Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Tale of the Timeline : Sarah Good of the Salem Witch Trials




Salem Witch Trial Engraving, unknown artist;
source: Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes it is rather exciting to discover that an ancestor or relative had a brush with history. Other times, it can cause sadness, discontent, and questioning. The latter has been the case for me as I have learned more about the life and death of my 8th Great Aunt, Sarah Solart, for she was one of those accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials.

Several months ago I posted about what I had learned about her father John Solart and the financial problems caused by his death. Even ten years after John Solart's death, his surviving children had not received any money from his estate. The property and money all appeared to remain in the hands of Ezekiel Woodward whom John's wife Elizabeth had married shortly after John's death. While her other sisters did not seem to have fallen onto hard times, this was not the case for Sarah.

The basic facts of Sarah Solart's story are told in a variety of sources ranging from Wikipedia to scholarly books and journals. Each source seemed to give very similar information. Once again, putting facts found from a variety of sources into a timeline helped to present a clearer picture of what happened to Sarah and her role in the Salem Witch Trials.

For the time period, Sarah married somewhat late in life, not marrying for the first time until she was about 28. Her husband was Daniel Poole, a young man considered to be a poor laborer.(1) Poole apparently died soon after their marriage, leaving Sarah to assume his debts. Several years later, Sarah married for the second time, this time to laborer William Good of Salem Village.(1) Sarah and William then had two daughters, Dorcus (sometimes referred to as Dorothy) Good and Mercy Good.

Sarah and William never seemed to have the financial success enjoyed by Sarah's father. Instead, they began to be regarded as annoying beggars. Books make reference to William sending Sarah out to beg, carrying baby Dorcus, as she visited neighbors seeking food or money. Marylynn Roach describes Sarah was "a woman at the lower end of the social scale ... pipe in her mouth, an infant in her arms and a four-year-old girl in tow ... reduced to begging for her children's sake."(2) As neighbors grew tired of the Good family and their begging, Sarah became what Emerson Baker described as a "poor, disaffected women, known for her sharp tongue and outbursts hurled even at those who offered to help her".(3) And so, the downward path for Sarah continued.

By February, 1692, the rumblings which soon erupted into the Salem Witch Trials were gathering and Sarah, according to Emerson Baker, was the "stereotypical view of a witch".(3) The records concerning all aspects of Sarah's trial are extensive. These include the various complaints against her, her arrest, examination, imprisonment, evidence entered against her, the grand jury indictment, her jury trial, her conviction and execution and even restitution for William Good.(4) Below is a timeline of Sarah's last five months as documented by A Guide to the On-Line Primary Resources of the Salem Witch Trials.(4)

29 Feb 1692warrant for Sarah's arrest
1 Mar 1692examination of Sarah, William Good said she was "an enemy to all good"
5 Mar 1692William Good's testimony about a mark on Sarah's shoulder
5 Mar 1692Sarah transferred from Ipswich to Salem
7 Mar 1692Sarah transferred from Salem to Boston
23 Mar 1692warrant for arrest of daughter Dorothy Good
24 Mar 1692examination of Dorothy Good
4 Apr 1692Dorothy Good accused of witchcraft
12 Apr 1692Dorothy Good sent to Boston
23 May 1692more testimony against Sarah
25 May 1692warrant to imprison Sarah
2 Jun 1692physical exam ordered for Sarah and others
28 Jun 1692Grand jury considered the case of Sarah Good
      29 Jun 1692Sarah arraigned on indictments for witchcraft
12 Jul 1692judge signed death warrant against Sarah
19 Jul 1692Sarah's death by hanging
unknown dateSarah's daughter Mercy died while in prison with Sarah

A Guide to the On-Line Primary Resources of the Salem Witch Trials also sheds some light on the life of young Dorcus/Dorothy Good. Dorothy, at age five, was the youngest person accused on witchcraft during the trials, but she was finally released in December of 1692 on a recognition bond posted by Samuel Ray. I have not been able to establish a relationship between Ray and young Dorcus. Ray was not married to any of Sarah Solart's sisters, and the recognition bond does not provide any information as to why Ray was involved in that action. Admittedly, it seems puzzling that her Dorcus/Dorothy's father, William Good, did not post that bond. Perhaps he was too impoverished to assume that obligation for his only known remaining child.

