368 years ago, three of my great grandfathers lived, within miles of one another, but probably never met. John Carrington lived in Wethersfield, Andrew Sanford was right next door in Hartford, andto find William Tuttle you had to go downriver, turn right at Saybrook, and follow the coast to New Haven Colony.
Somehow, through the generations, all three of them melded into one woman, Asenath Carrington. She was born a hundred years after her fifth great-grandfather John Carrington was hanged alongside his wife Joan. Both had been convicted of witchcraft.
John Carrington was born in 1602 in an ancient village bearing his ancestral name. Situated west of Manchester, Carrington is now a gas and chemical production center and has the odd demographic of around 185 men to 215 women. These are the fun things you find out while researching ancestors. I won’t visit.
When John was 33-years-old, he embarked on two life-changing adventures: married his first wife, Mary Ann Walker, and sailed to Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony. Aboard the ship Susan and Ellen—with all that bad food, seasickness, bouts of the flux, and sixty days of bounding across the waves—I’m guessing they experienced the world’s worst wedding trip.
They settled in Wethersfield, a tiny hamlet on the Connecticut River, where their son John was born. The fact that they had been married three years before this recorded birth makes me wonder if an earlier infant had died.
Death on the childbed was so common that some women of means wrote their wills as soon as they knew they were pregnant, one wrote a book for her unborn child who would never know her. Two years after their son’s birth, Mary Ann died (possibly giving birth) leaving her husband to raise their son, the fourth John Carrington in as many generations. Right away the widower married a woman from nearby Simsbury. This would not have been scandalous. Many seventeenth century wives did not have long life-spans and men with children quickly remarried—once, twice, thrice. I’ve seen as many as five wives follow each other’s deaths.
Women, remember, were highly valued for their housekeeping, cooking, brewing, lambing, sewing, gardening, spinning, child rearing, and dairying skills. I could mention more valuable skills, but I’ll just say that the average age for a Puritan wife’s first marriage was twenty-three. It took that long to learn how to do all the above.
John’s second wife, Joan (Balchyn may be her surname. For years, she was simply “Joan,” but recently Ancestry has added that name and the following information.) was from a village located at modern Simsbury, Connecticut. Her parents had immigrated from Surrey. There is no record of her having married before or of any children from her marriage to John Carrington. No records exist to explain the details of their trial and conviction. We don’t know why this remarried carpenter had a noose around his neck eleven years later. But I can make an educated guess.
Most accused women were widows, old and poor. Old women are fallow fields, they are wrinkled, shrunken except for their noses. Their skin is covered in odd growths, hair falls away, and moles become pendulant enough to suckle a familiar spirit. “Only the good die young,” comes from the 445 B.C. writings of the Greek historian Herodotus. If only the good die young what does that say about the old? American poet William Wordsworth had this to say on the subject, “'The good die first,/ And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust burn/ Burn to the socket’.” Old women and men remind us of our own deaths. Joan, at 37, was young for an accused witch.
We don’t know John’s financial status, but as a carpenter he probably wasn’t rich. Why did the witch hunters come for them? Were they thought responsible for someone’s death? People who hanged were often accused of murder by witchcraft. If she was childless what sort of stigma would she carry in Puritan New England?
A woman’s most important contribution was bearing children, preferably sons to help with the planting and harvesting. She may have been looked down upon. It was sad, even shameful, for a wife not to bear children for her husband.
“Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine Within your house, Your children like olive plants Around your table.” Psalm 128:3
Old Testament stories name a number of barren women: Abraham’s wife Sarah, Isaac’s wife Rebekah, Jacob’s wife Rachael, Zacharias’s wife Elizabeth, and more. And when a husband prayed or God had plans for the husband’s future, He blessed his wife’s womb with a child.
God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Genesis 1:28
I'm sure you already know that these people were strict about their religion. They had no science and religion explained everything for them.
Along with the often repeated Biblical names which now seem designed to confuse the researcher, unanswered questions are part of genealogy research. Someday, somehow, answers do appear.
Another eleven years passed and in 1662 my eighth great grandfather Andrew Sanford and his wife Mary, were also tried for witchcraft. Both were convicted and Mary was hanged.
Andrew Sanford immigrated from England around 1632 and settled in Hartford. Soon after, he married a woman now known only as Mary. The only other things we know about him are the date he was made a freeman, his town job of chimney viewer (thatched roofs are flammable), he was a pump maker by trade, and he lived on North Main Street in 1662—a year full of witch scares in towns along the Connecticut River. It was a year of extreme drought. In 1662 God was angry with the people of New England and took away the rain, their crops, food for winter stores, and seeds for next year’s planting.
