Sunday, October 31, 2010

Is There A Witch In Your Family?

Mary Bliss Parsons  Accused of Witchcraft
photograph taken from Wikipedia website but not validated by them that this is indeed a true photo of 
 Mary Bliss Parsons.

Since it is the time of year for witches and goblins and the celebration of Halloween, I figured it would be a good time to talk about witches, or supposed witches in our family trees. I get to claim Mary Bliss Parsons, who was the sister to Samuel Bliss, that I am descended from!

Probably one of the more famous women accused and acquitted of witchcraft was Mary Bliss Parsons, which actually happened in about 1654,  many years prior to the famous Salem Witch Trials which started in 1692.

Mary Bliss, daughter of Thomas Bliss and Margaret , married  Cornet Joseph Parsons in Hartford, CT in 1646. They lived in Springfield, Massachusetts for several years, where they had 3 children before moving to Northampton, in 1654.  The Parsons had a total of  11 children. One of their sons, Ebenezer,  was killed by Indians.

Joseph was a color-bearer in the Hampshire Troop of Horses, a prominent man in town of considerable wealth, working as a merchant and fur trader for the Pynchon family. He was also a selectman. He was licensed to keep an Ordinary, which today would be known as a tavern.

Supposedly a feud developed between the Parsons family and that of  James and Sarah Bridgman who also migrated to Northampton the same year as the Parsons did. Rumors of witchcraft began to circulate shortly after their arrival, implying that the family’s success came at the expense of others and as the result of Mary’s dealings with the devil. Joseph Parsons, took the bull by the horns and  initiated a slander case in 1656, in hopes of heading off these allegations. The record of this notable case will be found in Trumbull's History of Northampton, Vol.I, pp. 43-50; also on pages 228-234, copied from the original record now on file in Boston.

 He won this case but 18 yrs later, Mary was officially accused of and tried for witchcraft in the year 1674/1675. Some records say that she was actually placed in jail in March of 1675 to await her trial but records from the actual  trial did not survive. But on May 13, 1675 a jury found her not guilty.  Even though she was eventually acquitted, some say that  once again she was subject to another inquiry in 1679, but no records remain to prove this. Joseph and Mary packed up their family and left Northampton between 1679 -1680, amid lingering questions and gossip and they moved back to Springfield. Mary was a widow when she died in 1712, her husband preceded her in death by twenty-seven years.

The year before the famous Salem Witch  trials, six  Massachusetts women were hanged. and then twenty four innocent lives were taken during the Salem Witch Trials. The witch hunt began in Salem Village but spread to almost every town in Essex county.  Before it was all said and done, 170 to 190 men, women and even children were accused. Many were held in jails in Ipswich, Salem, Boston, and Cambridge.  Between the months of June and  September 1692, nineteen  people were hung, one was pressed to death and four died in prison awaiting trial. In 1693 the trials were ended.

There are now various theories as to what caused these bizarre accusations of witchcraft and being possessed by demons and casting of spells upon other people.

 See for related theories, and books, both factual and fictional regarding the witchcraft era.

Mary Bliss had the following siblings:
Ann who married Captain Robert Chapman
Thomas who married Elizabeth Birchard
Samuel who married Mary Leonard
Nathaniel who married Catherine Chapin
Lawrence who died in 1675
Sarah who first married John Scott, then Sam Terry and a Mr. Foot.
Elizabeth who married  Miles Morgan (she was his 2nd wife)
Hannah who never married
Hester who married Ed Foster.

My descendant line:
Samuel Bliss who married Mary Leonard
Their son Thomas Bliss who married Hanna Cadwell
Their daughter Hannah Bliss who married Samuel Hubbard.

Even more information at this website  many family lines at this website!


  1. My understanding is that records exist of the trial of Mary Bliss Parsons in Boston. My cousin, a retired librarian and genealogist, has a transcript. Parsons acted as her own lawyer (unheard of back then). She was jailed while waiting for trial.

  2. I too am descended from Mary Bliss Parsons. She is my 9th time grandmother. Her son John is the line I'm descended from.

  3. It's always fun to find a "cousin." I am descended from Samuel Parsons, Mary's son. The above portrait is not Mary Bliss Parsons, but a 19th century portrait of "Mrs. Baker." Mary Bliss Parsons on the Internet is not to be believed. There are no portraits of her. I spent years researching and writing a book about Mary's life, titled: "My Enemy's Tears: The Witch of Northampton," published by Fawkes Press. I should also mention that there are no extant records of the Boston witch trial, but much more is known about the slander trial. Depositions taken before that trial are available. As to the idea that it was unusual for 17th century defendants to defend themselves I'd have to mention that lawyers were nonexistent on the New World frontier. Even in England most people defended themselves.