The Witchcraft Trial of Margaret Scott

Margaret Scott was a woman from Rowley who was accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692.

Margaret Scott was the only person from Rowley who was tried in the Salem Witch Trials.

Margaret was born sometime between 1615 and 1621 to the Stevenson’s family. She was most likely born in England and later moved to the Massachusetts Bay Colony with her family.

In 1642, Margaret Stevenson married Benjamin Scott, a struggling farmer from Rowley, Mass. Between the years 1642 and 1656, the couple had six children together but only three survived infancy.

In 1664, the town awarded Benjamin a parcel of farmland. A year later though, a man by the name of Benjamin Scott was fined by the Essex County Court and admonished for theft (Goss 102). It is not clear if it was the same Benjamin Scott.

In 1666, Benjamin Scott signed the Freeman’s Oath in Rowley, a loyalty pledge that meant the person was now a full citizen of the colony.

Then, in June or July of 1671, Benjamin Scott died and left Margaret his meager estate of 67 pounds and 17 shillings. Margaret was just 56 years old at the time and continued to live off of this small estate for the next 20 years.

As the estate slowly dwindled Margaret was eventually reduced to begging her neighbors for assistance, making her unpopular around town, according to K. David Goss in his book The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide:

“Similar to Wenham’s beggar, Sarah Good, Margaret Scott became an unpopular and disliked member of the Rowley community in large part because of her habit of begging neighbors and passersby for assistance. Those that denied providing Margaret with money or goods came to expect verbal abuse, or, worse, a curse. Not surprisingly, several of her alienated Rowley neighbors appeared at the Salem Court to provide evidence and depositions against her” (Goss 103).

Margaret Scott and the Salem Witch Trials:

Much of Scott’s witchcraft trial is a mystery because most of the files from her case are missing. The only files that remain are her indictments and a handful of testimony.

There is no arrest warrant, no transcript of her examination and no death warrant. As a result, Scott is one of the most obscure victims of the trials, according to Goss:

“A longtime resident of Rowley, Massachusetts, Margaret had lived most of her life in poverty. She is one of the most obscure and least-known of the victims of the Salem trials. In part this is because nearly all the records pertaining to her case are missing” (Goss 102).

On August 4, 1692 in Rowley, Mary Daniel made a deposition against Margaret Scott, stating that her specter had afflicted her the week before. Daniel said she had become suddenly ill one night and when she went to lie down, the specter of Margaret Scott appeared and attacked her, pulling her to the ground and pinching her. Daniel said she continued to have fits ever since then, during which she would frequently see Scott’s specter.

Margaret Scott, Memorial Marker, Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Salem, Mass
Margaret Scott, Memorial Marker, Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Salem, Mass

As a result, it is believed that Scott was probably arrested the same day, on August 4, and that her examination took place the following day, according to Winfield Nevins in his book Witchcraft in Salem Village in 1692:

“We have little information concerning Margaret Scott of Rowley. No doubt there were numerous papers in her case but they have been lost or destroyed. Only a few remain. Her preliminary examination took place on August 5, the arrest having probably been made on the previous day. I am unable to find anything about her or her family from the records or from the writings of local historians” (Nevins 203).

The record of her examination has been lost so it is not known what happened that day or what Scott said at the examination.

What is known is that Scott was indicted on two charges of witchcraft, one for bewitching Mary Daniel and one for bewitching Frances Wicom.

The Trial of Margaret Scott:

On September 15, Margaret Scott’s trial began at the former courthouse on what is now Washington Street in Salem. A handful of people testified against Scott at her trial:

Frances Wicom
Philip Nelson
Sarah Nelson
Mary Daniel
John Burbank
Daniel Wicom
Ann Putnam
Mary Warren
Elizabeth Hubbard
Thomas Nelson
Sarah Coleman

Frances Wicom testified that Margaret Scott had been afflicting her since the first session of the court of Oyer and Terminer and she continued to afflict her during her examination on August 5 and many times since then which led her to “believe in my heart that Margaret Scott is a witch” (SWP No. 119.1).

