The Accused Witches of Gloucester

Not all of the accused witches of the Salem Witch Trials actually lived in Salem.

A number of the accused also came from nearby towns such as Salisbury, Ipswich, Andover, Topsfield and Gloucester. In fact, Andover and Gloucester had more accused witches than any other towns outside of Salem.

A total of nine Gloucester women were accused of witchcraft during the hysteria of 1692:
Esther Elwell
Margaret Prince
Elizabeth Dicer
Joan Penney
Phoebe Day
Mary Rowe
Rachel Vinson
Abigail Rowe
Rebecca Dike

Not much is known about these cases since many of the records have been lost. What we do know is that the accusations began in September of 1692, when Gloucester resident Ebenezer Babson asked some of the afflicted Salem village girls to visit his mother, Eleanor, who was complaining of spectral visions of Indians and French soldiers.

Upon visiting Eleanor, the girls accused Margaret Prince and Elizabeth Dicer of bewitching her. Around the same time, three more women were accused: Mary Rowe, Phoebe Day and Rachel Vinson, although it is not known who accused them.

Joan Penney was also accused in September by Zebulon Hill, a former Gloucester resident who had recently moved to Salem town.

"View of the town of Gloucester, Mass" lithograph by Fitz Henry Lane printed by Pendleton's Lithography in 1836

“View of the town of Gloucester, Mass” lithograph by Fitz Henry Lane printed by Pendleton’s Lithography in 1836

Shortly after, in October or November, James Stevens, a deacon of the local church and lieutenant in the militia, sent for the afflicted girls of Salem Village to name the witch he believed was bewitching his sister Mary Fitch, wife of John Fitch.

The girls named Rebecca Dike, Esther Elwell and Abigail Rowe.

It’s interesting to note that, much like the accused of Salem, the accused women of Gloucester were also either prominent, wealthy citizens or trouble-makers or relatives of other accused witches.

The Accused:

Esther Elwell:

Esther Elwell, whose maiden name was Dutch, was from a prominent family that lived at the Harbor in an area known as Dutch’s Slough. She later married a wealthy man named Samuel Elwell.

Her mother, Ruth Dutch, had also once been accused of witchcraft, although it is not known when. Elwell’s witchcraft case was featured on an episode of the NBC genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? after actress Sarah Jessica Parker discovered she is descended from Elwell.

Rebecca Dike:

Rebecca Dike’s maiden name was Dolliver and she married a man named Richard Dike who held a large amount of land in Gloucester. Rebecca was neighbors with the in-laws of the Stevens family, the Eveleths, and had many problems with them.

Petition from the accused witches held in Ipswich

Petition from the accused witches held in Ipswich

Abigail Rowe:

Abigail Rowe was the 15-year-old daughter of Hugh and Mary Prince Rowe of Little Good Harbor. The family had a large amount of land in the Little Good Harbor area. Abigail’s mother and her grandmother, Margaret Prince, were also accused.

Mary Prince Rowe:

Mary Prince Rowe was the mother of Abigail Rowe and daughter of Margaret Prince. She was held at a jail in Ipswich, along with Elizabeth Dicer and Joan Penney. Their names appear on an undated petition asking to be released on bail until their trial.

Margaret Prince:

Margaret Prince was the grandmother of Abigail Rowe and mother of Mary Prince Rowe. She was known for being troublesome and having a sharp tongue.

Rachel Vinson:

Rachel Vinson was the widow of William Vinson who’s first wife had also been accused of witchcraft along with Ruth Dutch.

Phoebe Day:

Phoebe Day, whose maiden name was Wildes, was related to fellow accused witch Sarah Wildes, of Topsfield, who was hanged for witchcraft on July 19, 1692 in Salem.

Elizabeth Dicer:

Elizabeth Dicer was a local woman who had been fined thirteen times in the past for calling Mary English’s mother a “black-mouthed witch and a thief.”

Joan Penney:

Joan Penney was a local woman who had numerous squabbles with neighbors over land and had also been brought to court a number of times for such crimes as wearing a silk scarf and “breach of sabbath” after she carried bushels of corn on her way to church.

Fortunately for the accused, it appears that these cases never went to trial because the use of spectral evidence was banned in October of 1692, giving prosecutors little evidence to go on, and the special court set up to hear the Salem Witchcraft cases was disbanded.

