Thursday, 12 January 2017

Visiting England: Locating the Burial Sites for John Mathias Barnard and Florence Hacon

Despite his well-documented life, it proved quite difficult to locate records surrounding the death and burial of my husband Graham's paternal grandfather John Mathias Barnard. Nothing could be located online. No one in the family seemed to possess a copy of his obituary, death certificate or photographs of his tombstone, or any of those for his wife Florence Hacon Barnard.

Contacting local societies and records offices in Suffolk before our visit last summer had not produced any leads. An in-person visit to the Suffolk Record Office in Lowestoft brought results when we visited there with Graham's niece Kate and her husband Mark last August. We knew that John Mathias Barnard had died sometime in January of 1945, but didn't have the specific date. Because he had been Mayor of Lowestoft in the 1920's, we surmised that his death would almost certainly have warranted an obituary, or perhaps even a news item, notwithstanding that the Second World War was still in progress. The local paper in Lowestoft in 1945 was a weekly paper called the "Lowestoft Journal". It was fairly easy to find what we were looking for in the microfilmed edition for Saturday 20 January, 1945: "Death of Former Lowestoft Mayor: Mr. J. M. Barnard". The condition of the record was quite bad with folds or lines throughout, making it very difficult to read. Nevertheless, it was clear that he had died the previous Saturday 13 January 1945 at the home of his daughter Mrs. (Winnie) Smith at Pond Farm, Worlingworth, Suffolk. He was 69.

His business and political life in the town and surrounding area were outlined in his obituary. He had been well known in Lowestoft fishing circles through his ownership of fishing smacks in the firm of Slater & Barnard. He was a representative on the Lowestoft Town Council for several years and served as alderman and then as mayor in 1923-24 and 1924-25. He was appointed a J.P. in 1927. He had moved away from Lowestoft for a number of years by the time of his death, living for some time at Wissett Lodge. His membership in the Halesworth and District Branch of the National Farmers' Union reflected his interest in farming; he was vice-chairman of this organization at the time of his death.

The list of mourners included his widow, son A. J. Barnard and three daughters: Miss F. E. Barnard, Mrs. W. A. Smith and Mrs. B. E. Gethings. His sister Mrs. F. Muir, daughter-in-law (Graham's mother Margaret), two nieces (Mrs. D Bryant and Miss F. Yeoman), a nephew (A. Barnard) and some cousins named Mohan were listed, as was his son-in-law J. Smith. The names of others present at the funeral were also listed. Then came a very lengthy list of all the wreaths given in his memory.

The funeral had been held at St. Margaret's Church, Lowestoft, on Thursday (18 December 1945). Hymns were "Lead Kindly Light" and "Rock of Ages".

St. Margaret's Church, Lowestoft

A visit to St. Margaret's was definitely next on our agenda. After being pointed in the general direction of burial locations from the 1940's, Graham quite quickly spotted the stone for his grandparents.

Kate, Graham and Mark at the grave site

Photo by Mark Churchman

Photo by Graham Barnard

St.Margaret's Church has been the Parish Church in Lowestoft,Suffolk, for over five centuries. The exterior walls are constructed of flint and mortar. The copper spire was new in 1954 so would not have been there at the time of John's or Florence's funerals there. It replaced the original lead on timber spire. The gilded weathercock is the tallest point on any building in the area and is thus a significant landmark. During the Second World War, incendiary bombs fell all around this area. One hit the roof and set fire to the roof timbers, but prompt action saved the church.

The north aisle contains a "Fishermen's Memorial" with the names of local fishermen lost at sea between 1865 and 1923. No doubt many of these men would have been well known to John.

Fishermen's Memorial on wall to right
Photo by Graham Barnard

The brass lecturn is one of very few remaining from pre-Reformation days. It was buried for safety during Puritan times. It was again removed to a place of safety in the crypt during the Second World War, restored to its former position on 19 May 1945, four months after John Barnard's funeral here.


