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Who was... John Willard?
There are two main stories about John Willard -- in one, he's a constable that turned his back on the trials; in another, he married into a contentious Wilkins family.
In the first story, John Willard was a deputy constable for Salem Village in March, 1692. He was responsible for bringing a few of his neighbors into the court.
"Then he turned against his own profession and cried out against the whole witch-hunt.
'Hang them (presumably the afflicted accusors),' he had cried. 'They're all witches.'
"This is no same talk from a constable, and his behavior. the extreme disinclination he now showed to attend any further to his sworn duties, was no better." (Starkey, The Devil in Massachusetts, p. 148)
In the second story, John Willard had previously helped tend Ann Putnam Jr. after she had fallen ill. By the end of April, he had become her tormentor. She "saw" him whip her sister, Sarah, to death at six months old. (The child died in December, 1689 and John Willard is thought to have lived in Groton, MA at that time.) Further, the child "saw" an apparition of John Wilkins first wife, who said she was murdered by John Willard. (Lydia Wilkins was a cousin of Willard's wife, Margaret, and died in December 1688/9.) (1)
It should be noted that, as we've seen before, the Wilkins were an old, powerful family who helped settle the region. Bray Wilkins purchased 700 acres of "Will Hill" in 1654 in a venture that ultimately failed. He had to sell back part of the land. By 1680, the family lived on a much smaller tract of farm land. (The Wilkins house still stands in Middleton, MA.) (2)
It is possible that both stories are true, and many people combine them. However, there's nothing to back up the claim that he was a deputy constable, and a lot of evidence that his connection to the Wilkins is what got him into trouble.
One thing that is known:
John Willard fled Salem Village after his arrest warrant was issued on May 10th. He was found on May 15 and returned to Salem Village for inquisition and trial.
John Willard was hanged on August 19, 1692.
(1) Norton, Mary Beth, In the Devil's Snare (New York: Adolf Knopf 2002) p. 157-158.
(2) "Bray Wilkins Family and the Salem Witch Trials" [Web Article] Roots and Shoots of Mine: collecting my family's history. N.p. (October 27, 2012). <http://rootsandshootsofmine.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-bray-wilkins-family-and-salem-witch.html>
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.)