Sarah Wild

© 1997, Dana A. Wildes

My Greatx8 Grandmother is Sarah Wild. She was hanged in Salem, MA on July 19, 1692 on the charge of witchcraft. I'll try to explain some of the circumstances involved in the evolution of the conspiracy that sent over 200 people to jail, 19 people hanged, and one pressed. It was highly political with overtones of family feuds and revenge.

To accurately convey the circumstances surrounding the case of Sarah Wild, we must first start with the background of John Wild. He was born in England in 1618. Came to America as a Freeman in 1635 on the HMS Elizabeth with his brother William and his sister Alice. He first settled in Ipswich, MA, but soon moved to New Meadows(Topsfield), MA. He married Priscilla Gould, daughter of Zaccheus Gould, in 1645. Zaccheus Gould was the richest, most prominent man in the area at the time. The Goulds are cousins to the Putnams. An important fact later. Priscilla had a brother John and a sister Mary. This was a period when the puritans had governmental control (only ranked members of the Puritan church were allowed to vote), merchants were complaining, and King Charles I was considering changing the charter for massachusetts allowing all property owners to vote. This would mean lose of power for the puritans. All the upper eschellon of the church were enraged at the prospect. Everyone was a bit vocal but cautious about it. John Gould, John Wild's brother-in-law, was a bit vocal about his views and, for whatever reason, was turned in for treason by John Wild and subsequently hanged. Priscilla died in 1662. John remarried in 1663 to Sarah Averill.

By this time, John was very prominent in Topsfield politics (at the time of his death he was known in Topsfield as "Old Father Wildes". He was responsible for surveying the land to establish the boundry between Topsfield and Salem. The survey was a matter of great contention and ultimately came out in Topsfield's favor. Now that John Wild was no longer a member of the family with the passing of his wife, Priscilla's only surviving sibling had an ax to grind. She was Mary (Gould) Reddington. Wife to John Reddington and next door neighbor to John Wild. She accused John's wife of witchcraft and spread such rumors as early as 1686. During this period, the husband was totally responsible for anything and everything his wife did. Therefore, John Wild threatened to sue John Reddington for liable as a result of Mary's gossiping if her accusations were not retracted. John Reddington begged him not to as he would surely lose everything. John Reddington assured John Wild that no further rumors regarding Sarah and witchcraft would come from Mary. The damage, however was already done.

Not that Sarah had such a sterling reputation anyway. In her youth, she was known to be a bit wild and was even arrested twice for lewd behavior. No information is known about one incident, however, the other incident was for wearing a brightly colored scarf.

John Wild had eight children from his first wife Priscilla and only one from Sarah. His child with Sarah was Ephraim. Ephraim was, as his father, involved with town politics. He held the positions of town treasurer and constable during the period of the conspiracy. He was ordered by the Marshall, George Herrick, to arrest Deliverence Hobbs. Deliverence, whether through coersion or not, made a jailhouse confession and implicated Sarah Wild as a witch. Probably for spite of her arrest by Ephraim. She also accused several of John's children. This opened the door for the power hungry leaders of Salem church to target John and descimate his family. The official complaint was made, of course, by Thomas Putnam.

The trials themselves were a sham. The Court of Oyer and Terminar was not legally formed or ratified by the government. It was tolerated because the government was tied up dealing with the indian problem of King Philip's War. It had no time or resources to involve itself in small town politics. The court made its own rules and continued to do so as it went along. Defendants were guilty until proven innocent. How the hell does someone prove themselves innocent of something like witchcraft? Defendants were not allowed legal counsel. The court allowed the use of Spectral Evidence.

Ah yes, Spectral Evidence. How conveient is this? The parents of the political power base would have their children(children=unquestionable innocence) fake fits and say it was the defendant afflicting them. You can't tell me that this was a kids prank and that there was no parental guidance involved. The prime witness in all cases was Ann Putnam, but, in one case, even her mother, Ann Putnam Sr., was a witness having fits. Hence, parental involvement. Why is it that no one could see the defendant afflicting the witnesses? Because it was their spectre afflicting them. Thus, only the afflicted could see them. How convenient.

