The Witchcraft Trial of Mary Parker

Mary Ayer Parker was a widow from Andover who was accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials.

Mary Ayer was born around 1637, most likely in England, to John and Hannah Ayer and later moved with her family to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The family moved around the colony a number of times but eventually settled in Haverhill, Mass in 1647.

Around 1652, at the age of 15, Mary married the widower Nathan Parker, a local scribe, and the couple went on to have nine children together:

John Parker born 1653
James Parker born 1655
Mary born 1660 (or 1657)
Hannah born 1659
Elizabeth born 1663
Robert Parker born 1665
Sarah born 1670
Peter Parker born 1676
Joseph (birth date unknown)

Mary and Nathan’s son, James, was killed in battle at Black Point on June 29, 1677 during King Philip’s War and their other son, Robert, died in 1688 at the age of 23. Their daughter Hannah married John Tyler in 1682 and their daughter Elizabeth married John Farnum in 1684.

On June 25, 1685, Nathan Parker died and left his estate, which amounted to 225 acres and 463 pounds and 4 shillings, to Mary and their children. The court awarded Mary one-third of the house and lands and equal shares to the children except for John who, as the eldest, received a double share.

Mary Parker & the Salem Witch Trials:

Very few records and documents about Mary Parker’s case exist and it is not clear why. The other records could have been lost or may never have existed at all.

What we do know is that Mary Parker was considered a respectable member of the community and had no previous brushes with the law nor quarrels with neighbors. It is not clear why she was targeted in 1692. Parker did have a distant relative who was accused of witchcraft in 1662, the wife of her distant cousin William Ayers, but historians don’t believe this had any influence on her own accusation.

Mary Parker, Memorial Marker, Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Salem Mass
Mary Parker, Memorial Marker, Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Salem Mass

After the Salem Witch Trials spread to Andover in July of 1692, almost all of her daughter Hannah’s female in-laws, the Tyler family, were accused of witchcraft.

On September 1, 1692, Mary Parker herself was accused when 15-year-old William Barker Jr named her in his confession, according to court records:

“He saith further that Goody Parker went with him last night to afflict Martha Sprague & that he afflicts by pinching his hands together he saith he now is sorry & hates the Devil but yet struck down the afflicted with his eyes – and Martha Sprague being recovered out of a fit said that Barker’s apparition & Goody Parker rod upon a pole & was baptized at 5 mile pond” (SWP No. 10.2).

Barker Jr went on to say that “he knows Goody Parker to be a witch” and afterward confessed “that there were of his company Goody Parker, Goody Johnson, Samuel Wardwell & his wife and two daughters” (SWP No. 10.2).

As a result, on September 2, Mary Parker was arrested and examined by Judge Bartholomew Gedney, Judge John Hathorne and John Higginsons.

When Parker’s name was announced in the courtroom, the afflicted girls immediately fell into fits and only stopped after the touch test was administered, a test in which a suspected witch touches an afflicted person and if their fits stopped, it was believed to be proof that they were a witch.

During the examination, Mary Parker denied all the charges and tried to explain that she was possibly being confused with another woman in town who had the same name, but the afflicted girls insisted she was the guilty one, according to the court records:

“Q. how long have ye been in the snare of the devil.

Ansr. I know nothing of it There is another woman of the same name in Andover

But Martha Sprague affirmed that that this is the very woman that afflicted her the said Mary Parker looking upon Sprague struck her down, and recovered her again out of her fit, Mary Lacey being in a fit, cried out upon Mary Parker, & said Parker recovered her out of her fit” (SWP No. 98.1).

Mary Warren fell into a violent fit during the examination but it stopped when Mary Parker touched her, according to the court records:

“Mary Warren in a violent fit was brought near having a pin run through her hand and blood running out of her mouth she was recovered from her fit by said Mary Parker. The said Mary Warren said that this Mary Parker afflicted & tormented her, And further that she saw the said Parker at an examination up at Salem Village sitting upon one of the beams of the house” (SWP No. 98.1).

After the examination was over, Mary Parker was taken back to jail.

On September 16, Mary Parker was indicted on three charges of witchcraft, one for afflicting Sarah Phelps, one for afflicting Hannah Bigsby and one for afflicting Martha Sprague.

The Trial of Mary Parker:

On September 16, Mary Parker’s trial began at the former courthouse on what is now Washington Street in Salem.

According to the court records, only two people testified against Parker in her trial: Mercy Wardwell and William Barker Jr.

Barker Jr testified that Parker was a witch like him and that the two of them had afflicted Martha Sprague the night before.

Mercy Wardwell also testified that Parker was a witch like herself and that Parker afflicted Timothy Swan while in her company.

On September 17, 1692, Parker was found guilty and was sentenced to death.

The Execution of Mary Parker:

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

As the cart carrying the prisoners began to climb the small hill to the ledge, it suddenly became stuck. As the law men tried to get the wheels to move, the afflicted girls began to cry out that they saw the Devil holding the cart back (Calef 218.) Eventually, the oxen pulled the cart free and they arrived at Proctor’s Ledge.

