The Witchcraft Trial of Mary Perkins Bradbury

By MELISSA BERRY
Copyright © 2015—All Rights Reserved
Do not publish or post without written permission

The Massachusetts village of Salem lost many innocent lives during the infamous witch-hunting era. The same manufactured delusions brought forth at the witch trials preyed upon a Salisbury, Massachusetts, woman named Mary Perkins Bradbury.* Sentenced to die on September 9, 1692, she must have had a higher power on her side, as she was ultimately spared from that perilous place of no return, the gallows.

Mary was blamed by her accusers long before the hysteria started. A host of personal grudges made her the supernatural scapegoat of a family feud. There was conflict between her and the Carr family; the most venomous was Ann Carr Putnam, a popular instigator of the witch hunts. Carr allies, including the Endicotts, were part of the malicious circle adding fuel to the growing fire.

To add insult to injury, some of the indictments brought against Mary were 20 years old. The superstitious squabble between the two families fed on the hysteria brewing in Salem. At the time of her sentencing, the matriarch was 72 and in delicate health.

The tribal wars between the two families were sparked when Mary passed over an offer of marriage from George Carr and married Thomas Bradbury.

Mary and Thomas were, by all accounts, pillars of the community. Martin Hollick, a reference librarian, genealogist and ninth-great-grandson of Mary (Perkins) Bradbury, has identified Thomas as a “man of prominence in the colony who came from a landed family and his mother, Elizabeth Whitgift, niece of John Whitgift, the Archbishop of Canterbury under Elizabeth I.” Thomas was the land agent for Sir Fernando Gorges, a relative, who controlled much of what is today York County, Maine. Thomas was the deputy to the General Court for seven years.

His marriage to Mary Perkins added even more clout as Mary’s father, John Perkins, was a powerfully connected man. John and wife Judith (Gater) Perkins arrived in New England in 1631 on the ship Lyon. They settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts, by 1634 and he represented Ipswich at the General Court.

Emerson Baker, author of A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials, suggests that “the accusation and conviction of Mary Perkins Bradbury, the wife of one of the leaders of the colony, was a clear sign that the Salem witch trials were unlike any before in Massachusetts. While the accusations began with the ‘usual suspects,’ the spread of suspicion to prominent people including Mary, as well as her son-in-law, Reverend John Buss, demonstrated that the trials were political as much as legal and religious proceedings.”

Reverend James Allen testified that Mary was “full of works of charity & mercy to the sick & poor.” Mary ran a successful butter business out of the home and Thomas was a schoolmaster, town representative, associate judge and captain of a military company. He was later described as one of the “ablest men in Massachusetts during his life.”

Mary’s ordeal began in May of 1692 when she was named a tormentor of Ann Putnam Jr. and the other afflicted girls who were casting wild accusations, setting the stage for adults. A batch of butter she sold to Captain Smith became suspect. During a voyage, the spread became rancid, but more coincidental was the contaminated testimony from the Carr boys and provocateur Samuel Endicott.

Traci Bradstreet, a direct descendant of both the Perkins and Bradbury lines, noted in the family papers blatant corruption that seethed into the legal proceedings. All but one of the depositions against Mary were recorded in the handwriting by Sergeant Thomas Putnam, husband of Ann Carr Putnam of Salisbury.

The Carr men, along with Samuel and Zarubabel Endicott, claimed Mary’s voodoo butter made them ill and insisted that she had unleashed a storm that “lost our main mast and rigging and fifteen horses.” Her specter even haunted them on “a bright moonshining night.” This type of testimony was known as spectral evidence.

Mary was also accused of causing the death of John Carr by “dethroning his reason” and leaving him “weakened by disease, with disordered fancies.” The real story on the subject was that John had been slighted in love by Jane True, Mary’s daughter. He pined away for many years and lived a most dismal existence. Ann Putnam Jr. included spectral evidence provided by John Carr’s ghost confirming that Mary had killed him.

Though the ringmaster, George Carr, was long passed, his scorn with Mary was rekindled by his son Richard‘s testimony. Apparently Mary not only broke a heart, but wounded a huge ego when she refused George’s marriage proposal to hitch with Bradbury instead. The rejected Carr men must have spent many nights commiserating how to get even.