Philip and Sarah Nelson testified that two or three years ago before Robert Shilleto died they often heard him complain that Margaret Scott was afflicting him and he often said she was a witch and that he would never be well so long as Margaret Scott lived.

John Burbank testified that five or six years ago Margaret Scott came to his house and asked for some corn from his field. When he told her to stay while the corn was retrieved from the field, she reportedly told him he would not be able to remove his corn from the field that night so he should let her do it. His wife then gave Scott some corn and she left but Burbank said when he later went to harvest his corn, his oxen refused to pull the cart.

Daniel Wicom testified that he overheard this conversation with Burbank and Scott and confirmed that, afterward, Burbank’s oxen refused to move forward with the cart but did move backward.

Thomas Nelson testified that six years ago, Margaret Scott asked him to bring her some wood but he refused. The day after he found one of his cattle dead in its stall, still standing on its hind legs while kneeling on its front legs. Shortly after he found another one of his cows dead with its neck under a plank of wood as if it had been choked.

All of this made Nelson suspect Scott was a witch, according to his testimony:

“and after this, and ever since, had hard thoughts of this woman and my neighbors told me, something more then ordinary that my cattle died so. And I do verily believe that she is a witch” (SWP No. 119.8).

Sarah Coleman testified that ever since August 15 she had been afflicted by Margaret Scott, who would pinch, prick and choke her. Coleman also declared “I do verily believe that she is a witch.” (SWP No. 119.9).

The afflicted girls, Mary Warren, Elizabeth Hubbard and Ann Putnam Jr all testified that they saw the specter of Margaret Scott afflicting Mary Daniel in the courtroom in the presence of the grand jury.

After all of the testimony was heard, Margaret Scott was found guilty and sentenced to death.

The Execution of Margaret Scott:

On Thursday, September 22, 1692, Margaret Scott was brought to the execution site at Proctor’s Ledge in Salem, along with Alice Parker, Mary Easty, Ann Pudeator, Wilmot Redd, Martha Corey, Mary Parker and Samuel Wardwell.

As the cart carrying the prisoner turned to ascend the hill, the cart suddenly became stuck. The lawmen struggled to get the wheels to move while the afflicted girls in the crowd began to call out that they saw the Devil holding the cart back. Eventually the men were able to get the cart moving again and the prisoners arrived at the ledge.

When the executions were over and the bodies were still hanging, Reverend Nicholas Noyes, who had officiated as clergyman at the hangings that day, remarked “what a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there” (Calef 221). These were the last executions of the Salem Witch Trials.

"What a Sad Thing It Is to See Eight Firebrands of Hell Hanging There," illustration published in the New England Magazine, Volume 5, circa 1892
“What a Sad Thing It Is to See Eight Firebrands of Hell Hanging There,” illustration published in the New England Magazine, Volume 5, circa 1892

After the victims were cut down they were temporarily placed in a nearby rocky crevice but it is not known what happened to their bodies after that.

The Scott Family After the Salem Witch Trials:

In September of 1710, a committee was sent to Salem to make restitution to the victims of the trials after a number of the surviving accused had filed petitions with the court asking that their names be cleared. For reasons unknown, Margaret Scott’s family did not file a petition with the committee.

When numerous families of the victims failed to seek restitution, Nehemiah Jewett, a member of the Massachusetts General Court, sent a letter to Judge Samuel Sewall, a member of the committee, asking that these cases still be considered:

“Mr. Sewall Sir I thought good to return you the names of several persons that were condemned & executed that not any person or relations appeared in the behalf of for the taking of the attainder or for other expenses. they I suppose were returned to the General Courts consideration for to act about according to their best prudence. Bridget Bishop alias Oliver, Susanna Martin, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Wilmot Read, Margaret Scott. Sir. I am yours Honors to serve Neh Jewet” (SWP No. 173.44).

The letter had no effect because on October 17, 1711, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a bill clearing the names of many of the accused, except for Margaret Scott, Ann Pudeator, Alice Parker, Bridget Bishop, Wilmot Redd and Susanna Martin.

Due to the fact that the Scott family did not file a petition with the court, they were also not awarded any money in damages for Margaret’s imprisonment and death.