Indian raids, natural disasters, and witch scares often stirred up witch hunts followed by trials. Once the villagers had a suspect, people became watchful and suspicious of their neighbors.
In Hartford, a Dutch woman suffering from “violent body motions” accused Rebecca Greensmith—described as “a lewd, ignorant and considerably aged woman”—of witchcraft. Poor old Rebecca broke under interrogation and testified in court against her husband. She related stories of strange creatures following him in the woods and his being possessed by supernatural strength. She said that the devil appeared to her first in the form of a deer and that he had made “frequent use of her body,” a euphemism for sex. She described meetings in the woods attended by goodwives Seager, Ayres, and Sanford. She said they met at night, under a tree on the green near her home, to dance and drink a bottle of sack.
That year the devil kept company with the Greensmiths, the Sanfords, Judith Varlet, Goody Ayers, and James Wakely. All were tried for witchcraft. Four were hanged and two acquitted. Elizabeth and John Blackleach were accused but escaped before they could be tried. The following year, Mary Barnes was hanged and Elizabeth Seager suffered two trials, one in January and one in June. She was acquitted both times, but the town took away her land. Today most people think witch trials began and ended in Salem in1692.
The charge against Andrew Sanford and his wife? For holding public meetings other than those prescribed by the elders, and for their dealings with Satan. Among the jury, some thought Andrew was “guilty,” some “strongly suspected,” but Andrew was acquitted. Mary was not so lucky.
No record of Mary’s execution has ever been found, though historians believe she was “probably” hanged. Further evidence to support this comes from the fact that Andrew moved to Milford five years later and remarried. The name of his second wife has recently surfaced on Ancestry.com, but for some reason I don’t trust it yet and will wait and see if more information pops up. Whomever she was, she gave birth to Hannah Sanford my seventh great grandmother.
Rebecca Greensmith’s testimony clearly implicated Mary. But, how was Grandfather Andrew involved? An article in the New England Historical Magazine reports that the Sanfords of Hartford were Quakers. If that is true, it would have made them heretics in the eyes of their neighbors. Contrary to the religious tenants of their puritan neighbors and government, they may have been holding Bible studies in their home.
Now enters William Tuttle of New Haven, a ninth great-grandfather. He was born in 1607 in a town called Ringstead, Northamptonshire, England. At the age of twenty-six he, with his wife Elizabeth Mathews and three young children, sailed from London to Boston on a ship named Planter.
Well above his neighbors in wealth and status, William was among the first settlers in New Haven. He became involved in small affairs of the town on committees and boards, but he was never elected to public office. He was fined in 1646 for falling asleep while on guard duty. At the time of his death, his estate was worth £450, well above average.
William and Elizabeth had a total of twelve children who survived childhood. Out of those twelve, one was a mentally ill invalid, two were axe murders, one was a murder victim, and one an adulteress. The rest of the Tuttle children probably had nervous twitches.
The Tuttle’s other sons John, Thomas, Jonathan, Joseph, Simon, and Nathaniel seemed to lead ordinary lives and along with their sister, Ann, produced sixty viable children. Some statistics say that women in the 17thCentury lost as many as a third of all the babies they bore. It was usual for a woman to give birth every two years. That meant they spent around twenty-two years of their lives giving birth and suckling babies.
Here follows a list of their brothers and sisters, the ones Gommie would have erased from memory.
All we know about poor Uncle David Tuttle is that he lived fifty-four years as an invalid with mental illness. He never married.
Aunt Sarah married John Slawson, had four children, and died at the age of 34. She was hacked to death with an axe by her 29-year-old brother Benjamin. According to Sarah’s son and daughter, aged 12 and 9, their mother had “rebuked” Benjamin for having been “short” with her. He went out and came back with an axe. As he struck his sister with the first blow, he cried out, “I will teach you to scold.”
She was found lying dead across the hearth with her head in the corner of the chimney, her skull and jaw split from her neck to the top of her head. The murder weapon was found near her in a pool of blood.
Uncle Benjamin was hanged on June 13, 1677.
Soon after she married, Aunt Elizabeth cheated on her husband. Poor Richard Edwards. When he learned he was not the father of their first child, he wanted a divorce. Divorce wasn’t common in those days. We don’t know when he filed for divorce, but they had six children together before Elizabeth moved to Fairfield where she died in 1679.
Aunt Mercy, the youngest daughter, was a strange girl even by Tuttle standards. She married Samuel Brown of Wallingford when she was seventeen. The couple had five children, including a son, Samuel.