Little more is known about Dorcus/Dorothy Good or her father following Sarah's execution except for one legal document that William Good signed in 1710. At that time the Massachusetts legislature had passed the Reversal of Attainder which nullified the trial judgments against 22 of the convicted witches, one of whom was Sarah Good.(5) In response to the legislative action, William Good filed a petition for restitution on 13 Sep 1710.(6) Below is a transcription of William Good's petition.
To The Honourable Committee
The humble representation of Will'm Good of the Damage sustained by him in the year 1692, by reason of the sufferings of his family upon the account of supposed Witchcraft
1 My wife Sarah Good was In prison about four months & then Executed.
2 a sucking child dyed in prison before the Mothers Execution.
3 a child of 4 or 5 years old was in prison 7 or 8 months and being chain'd in the dungeon was so hardly used and terrifyed that she hath ever since been very chargeable haveing little or no reason to govern herself.--And I leave it unto the Honourable Court to Judge what damage I have sustained by such a destruction of my poor family
And so rest, Your Honours humble servant William Good
Salem. Sept 13, 1710
Further records indicate that 30 pounds was proposed to be given to William Good. These records are also the last I was able to find concerning either William Good or his daughter Dorcas/Dorothy.

Lessons Learned

  • So, why celebrate the story of Sarah Solart Good, one of the first accused of the Salem witches? For starters, she was a relative. All of us have questionable individuals, those we don't particularly care for or agree with within our families. Sarah and her story just happens to be more public and well documented in a number of sources. 
  • Her story reminds me that the lives of our ancestors and relatives are shaped and influenced by the time period in which they live as well as the geographical area of their home. Had Sarah exhibited her behavior in another time or place, she might well have been regarded simply as being a strange individual, one who might have been labeled "insane" on a 19th century census record. Living in another time or place, the actions of William Good might not have been seen as the norm.
  • I was amazed at the quantity of digitized records online relating to the Salem Witch Trials. Without them, learning more about Sarah would have relied primarily upon resources available through area libraries. As an aside, I appreciate the way none of the staff at my local library seemed concerned when I would check out an armload of books about the Salem Witch Trials each visit over several months this past winter.
  • The story of the Salem trials may not be over. As I was working on this post, I came across two new bits of information relating to the trials in Salem. Recently an original deposition from the Salem Witch Trials was sold by Christie's for $137,000.(7) In this document from August of 1692, Mary Daniel was accusing Margaret Scott of sorcery. References to this accusation are available on several online sources, but until Christie's included a photo of the document in the sale information, reading the original text online was not possible because the document was owned by a private collector. Perhaps other primary source documents will surface in the future. In addition, an interesting post by AncestralFindings reported that "ground penetrating sonar revealed no bodies at the presumed gallows site" on Proctor’s Ledge.(8) This raises an interesting question. What happened to the bodies of those executed? Where they removed in secret by family members? Were they taken to an as yet unknown site? Were they buried on family owned property? New information continues to lead to more questions.
  • Because of researching Sarah Solart's life, the Salem Witch Trials are more to me than the old televised episode of You Were There: the Salem Witch Trials or a production of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible. There is now a personal connection. And with it, personal questions as to how we regard those who are different from us, those with mental health issues, those on the fringes of society as well as concerns that we do not let mass hysteria contribute to future dark periods in our history.

(1) Torrey, Clarence Almon. New England Marriages Prior to 1700. Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Co, 1985.
(2) Roach, Marilynn K. Six Women of Salem: the untold story of the accused and their accusers in the Salem Witch Trials. Boston: DaCapo Press, c2013.
(3) Baker, Emerson W. A Storm of Witchcraft: the Salem trials and the American experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press, c2015.
(4) "People Accused of Witchcraft in 1692", A Guide to the On-Line Primary Resources of the Salem Witch Trials. accessed http://www.17thc.us/primarysources.
(5) Roach, Marilynn K. The Salem Witch Trials: a day-to-day chronicle of a community under siege. Taylor Trade Publications, 2004.
(6) "Reversal of Attainder and Restitution Files 1710-1750", Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project. http://salem.lib.virginia.edu.
(7) Martinez, Alanna. "Christie's Sells Rare Deposition From Salem Witch Trials for $137K", www.observer.com, posted 15 Jun 2017.
(8) "Site of Salem Witch Trial Hangings Discovered: Why It's Important to Genealogists", www.AncestralFindings.com.

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