On August 19, 1692, Martha Carrier of Andover was hung as witch in Salem, Massachusetts. She is one of the witches about whom many people know nothing. To me, she is the most interesting of all the accused. I am a 12th generation descendant of the woman who George Burroughs, a main promoter of the Witchcraft Trials, called the “Queen of Hell.”
In August, my mom and I took a trip to Salem. We spent our first day going to museums about the history of the trials and saw a one-woman show about superstitions. The next day we walked around the historical sites of Salem and went to the Salem Witchcraft Trials memorial. There, amongst all the other stones representing all the other “witches,” was Martha Carrier’s name. Every stone had a carnation on it, a carnation that is kept fresh to honor the dead. While looking for her actual grave, we learned that she had never been buried. Her body had been left in what is called the “Witches Pit” where all the dead bodies were thrown because they were not allowed into sacred cemeteries.
But it was the third night in Salem that made the biggest impression on me. My mom and I had spent all day in Boston and then came back to Salem. After dinner, as we were walking back to the inn, we decided to go visit Martha’s memorial as it was our last night in the city. We picked a flower growing close to the sidewalk and strolled the seven minutes to the memorial. When we arrived, we noticed the flowers on most of the stones were crushed; the petals were ragged, the stems were broken, the lives were stolen. There was no pattern as to which flowers were destroyed and which were spared. Martha’s carnation was mashed into the stone. It nearly brought me to tears to see the one sign of respect for the strong woman so few know so little about, wrecked. I laid the little black-eyed susan we had brought right across the stone, attempting to cover up the ruin inflicted by someone else.
The next day as we were preparing to leave, I turned to my mom and asked her, ‘What’s the date?’ I had an appointment coming up and I wanted to make sure one last time we would be back to Michigan on time. “It’s the 20th,” she replied. I was stunned. I thought back to the previous night, the clear, starlit sky, the crushed carnations, and the single, fresh black-eyed susan on Martha’s memorial stone. I did some quick math on a scrap of paper and said, “Mom last night was August 19th. It was the 315th anniversary of Martha Carrier’s execution.” All we could do was stare at each other.
I am so lucky to have been able to visit Martha’s memorial on the anniversary of her hanging. I now feel a special connection with her. I have always found her interesting, especially because of how outspoken she was even though she would more surely be condemned to death. She is recorded as saying to the prosecutor of her persecutors, “It is a shameful thing that you should mind these folks that are out of their wits.”
I take pride in the fact that Martha’s blood runs in my veins. Her strength of character is there too, I can tell. I’ve seen it in multiple generations of women in my family. We never back down. We stand up for our principles and our rights. On my trip to Salem, I found the root of female strength in my family. I have a powerful connection to my past.
Lauren Bacans of Grand Rapids, Michigan won Honorable Mention for this essay.
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