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