A Witch? A Relative? Mary (Bliss) Parsons

On our recent trip home to the Midwest, we learned about an early ancestor–a controversial one: Mary (Bliss) Parsons, who went to court twice under suspicion of being a witch – and survived.   Cousin Elaine shared what she had learned from Lin, our Wisconsin cousin who has studied much about our genealogy.  Mary (Bliss) Parsons is our eighth great-grandmother.

Born in Gloucestershire,  England, in 1628, Mary  emigrated from England to Hartford with her family and later married Joseph Parsons.   Mary and Joseph settled near Springfield and later Northampton, Massachusetts. The couple had 11 healthy children (who mainly flourished).  The family joined the church and experienced financial success.  Among other ventures,  they opened the first tavern in Northampton.  Probably as a result of her good fortune, Mary Bliss Parson was suspected of being a witch.

Because neighbor Sarah Bridgman had spread rumors most particularly insinuating that Mary was a witch,  in 1656, Joseph Parsons took Sarah to court.  Joseph charged Sarah Bridgman with slander on behalf of his wife.  Mary Parsons had her name cleared in court, but the suspicions remained.  Eighteen years later, Mary Parsons was again charged in court with being a witch

According to Wikipedia, Mary Bliss Parson’s Witchcraft trial began in 1674, decades before the infamous Salem Witch Trials.  “She was one of many persecuted in the decades before, illustrative of the mindset common in accusals of witchcraft that targeted the richer members of society rather than the poorer outcasts. . . What sparked the accusations in 1674 was the sudden death of neighbor Sarah Bridgman’s daughter, Mary Bartlett. Mary Parsons’ body was searched for “witch marks” [skin lesions].  In 1675. . . [Mary (Bliss) Parsons] was sent to Boston for the trial but found innocent of witchcraft. . .

According to a blog on “John Bliss – Miner Descent” – “Local tradition has remembered Mary as being ‘possessed of great beauty and talents, but…not very amiable…exclusive in the choice of her associates, and…of haughty manners’” [She also had 11 children in a time before washing machines or electric stoves–and so had no time for idle chatter].

from: http://minerdescent.com/2011/12/01/john-bliss/

The site also says the following photo although often identified as Mary Bliss Parsons – is NOT her:

Not - Mary Bliss Parsons - this hat would not be the thing to wear to your witchcraft trial
Although not Mary Bliss Parsons, the woman wearing this hat fits our Halloween stereotype of how a witch would look.

In a recent note to another blog on Mary Bliss Parsons, Kathy-Ann Becker, author of “Silencing the Women: The Witch Trials of Mary Bliss Parsons” noted: “There are no know paintings of Mary Bliss Parsons.” <https://tasteofwonderland.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/the-witch-of-northampton/>

Even though Mary Parsons was found not guilty,  rumors did not die down, and Mary and Joseph Parsons eventually moved back to Springfield in 1679-80.

Not guilty
Not guilty

According to Mass Movements:

“Although Mary Parsons occupied a far more secure social position than almost all of the other women charged with witchcraft in early New England — after all, she was the wife of one of the richest, most respected men in western Massachusetts — her experience fit the norm in other ways. Middle-aged women were the most likely to be accused of witchcraft. The issues of jealousy, personal animosity, and family feuds that were so evident in her case would fuel the Salem Witch hysteria  of 1692 as well.

Perhaps Mary (Bliss) Parsons
An image perhaps – but not likely – of  Mary (Bliss) Parsons

The horror that began in Salem Village (present day Danvers) and spread to almost every town in Essex county saw women, children, and men, including the former minister of Salem Village, hauled before magistrates. At one point some 170 accused witches were being held in jails in Ipswich, Salem, Boston, and Cambridge. Between June and September of 1692, authorities hanged 19 people and pressed one to death; four more died in prison, awaiting trial. In 1693 the madness ended [after the wife of a judge was accused of being a witch. No longer was spectral evidence allowed in court — that an accused person’s spirit or spectral shape appeared to the witness in a dream at the time the accused person’s physical body was at another location].  There would be no more convictions and executions for witchcraft in New England, although it would be another century before the belief in witches lost its hold on the people of the region.


A Delusion of Satan, by Frances Hill (Da Capo Press, 1997).

Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England, by John Putman Demos (Oxford University Press, 1982).

“The Goody Parsons Witchcraft Case: A Journey to Seventeenth-Century Northampton.”

From:  http://www.massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=142

Mary Parsons lived for thirty years after her husband died in 1683.  She continued to amass fortune and endured rumors of Witchcraft for the rest of her life.  In 1712, Mary (Bliss) Parsons died at the age of 84.