Throughout her life, Mercy’s behavior was odd and erratic. When her husband died in November, 1691, there was no longer anyone to help her control her moods and conduct. Fifteen years after her sister was killed by her brother, on the night of June 23, Mercy attacked her 17-year-old son Samuel with an axe and killed him. Mercy admitted she had killed him, but said it was not done out of malice, but “at the instigation of the devil.” The devil made me do it.
In October, the court convicted Mercy of murder, but withheld sentence until 1693 when it ruled:
“Having weighed the evidences given in, to prove that she hath generally been in a crazed or distracted condition as well long before she committed the act, as at that time, and having observed since that she is in such a condition, do not see cause to pass sentence of death against her, but for preventing her doing the like or other mischief for the future, do order, that she shall be kept in custody of the magistrates of New Haven.”
Two years later, she died a prisoner in New Haven, the colony her father helped to build.
William Tuttle did not live to see the outcome of most of this children’s lives. He died in 1673 years after New Haven Colony merged with Connecticut Colony in 1664. His wife Elizabeth lived until 1684 suffering through the fratricide of her daughter Sarah by her son Benjamin, his hanging, and the deaths of four adult children.
Now this story becomes even more bizarre—at least it seemed so to me as I slowly came to understand that generations later the Carringtons, the Tuttles, and the Sanfords were marrying each other. The Tuttle’s grandson, Daniel married Hannah Sanford, when he was 25 and she was 23. She was the daughter of Andrew and Mary Sanford who were tried for witchcraft thirty years earlier. First the Tuttles mixed their genes with the Sanfords, then John Carrington’s great grandson Daniel married William Tuttle’s great granddaughter Hannah Tuttle.
John Carrington William Tuttle Andrew Sanford
1602 -1651 1607 – 1673 1617 - 1684
John Carrington John Tuttle
1638 - 1690 1631 - 1683
Peter Carrington Daniel Tuttle-----------------------Hannah Sanford
1662 - 1727 1664- 1700 1669 - 1710
Daniel Carrington-------------------Hannah Tuttle
1701 - 1736 1703 – 1784
1728 – 1806
Asenath Carrington-------------- JohnParsons
1763 – 1844 1753 – 1848
In 1866, three generations after Aseneath Carrington and John Parsons were married, my great-grandfather Abner Charles Parsons was born. I called him “Cookie PopPop” because he always had a cookie or a candy for me. Six generations back in time his great grandmother, Mary Bliss Parsons, who grew up in Hartford, was tried for witchcraft. Remember her? Mary, the woman who defended herself at her trial in Boston and was acquitted in 1675. Mary, the “strong woman” in my grandmother’s stories.
All these people, these ancestors had some things in common: all came from England to Connecticut in the 17th century during the Great Migration. Those suspected of witchcraft may also have been breaking the rules or were objects of suspicion because they were different.
The wonder of it all. At first, I felt both stunned and excited by what I’d discovered. For thousands of years, all these human connections—the children produced through them—have come together to make us. Now modern technology allows us through DNA and the Internet to find our people, to understand the histories of our families.
Why isn’t everyone interested in this? Maybe the “past” seems unimportant. For them it is the future that counts. For me the idea of a future wrought by people who don’t understand the past is terrifying.
As we speak, science is looking into the possibility that trauma effects our DNA. They have found evidence that the following generation may be effected though no evidence yet that many generations later feel the same effect. We still don’t know the answer to the nature vs nurture question. It isn’t fantastical to imagine that traumatized people wound their children to some degree for generation upon generation.
There is an interesting side-story arising from the chaos of Tuttle family life. A story full of magic and optimism. Remember Elizabeth, the unfaithful wife? Her son Timothy became a Minister at East Windsor, Connecticut. He married Esther Stoddard, daughter of Solomon Stoddard, minister at Northampton—Mary Bliss Parsons’ pastor. Their son Jonathan Edwards became a minister too and a very famous one at that. Here’s a bit of his bio:
Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703 – March 22, 1758) was an American revivalist preacher, philosopher, and Congregationalist Protestant theologian. His colonial followers later distinguished themselves from other Congregationalists as "New Lights" (endorsing the Great Awakening), as opposed to "Old Lights" (non-revivalists). Edwards is widely regarded as "one of America's most important and original philosophical theologians". Edwards' theological work is broad in scope, but he was rooted in Reformed theology, the metaphysics of theological determinism, and the Puritan heritage. Recent studies have emphasized how thoroughly Edwards grounded his life's work on conceptions of beauty, harmony, and ethical fittingness, and how central The Enlightenment was to his mindset. Edwards played a critical role in shaping the First Great Awakening, and oversaw some of the first revivals in 1733–35 at his church in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Jonathan Edwards married Sarah Pierpoint, the daughter of the founder of Yale and was minister there after he left Northampton. He is my second cousin eight times removed.