Elizabeth Phelps Ballard was terminally ill when her husband Joseph looked beyond their town for expert help. He traveled from Andover to nearby Salem Village (modern Danvers) and returned with Anne Putnam, a girl of twelve, and another young person who were both "received with great solemnity" and who proceeded to identify the source of Mrs. Ballard's ailment as witchcraft. Accusations were made against residents of the town, the constable John Ballard (brother of Joseph) got a warrant for their arrest, and over the next three months forty Andover citizens were jailed as suspected witches: even more than in Salem itself.
The witch hysteria that culminated in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 affected numerous communities north of Boston. At least 150 people were arrested in 24 communities, of whom nineteen were hanged, and one pressed to death with stones in an effort to force his confession. Of Andover's accused, eight were condemned; three of these were hanged and a fourth died in prison.
The Andover Historical Society concludes that "80% of the town's residents were drawn into this witch hunt." Relatives of mine on both sides of the family were embroiled in the affair. The Ballards, who started the whole thing off in Andover, are my 8th great grandparents on my mother's side. Their grandson Obed Abbott - from another Abbott family unrelated to my paternal line - married Elizabeth Tarbell, whose grandmother was Rebecca Towne Nurse of Salem and condemned and hanged as witch.
My father's family were were original settlers in Andover, and recent scholarship identifies schisms among the town's firstcomers that not only reflected long simmering feuds but also reinforced blood ties and alliances brought over from their counties of origin in England. Fifty years after the settlement of the town, these bonds of "country and blood", argues Elinor Abbot in her upcoming book Our Company Increases Apace; History, Language, and Social identity in Early Colonial Andover, Massachusetts (2007, SIL International), were still the primary means of classifying one another in Andover .
In the period leading up to the witch hysteria, the authority of those families who came to Massachusetts from Hampshire and Wiltshire was being eclipsed in Andover by those from Hertshire (Abbotts, Chandlers and Danes). The town had expanded into two settlements - a north and south end - which would split into two parishes in the early 18th century and two independent towns in the mid 19th century. There was great resentment over the seating arrangements in the meetinghouse, selected in a process called "dignifying the pews" which reflected age, wealth and social standing. The aged Reverend Francis Dane had an Associate Minister, Thomas Barnard, who attracted his own supporters. It didn't help matters that late in life, the twice widowed Dane remarried Hannah Chandler Abbott, the widow of George Abbott, progenitor of our Abbott line. Abbotts and Chandlers were south- enders, a place where lower status members of the town along with some of the original proprietors were forming what Elinor Abbot calls "another social world through shared space and intermarriage."
When Constable Ballard started arresting suspected witches, there were many candidates in divided Andover. It began with accusations against people like Scotswoman Martha Allen Carrier, who had previously been "warned out of town" under the belief that she carried smallpox, and ultimately embroiled the family of Reverend Dane, four of whom were accused as witches.
Martha Carrier, who Cotton Mather called "this Rampant Hag...Queen of Heb", was unwaivering in her profession of innocence. When one of her accusers claimed to see the souls of 13 persons whom she had murdered in Andover, Carrier exclaimed "You lie; I am wronged! It is false; and it is a shame for you to mind folks that are out of their wits!" One of these was a collateral relation of mine, Benjamin Abbot(t), who recalled a boundary dispute in which his sharp-tongued neighbor reportedly said;
"she would stick (to him) as close as the bark of a tree...he should repent his conduct afore seven years came to an end and she would hold his nose to the grindstone as close as ever it was held since his name was Benjamin Abbott."
Soon afterward, Benjamin Abbott experienced swelling in one of his feet and a pain in his side that "bred a sore that discharged several gallons of corruption" and this convinced him he had been bewitched. He died in 1703, of liver cancer, a decade after his and other testimony sent Martha Carrier to the gallows.
Reverend Dane lead the opposition to the trials, defending Martha carrier as a victim of malicious gossip and organizing a letter of condemnation of the witch hunt that was signed by his associate Thomas Barnard and 23 others and sent to the Governor and the General Court. His own daughter was convicted and sentenced to death but given a stay of execution while she was pregnant and reprieved when the trials were ended in early 1693.
I have found no record that my direct ancestor, Nathaniel Abbott, was involved in the trials. He was just 18 years old at the time, and three years later he found a wife outside of town, marrying Dorcas Hibbert of Salem.