It was a woman baselessly accused of being a witch who first caught my eye. I was tracing the Puritan ancestors of my great-great grandmother Sarah Sikes when I read about Mercy Marshfield. Mercy lived in Springfield, Massachusetts in the 1640s and 50s and her legal fight to clear her name marked her as a strong woman.
At the time of the trial against her accuser in 1649, Marshfield was a 45-year-old widow with three adult children and a son-in-law. The witchcraft accusation against her came from Mary Parsons, a Welsh immigrant woman in an unhappy marriage. The court of Thomas Pynchon, a gentleman who first settled Springfield, heard testimony about how Mary Parsons had slandered Marshfield, charging that she was known to be a witch when living in Windsor, Connecticut and that the devil had surely followed her to Springfield.
Springfield residents, like faithful Puritans throughout New England, believed that witches displayed their powers in obvious ways. No one stepped forward to accuse Marshfield of any acts of witchcraft and Pynchon found Parson guilty of slander, then offered her a choice of punishments: either lashes or the payment of three pounds or 20 bushels of corn. Mary Parsons chose to pay the fine.
It was not the last that Pynchon’s court heard of Parsons, who three years later accused her husband of witchcraft then was accused of witchcraft herself. Several neighbors testified against the Parsons, citing strange lights that jumped from clothing and a cow whose milk inexplicably dried up. Mercy Marshfield testifed that Hugh Parsons had cursed her and shortly after her daughter suffered from fits. Mary Parsonss was found innocent of witchcraft but confessed to having killed a child. She was sentenced to death for murder but died before the order could be carried out. Hugh was found guilty of witchcraft, then released after appeal.
Mercy Marshfield in Windsor
My ancestor, Mercy Marshfield, survived this drama but the stories led me to trace her roots in Windsor. There, it turned out, the entire Marshfield family had been abandoned by her husband and left to face the humiliation of the court seizing all of their property to pay off his sizeable debts. (Read more about Thomas Marshfield’s failed effort to enter the transatlantic shipping trade.)
When the Marshfield family left Windsor, the settlement was at least ten-years-old. The Marshfields were among the original settlers who walked from Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1636 to settle on the Connecticut River. Hardships and deprivations, along with grueling months of farming, clearing land and trying to survive with few manufactured goods, took their toll. Mercy had only been in the colony for a year, having sailed from England to reunite with her husband in 1635.
The fact that the Marshfields, without Thomas, managed to migrate to Springfield and start over, is a testament to their tenacity. Mercy’s son Samuel Marshfield and her son-in-law, John Dumbleton, became propertied members of Springfield society, serving as selectmen more than a dozen years each.
Names of My Ancestors
Puritans & Servants