  • Pye, Robert, "A Walk Around St. Margaret's", St. Margaret's Parochial Church Council, Hollingsworth Road, Lowestoft, Tyndale Press (Lowestoft)
  • "Death of Former Lowestoft Mayor: Mr. J. M. Barnard" from the "Lowestoft Journal" 20 January 1945 edition accessed on microfilm at the Suffolk Record Office, Lowestoft,Suffolk

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Visiting England: Yeovil,Somerset

My 9th great grandparents Stukely Westcott and Julianna Marchant were married in St. John's Church in Yeovil, Somerset on 5 October 1619. Stukely was from Ilminster, a town a few miles away, but the bride's Marchant family had deep roots in Yeovil. Family connections provided a perfect excuse for a visit to the town when we were in England this past summer.

St. John's Church, Yeovil
St.John's Church dates from 1380 and is built from  local limestone thought to have been quarried just north of the building. St.John's is famous for its large windows that give it a sense of light and space. It does not take much imagination to picture Stukely and Juliana, both in their late 20's, taking their vows here.

Interior of St. John's Church, Yeovil

Stukely and Juliana soon became parents to a growing family: Robert, Damaris, Samuel, Amos, Mercy and Jeremiah were all born in England and were probably all baptised here between 1619 and 1635. The baptismal font is as old as the church and would have been used in their baptisms.

Baptismal Font in St. John's Church

An early King James Bible (pictured below) in a case in the chancel was given to the church in 1617, some half dozen years after this version was first published. This Bible would have been in the church by the time of Stukely and Julianna's wedding and the baptisms of their children.

Early King James Bible

Stukely and Julianna did not live out their lives in Yeovil. On 1 May 1635, they and their 6 children boarded a ship to move to America, settling first in Salem and then moving to Providence, Rhode Island where they were among the founding families. It would seem that, notwithstanding their ties to the beautiful and traditional St. John's Church in Yeovil, they were among the legions of dissatisfied English folk heading to New England in search of a different form of religious expression. In the case of Stukely and Julianna, their connection with Roger Williams in Providence is clear evidence that they were ardent Baptists.

But the family connection to Yeovil did not end or begin with Stukely. Julianna's family had ties running even deeper in Yeovil. Her grandfather Captain John Marchant and his wife Eva Cominge had also been married in St. Johns. Their marriage was celebrated here on 18 July 1568.

The church tower rises 90 feet and contains 14 bells, some dating from the 15th century. One wonders if the bells would have pealed for their wedding. Or for that of Julianna's parents John Marchant Jr. and Joan Cotington; no date has yet been found for their wedding, but it was probably held here as well.

In addition to marriages, many family baptisms occurred here over the centuries, as well as funerals and burials. Community gardens have replaced much of what might once have been burying grounds. Not surprisingly there were no signs of any Westcott, Marchant, Cominge or Cottington tombstones here.

Community Gardens in the Church Grounds at St. John's Yeovil

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Visiting England: Plymouth

When the Mayflower departed Plymouth harbour for the New World in September of 1620, a baker's dozen of my ancestors were on board, bound for religious freedom and the promise of a new life in America. Having visited their destinations in Plymouth Colony of what is now Massachusetts, I had always hoped to visit their port of embarkation. This summer we had an opportunity to do just that.

Plymouth, England

I had no great expectations of finding any trace of my ancestors ever having been here. Nearly 400 years had passed! Nevertheless, the harbour itself would be largely unchanged and very evocative of their last view of their homeland.

We were surprised, however, to discover a surprising number of references to the Mayflower such as this plaque listing the passengers, including my Mayflower ancestors.

A conspicuous tourist area supposedly marks the steps that the Pilgrims would have descended to get aboard the Mayflower, but it is highly unlikely that these steps were actually used by any of my ancestors to get aboard. It is thought that the actual boarding area was a few blocks away.

There is also a Mayflower Museum associated with the Visitors'  Centre, but we were short of time and had been advised by the locals that it wasn't a particularly good museum for documenting actual Mayflower history. We chose instead to spend our time taking in the other things that Plymouth had to offer. While enjoying a delicious dinner at The Barbican Kitchen, we discovered that it was situated in the Plymouth Gin distillery.

We also learned that this building is thought to have been where the Pilgrim fathers spent their last night in England. They would have been sheltered under this very ceiling. (No, it was not a gin distillery lounge at that time!)

Over the centuries, many other historic events occurred in Plymouth. Commemorative stones are scattered throughout the walls and sidewalks of the Royal Citadel and the Barbican areas.

