Ahhhh yes, the good old days of the Salem Witch Trials…

Well, it is that time of year again which means I can finally post this ghoulish story which has been sitting on the back burner for a few months.

So, the Salem Witch Trials. I never really thought that I would be posting anything related to this particular bit of American history, even though I have ancestors who I know were involved in a few witch trials, none had previously been a part of this particular one.

Giles Corey being pressed to death by the citizens of Salem. The image of course is flawed as he was naked when the townsfolk decided on the evenings entertainment.
Giles Corey being pressed to death by the citizens of Salem. The image, of course, is in error, as he was stripped naked when the townsfolk decided on the day’s ‘pressing’ entertainment.

And, I have Esther Newell to thank for this excellent addition to the family archives. Esther’s mother was Abigail Smith, who’s line on her mother’s side goes back a few more generations to Mary Cheever, a daughter of Ezekiel Cheever.

This is not a picture of Ezekiel junior, it is his father, senior.

Ezekiel is famously known as a Boston school master who wrote a latin textbook titled Accidence: A Short Introduction to the Latin Tongue. This publication was used for many generations in the schools of New England. (I am including his biography in this .pdf file, it makes for a pretty interesting, short, read.) Cotton Mather, in his eulogy about Ezekiel, remembered his great piety and “his untiring abjuration of the Devil.” Judge Sewall had this to say, “The welfare of the commonwealth was always upon the conscience of Ezekiel Cheever,”…”and he abominated periwigs.” Apparently he despised the wigs so much he was known to pluck the despised object off an offender’s head and fling it out the window. (Which if you ask me is pretty rude. I hate hoodies and baseball caps, but you don’t see me running up to folks to rip the ugly fashion wear off and fling the items out windows – although…I would really, really love to do that.)

Ezekiel and his wife Mary Margaret Culverwell came to New England in 1637, eventually settling in Boston where he became head master of the Latin school there. Ezekiel married twice and had a total of 11 children. Our ancestress Mary Cheever was a daughter with his first wife Mary Margaret. With his second wife he had a son Ezekiel, junior. It is this son who we have to thank for our Salem Witch Trial connection.

Junior and his siblings were brought up in a very Puritan household where his father was known for his “untiring abjuration of the Devil.” Eventually junior grew up, married, had children and settled the family in Salem. He earned his living as a respectable tailor. As he grew older he also became an official clerk of the court, due mostly to his knowledge of shorthand, and earned prominence in town, eventually taking the oath of fidelity and the freeman’s oath. The family outgrew their home in town, so in 1684 they purchased and moved to the Lathrop farm in Salem Town.

In 1689 he was promoted to a charter member of the Salem Village Church, eventually becoming a deacon, a position he held for many years.

It was during the Salem Witch Trials that he was promoted as an official of the court, where he was called upon to present depositions and complaints. As church deacon he also made calls to the homes of the accused for questioning. His name is seen as the notetaker for a number of infamous witch trials at the time. In many of his notations he saw fit to incorporate his own views and opinions on the proceedings. In the case of Sarah Good he noted the accused behavior as being “in a very wicked, spiteful manner…with base and abusive words and many lies.”

Poor screen shot of poor online image from court documents of Salem Witch trials, this particular document has Ezekiel's name.
Poor screen shot of poor online image from court documents of Salem Witch trials, this particular document has Ezekiel’s name about 2/3rds of the way down in the paragraph.

In fact, Junior was also an accuser, filing accusations and complaints against accused – Bridget Bishop, Giles Corey*, Abigail Hobbs, and Mary Warren, after witnessing a number of the, supposedly, afflicted and tormented girls being harassed by their, conveniently invisible, tormentors. He also accused Martha Corey, at her questioning, of afflicting Ann Putnam, Jr. and Mercy Lewis, based upon testimony he had heard from others and his own observations, protesting that Corey was lying before the court. His view of the proceedings was no doubt colored and distorted by his upbringing, and his father’s views on the devil and evil in the world.

It was a dark and evil time in American history, unfortunately merely one of many. Ezekiel remained heavily immersed in Salem Church affairs after the trials. There is no indication in the records, or history, that he suffered guilt or remorse over his part in the murder of innocent victims of this mass hysteria. It is quite possible the rest of his family was cheering him on. I can only hope that his sister Mary, who was living in Farmington, Massachusetts at the time of the trials, with her husband William Lewis and their children, was appalled at her brother’s involvement.

There were public calls for justice, by others, starting to occur by at least 1695 when Thomas Maule, a noted Quaker, publicly criticized the way the court proceedings were handled. There was also a group of jurors from the trial who asked a local Reverend to read aloud a public apology and their pleas for forgiveness. One minister admitted, “Such was the darkness of that day, the tortures and lamentations of the afflicted, and the power of former presidents, that we walked in the clouds, and could not see our way.” Even the Salem Village church began to seek repentance at they voted to reverse the excommunication of Martha Corey, Giles’ wife. Other church goers publicly asked for forgiveness from their fellow parishioners for their part, claiming that they had been deluded by Satan into denouncing innocent people.

