Samuel Wardwell



Salem Witch House, 1642

Samuel Wardwell, a carpenter by trade, lived with his wife and several small children in the south end of the town. Up to 1692 he was regarded as an eccentric but harmless individual who sometimes told fortunes, played with magic, and perhaps in jesting moods even claimed supernatural powers. His peculiarities attracted the attention of the witch hunters, and he was shortly charged by Martha Sprague, of Boxford one of those involved in the case of Abigail Faulkner of having practiced upon her "certain detestable arts called witchcraft and sorceries." In a second and more precise indictment it was alleged that Wardwell had twenty years before made a covenant with the "evill speritt," in which he had promised to honor, worship, and believe the "devill." Witnesses against him were not only the familiar group of Salem Village girls but also three respectable citizens of Andover: Joseph Ballard and Thomas Chandler, neighbors of his in the south end, both of whom had been selectmen; and Ephraim Foster, who for years had been clerk of the proprietors. This was a formidable array of accusers.

Like many others, Wardwell, in his anxiety and terror, was led to make a complete "confession." While he was in a discontented mood because of a thwarted clandestine love affair with "a maid named Barker," he had seen some "catts" meeting together behind Mr. Bradstreet's house. One of them, assuming the form of a black man, told him that if he would only sign the book, he should "live comfortably and be a captain," like Dudley Bradstreet. Following the classic example of Faust, Wardwell attached his name to the contract, was then baptized in the Shawsheen River, and abandoned his church affiliation.

When Wardwell later was released from "brain-storming," he declared that the urgency of his tormentors had persuaded him, under emotional stress, that he must have done the deeds attributed to him. From that hour until his execution he never again weakened. He regretted that he had even once "belyed" himself and announced that even though it might cost him his life, he would stick to the truth. No one of sufficient importance intervened in the poor man's behalf, and he was hanged on September 22, 1692, together with seven others. Even as the noose was being adjusted around his neck, Wardwell declared in a firm voice that he was innocent. While he was speaking a puff of smoke from the executioner's pipe blew across his face and some misguided girl shouted, "The Devil doth hinder his words!" On this occasion the Reverend Nicholas Noyes, of the First Church in Salem, not content with mere watching, addressed the multitude of spectators, saying, "What a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there!"

Wardwell's example was used in later trials as a threat to others of what might be their fate if they recanted their confessions. The injustice in his case reached beyond his grave. On January 2, 1693, his wife was brought before the Court of Trials, where a jury delivered the familiar verdict that she was "guilty of covenanting with the Devill." Meanwhile the selectmen of Andover notified the Court of Quarter Sessions at Ipswich that the four Wardwell children were in suffering condition, and then proceeded to bind them out to other households in the neighborhood until they should be mature enough to pursue some gainful occupation. To pay the expenses of Wardwell's trial, the sheriff seized property of his amounting to 36 pounds, 15 shillings, including five cows, nine hogs, eight loads of hay, and six acres of corn upon the ground. Furthermore both Wardwells had to provide their own subsistence while they were in prison. Eventually Sarah Wardwell was reprieved and released. In 1712, his mother meanwhile having died, Samuel Wardwell, Jr., requested and received compensation for the financial loss which his family had suffered. Unfortunately it was too late to bring his father back to life.

Extracted from chapter 8 of an out-of-print book called Andover: Symbol of New England, by Claude M. Fuess.