This is a charming town with many quaint cobbled streets that have probably been here for hundreds of years. I kept asking myself: Did my ancestors walk here?

The Hoe is a flat area of grassland and commemorative monuments situated just above the harbour. There are stunning panoramic views across Plymouth Sound. Smeaton's Tower lighthouse is a distinct landmark.

Another genealogical bonus was awaiting us. While on The Hoe, we were reminded that Plymouth was the home town of Sir Francis Drake and that he supposedly played bowls here before sailing off to defeat the Spanish Armada. Aha! We had an ancestor, John Marchant,  who sailed with Sir Francis. My imagination took flight with images of men like Captain John and Sir Francis strutting around the streets of Plymouth prior to setting off in their grand sailing vessels from this very harbour.

Armada Memorial, Plymouth

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Samuel Lester Hoover (1855-1912)

My great grand-uncle Samuel Lester Hoover was the elusive half-brother to my mother's maternal grandfather Charles F. Edwards. Charles had been somewhat creative in the narrative of his origins, but he had correctly identified his half-brother Sam born from his mother's first marriage to a Hoover cousin.

Samuel Lester Hoover

Tragedy stalked Sam throughout his relatively short 56 year life. He was highly regarded by a nephew who knew him as someone who maintained good ties with the family, but it is generally felt that Sam was short-changed by life.

Samuel Lester Hoover was born in Leon, Decatur, Iowa on the 30th of December in 1855, just over 9 months after the marriage of his parents Barbara Hoover and William Hoover. (Barbara was the daughter of Christian Hoover and Mary Green while William may have been the son of Christian's brother Philip and his wife Hannah; if so, they would have been first cousins.) When Samuel was only two years old, his father William died.

Samuel's mother Barbara Hoover

Samuel's mother remarried in 1861 to a man named Louis Edwards. The Civil War broke out shortly after their marriage and Louis signed up with Company C of the 112th Illinois Infantry. Within 6 months, Lewis succumbed to illness. He spent the rest of the war in hospital, eventually dying of consumption in February of 1866. Barbara gave birth to twin daughters Mary (Minnie) and Martha (Grace) Edwards in November of either 1865 or 1866. (With no official birth records available at that time, proof of age was given by entries in the family Bible which appear to have been altered from one year to the other possibly in an attempt to ensure that the girls were seen as legitimate offspring of Lewis Edwards for Civil War minors' pensions.) Having never really known his birth father, 10 year-old Samuel had now lost a relatively unknown step-father as well.

A couple of years later, Barbara gave birth to a half-brother to Sam, my great grandfather Charles F. Edwards. She was widowed at the time and having four young children in this situation could not have made for an easy life for any of them.

At the time that the 1870 census was conducted in Keokuk, Iowa, widowed Barbara and her children, including 14 year-old Samuel, were living with her parents Chris and Mary Hoover. Ten years later, Sam and his cousin George Leffler were both living with these same grandparents in Osage Co., Kansas.  Samuel L. Hoover is listed as a grandson, age 24, coal miner. (By then, his mother Barbara had married for a third time and was living in Elk County, Kansas with husband George Payton and his family, including her own youngest three children.)

Osage County, Kansas
Google Earth Image

Osage County, Kansas, was a booming coal mining area. At the time, coal was the major source of energy, having taken over from wood  when the supply of timber dwindled. Mining was notoriously dirty and dangerous. One suspects that Sam would quite soon have been looking for a different form of employment.

On 12 December 1892, Samuel married Hannah Wilcox of a devout Mormon family in Salt Lake City, Utah. Tragedy would strike this couple again and again and again and again - and yet again. They had five children born between 1891 and 1905, all dying within months of birth. (One wonders whether Samuel's parents having been first cousins might have had anything to do with this consistent failure of his children to survive.)