As this thing quickly blossomed with further jailhouse confessions with the hope of saving themselves, most of John Wild's children were accused and it was by order of Marshall Herrick that Constable Ephraim Wild arrest them. Ephraim was probably not terribly popular at family barbecues from then on. The Marshall had some pity on Ephraim, however, and spared him from arresting his own mother. The Marshall did that job himself. John's daughter Sarah and her husband Edward Bishop were arrested but Edward's son paid off Sheriff Corwin to enable their escape from the jail to Rehoboth. What? Police corruption? Now, Sarah was no saint. Hardly that. She was a gruff woman. There were many incidents where she aggrivated people. In my research, it now comes as not much of a suprise to this author that her neighbors testified against her. One such incident involved John and Joseph Andrew. In 1674, while cutting the hay in their field in Boxford, one of them broke his scythe. They went to John Wild's house to borrow one to use in the interim of having theirs either repaired or acquiring a new one. Sarah was home when they got there and she told them she had no scythe available for them to borrow. There were no other family members there. A neighbor who was visiting was also there. He told them he saw John Jr.'s scythe hanging in the tree next to the house and that they should take it a speak with John Jr. on the way. They said they would do just that. In response, Sarah's reply was (angrily), "It is a brave world where every one did as they would." They had not gone far when they were overtaken by young Ephraim. He said he was sent by his mother and that she said, "We had best bring the sith back again, or Elce it should be a a dear sith to us." (Quote from Sarah's witch trial court transcript). They subsequently asked John Jr.'s permision and, having gotten it, went back to work. After the wagon was filled with their second load of the day, the 6 oxen could not budge the wagon. One of the wagon wheels sank almost up to the axel where they had to unload almost all the hay to move it. One brother, Joseph, said to the other he thought it was because Goody Wild was in the cart. Once the wagon was free and reloaded and they were on their way, they came to a treacherous downhill grade in the trail. Joseph saw a small animal near a stump, the oxen bolted, and the wagon overturned at the bottom where the brook is. They righted the cart, reloaded it, and could not get the ropes to bind tight, try as they might. To all this, they attribute their bad day to the witchcraft of Goody Wild.

Everybody has days like that once in awhile. Everyone has interpersonal conflicts. In any other trial, this evidence would be inadmissable or, at the very least, circumstantial. There were a few of these incidents cited in Sarah's trial. She was no angel, but hardly a witch. Witchcraft was never proven, however, it was never disproved.

In 1717, restitution was to be paid to the survivors of the witchcraft homocides. Most families received financial restituion. The Wild family, however, never received any. Ephraim Wild even went to the trouble to figure the cost of lost wages (time spent visiting Sarah in jail), court fees, etc.

How could the people of that era let things go so far as to HEAVILY CHAIN a four year old little girl in a 4'x4' cold, damp, rat infested, stone prison cell. Little Dorcas Good. The cruelty, the sheer cold-heartedness of people such as Magistrate Hawthorn, Magistrate Stoughton, Reverend Cotton Mather, Lt. Nathaniel Ingersoll, Thomas Putnam, Rev. Parris, and others rivals that of other notoriously evil figures in history. The only reason it was halted was because the governor questioned their tactics, so they accused his wife of witchcraft. He then disbanded the court and soon after dismissed all charges of the over 200 people still in prison awaiting their trial. Most of them having waited in deplorable prison conditions for over a year.

This was a very small, tight community. This was not random choices of some old bitties. Look into it. You'll find a number of connections to this cold, calculated, reign of terror. If you are the church and you lose power politically, you can regain power by having the people come to you. Simply instill enough supernatural fear in the public to have then banging on the doors of the church. Pretty clever? Yes. Almost work? Yes. Where'd they go wrong? They went a bit too far.

There's a whole lot more to this story. You can read about it in my up and coming book in 1998. If you have questions or suspect that you may be related, please contact Dana A. Wildes.

Also see another descendant's story of Sarah Wild.

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