According to Upham, Mary Parker and the others continued to declare their innocence when it came turn for their execution:

“Nothing has reached us particularly relating to the manner of death of Alice or Mary Parker, Ann Pudeator, Margaret Scott, or Wilmot Reed. They all asserted their innocence; and their deportment gave no ground for any unfavorable comment by their prosecutors, who were on the watch to turn every act, word, or look of the sufferers to their disparagement” (Upham 325).

After all the prisoners were executed and their 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 executions were over, the victims were cut down and temporarily placed in a nearby rocky crevice. It is not known what happened to their bodies after that.

The Parker Family After the Salem Witch Trials:

On November 7, 1692, Mary’s sons, John and Joseph Parker filed a complaint with the court that Sheriff George Corwin sent an officer to seize their mother’s estate but when the officer was told she left no estate he instead seized their estates, confiscating their cattle, corn and hay. He then told them to make an arrangement with Corwin to prevent it from being sold.

When the men spoke to Corwin, he demanded a bribe if they wanted their goods returned to them, according to the petition they filed:

“We not knowing what advantage the law might give him against us, and fearing we should sustain greater damage by the loss of our estate, went to the sheriff accordingly, who told us he might take away all that was seized. if he pleased, but was willing to do us a kindness by giving us an opportunity to redeem it. He at first demanded ten pounds of us, but at length was willing to take six pounds, which he has obliged us by bill to pay him within a month. Now if our mother had left any estate, we know not of any law in force in this province, by which it should be forfeited upon her condemnation; much less can we understand that there is any Justice or reason, for the sheriff to seize upon our estate” (SWP No. 98.6).

There is no record of how the court responded to this petition but it appears that the brothers did not get their goods back because the items were later listed in the family’s request for restitution in 1710.

On September 13, 1710, John and Joseph Parker filed a petition with a committee that had been sent to Salem to make restitution to the victims of the trials.

Their petition asked that their mother’s name be cleared and requested repayment of the cost of their mother and sister’s imprisonment as well as repayment for the goods that Corwin seized, according to the court records:

“The account of our charges and of the loss and damage we have sustained in our estate is as followeth. The money paid the sheriff in lieu of cattle and corn which he had seized 2:15:0. To the keeper & to the clerk of the court 2:15:0. Our charges and expenses other ways for our mother we compute to be besides our time which we desire nothing for 4:16:0. We had a sister that suffered imprisonment upon the same account whose charges are included in this account. Notwithstanding our loss and damage: hath been so great. If we may be allowed eight pounds we shall be satisfied” (SWP No. 173.92).

On October 17, 1711, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill restoring some of the names of the Salem Witch Trials victims, including Mary Parker.

On December 17, 1711, the Massachusetts legislature awarded the Parker family 8 pounds in restitution.

In December of 1711, John and Joseph Parker signed a letter, along with 33 other victims and relatives, asking that Stephen Sewall acquire a copy of the 1711 act and collect their restitution on their behalf since traveling to Boston would be very difficult for them.

Mary Parker, Memorial Marker, Proctors Ledge Memorial, Salem, Mass
Mary Parker, Memorial Marker, Proctors Ledge Memorial, Salem, Mass

On January 7, 1711, John Parker filed an order requesting the court to allow his brother Joseph to collect the restitution for them.

On the 300th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials, in 1992, the Salem Witch Trials Memorial was built in Salem, Mass and a marker was established for Mary Parker.

After the site of the Salem Witch Trials executions was identified in 2016, the Proctor’s Ledge Memorial was built in 2017 and a marker was established for Mary Parker.

The location of Mary Parker’s grave has never been found.

Mary Parker Historical Sites:

Salem Witch Trials Memorial:
Address: Liberty Street, Salem Mass

Proctor’s Ledge Memorial:
Address: 7 Pope Street, 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.

Sources:
Kelly, Jacqueline. “Story of Mary Ayer Parker: Gossip and Confusion in 1692.” Revised for presentation at the Berkshire Conference. June 2005, salem.lib.virginia.edu/people/?group.num=&mbio.num=mb42
Upham, Charles W. Salem Witchcraft: With An Account of Salem Village and a History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects. Vol. II, Boston: Wiggin and Lunt, 1867.
Calef, Robert. More Wonders of the Invisible World. Salem: Cushing and Appleton, 1823.
“SWP: No. 173: Reversal of Attainder and Restitution 1710-1750).” Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project, University of Virginia, salem.lib.virginia.edu/n173.html
“SWP: No. 10: William Barker, Jr.” Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project, University of Virginia, salem.lib.virginia.edu/n10.html
“SWP No. 098: Mary Parker, Executed, September 22, 1692.” Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project, University of Virginia, salem.lib.virginia.edu/n98.html

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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