Monday, October 21, 2013

Madness Monday: Halloween Special: Mary Allin Toothaker

My 11th great-grandfather was a doctor named Roger Toothaker.  The story of his life and the life of his poor wife sends shivers up my spine even when it's not Halloween, but it seems appropriate to visit their story and the madness of the Salem Witch Trials at this time of year . . .

Roger gets his own Wikipedia entry, but his basic story is this:  he was a doctor in Salem, Massachusetts beginning in about 1658.  He and his wife Mary had nine children, including my ancestor Andrew.

Now, medicine was a pretty ethereal game in those days, and people that couldn't be cured by the rudimentary options available were often assumed to be cursed.  Perhaps to keep his reputation, Roger at some point claimed that his daughter Martha had killed a witch.  This was probably risky - it explained one death, but might have lead to a lot of resentment from other people he hadn't treated successfully - if he had this witch-killing power in the family, why wasn't it used to kill witches afflicting other people's families?  To make this all a little more complicated, one of Dr. Toothaker's main rivals, Dr. Griggs of Andover, had made several witchcraft allegations.  It was only a matter of time, perhaps, before Dr. Toothaker himself was accused - by several people, including Dr. Griggs' servant.

Shortly after Dr. Toothaker was taken to prison, his wife Mary, daughter Margaret, sister-in-law Martha Carrier and cousin Elizabeth Howe were also accused and put in jail.  Mary was jailed with her youngest daughter Margaret, who was 10 at the time.  Martha Carrier was jailed with 4 of her 5 children.  Apparently, she had a husband who wasn't capable of making deals and trades himself with the neighbors, so Martha had to negotiate with the men around her, which was not appreciated by her neighbors.  When accusers against Martha came forth, Mary and Roger's son Allin was among them.  Elizabeth Howe had six children and a blind husband, and was accused along with Rebecca Nurse by the group of girls at the center of the trials.

In late June of 1692, less than a month after his arrest, Dr. Toothaker died in prison.  Though it was well known that accused witches were often tortured in prison, 24 men were brought forth to testify that he died of 'natural causes.'  (This seems to me like it may be a case of protesting a bit too much . . .)

On July 28th, Elizabeth Howe, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Good, Sarah Wildes, and Susanna Martin were hung as witches.

On July 30, when she must have been mourning the deaths of both her cousin and her husband, Mary confessed to striking a deal with the Devil in order to protect herself from the Indians, who had attacked the colony frequently and of whom she was terrified:

And he promised if she would serve him she should be safe from the Indians (she was then a litle stopt again & believed it was the Devil that did it)// Being asked if the Devil did not say she was to serve him Answered Yes, and signed the mark upon that condition and was to praise him w'h her whole heart, and twas to that appearance she prayed at all tymes for he said he was able to delyver her from the Indians And it was the feare of the Indians that put her upon it. 
On August 1, the empty Toothaker house in Billerica was burned to the ground by angry neighbors.

On August 5, Martha Carrier and 4 men were hung.  One of the others was John Proctor, whose story is the core of The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

 Despite her confession, Mary and Margaret were not released until January 1693, long after the main furor of the trials had died down.

After her release, Mary bravely continued to work helping the sick.  All the surviving accused people were pardoned in 1693.  Elizabeth and Martha's survivors received a few pounds of compensation in 1709.

If this were the end of the story, it would be horrific enough.  But in 1695, the Indians Mary feared so much attacked Billerica again.  Mary was killed, and her daughter Margaret, who had endured so much in prison with her mother, was captured and never seen again.  Mary's nightmare, the one that seemed so much worse than selling her soul to the Devil, had come true.