Over time all of the accused were eventually pardoned by the State and the church. (Gee, that was mighty nice of them.)

Ezekiel Cheever, junior died in December of 1731.


Imagined scene of the questioning of the accused.
*Giles Corey – This poor man was the only lucky person to be pressed to death in this country. He might also be a relative of mine, not direct, but a cousin of some kind, as we also have Coreys in our ancestry. I haven’t found the connection yet though.
1. http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/home.html – trial documents and other interesting items found at this site.
2. New York Times article, By BLAKE BAILEY: Published: March 13, 2009
5. The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege, by Marilynne K. Roach
6. Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of the State of…, edited by William R. Cutter, William F. Adams

Who says Lyons can’t swim?

The Lyons of Vermont apparently didn’t know how to lead boring lives as can be seen in these two 1851 newspaper articles:

This article is from “The Vermont Journal”, March 1851.
This article is from “The Boston Daily Atlas” on the same date as above.

Newell my 5xgreat Uncle survived this harrowing adventure as did his wife Arrietta (Tiknor) and their two children, Asa N. and Edward, (who were about 2 and 1 years old respectively). We know this for several reasons, the most important being the 1860 census which shows everyone alive and well in Burlington, along with several other children that had been added to the family nest.

I can find nothing else out about the incident in the papers, possibly because the issues that are relevant to the story haven’t been digitized yet. The servant mentioned in the article could be one of two women who are found in the 1850 census record living with the family: Electa Stevens, a 20 year old Canadian; or Mary Sullivan, age 23, from Ireland.

Newell died in 1868. He was 62. Like his mother he suffered from some form of insanity, possibly alzheimers, as he died in an asylum. He had been a respected lawyer in Burlington until he, apparently, lost his mind. His wife Arrietta married again and died many years later in Florida. Their only surviving heir was Asa N. who died childless, but married, in St. Louis.

More about crazy Esther and the Lyons…

One of my goals on my trip to Salt Lake City the week before last, was to see if I could find more out about my crazy 5x great grandmother Esther (Newell) Lyon.

My belief was that because I could not find a death record for her in Vermont, maybe there is something in Asa Lyon’s probate records that could help answer the question. The assumption being that if she wasn’t mentioned in his probate records she had probably died.

A page from Asa Lyon’s probate records of Chittenden County, Vermont.

I am happy to say that she was.

For those who don’t remember – Esther was born in 1761 in Goshen, Litchfield County, Connecticut eldest daughter of the Rev. Abel Newell and his wife Abigail Smith. She married Rev. Asa Lyon, who was two years younger than her, in 1796 when she was 34 years old. They lived in Grand Isle County, Vermont for most of their married life and had three known children together: Abigail, who married Abijah Hatch, Esther, who married Daniel Brown, and Newell, who married Arrietta unknown.

Asa Lyon, the patriarch of the family, died in 1841, and thankfully he left us probate records regarding his estate. In these estate papers I learned several interesting things, the most important was that Esther, his wife, was still alive at the time of his death. However, it was also learned that his daughter Esther had died. She had lived long enough to marry, but it is doubtful she had any children as they are not mentioned in the probate record. The only two children inheriting any part of the estate were Abigail and her brother Newell.

When Asa died he owned close to 1500 acres of land in Vermont, the largest tract being about 300 acres. not all together, but in various places in the state. Its total worth was about $29,000 (that would be about $830,000 in 2015 dollars). So needless to say the Lyons were a family of means and property. I guess it helps if you are a bit of a skinflint, as Asa was known to be.

Abigail’s husband Abijah had been named as Esther’s guardian:

On Application of Abijah B. Hatch guardian of Esther Lyon, widow of Asa Lyon, late of Grand Isle, deceased, an insane person.

and one of the responsibilities of probate court was to make sure that Esther’s needs were going to be taken care of, as seen in this entry:

The said Abijah & Abigail agree to maintain and support the widow of the said Asa Lyon during the residue of her natural life free of any charges upon the said Newell or upon that part of the estate of the said Asa Lyon which shall in the distribution thereof be set to him by procuring for her suitable apartments in the house in which she now resides, and such meats and drinks medicines, bedding, attendance and other accommodations as shall render her as comfortable and happy as in her circumstances she can be made during her life, and inter her remains and lay her coffin beside that of her husband Asa Lyon.

The court even makes sure that her body is properly ‘placed’ when she does pass out of this world.

The probate case file continues until 1843, at no time during this period is it indicated that Esther has died, but, she is not listed in the 1850 census as living with her daughter Abigail. So I can only assume that sometime between 1843 and 1850 Esther died.

This was more than I knew before, so even if I don’t have an exact date I am very pleased.

Their son Newell married and had 6 children with his wife Arrietta. Only his eldest, Asa N. Lyon, survived to adulthood. But Asa married very late in life and never had any children of his own, so, it was up to my 4x great grandmother Abigail to keep the family line going, which she did with great gusto as she had 11 children with Abijah, (that we know of). Her son Oscar Ebenezer Hatch is my ancestor.