It wasn’t until August of 1957, that the Massachusetts legislature publicly acknowledged its errors during the Salem Witch Trials and finally cleared the name of “One Ann Pudeator and certain other persons” yet did not mention Margaret Scott by name.

On the 300th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials in 1992, the Salem Witch Trials memorial was built in Salem, Mass and a memorial marker was established for Margaret Scott.

Finally, on October 31, 2001, the Massachusetts legislature amended the 1957 bill and officially exonerated five victims not named in either the 1711 bill or in the 1957 bill: Wilmot Redd, Bridget Bishop, Alice Parker, Susannah Martin and Margaret Scott.

Margaret Scott, Memorial Marker, Proctor's Ledge Memorial, Salem, Mass
Margaret Scott, Memorial Marker, Proctor’s Ledge Memorial, Salem, Mass

When the site of the witch trials executions was confirmed in 2016, the Proctor’s Ledge Memorial was built there in 2017 and a memorial marker was established for Margaret Scott.

The location of Margaret Scott’s grave has never been found.

Margaret Scott’s Missing Case Files:

At some point in the 18th century or 19th century, or possibly earlier, many documents from the Salem Witch Trials court records went missing, including a number of documents from Margaret Scott’s case.

It is possible that the documents had been among the historical documents that were seized from Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s house by looters during the 1765 Stamp Act riots.

Hutchinson had been writing a book about the history of Massachusetts and had a number of historical documents, including documents from the Salem Witch Trials, at his home at the time of the riot.

Hutchinson later explained in a letter to a friend that the looters had “scattered or destroyed all the manuscripts and other papers I had been collecting for 30 years together besides a great number of publick papers in my custody.”

In 1840, the documents from Margaret Scott’s case were transcribed and published in Thomas Gage’s book History of Rowley. It’s not clear though if Gage had transcribed the files from the original documents or if the transcriptions had been provided to him by others.

In the introduction of the book, Gage does thank several repositories for permitting him access to their documents and frequently states that various transcriptions in the book were copied from the original documents.

In 1900, a private collector purchased the original 1692 indictment that charged Margaret Scott with afflicting Mary Daniel. It is not known the circumstances that the document had been put up for sale or how the seller had acquired it. The document remained in the private collector’s family for the next 100 years.

In 2001, the indictment was sold by the William Reese Company to New York collector Erin C. Caren for the Erin C. Caren Collection.

That same year, the William Reese Company also sold one of the original depositions against Margaret Scott, although it is not known who purchased it or where the deposition is now.

In March of 2012, Caren put Scott’s indictment up for auction and it was sold to an undisclosed buyer for $26,000. It was the first Salem Witch Trials document for sale in nearly 30 years, since most of the Salem Witch Trials court records belong to the Essex County court system and are held at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Also in March of 2012, a team of researchers discovered four original depositions against Margaret Scott in the Boston Public Library archives, according to an article the team wrote for the Studia Neophilologica Journal:

“When perusing index cards under the heading of ‘Rowley’ in the card catalogue, we came across four depositions ascribed to the case of Margaret Scott; they were listed as one item, MS 445. We later found the same manuscript listed under ‘Scott, Margaret’ in the card catalogue. These four depositions, labeled in pencil in the actual manuscripts as 445, 445a, 445b, and 445c, turned out to be the four missing depositions included in Gage (1840). Why these documents have eluded scholars, despite being found in two places in the card catalogue (including under Scott’s name), is unclear. Unfortunately, nothing seems to be known about the provenance of the documents; the BPL has no record of the acquisition or previous owners. According to Kimberly Reynolds, the Curator of Manuscripts at the BPL,the low catalogue number suggests that it was an early acquisition, although how early remains uncertain.”

The researchers were unable to determine how Gage might have accessed the original documents for his book or how or when the depositions were acquired by the Boston Public Library (which wasn’t established until 1848):

“In the end, then, the history of the documents pertaining to Scott’s case is not traceable in detail. More specifically, we cannot say for certain when the four depositions edited here entered the BPL collections or where Gage may have accessed them for his transcriptions published in 1840, when they were not part of the BPL collections. In fact, the set of documents in Scott’s case as a whole appears to have one of the most complex histories of all groups of Salem documents that we know have survived; why this would be the case remains uncertain. Indeed, these documents highlight the extreme of the vagaries of documents from the Salem trials.”