According to Richard Carr, Mary transformed herself into a “blue boar” and attacked his father’s horse, causing George to fall outside her home one Sabbath. Zerubabel Endicott came forward to support the ridiculous accusation that Mary had sent her spectator to “dart at Carr.”

William Carr, the only sane one from the tribe, came to Mary’s defense, giving testimony to diminish the manic fantasies of the Carr family’s plot, but it did not have much effect on the court’s noticeably partisan stance. In fact, all efforts to save Mary fell short.

Mary’s husband gave a heart-wrenching plea for her innocence. He noted her “wonderful” abilities in industry and motherhood, the 11 children they lovingly shared, and her “cheerful spirit, liberal and charitable.” He asked for compassion for his aged wife who was “grieved under afflictions” and could not speak for herself, hoping the petition signed by 118 district members would speak for her.

There are no official records available to explain exactly how Mary escaped the rope. Paul Turner of the Salisbury Historical Society suggests that when Governor William Phips put an end to the Court of Oyer and terminer, Mary’s husband was able to maneuver her escape due to his political connection with the Phipses. There are many entertaining rumors among Bradbury descendants. Dr. Howard Bradbury passed on the story that Mary’s nephew from Boston appeared before Constable Baker in a phosphorescent devil’s costume, prompting him to release her. In Ancestry Magazine, Vol. 23, No. 5, Catherine Moore (an eighth great-granddaughter of Mary Perkins Bradbury) suggests that Mary’s brother Jacob Perkins, along with her husband, bribed the jailers and staged a breakout with help from a muster. The disappearance of Samuel Endicott added another mysterious twist to these events. He was found to be missing at the same time Mary got out of jail. After seven years of not turning up, he was finally declared dead. Samuel Endicott was born in 1659 and was baptized in the First Church of Salem. He married about 1684 Hannah Felton the daughter of Nathaniel Felton and Mary Skelton.

In 1711, the governor of Massachusetts issued compensation via monetary payment of £20 to the heirs of Mary Bradbury. Although most families were eventually pardoned, this empty gesture was rarely accompanied by true atonement.

“The legacy left to us from the witch trials, teaches us that any time there are ambiguities in the evidence, and the consequence of a guilty conviction is State sanctioned execution, we must err on the side of reasonable doubt,” states Jared Roy Bradbury, “I agree with the words of the famous Puritan minister, Increase Mather, when he said, ‘It were better that Ten Suspected Witches should escape, than that one Innocent Person should be Condemned.'”

David Allen Lambert, chief genealogist at New England Historical and Genealogical Society, has familial lines connected to both the accusers and the accused. “As a descendant of Mary Bradbury, I have always felt sadness for her being accused falsely of witchcraft like many others,” he says. “Living in Stoughton, Massachusetts—named in honor of the presiding Chief Justice William Stoughton—has always left me feeling awkward. Stoughton never asked for forgiveness. I have always admired my 7th granduncle, Judge Samuel Sewall, for asking for forgiveness for his role in the witchcraft trials.”

Although the witch hysteria was fostered by a group of ranting adolescent girls, the men of the cloth were the real transgresses. In the words of John Proctor: “I’ll tell you what’s walking Salem—vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!” (Arthur Miller, The Crucible, Act II) But, dirty laundry always rings out. Fourteen years later, Ann Putnam Jr. came clean in front of the church assembly, as pious criminals who fall into the mud must eventually clean up their act sooner or later.

* Some truly notable descendants of Thomas and Mary (Perkins) Bradbury include Ralph Waldo Emerson and the astronaut Alan Shepard. Notable descendants of John and Judith (Gater) Perkins of Ipswich include Franklin D. Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Millard Fillmore, Max Perkins, Archibald Cox (the Harvard law professor), Lucille Ball, Montgomery Clift, Anthony Perkins and Tennessee Williams.

 

SOURCES TO CONSULT

 

Anderson, Robert Charles. The Great Migration Begins, 1620—1633. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1995.

Baker, Emerson. A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Beck, John V. “Captain Thomas Bradbury and his Wife Mary Perkins.” Our Family History. (http://duanelove.com/thomas_bradbury_and_mary_perkins.pdf), online, 15 May 2015.

Hollick, Martin E. “To Set the Record Straight on Mary Perkins Bradbury,” Harvard Crimson, April 1997.

Perkins, George A., The Family of John Perkins of Ipswich, Massachusetts. Salem, Mass.: 1882.