On a brighter note, Samuel had found employment away from the coal mines. During his marriage to Hannah, he was working for the railroad as a switchman. (As the name suggests, a switchman is responsible for operating the switches to shuttle trains onto the correct tracks.) He was the Master of the Grand Lodge of the Switchmen's Mutual Aid Association when he signed his own Delegate's Credential as a representative of Salt Lake City Lodge No. 71 at the Convention to be held in Dallas, Texas on 19 September 1892, just a couple of months prior to his marriage. This was a union that had been organized in 1870 to obtain better working conditions and pay for its members; at the time, a switchman (one of the higher paid railway employees) earned $50 per week for working 12 hour days 7 days a week. Many strikes occurred during the 1880's and 90's and no doubt Samuel would have been involved in meetings to discuss ways to improve their lot.

According to his death certificate, it would have been in about 1893 that the family moved to Salt Lake City. However, a certificate of the Union Pacific Railroad Co. dated 18 December 1898 certified that he had been employed as a switchman in the Denver yard from 5 November 1895 until his resignation three years later. Work and conduct were stated as satisfactory. In any event, notwithstanding these three years in Denver, Salt Lake City did seem to be his primary home.

The 1900 Utah census for Salt Lake City lists Samuel Hoover (age 45)  and wife Hannah (age 29) as having been married for 12 years (which would make their wedding 1888 rather than 1892); no children are listed. His occupation is given as brakeman.

One might speculate whether it was the tragic deaths of all their children that caused the marriage to fall apart. In any event, the couple had divorced prior to Hannah's remarriage on 8 June 1909.

In the meantime, Sam continued his career with the railroad. His Certificate of Examination from the Oregon Short Line Railroad Company Southern Pacific Company - Lines East of Sparks dated 17 September 1910 certified his qualifications as a "Herder". (This position seems to be a variation on a switchman.) Perhaps because of his work with the railroad, he seemed to move around freely. It isn't clear whether he was actually living in Oregon at the time, but his sister Grace and her husband did live in Portland for awhile. Maybe he went there to recover from the dissolution of his marriage.

If so, he had recovered and moved on by 1910. Samuel was in his 50's when he developed a relationship with a much younger divorcee named Lillie Shagogue Chipps who was barely 20.

Lillie had already established quite a "history" for herself. She had married Joseph Chipps on 24 January 1908 at about 17 years of age but, according to newspaper reports when she sought a divorce from him, he deserted her on 8 February of that same year, ostensibly to look for work elsewhere. He had written to her from Montana and was reportedly seen in Cardston, Alberta. But he never reappeared and her divorce was granted. Lillie gave birth to daughter Violet on 8 June 1908. One might wonder whether the real reason for Joseph's disappearance might have been his discovery of Lillie's pregnancy, perhaps with personal knowledge that the child could not be his. Violet's birth certificate names her father as Sidney Devine. No record of a marriage between Lillie and Sidney has been located, but several other marriages are attributed to her: Frank Proudfoot on 16 May 1910, William Scheffler on 24 February 1912, Thomas O'Connor 15 March 1913,  John Morris 16 March 1914 and a common law relationship with James Morris in 1914 (or are these Morris's the same man?). Although there is no record of a husband named Swift, she was using the name "Mrs. Swift" by the time she was 25. Perhaps it was during a short lull in 1910 between the Proudfoot and Scheffler husbands that she took up with Samuel; a stillborn daughter was born to them on 25 February, 1911.

We are so fortunate that one rather rare record has survived from a month after the death of this daughter. (As with the two images of Sam that appear here, it was provided by Richard Lemon, a descendant of one of Sam's twin sisters.) It contains a wealth of information about his physical appearance and also gives us at least a glimpse of some much-needed relaxation and pleasure in Samuel's life. Utah fishing licence No. 3101 for S.L. Hoover of Salt Lake dated 24 March 1911 gives his height as 5 ft. 7 1/2 inches tall, weight of 155 pounds, fair complexion, light brown hair and blue eyes.

According to his death certificate, he died 28 June 1912 of apoplexy (a stroke).  It indicated that he was divorced, had been a switchman and was 56 at the time of his death.  The informant was his sister Grace (Mrs H.M. Bradshaw) who lived at 509 West 2 South, Salt Lake City.  Samuel had been living nearby at 569 West 1st North, Salt Lake City and had been in the state of Utah for 19 years.

The Salt Lake Tribune of 30 June 1912 (My Heritage, Chronicling America Historic American Newspapers): "All Knights of Pythias are urged to attend the funeral of Samuel L Hoover at O'Donnell's Chapel at 2 o'clock this afternoon. N.W. Sonnedecker KR&S"

His membership in this organization no doubt explains the uniform in the photograph below.