From: <https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_(Bliss)_Parsons

Mary and her husband had many descendants
Mary and her husband Joseph had many descendants

Our family story is that Mary Parsons was one of the few women charged with witchcraft who was allowed to defend herself in court.  Her arguments were believed, and she was acquitted  of the charge.

Another version, however,  is that her husband paid to have her acquitted.

Two descendants have written books about Mary Bliss Parsons:

1) Kathy-Ann Becker has written SILENCING THE WOMEN: The Witch Trials of Mary Bliss Parsons – “the true story of what happened to a Puritan woman who was too beautiful, too rich, and too outspoken for her times”  – The novel is historical fiction, a love story.  [I’m thinking a life of having and caring for 11 children and her husband in the 1700s – and being accused throughout her life of being a witch – might not be that romantic, but I haven’t read the book.  If you do read it, please let us know how you like it].

http://www.amazon.com/SILENCING-WOMEN-Witch-Trials-Parsons/dp/1626464200/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1444094734&sr=1-1&keywords=mary+bliss+parsons   Reviewers give it 4.9/5 stars.

“Silencing the Women”

2) In The Strong Witch Society: The Diary of Mary Bliss Parsons, the author D.H. Parsons says Mary has channeled her story through him.  This book is the first of three volumes.  D.H. Parsons notes, “What is not so well known is that Mary was a member of a small but powerful group of witches, The Strong Witch Society. After her death in 1712, it became Mary’s purpose to somehow “awaken” in the mind and spirit of one of her future descendants in order to re-institute The Strong Witch Society. The author is that grandchild. What unfolds on the pages of this book is a roller-coaster of supernatural events and ‘lessons’ designed with the express purpose of calling together the remaining Strong Witches in order to divert an impending world disaster. This book is about far more than just Witches. It introduces and covers many other subjects including Alien Contact, Inter-Dimensional Travel, the Natural Disasters our world is facing today, political crises, and etc. It offers “Simple solutions on how to deal with all of those problems before it is too late”

Reviewers give it 4.6/5 stars.  The author says it is a non-fiction book.  I’ve read the first 40 pages in the first of three volumes.  So  far, I’ve not learned of any “Simple solutions” to any of our modern problems, but I have many pages to go.  If you finish this set of books before I do, let us know what you think.


The Strong Witch Society
The Strong Witch Society

Whatever is true, Mary Bliss Parsons was a strong, resourceful woman, one who had 11 children and lived to be 84 back when there were no antibiotics, many women died during childbirth, and the average longevity rate in the early 1700s in the U.S. was 36 years old!

Perhaps Mary Bliss Parsons was a witch (a good witch).  🙂

What about you?  Do you have any suspected witches or warlocks in your family history?

Happy Halloween.  May all the spirits be good to you.  Aloha, Renée

P.S. My cousin Lin, who told me about our ancestor Mary Bliss Parsons recommends:

Lin says, “Read this book. It’s a wonderful read and nothing like the other Mary Bliss Parsons books.” Happy reading.

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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

20 responses to “A Witch? A Relative? Mary (Bliss) Parsons”

  1. Elaine Woodall says :

    I told my grandson’s teacher that if he told her we have a witch for a relative he was not talking about Me…….Thanks Rene’ for your article and to Lin for all her knowledge and so gladly sharing it……Happy Halloween…to all…Elaine

  2. Rosita says :

    Some people really believe in witches. It’s a bit weird, but it’s OK, I think 😉 that’s a good post for Halloween, of course! I don’t believe in witches neither ghosts, but, despite the fact of being catholic, I believe in karma and reincarnation, so, I’m very tolerant, because our planet is very interconnected and we have to tolerate people with different religions and beliefs 🙂 live the unity on diversity! Do you have a mystical and religious side? If yes, how it’s and why?

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi Rosita: You ask an excellent question – one that others seldom bring up (unless they are evangelists and want to convert others to their beliefs). Like politics, religious beliefs if held too tightly can separate people and lead to distrust (or worse), so I don’t often say much about either.

      But since you ask, I’ll tell. I was born into a Protestant family (although my last name is Riley – we came from the Protestant Northern Ireland, and when I lived in Chicago, I’m pretty sure I got a couple of teaching jobs in Catholic schools because it was assumed I was of that faith). We were High Church Episcopalian, so we had the masses and incense and much of the formality of a Catholic church. When I was in 8th grade, I aspired to become a nun; I thought it would be very romantic. That idea quickly changed, and I was happy to be an Episcopalian, but not a very serious practitioner. After college, I got to travel.

