My ancestors are in italics
|The Clemence–Irons House (1691), Johnston, Rhode Island.|
When I was a little girl, my paternal grandmother read me stories like Peter Rabbit and The Little Red Hen. I called her Gommie. After I could read and was too big to sit on her lap, she told me stories about our ancestors. My favorite was Mary Bliss Parsons of Northampton, Massachusetts Bay Colony, our family witch who was tried for witchcraft in 1675. Gommie always ended that story about jealous neighbors, dead cows, dead babies, and missing spoons with, “Mary defended herself at the trial and won. She went home to lord it over her neighbors. She was married to the richest man in the territory. You are descended from strong women, Karen.”
Gommie said we were related to John Calvin, told stories about ancestors who rode wagon trains through the plains to the Colorado mountains where they settled, my great-grandparents who fell in love while escaping the Chicago Fire, and my grandfather, as a little boy, delivering eggs to Thomas Edison.
None of my cousins or sisters were indoctrinated with family stories. I was her eldest grandchild and, not too subtlety, her favorite. Now I’m known as the family historian. I’m the one glued to Ancestry dot com.
All of this facilitated by the questionnaires I asked my grandmothers to fill out when I was in my early twenties. They both knew theirs’s and my grandfathers’ grandparents and great-grandparents. With those names I have now grown a family tree of almost 3,400 lives. I’ve gotten all the way back to Kari Fornjotsson (185 - 209), to Charlemagne, to Rollo the Viking, kings and queens from all over Western Europe, dozens of Plantagenet knights of the garter, and at least two Saints. Before you gasp with disbelief, remember a thousand years ago there weren’t that many people on the earth. One of the most illustrative genealogy sayings is: Everybody is descended from Charlemagne.
This story is about the ancestors I found living in the Connecticut River Valley during the 17th century.
368 years ago, three of my great grandfathers lived, not that far from one another, in what is now Connecticut: John Carrington of Wethersfield, Andrew Sanford of Hartford, and William Tuttle of New Haven.
In 1651, John Carrington of Wethersfield was hanged alongside his wife Joan. Both had been tried for witchcraft and convicted. Grandfathers Sanford and Tuttle led similarly horrific lives in Puritan Connecticut and New Haven Colonies.
John Carrington was born in 1602 in an ancient village bearing my ancestor’s name. Situated west of Manchester, Carrington is a gas and chemical production center now and has the odd demographic of around 400 citizens where for every 100 females there are 110.6 males. These are the fun things you find out while researching ancestors.
When he was 33-years-old, he embarked on two life-changing adventures: married his first wife, Mary Ann Walker, and sailed to Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony. On the ship Susan and Ellen—with all that bad food, seasickness, bouts of the flux, and sixty days of bounding across the waves—I’m guessing they experienced the world’s worst wedding trip.
They settled in Wethersfield, a tiny hamlet on the Connecticut River, where their son John was born in 1638. The fact that they married in ’35 and didn’t have a child until ’38 makes me wonder if an earlier infant had died. Death on the childbed was so common that some women of means wrote their wills as soon as they knew they were pregnant. Two years after their son’s birth, Mary Ann died (possibly giving birth for the third time) leaving her husband to raise their son, the fourth John Carrington in as many generations. He would become my eighth great grandfather.
Right away the widower married a woman from nearby Simsbury. This would not have been scandalous. Many seventeenth century wives did not have long life-spans and men with children quickly remarried—once, twice, thrice. I’ve seen as many as five or six wives follow each other’s deaths. Women, remember, were highly valued for their housekeeping, cooking, brewing, lambing, sewing, gardening, spinning, child rearing, and dairying skills. I could mention more valuable skills, but I’ll just say that the average age for a Puritan wife’s first marriage was twenty-three. It took that long to learn how to do all the above.
Joan Balchyn, 37, John’s second wife, was from a village located at modern Simsbury, Connecticut. Her parents had immigrated from Surrey in England. There is no record of her having married before or of any children from her marriage to John Carrington.
No records exist to explain the details of their trial and conviction. We don’t know why this remarried carpenter had a noose around his neck eleven years later. But I can guess.
Since I don’t have any of Joan’s DNA, I’m tempted to think it was her fault. Most accused women were old and poor. Though we don’t know her husband’s financial status, she was still quite young. Did she make her husband frolic around in the woods with her on moonlit nights? Were they thought responsible for someone’s death? People who hanged were often accused of murder by witchcraft. If she was childless what sort of stigma would she carry in Puritan New England? A woman’s most important contribution was bearing children, preferably sons to help with the planting and harvesting. She may have been looked down upon. It was shameful for a wife not to bear children for her husband.
“Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine Within your house, Your children like olive plants Around your table.” Psalm 128:3
Old Testament stories name a number of barren women: Abraham’s wife Sarah, Isaac’s wife Rebekah, Jacob’s wife Rachael, Zacharias’s wife Elizabeth, and more. And when a husband prayed or God had plans for the husband’s future, He blessed his wife’s womb with a child.
God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Genesis 1:28
Another eleven years passed and in 1662 my great grandfather Andrew Sanford and his wife Mary, of nearby Hartford, were also tried for witchcraft. Both were convicted and Mary was hanged. Grandfather Andrew was spared. He lived another twenty-two years in the same town, no doubt surrounded by unasked questions and stares.
Andrew Sanford immigrated from England around 1632 and settled in Hartford with his uncle. Warner. Soon after, he married a woman now known only as Mary. In 1657, he was made freeman (which meant he could vote) and chimney viewer (a small unimportant job for the town). The Winthrop Documents say Andrew was a pump maker. As a physician, John Winthrop, Jr. (who became Governor of Connecticut) treated the Sanford children.
The family was living on North Main Street in 1662—a year full of witch scares in towns along the Connecticut River, and a year of menacing drought. Indian raids, natural disasters, and witch scares often stirred up witch hunts followed by trials. Once the villagers had a suspect, people became watchful and suspicious of their neighbors.
A lot was going on at the time in Hartford, a Dutch woman suffering from “violent body motions” (seizures?) accused Rebecca Greensmith—described as “a lewd, ignorant and considerably aged woman”—of witchcraft. Poor old Rebecca broke under interrogation and testified in court against her husband. She related stories of strange creatures following him in the woods and his being possessed by supernatural strength. She said that the devil appeared to her first in the form of a deer and that he had made frequent use of her body, a euphemism for sex. She described meetings in the woods attended by goodwives Seager, Ayres, and Sanford. She said they met at night, under a tree on the green near her home, to dance and drink a bottle of sack.
That year the devil was abroad and the Greensmiths, the Sanfords, Judith Varlet, Goody Ayers, and James Wakely were tried for witchcraft. Four were hanged and two acquitted. Elizabeth and John Blackleach were accused but escaped before they could be tried. The following year, Mary Barnes was hanged and Elizabeth Seager suffered two trials, one in January and one in June. She was acquitted both times. Today most people think witch trials began and ended in Salem in1692.
Andrew Sanford was accused of witchcraft on June 6, 1662 and his trial soon followed. He and his wife were both tried on charges of holding public meetings other than those prescribed by the elders and for their dealings with Satan. Among the jury, some thought Andrew was “guilty,” some “strongly suspected,” but Andrew was acquitted. Mary was not so lucky.
No record of Mary’s execution has ever been found, though historians believe she was “probably” hanged. Further evidence to support this comes from the fact that Andrew moved to Milford five years later and remarried. The name of his second wife has not survived, but whomever she was, she gave birth to Hannah Sanford my seventh great grandmother.
Now entereth William Tuttle of New Haven, a ninth great-grandfather. He was born in 1607 in a town called Ringstead, Northamptonshire, England. At the age of twenty-six he, with his wife Elizabeth Mathews and three young children, sailed from London to Boston on a ship named Planter.
Well above his neighbors in wealth and status, William was among the first settlers in New Haven. He became involved in small affairs of the town on committees and boards, but he was never elected to public office. He was fined in 1646 for falling asleep while on guard duty. At the time of his death, his estate was worth £450, well above average.
William and Elizabeth had a total of twelve children who survived childhood. Out of those twelve, one was a mentally ill invalid, two were axe murders, one was a murder victim, and one a notorious adulteress. The rest of the Tuttle children probably had nervous twitches.
The Tuttle’s other sons John, Thomas, Jonathan, Joseph, Simon, and Nathaniel seemed to lead ordinary lives and along with their sister, Ann, produced sixty viable children. Some statistics say that women in the 17th Century lost as many as a third of all the babies they bore. It was usual for a woman to give birth every two years. That meant they spent around twenty-two years of their lives giving birth and suckling babies.
Poor Uncle David Tuttle lived fifty-four years as an invalid with mental illness. He never married.
Aunt Sarah married John Slawson, had four children, and died at the age of 34. She was hacked to death with an axe by her 29-year-old brother Benjamin. According to Sarah’s son and daughter, aged 12 and 9, their mother had rebuked Benjamin for having been “short” with her. He went out and came back with an axe. As he struck his sister with the first blow, he cried out, “I will teach you to scold.”
