Features 2002

Which Witch?

 ... My infamous ancestor

by John Averell

How many people have a well-known witch for an ancestor? Probably more than you think. Anyone from old Yankee stock has ten generations of marriage and intermarriage to claim relationship.

Sarah Averell Wildes was my (nine times) great-Aunt. She was born sometime between 1630 and 1635, one of seven children of William Averell. William sailed from England sometime in the early 1630's and settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts. I am the twelfth generation direct descendant of William Averell of Ipswich, through Sarah's older brother William.

Sarah was executed by hanging in Salem on July 19, 1692, condemned by the Court of Essex County for witchcraft. Accompanying Sarah Wildes to the gallows on that day were Sarah Good, Elizabeth How, Susanna Martin, and Rebecca Nurse. So much has been written about the Salem Witchcraft trials that there is no need to rehearse the details here. A quick web search on the subject "Sarah Wildes" and "witch" will give you plenty to read. Since that time, all of the so-called "witches" have been formally pardoned of the hysterical accusations and subsequent convictions on that sad page of history.

Some further details about Sarah may be of interest. I take these from a two-volume genealogy of the Averell-Averill-Avery line from Ipswich that I was able to purchase.1

This is a picture2 of William Averell's own will. William's surname was, by careful examination, "Averell", but as was common in those days, alternate spellings were frequently used. He is "Avery" in the Ipswich town records, and "Averill" in others. When Sarah married John Wildes in 1663, she was usually listed as "Averill". She was John Wildes' second wife, and had one child, Ephraim, by him. One source says Ephraim was the constable who served the writ of accusal against Sarah in 1692. However, my book states that Ephraim arrested a Mr. and Mrs. Hobbs, who then accused Sarah in revenge for their own arrest. Both John and Ephraim declared that Sarah was innocent of the charges. The intrigue underlying the witchcraft trials indicates that money and politics were the true source of the troubles, as is so often the case.

1"The Averell-Averill-Avery Family: A Record of the Descendants of William and Abigail Averell of Ipswich, Mass", compiled by Clara A. Avery. Two Volumes, 1095 pages. No copyright date or printer listed. Collected up to 1914.
2op. cit., p. 70.

March 1, 2002

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