      One place that had a huge impact on me was India: the poverty – and the spirituality – were in my face. Why was I born where I could have enough to eat and even as a girl from a very modest background be able to get an education? How could the man I met in Rishikesh (the “miracle mile”) go without eating for 18 years? (He was very skinny – but I was having a physical problem at the time that was immediately healed in his presence). I went to see a woman who was described as “a living god.” I couldn’t see it, but others in the crowd certainly did.

      I went back to Chicago and then got my teaching job on Maui. I decided that if I could be outside – and go to church, I would do that. On Maui, we have just such a situation: Trinity-By-The-Sea Episcopal Church is open to the sky within the volcano-rock walls. I liked Fr. Morley and the waving palm trees above us.

      Then I met Barry, whom I married 27 years ago; he comes from a Jewish N.Y. family. My high school in suburban St. Louis was about 95% Jewish. I admire their intellect and drive for education. For a few years after we got married, I went with Barry to the Jewish services here on Maui in part to make him and his parents happy. But they really didn’t care. I went back to Trinity-By-The-Sea for a while.

      Other places we’ve traveled have had a big impact on my religious views. I love the stories of the Balinese Hindu gods. From the several times we’ve been there, I know the Balinese live their religion. They recognize spirits – good and bad; they have a profound belief in karma.

      We also love the travel organization, Servas. In our big trip when our son was 12, we stayed with several Quaker families. The Quaker emphasis on simplicity, justice, equal rights, service, the search for “that of God within each person,” and refusal to participate in war (I’ve been to Hiroshima and the Vietnamese War museum and Holocaust museums – so I know in war there are no winners) – that all appeals to me. A small un-programmed (no minister) Quaker group is here on Maui; we meet on Sundays for an hour meditation. It meets my need for community and the recognition that we can seek a spiritual life in different – and evolving – ways.

      People (and books that tell about them and their ideas) such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Gloria Steinem, my grandmother . . . have all had an impact on my ethical life.

      As for mystical – yes. I feel I have had unexplainable happenings in my life. I don’t know why or how.

      But I do know that we are blessed to be here. I hope I can deepen my spiritual life.

      So, Rosita, that is the most I’ve ever said in answer to such a question. Thanks for asking.

      And I think you are right to be “very tolerant, because our planet is very interconnected, and we have to tolerate people with different religions and beliefs.” Perhaps we can all learn from each other.
      Aloha, Renée

    • reneeriley says :

      Also, what about you? Have you had mystical experiences that you want to share?

  3. Lyric Rogers says :

    Mary is my 9th great grandmother through my mothers side on the Thacker branch of our family through Mary’s daughter Jane Ellenor. so I certainly do! I can see where the longevity in my family (my great grandmother was around 88 or so when she died) came from and to have a strong and stubborn woman such as Mary in my family definitely makes me proud

  4. LucyAnna says :

    Good morning,
    I just wanted to advise you that the image you have identified as “Young Mary Bliss Parsons with a baby” is incorrect. The image is in fact Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary, painted in 1675 by an anonymous artist.

  5. Chauntil Gillins Thain says :

    just found out that Mary Bliss Parsons is the daughter of my 10x great grandparents. How amazing to find her history. Thank you for sharing

    • reneeriley says :

      Welcome to the family, Chauntil. As a child, I loved dressing up as a witch for Halloween – and now maybe I know why. Aloha, Renée

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi, Chauntil: I first learned about Mary Bliss Parsons from a cousin in Wisconsin whom I’ve never met. I’ve asked her, and she said you can contact her through FaceBook if you would like more information: Lin Mooney Courchane from Slinger, Wis. Aloha, Renée

      • reneeriley says :

        Hi Chauntil: I just had a message from Cousin Lin, “Read this book [“The Witch of Norhampton” by Karen Vorbeck Williams]. It’s a wonderful read and nothing like the other Mary Bliss Parsons books.”

  6. cmueller7 says :

    Hi! I am also related to Mary Bliss parsons and Joseph Parsons! We are distantly related. I would love to learn more about the family. 🙂

    • reneeriley says :

      Aloha: I first learned about Mary Bliss Parsons from a cousin in Wisconsin whom I’ve never met. I’ve asked her, and she said you can contact her through FaceBook: Lin Mooney Courchane from Slinger, Wis. Welcome to the family. Aloha, Renée

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi: I just had a message from Cousin Lin, “Read this book [“The Witch of Norhampton” by Karen Vorbeck Williams]. It’s a wonderful read and nothing like the other Mary Bliss Parsons books.”

  7. Heather Yeager says :

    I just found out that Mary Bliss Parsons is my 9th great-Aunt. Her brother Samuel was my 9th Great-Grandfather.

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