In November, public officials set up the Superior Court of Judicature to hear the remaining witchcraft cases.

According to court records, Margaret Prince and Elizabeth Dicer were released on their own recognizance on December 15th.

It is not clear what happened to the other Gloucester women but between January and May of 1693, most of the remaining accused were either released due to a lack of evidence or tried and found not guilty.

Karlsen, Carol F. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. W.W. Norton & Company, 1998
Roach, Marilynne K. The Salem Witch Trials: a Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege. Taylor Trade Publishing, 2004
Drolet, Jedediah. The Geography and Genealogy of Gloucester Witchcraft,
“Massachusetts Archives: Superior Court of Judicature Witchcraft Trials (January – May 1693), Cases Heard.”  Salem Witch Trials Documentary and Transcription Project, University of Virginia,
Lisa. “Sarah Jessica Parker Traces Her Roots Back to Gloucester.” Wicked Local, Gatehouse Media, 12 March. 2010,

The Accused Witches of Gloucester

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist 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.

18 thoughts on “The Accused Witches of Gloucester

    1. Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

      I looked up their case files it looks like they were released on their own recognizance on December 15th.

      1. Paul Parisi

        Family lore (my wife is a Tarr) say that Richard Tarr bribed the jailer and hide them in “Dogtown Common” until the witch scare was over.

  1. Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

    That’s correct, Tarr’s name is on the bonds for Dicer and Prince. There’s a transcript of their case files on the University of Virginia website if you want to look at them.

    1. Marge

      According to one of the local histories, Richard Tarr went up to Ipswich to fetch his mother-in-law, who had been put in jail there for witchcraft. According to that record, he took her back to Sandy Bay to live with he and his wife. I believe
      Dicer was his mother-in-law.

    2. Bridget King

      I sm descended from Elizabeth Dicer. My Grandfather’s middle name was Tarr, hid mother’s maiden name. Any info at all I would appreciate. Thank you, Bridget King



    1. Mary Casella

      I am also a relative of Samuel. His brother, Isaac is one of my Great Great grandfathers. Which of his brothers do you descent from?

    1. Denise Penta

      I too am a descendant of Abigail Rowe, Margaret Prince and Mary Prince Rowe and a native of Gloucester. I can provide to you the family tree and have collected many materials along the way. I am a yearly member of Ancestry and am willing to guide you to your line; however, I will not do your tree for you. If you provide your email to me, I will give you access to view my lineage and see where you fit.

      I think the easiest way for you to find your line is to start with either the maternal or paternal side of Margaret Prince Rowe. If you are related through the maternal line start with Margaret Prince Rowe, if the paternal as I am begin with Hugh Rowe abt 1645-1696, my 7th great-grandfather, married to Mary Prince, my 7th great-grandmother.
      copy and paste the site into the Internet search:

      I would like to keep a connection with you. On Facebook I began a Rowe Descendants site that is slowly building a depository for what people are willing to add. Many have joined so far. Please be open to participate. All Rowe Descendants are welcome.

      Denise Leavitt Sheahan Penta 7th great-grandmother

      1. Deborah Shima

        I am also a descendent of the Mary and Abigail Rowe…I’d love more information about them.

      2. Mary Casella

        Hello Denise,
        I am also a descendant of Hugh Rowe and Mary Prince Rowe. They are my 8th Great grandparents.
        I would be most grateful for any information on Hugh and Mary that you can provide.

        Thank you!
        -Mary Nickerson, Casella

  3. Janice Barrett Smith

    Interesting. My “Barrett” Family history talks of a woman who was arrested and jailed for these Witch trials, and a grandfather who had to take in and raise the grandchildren while their mother was in jail awaiting trial. Supposedly, he sued the courts for reimbursement for the care of these children. I’d like to know if any of that was true and can you tell me anything about that?

    1. Joanne

      My mother was a Barrett. I just found out that Sarah Wild was accused of witchcraft. The memorial in Danvers and Salem have her name ingraved. her husband is buried in Ipswich at the Highland Cemetery.

  4. Mary Casella

    I am also related to the Hugh Rowe family. Mary Prince Rowe is also one of my Great Grandmothers. I believe she is my 10th GG. I would also love to have any information that you have gathered about them and others. I traced the Rowe family all the way back to King Malcolm iii of Scotland and his wife, Queen and Saint Margaret of Scotland.

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