Who was Samuel Wardwell?
Samuel Wardwell was an affable carpenter who told fortunes and had a penchant for finding things. After his first wife died, he moved to Andover where he married the wealthy, young widow, Sarah Hawkes. They had six children along with Samuel's son from his first marriage and Sarah's daughter. Through his skill and hard work as a carpenter, as well as Sarah's wealthy, the Wardwells lived comfortably. They lived in Andover when King Phillip's War erupted in 1676 and the Indians attacked Andover.
In 1692, a young boy of 14 years old accused Samuel, Sarah, and their nineteen year old daughter, Mercy, of witchcraft. They were arrested the same day. Under the pressure of interrogation, Samuel confessed and encouraged Sarah and Mercy to do the same. Sarah and Mercy confessed gave testimony against Samuel.
At this time, Massachusetts passed a law in which people who were charged with "conjuration, witchcraft, and dealing with evil and wicked spirits" would lose their civil, inheritance, and property rights. (1)
Sometime later, Samuel recanted his confession to witchcraft saying he had betrayed himself by confessing. He was rearrested and tried. His trial was based on his own written confession as well as Sarah and Mercy's accusations. He was convicted of witchcraft and hanged on September 22, 1692.
His wife Sarah was brought back to the court in January, 1693 where she was convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to be hanged -- even though she had confessed. The moment she was convicted of witchcraft, the state took over her estate and all of her property. When she and the others convicted were given a reprieve by Governor William Phips.
Released from prison, Sarah and her children were destitute.
Why was Samuel convicted of witchcraft?
- Samuel used to play with finding things and prophesy -- both forbidden by Puritan Christianity.
- Samuel and his wife were both wealthy. The state took everything they owned even though Sarah was not hanged.
- He recanted his confession.
- He gained wealth fairly quickly not only through marrying Sarah Hawkes, but also through his own work as a talented carpenter. Many people in Andover envied his quick assent to wealth.
- His parents were followers of the controversial religious leader Anne Hutchinson, who was banished for her convictions.
The fact that he recanted his confession, and refused to reconfess, is likely the reason he was actually hanged. The reason he was tried in the first place is a mystery.
1. Knutsen, Carol F. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman. (New York: WW Norton and Co. 1987)
In the small town of Salem Village, Massachusetts in 1692, at least thirty-eight men and one-hundred and six woman where accused of the capital crime of witchcraft.
- Thirty-one people were tried by the Oyer and Terminer court, convened by Massachusetts governor, William Phipps.
- Fifty-four people confessed to the crime of witchcraft.
- Three women, one man, and several infants died as a result of their treatment while in custody.
- One four-year-old lost her mind after a year in custody.
- Two dogs were hanged as witches.
Despite extreme social pressure, physical torture, and what was perceived as overwhelming evidence, fourteen women and five men refused to confess to being witches. One man refused to acknowledge the Oyer and Terminer court and was pressed by stones to his death.
Suffer a Witch is about these twenty people.
Because the serial begins with so many characters, we've decided to, once a week, introduce you to the historic characters in the story. They will appear in their order of appearance in the story. You can find more information on the Suffer a Witch Wiki, where you can also participate in filling in the details from your own research or the story. (You must sign into Wikia to edit a page.)