Samuel Lester Hoover

After a difficult life full of so much loss, Samuel was laid to rest at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah.

As for Lillie Shagogue, further tragedy was awaiting her. Her life ended in suicide from Lysol poisoning at the age of just 25.

Although none of the three small orphans she left behind would seem to belong to Samuel, daughter Violet would have been the oldest at 8 while the youngest was just a year old. One can only hope they were raised by a loving grandmother or other family member and that the trail of tragedies ended here.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Visiting England: The Baxter Family in Kettleburgh, Suffolk

On our recent visit to England, Graham and I found ourselves with a free morning before attending the 50th wedding anniversary party for his sister Stephanie and her husband Roger. The party was to be held at Framlingham College in Framlingham, Suffolk. According to my genealogy place list, Graham had ancestors living within a couple of miles of there back in the 1700's. Kettleburgh, here we come!

With the help of GPS and after only a few wrong turns, we found Kettleburgh, but had a bit more difficulty locating its church. Once off the main road that passes through the small village, we travelled down some lanes and (carefully) through a gaggle of tame geese to find a camping field that we took to be the church parking lot. Our first thought was that the church had been abandoned, but closer examination revealed that it was indeed still in use. (There are probably not a lot of church members as the 2011 census had a total population here of just 231.)

Graham's Read family ancestors who were born, baptised, married and buried in the area were mainly Baxters. Mary Baxter moved to Burg, Suffolk when she married William Ashwell on 3 August 1780. Mary and William's daughter Elizabeth Ashwell grew up to marry Bloomfield Read, Graham's 2X great grandfather.

Mary Baxter had family in Kettleburgh dating back to at least 1700. We can trace her lineage to her grandparents as follows:

  • Mary's Parents (Graham's 4th great grandparents): Joseph Baxter (1727-1803) and Mary Sallows (c. 1720-1783)
  • Mary's Grandparents (Graham's 5th great grandparents): Joseph Baxter (c.1700-1773) and Elizabeth Wright (c.1705-1788)
Searching the gravestones at St. Andrew's Church, Kettleburgh was not an easy task. The ground was quite rough and the vegetation had been winning its battle with the mower. We did not find any of the Baxter family stones, but finding any surviving 18th century stones is difficult in the best of situations. Nevertheless, we know that many of Graham's ancestors and extended family are buried here. Mary's grandfather Joseph Baxter was buried here in March of 1773. This same Joseph and his wife Elizabeth had lost their first-born son Benjamin shortly before his third birthday in 1728; young Benjamin is also buried here.

The church provides a very informative "History and Guide: St. Andrew's Church, Kettleburgh, Suffolk" prepared by Robert Warner in June of 1998. According to Warner, a church has stood here since at least Saxon times. The existing church dates mainly from the 1300's with the 51 foot western tower from the Decorated Period, 1350. The windows on the south side (as can be seen above) are irregular and date from a couple of centuries later.

photo courtesy Graham Barnard

The octagonal baptismal font dates from the early 1400's with a Jacobean oak font cover (painted yellow when described in 1712). The font can be seen in the lower part of the picture below.

This baptismal font (with the cover no doubt still yellow at this time!) would therefor have been used during the baptisms of many members of the Baxter family including:
  • Benjamin Baxter 4 April 1725
  • David Baxter 30 October 1726
  • Elizabeth Baxter 5 July 1730
  • Benjamin Baxter 30 January 1731
  • Jonathan Baxter 19 March 1733
  • Hannah Baxter 19 September 1736
  • Mary Baxter 19 February 1737
  • Sarah Baxter 13 April 1740
The wedding of Joseph Baxter and Elizabeth Wright occurred here on 16 August 1724. All of the children listed above are theirs. (No record has so far been located for a baptism for their son Joseph born in 1727.)

Because Graham's family were no longer in the area by the late 1800's, we can be reasonably certain it was not a relative of his who caused mayhem in the church in about 1879. A man was charged and fined by the Framlingham magistrates for riotous and indecent behaviour at the church during a Sunday afternoon service in September. Warner describes the situation: "He had seated himself in the gallery, with his dog on his lap and all was well until he urged the dog to 'speak to'em lad', whereupon it broke out into a great commotion of barking. Its master had obviously been drinking, and the Verger and his son had a struggle to eject man and beast, the service meanwhile having been abandoned."

