Salem Witch Trials
Susannah North Martin
Reading her Bible in Salem Jail
Susannah North was baptized at Olney, Buckinghamshire, England, September 30, 1621. Her mother died when she was a child, and her stepmother was named Ursula. She came to America with her father, stepmother, and at least one sister. Her family moved to Salisbury, Massachusetts, around 1639. On August 11, 1646, Susannah became the second wife of George Martin, a blacksmith with whom she had eight children.
In 1669, Susannah was first formally accused of witchcraft by William Sargent. Susannah was required to post 100 pounds bond to appear in court on a charge of witchcraft, a capital offense. George Martin sued Sargent for slander against Susannah for accusing her of being a witch, but the Court upheld the accusation of witchcraft. A higher court later dismissed the witchcraft charges.
George died in 1686, leaving Susannah an impoverished widow by the time of the second accusation of witchcraft in 1692. Inhabitants of nearby Salem Village, Massachusetts, stated that she had attempted to recruit them into witchcraft. Susannah was tried for these charges, but she proved by all accounts to be pious and quoted the Bible freely, something a witch was said to be incapable of.
Descriptions of Susanna say that she was short, slightly plump, active, and “of remarkable personal neatness.” She was also said to be very outspoken, contemptuous of authority, and defiant in the face of slander which had followed her for years.
On April 30, 1692, a warrant was issued for Susannah’s arrest on a charge of witchcraft, and she was arrested an May 2nd. “When she saw Orlando Bagley approaching on the morning of her arrest, little did she dream of his errand. He was a personal friend of long standing, and we can but faintly imagine her surprise when…” he read the warrant.
On May 2, Susannah was taken to Ingersills Tavern in Salem Village for examination. She pleaded not guilty, and vigorously answered the charges against her. She underwent the indignity of a physical examination on June 2, 1692. The examinations were intended to discover whether the accused had any physical abnormalities, especially anything that could be used to suckle a familiar or even the devil himself. Susanna was examined twice during the same day; at neither examination was any abnormality discovered.
The Reverend Cotton Mather said of Susannah: “This woman was one of the most impudent, scurrilous, wicked creatures of this world; and she did now throughout her whole trial discover herself to be such a one. Yet when she was asked what she had to say for herself, her chief plea was that she had led a most virtuous and holy life.”
Mr. Merrill, in his History of Amesbury described Susanna differently. “The idea of snatching this hardworking, honest woman from her home to be tried for her life by those who never knew her, and witnesses who were prejudiced against her….is almost too much for belief. …Allowed no counsel, she was her own lawyer, and her answers are remarkable for independence and clearness. She showed herself to be a woman of more than ordinary talent and resolution.”
The Trial & Execution
Susannah was tried on the June 29th session of court. During the trial, it is said that she laughed out loud at the afflicted persons as they writhed about the floor in great pain, which they said was caused by Susannah’s bewitching arts. She later stated in her testimony that she did not think the afflicted were bewitched.
Many of her neighbors came to court to testify to her bewitching arts. All the while Susannah stuck to her faith, knowing that if she admitted she was a witch, it would save her life. At the trials end, Susannah Martin, at the age of 71, was found guilty and condemned to death.
On Tuesday, July 19, 1692 Susanna Martin, Sarah Good, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Wilde, and Elizabeth Howe were taken from their cells, put into a cart and driven up the rocky road to Gallows Hill at Salem, Massachusetts.
Susannah North Martin and the others were hanged by the neck until dead for allegedly committing acts of witchcraft.
In 1711, the General Court granted compensation to many of the victims or their heirs, but Susanna’s children made no application to the authorities and they received nothing. Susanna was not among those whose attainder was lifted.