records of Queen Street Chapel, which I viewed on microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, though Hannah’s record lists her as “Joanna” and says only “July 1827”.  Another membership record lists her as Hannah and she seems to have used both names.


Marsden, Robert and Joanna 1562804 Deaths 2

Robert and Hannah/Joanna Marsden on the list of members of Queen Street Chapel with their death dates, from microfilm 1562804 at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Unless he learned his trade at home Robert must have been apprenticed to a master cutler and/or razor smith, probably in greater Sheffield, an area otherwise known as Hallamshire.  The most typical age for a boy to be apprenticed would be about 14.  Seven or so years later he would be finished, age 21, and able to earn a living.


Greater Sheffield in 1832.  By Robert Dawson – Originally from “Plans of the Cities and Boroughs of England and Wales”, published for the Boundaries Act of 1832. Scanned by uploader JeremyA.

There are only two apprentices named Robert Marsden listed in the History of the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire who would have been about the right age, born between say 1745 and 1760.  One was apprenticed in 1861 and could be the boy baptized in Baslow, who would have been about 12.  This boy’s father was a deceased husbandman also named Robert, and an adult Robert Marsden was buried at Baslow 1 Jan 1758.  No address is given for this apprentice which means he was probably then living in Sheffield proper, not in Baslow, but he could have moved.

The other Robert was apprenticed 1769, his father being William Marsden, a tilter (meaning a tilt hammer operator, probably forging scythe blades) living at Owlerton.  He is almost certainly the Robert Marsden baptized 16 Mar 1755 at Bradfield St. Nicholas, son of William Marsden who resides at “Upper-tilt,” in which case his master Sleigh Rowland would have been his older sister’s husband.  This Robert’s age is a match with the obituary above, and he would have finished his apprenticeship in 1776, just in time to marry and have a daughter Mary in 1777 who would grow up to marry the Protestant Dissenting Minister Benjamin Rayson, who would be a witness at my ancestor Alice Marsden’s wedding.


18th century tilt hammer at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet in Sheffield.  The original uploader was Wikityke at English Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 I don’t have enough evidence to prove that cutler and razor maker Robert Marsden was the son of tilter William Marsden, but I’m currently leaning toward this theory.