Nor is he likely related to Samuel Hart, listed at Kettleburgh in Whites' Directory of Suffolk, 1844 as "herbalist and poet". His advertisement, again as noted by Warner: "Curer of bunions, Scab heads, Rheumatism, Scrofula and various other complaints incidental to the human frame. Poems and Pieces composed and arranged on any occasion!" Several of the gravestones in Kettleburgh are said to contain verses of his creation, but, sadly, we didn't come upon any of them in our search.

photo courtesy Graham Barnard

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

John Alden, Junior (1626-1702): Salem Witch Trial Survivor

The popular image of a witch is the one we have from Hallowe'en: a grotesque broom-riding evil woman in black. The accused witches during the Salem witch hysteria of the late seventeenth century were nothing like this. They were predominantly ordinary women in the community - wives, mothers, church members. (More information about the Salem witches can be found in my story about another Salem ancestor Robert Moulton.)

John Alden would discover to his shock and dismay that even successful well-respected men were not immune from accusation.

"Captain Alden Denounced" from "A Popular History of the United States", Vol 2
by William Cullen Bryant, New York: Scribner's Sons, 1878, p 463
Alfred Fredericks, Designer; A Bobbett, Engraver
Obtained from Wikimedia Commons

This John Alden was my 9th great grand uncle, next-oldest brother to my 9th great grandfather Joseph Alden. Born in 1626 as the eldest son to Mayflower passengers and Plymouth founders John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, John rose to prominence as a member of the Boston elite. He was a respected merchant, soldier and sea captain. He was a charter member of Reverend Willard's Old South Meeting House and Third Church.

He was also a family man. John became a widower in 1659 when his first wife died in childbirth with their first child. He then married in 1660 the widow Elizabeth (Phillips) Everill who had two children from her own first marriage. John and Elizabeth went on to have an additional 13 children of their own. He was a man widely known in the community, either personally or by reputation.

Nevertheless, on 28 May 1692 his name appeared among the list of those accused of witchcraft. At the age of 66, he made his appearance in a makeshift Salem courthouse. With the witchcraft hysteria in full swing, Chief Justice Stephen Sewall had summoned a total of 66 men to serve as jurors in the trials. Three of his fellow church members were part of the witchcraft court in which he found himself.

Alden's home was Boston, not Salem. He had simply stopped in Salem on his way home from Quebec where he had negotiated the release of some British soldiers. No doubt he often wished he had just carried on down the road that day.

These proceedings were generally a foregone conclusion with anyone accused being presumed guilty. No lawyers acted on behalf of the accused.  Spectral evidence based on dreams and visions was allowed. When newly appointed king's attorney Thomas Newton first witnessed these trials, he was dumbfounded by what he saw. Perhaps because of this, Alden's accusers were tested again and he was at first permitted to attend the hearing without a guard. It is said that Alden strode into the courtroom, sword at his side and took his place amidst the crowd. When the accusers failed to point him out, they were prompted to identify him. Moved outside into better light, the accusing girls circled him, taunting him with insults.

Alden had been active throughout the frontier. He had served in King Philip's War and had been a supplier of arms. His close ties with the Native Americans and with the French were often useful, but also seen as suspicious. Some of the girls in Salem had lost family in King Philip's War and it could have been tempting to attach blame to a prominent man thought to be somehow complicit in their deaths.

The bewitched girls accused Alden of selling munitions to the enemy and of sleeping with Indian women. When the girls said he afflicted them with his sword, it was removed from him. A marshal led him out to await his interrogation until after they dealt with another accused witch.

