Monday, September 5, 2016

Hugh and Mary Parsons; Witches of Springfield

My book on Hugh and Mary
Most people are familiar with the Salem Witches of 1692. Many books and articles have been written about them. Plays and movies have made about these unfortunate souls and whole websites devoted to their stories. But there were many other early New Englanders who suffered the same fate. This is a brief story of Hugh and Mary Parsons of Springfield who were accused of Witchcraft in 1650. 

Hugh Parsons
Hugh was most likely born in England and arrived in Springfield by 1645. His ancestry in unknown. He was a brick maker by trade and on 20 October 1645 he agreed to make bricks for a chimney for William Pynchon, founder and leading citizen of Springfield.[1] He also felled trees and sawed lumber. Hugh was given a land grant and in 1647 he was recorded as having 37 and 1/2 acres. His was, at that time, one of the last lots in the small outpost of Springfield. The lots stretched along the Connecticut River. Immediately behind their house lots each man was assigned a woodlot and directly across the river they had a planting lot. His planting lot was just north of the confluence of the then Agawam, now Westfield, River and the Connecticut River. His neigbor to the south was John Lombard and Jonathan Burt lived on the north side of him. three lots to the north was Reice Bedortha who married Blanche Lewis, believed to be the sister of his wife's first husband.[2] Nothing remains today of those long ago homes.

Mary Lewis
October was  busy month for Hugh. On the 20th he signed a contract with the town leader and on the 27th he formed a contract of a different sort, one he would surely regret a few years later. On that day he married Mary ____Lewis. Mary was originally from Wales. [3] Her husband has run off, abandoning her. William Pynchon called him a 'Papist' and said that they had been separated for some seven years. What she did prior to her marriage to Hugh is unknown. She possibly worked as a servant for a Springfield family. 


Hugh and Mary are known to have had three children. It does not seem as if she had any with her first husband.
Hannah b. 7 August 1646, nothing more known
Samuel b. 8 June 1648, b. end of September 1649
Joshua b. 26 October 1650 d. 4 March 1651

name calling 
On 29 May 1649 the Widow Marshfield brought Mary Parsons to court and charged her with slander. Mary had made a serious accusation against the widow and had called her a witch. John Matthews and his wife were called to testify. He said that Mary had told him that the Widow Marshfield was a witch. She had started coyly by saying she was taught to know a witch by a widow now living in Springfield who had lived in Windsor, that this woman had three children, one of whom was married. I'm sure it was not hard for John and his wife to guess who she was talking about, but she admitted that it was the Widow Marshfield.

Mary was found guilty of slander and sentenced to 20 lashes or a payment of 3 pounds to the widow. Hugh paid the fine in Indian corn.

Hugh is not nice
It seems that Hugh was not a very nice man, nor was he a caring husband, at least that is what can be gleaned from the public records of the time. He argued with his neighbors, he failed to hold up his side of business dealing, usually having to do with bricks. When angered he insulted and used verbal threats against the offender. His neighbors were it seemed fed up with him.

the accusations are reversed

In 1651 Mary was accused of being a witch and she in turn accused her own husband. No less that 35 neighbors turned out to testify against him. Today the supposed acts of witchcraft for which he was accused seem pretty silly. From exploding sausages to missing knives and trowels to men falling off their horses, the actions for which he stood trial are laughable today, but were deadly serious in 1651. During the trial their third child died and Mary claimed that she had killed it. When the magistrate, William Pynchon had gatherer all the testimony, Mary and Hugh were taken to Boston to await trail by the General Court.

Mary's case was heard right away. She was indicted and charged with witchcraft and murder of her child for which she was found guilty. She was sentenced to died by hanging. She was given a reprieve on the 29th of May. Nothing more is known about her fate. It is presumed that she died in prison as her execution was never recorded.

Hugh's trial did not occur for another year. On 12 May 1652 Hugh was found guilty of witchcraft by the court of Assistants, but two weeks later the verdict was rescinded by the General Court. John Pynchon sold his lands in Springfield and forwarded him the proceeds.  What he did after the trial is also unknown as is the fate of their daughter Hannah.

Where did he go?
Hugh was still in Boston in May 1654. He was not the Hugh Parsons who lived in Watertown. That Parsons was granted land there in 1649 too soon to be the Hugh of Springfield. There was also a Hugh Parsons who lived in Rhode Island. He had a daughter Hannah, like the Springfield Parsons but he also had a daughter named Grace who seems was born about 1637, too early to be his daughter. [5] The Rhode Island Hugh married and seemed to have some responsibility in community where he lived. I would think that Hugh Parsons of Springfield, would be something of a pariah, not to mention that he was not a very nice fellow.

Mary Bliss Parsons
In a bizarre twist of fate, a second Mary Parsons was accused of witchcraft by her Springfield/Northampton neighbors. Many of the same names are found in depositions from the slander case she brought against her accuser, Sarah Bridgeman. Read about Mary Bliss Parsons here.

weave a web of witchcraft
WEAVE A WEB OF WITCHCRAFT is my novel built on the lives of Hugh and Mary. It uses actual testimony given at their trials to reconstruct their world. Using meticulous research I bring the their world to life, the day to day struggle to survive on the Massachusetts frontier. WEAVE A WEB OF WITCHCRAFT is a window into the world of our 17th century ancestors; what they ate, their houses, their work, what they believed, from birth to death.

My book is available on Amazon in paperback and kindle and on Smashwords where you can buy it for Nook, ibook and many other formats. Please consider giving it a read. It will make you happy to be from the 21st century!


[1] Gerald James Parsons, "The Early Parsons Families of the Connecticut Valley," The New England Historic and Genealogical Register, Vol. 149 (January 1995) 69-70, digital images, American Ancestors ( : accessed 5 September 2016).

[2] Henry M. Burt, The First Century of the History of Springfield, Vol. 2 (Springfield, Mass: H. M. Burt, 1899), digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 5 September 2016).

[3] Parsons, "The Early Parsons," 69.

[4] Parsons, "The Early Parsons," 69

[5] Parsons, "The Early Parsons, " 69.


Dave Robison said...

Your data seems quite accurate. I'll get this at Amazon tomorrow. By the way, I just received both volumes of Burt's history of Springfield in paperback. I've got lots of ancestors here starting with Deacon Samuel Chapin (1598-1675).

The Rock said...

My ancestor, Alexander Edwards, was one of the Hugh Parsons accusers. I did not expect Hugh Parsons to be this sort of a person. Karma I guess... wow, great story!

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