In 2017, the original deposition of Mary Daniel against Margaret Scott went up for auction in New York and sold for $137,500.

According to historian Margo Burns, in an interview with History.com, of the nine original documents to have surfaced from Scott’s trial, two are in the Essex County Court Archive, four were discovered at the Boston Public Library in 2012 and two were sold to unknown buyers in 2001 and 2012. The remaining document, which was transcribed by Thomas Gage in his 1840 history of Rowley, has yet to surface.

Margaret Scott Historical Sites:

Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Address: Liberty Street, Salem Mass

Proctor’s Ledge Memorial
Address: 7 Pope St, Salem, Mass

Site of the Salem Witch Trials Executions
Address: Proctor’s Ledge, wooded area between Proctor Street and Pope Street, Salem, Mass

Former Site of the Salem Courthouse
Address: Washington Street (about 100 feet south of Lynde Street), opposite the Masonic Temple, Salem, Mass. Memorial plaque located on Masonic Temple.

Former Site of the Salem Jail
Address: 4 Federal Street, Salem, Mass. A large brick building now stands on the spot which has been renumbered 10 Federal Street. Memorial plaque located on the building.

Sources:
Nevins, Winfield S. Witchcraft in Salem Village in 1692: Together with Some Account of Other Witchcraft Prosecutions in New England and Elsewhere. Salem: North Shore Publishing Company, 1892.
Goss, K. David. The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide. Greenwood Press, 2008.
Booth, Charles Edwin. One Branch of the Booth Family: Showing the Lines of Connection with One
Hundred Massachusetts Bay Colonists. Privately Printed, 1910.
Calef, Robert. More Wonders of the Invisible World. Salem: Cushing and Appleton, 1823.
Gage, Thomas. The History of Rowley. Ferdinand Andrews, 1840.
Pruitt, Sarah. “Read the Document that Condemned a Woman to Death in the Salem Witch Trials.” History, 15 June. 2017, www.history.com/news/read-the-document-that-condemned-a-woman-to-death-in-the-salem-witch-trials
Grund, Peter J., Margo Burns and Matti Peikola. 2014. “The Vagaries of Manuscripts from the Salem Witch Trials: An Edition of Four (Re-)Discovered Documents from the Case Against Margaret Scott of Rowley.” Studia Neophilologica 86(1): 37–50. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00393274.2014.902911
“Full Details for Lot 214.” Swann Auction Galleries, catalogue.swanngalleries.com/asp/fullCatalogue.asp?salelot=2273+++++214+&refno=++648197&saletype
Tyler, John W. “Such Ruins Were Never Seen in America: The Looting of Thomas Hutchinson’s House at the Time of the Stamp Act Riots.” Colonial Society of Massachusetts, www.colonialsociety.org/publications/3297/such-ruins-were-never-seen-america-looting-thomas-hutchinsons-house-time-stamp#en271
“Massachusetts Clears 5 From Salem Witch Trials.” New York Times, 2 Nov. 2001, nytimes.com/2001/11/02/us/massachusetts-clears-5-from-salem-witch-trials.html
“Salem Witch Trials Document Sells for $26,000.” Boston.com, Boston Globe Media Partners, 16 March. 2012, www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2012/03/16/salem_witch_trials_document_sells_for_26000/
Dalton, Tom. Rare Witch Document Expected to Sell For Thousands. Salem News, Eagle Tribune Publishing Company, 14 March. 2012: www.salemnews.com/local/x1511614329/Rare-witch-document-expected-to-sell-for-thousands
“SWP No. 173: Reversal of Attainder and Restitution (1710-1750).” Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project, salem.lib.virginia.edu/n173.html
“SWP: No. 119: Margaret Scott Executed, September 22, 1692.” Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project, salem.lib.virginia.edu/n119.html

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The Witchcraft Trial of Margaret Scott

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the writer and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance writer and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

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