When John Alden returned to the meetinghouse later that afternoon, he was humiliated by being forced to stand on a chair with bound hands. Undeterred, he protested his innocence, asking why in the world would he come all the way to Salem village to hurt people he neither knew nor had ever met? When urged to confess, he said he had no intention of gratifying the devil with a lie. He challenged the assembly to supply a shred of evidence that he practiced witchcraft. Magistrate Hawthorne arranged for a touch test - a bewitched girl became calm as soon as Alden put a finger on her. Bartholomew Gedney said he'd known Alden for 2 years and  they had sailed together and were business associates. Gedney said that he had always looked on Alden as an honest man but now he had to alter his judgment. He couldn't disregard the touch test. (One wonders how anyone could NOT disregard such an illogical and unfair test of guilt!) Even fellow church member Samuel Sewall did not step forward to his defense although the Sewall family had trusted Alden to sail their ships across the ocean.

Alden was certain that God would clear his name. He swore that he, like Job, would maintain his integrity until he died.

When he was ordered to look at his accusers, they tumbled to the ground. He asked why his gaze had no such effect on Gedney. He then spoke passionately about the plight of the innocents, but was silenced by Reverend Noyes. Alden swore that there wasn't a bit of truth to the accusations.

Logic and truth were not to prevail this day. God did not clear his name. Judged guilty, John Alden found himself locked in a Boston prison later that same evening.

By mid September, he managed to escape from prison just before the killing of 9 convicted witches. It is believed that he may have first hid from the authorities in Duxbury where he would have found willing accomplices. Duxbury had been home to his parents John (senior) and Priscilla Alden and the extended Alden family. He may have joined other fugitives in New York, but one gets the sense that there wasn't much of a search made for him.

Alden House, Duxbury, Massachusetts
Photo by Graham Barnard, 1999
By December it was generally known that he had returned to Boston. When he failed to show up at his church for communion on December 18, it was speculated that he no longer trusted his friends and fellow church members. Reverend Willard's wife spoke out about this, holding Judge Sewall responsible. Several months later, Sewall called on the Aldens saying he regretted their troubles and was delighted by Alden's rehabilitation. Few others followed this lead.

After the witch hysteria died down and the killings stopped, John Alden returned to Salem where he was cleared by proclamation of all charges of witchcraft in April of 1693.

John Alden died in March 1702 with his sometimes-friend Judge Stephen Sewall at his side. His tombstone was found generations later during excavations near Boston's Old South Church and is now preserved on the outside wall of the church.

John Alden's Headstone
Image from
Courtesy David Allan Lambert

Other Family Connections to the Witchcraft Hysteria

  • John Alden's father, John senior, had himself been part of a Plymouth jury in a witch trial. In that case, the jury had found the accused person to be innocent, with the accuser being found guilty of libel and punished accordingly. 
  • Several other family members were likely living out their lives in Salem during the time of the witchcraft hysteria: Mary Cook Moulton, Benjamin Green, John Green, Joseph Green, Martha Green, Sarah Green, Thomas Green, Thomas Greene, Martha Moulton, Robert Moulton, Mary (Newbury) Green and David Perkins. Fortunately, they seem to have avoided being caught up in the witchcraft hysteria in any named capacity, but it must have been a bewildering and terrifying time for anyone living there. 
  • Other more distant but associated family members that do show up in the witchcraft records include Israel Stoughton, Thomas Perkins, Mehitabel Downing and Simon Bradstreet.

Further Reading:

  • "John Alden's Account of His Witch Trial Examination",website at
  • "Salem Witch Trials", University of Virginia website at
  • Schiff, Stacy, The Witches: Salem, 1692, Little, Brown and Company 2015
  • Roser, Susan E, Mayflower Increasings 2nd Edition, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1995

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Robert Moulton (1644-1731) lived in Salem, Massachusetts during the Witch Trials

When I noticed that my family tree contained more than two dozen people living in early Salem, Massachusetts, I could not help but wonder if any of them had any connection to the infamous witch trials of 1692. Were any of them among those executed or unfairly accused? Or, perhaps worse, were any among the accusers? I was delighted to find one ancestor who swore evidence in support of one of the accused, so I will start with that story today and investigate other possible connections over the next few weeks.

Robert Moulton was my 7th great grandfather. His father was also Robert Moulton (1607-1665) and his grandfather likewise Robert Moulton (1587-1655). It was Robert's grandfather who had emigrated from Ormsby St. Michael, Norfolk, England in 1629, bringing with him his grown son Robert who was a Church of England minister. This older immigrant ancestor was a master shipbuilder who was said to have been the first well-equipped shipbuilder to arrive in New England, building the first vessels that were built in Salem and in Medford, near Boston. Son Robert attempted unsuccessfully to establish the English church in Salem, but this was not in accord with the prevailing Puritan beliefs in New England.  Both men were active in community affairs, politics and business matters. Clearly the family were upstanding and well-respected members of the community.