She was found lying dead across the hearth with her head in the corner of the chimney. Her skull and jaw were broken from her neck to the top of her head. The murder weapon was found near her in a pool of blood.
Uncle Benjamin was hanged on June 13, 1677.
Aunt Elizabeth was pregnant when she married Richard Edwards. When Richard learned he was not the father, he wanted a divorce. Divorce wasn’t easy in those days. While he waited twenty-four years for the divorce to come through, they had six children. Elizabeth moved to Fairfield where she died in 1679.
Aunt Mercy, the youngest daughter, was not your ordinary girl, even by Tuttle standards. She married Samuel Brown of Wallingford when she was seventeen. The couple had five children, including a son, Samuel.
Throughout her life, Mercy’s behavior was odd and erratic. When her husband died in November, 1691, there was no longer anyone to help her control her moods and conduct. On the night of June 23, she attacked her 17-year-old son Samuel with an ax and killed him. Mercy admitted she had killed him, but said it was not done out of malice, but “at the instigation of the devil.”
In October, the court convicted Mercy of murder, but withheld sentence until 1693 when it ruled: “Having weighed the evidences given in, to prove that she hath generally been in a crazed or distracted condition as well long before she committed the act, as at that time, and having observed since that she is in such a condition, do not see cause to pass sentence of death against her, but for preventing her doing the like or other mischief for the future, do order, that she shall be kept in custody of the magistrates of New Haven.” Two years later, she died a prisoner in New Haven, the colony her father helped to build.
William Tuttle did not live to see the outcome of most of this children’s lives. He died in 1673. His wife Elizabeth lived until 1684 suffering through the fratricide of her daughter Sarah by her son Benjamin, his hanging, and the deaths of four adult children.
Now this story moves toward the bizarre. The Tuttle’s grandson, Daniel Tuttle married Hannah Sanford, when he was 25 and she was 23. She was the daughter of Andrew and Mary Sanford who were tried for witchcraft thirty years earlier. The fact that the Tuttles mixed their genes with the Sanfords made my head spin until I discovered, lower down on the tree, that John Carrington’s grandson Daniel Carrington married William Tuttle’s great granddaughter Hannah Tuttle.
John Carrington William Tuttle Andrew Sanford
1602 -1651 1607 – 1673 1617 - 1684
John Carrington John Tuttle
1638 - 1690 1631 - 1683
Peter Carrington Daniel Tuttle----------------------------------- Hannah Sanford
1662 - 1727 1664- 1700 1669 - 1710
Daniel Carrington --------------------------- Hannah Tuttle
1701 - 1736 1703 – 1784
1728 – 1806
Asenath Carrington------------------------ John Parsons
1763 – 1844 1753 – 1848
Three generations after John Parsons, my great-grandfather Abner Charles Parsons was born in 1866. I called him “Cookie PopPop” because he always had a cookie or a candy for me. Six generations back in time his great grandmother, Mary Bliss Parsons, was tried for witchcraft in 1675. Mary, the woman who defended herself at trial in Boston and was acquitted in 1675 a few months before the outbreak of the King Philip War. Mary the “unusual woman” in my grandmother’s stories. All these people, these ancestors had two things in common: the Connecticut River and me.
There is an interesting side-story rising from the chaos of Tuttle family life. Remember Elizabeth, the pregnant bride? Her son Timothy became a Minister of God at East Windsor, Connecticut. He married Esther Stoddard daughter of Solomon Stoddard, minister at Northampton—Mary Bliss Parsons’ pastor. Stoddard is a minor character in My Enemy’s Tears: The Witch of Northampton, my first book. Their son Jonathan Edwards became a minister too and a very famous one at that. Here’s a bit of his bio from Wickipedia.
Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703 – March 22, 1758) was an American revivalist preacher, philosopher, and Congregationalist Protestant theologian. Like most of the Puritans, he held to the Reformed theology. His colonial followers later distinguished themselves from other Congregationalists as "New Lights" (endorsing the Great Awakening), as opposed to "Old Lights" (non-revivalists). Edwards is widely regarded as "one of America's most important and original philosophical theologians". Edwards' theological work is broad in scope, but he was rooted in Reformed theology, the metaphysics of theological determinism, and the Puritan heritage. Recent studies have emphasized how thoroughly Edwards grounded his life's work on conceptions of beauty, harmony, and ethical fittingness, and how central The Enlightenment was to his mindset. Edwards played a critical role in shaping the First Great Awakening, and oversaw some of the first revivals in 1733–35 at his church in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Jonathan Edwards married Sarah Pierpoint, the daughter of the founder of Yale and was minister there after he left Northampton. He is my second cousin eight times removed.