One of my favorite hobbies is doing family history research. I grew up in a family that had so much knowledge of not only our hertiage, but also our specific ancestors (going back well over 1000 years in some instances). I remember, as a child, seeing boxes of information of those that came before me. We had lots and lots of names. However, we didn't have a lot of their stories. We had some stories of my ancestors that joined the Mormon church in the 19th century because they were so good at journal keeping and writing their life stories, as advised by our church leaders. Before them, though, not much was known. As a writer, I've always been drawn to stories. Names are just names before you know how they lived or major events in their lives. Thank goodness for the internet! I've been able to look up several ancestors and found stories that my family had never heard. One of those stories that I discovered was of my direct ancestor, Sarah Pease.
Let me start off my saying that I've always been drawn to the macabre. I've been interested in spooky things from an early age. I used to get books on the history of superstitions and death customs from the library as a teenager. I had always been interested in witchcraft - not in practicing it, but the history of how supposed witches were treated. I was a sophomore in high school when the 300th anniversary of the Salem witch trials was upon us and I was completely captivated by it. When we flew in to Connecticut to look for a home two years ago, I made my husband drive me to Salem, Massachusetts even though we were only here for a weekend. I had to see this place that I had been fascinated by for years. So, when I discovered Sarah Pease's story several months ago, I was shocked.
Unfortuneately, nothing is known of Sarah before her marriage to Robert Pease. Her maiden name is unknown, which means her parents are unknown as well. There is some speculation that she was from Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts because she married Robert around 1658 and he was a weaver on the island at the time. Eventually, they moved to Salem (where Robert grew up) because Robert had inherited some land from his father. They lived on a major commercial highway between Salem Towne and Salem Village. (It is a little known fact that most of the accused witches lived in Salem Village which is the town of Danvers today.) They were not paupers, but they weren't prospering either.
In May 1692 Sarah Pease was accused of being a witch. Here is a copy of her arrest warrant :
(Warrant for Arrest of Sarah Pease)
To: To the Marshall of Essex or his dept or Constables of Salem
You are in theire Majest's names hereby required to apprehend and forthwith bring before us ( Sarah pease the wife of Robert pease of Salem Weaver who stands charged with sundry acts of Witchcraft by her Committed Lately on the Body of Mary Warren of Salem Village whereby great Injury was doher. &c) in order to her Examination Relateing to the same faile not Dated Salem May 23'd 1692
r ord'r of the Govern'r & Councill
I heave aprehended the parson mensioned within this warrant and heave broghte hir
r me. *Peter Osgood Constable in Salem May. the 23: 1692
It's worth mentioning that not only did Mary Warren accuse Sarah, but also John De Rich, Abigail Williams, and Elizabeth Hubbard were her accusers as well. It is not known why Sarah was accused of witchcraft. One possible explanation is that she lived on a major road and had a lot of contact with a lot of people as they traveled back and forth between the Village and the Towne. She could have said something that was controversial (or anti-witch hunt) to any one of these people and word spread. Also, many times when someone was accused so were others in their family. Sarah's sister-in-law, Mary Hobbs Pease, was an apparent eccentric who was accused of witchcraft and pleaded guilty. If Sarah spoke out on her sister-in-law's behalf, she could have made herself vulernable. No one knows. There is also some evidence that her husband, Robert Pease, was jailed at one time for witchcraft during the hysteria, but it's not known for sure.
Poor Sarah was subject to examination. First there was a public interrogation orchestrated by Judges Hathorne and Corwin. Their purpose was simply to illicit a confession. The accusers were part of the interrogation and the accusers (young teenage girls) would generally go into fits to make it appear the prisoner was afflicting them. On top of that sort of treatment, the prisoners were subject to a physical inspection. The purpose was to find a "witch's teat". The inspection was a very invasive, complete physical examination. They usually had a midwife make these inspections, but often male magistrates were in the room. I can't imagine the humilation. The "witch's teats" they found were usually just moles, or warts, or even a flea bite. There is no doubt that Sarah was put through such exams.
The conditions in the dungeon, where the accused witches were jailed, were deplorable. The prisoners were shackled all of the time. It was a small area that was damp with little light. There were no beds, just a cold hard floor. Sarah Pease was jailed in this dungeon for a year. This poor mother of nine children must have gone through some dark times there. I'm sure her family must have been in complete turmoil as well. She was released when the governor of Massachusetts finally stepped in (after his own wife had been accused of being a witch) and pardoned everyone and freed them from jail so long as their fees were paid. Yes, they actually had to pay for their room and board at the prison before they were allowed to leave. Sarah never actually went to trial, but if the governor had not stopped the proceedings then she most likely would have.
Sarah went on to live at least another 12 years. Because of my research into the witch trials, I know that Sarah remained to prison because she would not plead guilty. I also know that those that got out of the dungeon were the ones to accuse others. She obviously didn't and, for that, I feel proud of her. It must be hard to have integrity when you are being treated in a dispicable fashion. It would have been easier, in some ways, to confess and go back home.
I've been to Salem several times now and I recommend it. Not only can you tour the witch sites, you can also tour The House of Seven Gables and Nathaniel Hawthorne's birthplace and see the lovely shore line. They have a long maritime history and there's lots to see there. I especially recommend going to Rebecca Nurse's Homestead in Danvers. She was an elderly woman who was hanged as a witch. The homestead sits on a pastoral 27 acres. We actually arrived there after it closed, but the staff gave us a free tour anyway! They also let us wander the acreage as long as we wanted, which included a really interesting graveyard.
I know this is a very long post and sorry if I bored any of you. I will, however, keep writing about certain ancestors when the mood strikes. It's what I love!