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Witchcraft in Billerica

The Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project  by the University of Virginia is an electronic database of verbatim testimony taken at the trials and other primary source materials. According to their brief overview:

The Salem witchcraft events began in late February 1692 and lasted through April, 1693. All told, at least twenty-five people died: nineteen were executed by hanging, one was tortured to death, and at least five died in jail due to harsh conditions. Over 160 people were accused of witchcraft, most were jailed, and many deprived of property and legal rights. Accused persons lived in the town of Salem and Salem Village (now Danvers) and in two dozen other towns in eastern Massachusetts Bay Colony. Nearly fifty people confessed to witchcraft, most to save themselves from immediate trial. Hundreds of other people in the Bay Colony — neighbors, relatives, jurors, ministers, and magistrates — were caught up in the legal proceedings of the trials. In October 1692, Governor William Phips ended the special witchcraft court in Salem. Accusations soon abated and eventually stopped. In January, the new Superior Court of Judicature began to try the remaining cases and eventually cleared the jails. After Salem trials, no one was convicted of witchcraft in New England. During the Salem trials, more people were accused and executed than in all the previous witchcraft trials in New England.

Many of those involved were from, or had ties to, Billerica. (Click on the name to read their transcript):

Thomas Carrier came to Billerica in 1674 and took the “oath of fidelity” in February 1677/8. On May 7, 1674 he married Martha Allen, daughter of Andrew and Faith Allen of Andover. Their children included: Richard, born July 19, 1674; Andrew, born April 27, 1677; Thomas, born July 8, 1682; and Sarah, born November 17, 1684. While in Billerica, Thomas and Martha lived in the north part of town near John Rogers, and Roger and Mary Toothaker (Martha’s sister). Ten to fifteen years later they moved to Martha’s family’s home in Andover where, in 1692, Martha Carrier was arrested for witchcraft. Her husband and children were compelled to testify against her. She was found guilty and was executed in Salem on August 19, 1692.

John Rogers,having been a close neighbor to Thomas and Martha Carrier, was thus summoned to appear as a witness in Martha’s trial:

Wee Comand you to Warn & give Notice unto Capt Danforth — John
Rogers & that they & Every of them be and personaly appear at the
Court of Oyer & Terminer to be held by Adjurnment Att Salem on
Tuesday Next at Ten of the Clock in the Morning there to testify the
truth to the best of their knowledge on Certaine Indict-
ments to be Exhibited against Martha Carrier of Andover and hereof
they Nor you are to fail at your utmost perill making return hereof
under your hand. —

Dated in Salem July 30’th 1692

John Rogers agreed to attend; Captain Jonathan Danforth did not, stating in essence that he had nothing he could say.

Roger Toothaker came to Billerica about 1660 and was granted liberty to settle on the lot of land given to him by his step-father Ralph Hill, Sr. The land was in the northern part of town, east of the Concord River and south of the ford way bridge. On June 9, 1665 he married Mary Allen, daughter of Andrew and Faith Allen of Andover and sister of Martha Carrier. Among the children born to them were: Martha, born July 23, 1668; Allen, born July 17, 1670; Roger, born November 27, 1672; Andrew, born October 4, 1679; and Margaret, born January 31, 1682/3. Although there is no documented proof of education or formal training, Roger Toothaker was known to have practiced a natural form of medicine and was referred to as “Doctor”.

In May of 1692, a complaint was filed against Dr. Toothaker and he was arrested and sent to prison in Boston. Later in the same month a complaint was filed against his wife Mary Toothaker and their youngest daughter Margaret. They were arrested and imprisoned in Salem. Dr. Roger Toothaker died in the Boston jail on June 16, 1692, before he could come to trial. A full inquiry into his death was conducted and although it was determined that he died of natural causes, his death was found to be suspicious.

Martha (Toothaker) Emerson, daughter of Roger and Mary, wife of Joseph Emerson of Haverhill was arrested and imprisoned on July 22, 1692. One week later, on July 30, 1692 Widow Mary Toothaker confessed to having made a deal with the devil and in February 1693, at her trial in Charlestown, she was found not guilty.

It is interesting to note that Mary Toothaker confessed that she had made her pact with the devil in the hope that it would protect her from Indians. She had an extreme fear of attack from them, as their homestead was in the most northern part of town, far from the center.  In a cruel twist of fate, Mary Toothaker was killed by Indians, and her daughter Margaret taken captive, while at their home on August 5, 1695, 2 ½ years after her release from prison.


Although there is no testimony to such, it is the belief and speculation of many that John Durrant and Rebecca Chamberlain were also victims of the Salem witch hunts. In the History of Middlesex County (Boston, 1885), Samuel Adams Drake writes “Rebecca, the wife of William Chamberlain and John Durrant, both of Billerica, died in prison in Cambridge where they were incarcerated for witchcraft.” Rev. Henry Hazen, in the History of Billerica (1883), states that Rebecca Chamberlain “died in prison at Cambridge, 1692, Sept. 26, possibly charged with witchcraft.”  And of John Durrant, Hazen states that he “dyed in prison, at Cambridge, 1692, Oct. 27. The date suggests Farmer’s [An Historical Memoir of Billerica by John Farmer] probable conjecture that the charge against him was witchcraft.”

Interesting relations to note:

On November 16, 1670, John Durrant married his neighbor, Susanna Dutton, daughter of Thomas Dutton.  Thomas Dutton had been accepted as an inhabitant of Billerica in 1669. His wife Susannah died on August 27, 1684 and on November 10, 1684 he married Mrs. Ruth Hooper, widow of William, of Reading; thus making Susanna (Dutton) Durrant the step-daughter of Ruth Hooper Dutton. Ruth was also the step-mother of Sarah (Hooper) Hawkes Wardwell. Sarah Hooper was born in Reading to William on December 7, 1650. Widowed, she married Samuel Wardwell of Andover on January 9, 1672.  Samuel Wardwell was tried and sentenced as a witch on September 17, 1692. He was hanged on gallows hill, Salem, on September 22, 1692. On September 1, 1692, his wife Sarah Wardwell and their daughter Mercy Wardwell were both examined and charged with convening with the devil. Sarah confessed and was sentenced to death, however she was later reprieved and, after paying him 30 shillings, she was released by the King’s attorney in 1693. John Durrant and Samuel Wardwell were both (step) son-in-laws to Ruth Hooper and both died as suspected witches.

Kathy Meagher
Local History/Reference Librarian
Billerica Public Library

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