The Robert of our story was the first of my direct Moulton line born on American soil, in Salem, Massachusetts in 1644. He was the second child and oldest son of Robert and Abigail (Good) Moulton. On 17 July 1672, 28 year-old Robert married Mary Cooke and started a family of his own. By the time of the 1692 witch hysteria, they had a family of eight children.

Map of Salem Village 1692
Public Domain,

First, a bit of background. There were two towns associated with the "Salem" witch trials: Salem Town and a fast-growing farming area at its northern end called Salem Village (now called Danvers). The earliest events of 1692 started in Salem Village, which contained some 500 people at the time. There would have been another 1500 or so living in Salem Town. The Village had established its own church in 1672, the same year that Robert and Abigail were married. None of its earliest ministers were ordained resulting in a good deal of instability. Late in 1689, the church finally obtained an ordained minister named Reverend Samuel Parris. Parris had spent time in Barbados and brought to Salem with him a couple of Carib Indian servants; they would have had knowledge of voodoo practices and told tales of witchcraft to the Parris daughters. Things went well with Reverend Parris at the Salem Church at first, but because of his strict religious orthodoxy, dissent soon arose. The Village found itself in turmoil within a couple of years. It is perhaps not surprising to learn that the earliest witch accusations arose in Parris's own home. Starting in February of 1692 with three young girls who experienced fits, over the next few months some 200 people were accused of witchcraft, many were tried and twenty executed.

Closeup of southwest corner of map of Salem Village showing location
of Robert Moulton's home (#138, circled in turquoise)
Salem was certainly not the only place where people were executed as witches. In those days, people in many parts of Europe and North America believed in witchcraft. Many believed the Devil himself was here on Earth. When unusual events occurred,  in the absence of an accepted scientific explanation, a person could be accused of having used sorcery or being in league with Satan. The accused were most often those already sidelined in their societies - the eccentrics and misfits, the ugly, the mentally ill. Women were accused more often than men and spinsters and barren women were an easy target, especially if they were willful or outspoken. In Salem, however, several men and pillars of the community also found themselves among the accused.

One such pillar of the community was a 71 year-old wife, mother and grandmother named Rebecca (Towne) Nurse. Always a pious and well-respected woman, she was nevertheless accused of being a witch. The Nurse family had been in a number of acrimonious disputes with the neighbouring Putnam family. On 23 March 1692, she was arrested on the basis of charges made against her by Edward and John Putnam. She protested her innocence and many in the community did come to her support, but several young girls (including Reverend Parris's daughter Betty and a young Ann Putnam) swooned with fits that they said were caused by Nurse tormenting them.

One of those who gave evidence on Nurse's behalf was my 7th great grandfather Robert Moulton. He testified that one of her young accusers named Susannah Sheldon had admitted to lying.

Testimony of Robert Moulton in the Trial of Rebecca Nurse

As with all the accused witches, she was not allowed a lawyer and had to defend herself. The examining magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne seemed sympathetic to her cause. Even the Governor of Massachusetts at one point issued a reprieve. Nonetheless, when the swooning fits of the young girls continued, Rebecca Nurse was ultimately convicted as a witch, excommunicated from the church and sentenced to death by hanging on 19 July 1692.

Rebecca Nurse in Chains
By Freeland A. Carter, artist - The Witch of Salem, or Credulity Run Mad, by John R. Musick.
New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1893. p. 275. See [1], Public Domain,

It would be several years before the Putnam family, the church and the government issued apologies and attempted to make reparation for the wrongful death of Rebecca Nurse. Although Robert Moulton's testimony had not changed her tragic fate, at least he had had the courage to stand on the side of one of the innocents.

Sources and Further Reading:

  • Salem Witch Trials in History and Literature website located at
  • History of the Salem Witch Trials located at
  • "Gran's Family History" blog located at
  • "The Salem Witch Trials" website located at