Skip to Main Content

Salem Witch Trials

A guide to resources concerning the Salem Witch Trials at the BPL and beyond.

"… if you would find mercy of God, you must confess.
If I should confess this, I must confess what is false.
… If you will confess the truth, we desire nothing else that you may not hide [your] guilt, if you are guilty, and therefore confess if so.
I speak before God that I am clear from this accusation."
-From the Examination of Nehemiah Abbott, Jr.

"S. Do you not believe that his Spectre is seen afflicting by the person afflicted?
B. Supposing it; yet it doth not hence follow that he is the Witch.
S. We must grant that it is the Devil in the Spectre; but it is by the Parties consent, and therefore it proves him Guilty.
B. I know you all plead so; and tell us that the Devil cannot represent an Innocent person doing mischief, but never proved it; nor can we believe you."
-From Some Miscellany Observations on Our Present Debates Respecting Witchcraft: In a Dialogue Between S. & B.

"Monday, Sept. 19, 1692. About noon, at Salem, Giles Corey was pressíd to death for standing Mute; much pains was used with him two days, one after another, by the Court and Capt. Gardner of Nantucket who had been of his acquaintance: but all in vain."
- From the Diary of Samuel Sewall

A "Witch" in the Family

Both the accused and the accusers involved with the trials have left many descendants over the centuries since the events occurred. Many descendants have multiple accused witches in their ancestry, due in part to the tendency of the accused witches’ families to intermarry.

There are a lot of resources available for those who are descended from anyone involved in the trials and wish to learn more. Some are listed below, many more can be found in the Resources @ the BPL and the Other Resources sections of this guide.

For more information on researching your family tree, check out the BPL's Genealogy research guide.

Image Credit:
The Legend of Salem – The Rev. George Burroughs
Illustration for "Some Legends of the New England Coast," Part III
by Harriet Prescott Spofford
Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, v. 31, (1871 Feb. 4), p. 345

Notable Descendants

Here are just a few of the notable people who can claim direct descent from someone involved in the trials:

  • Benedict Cumberbatch- descended from John Alden (escaped)
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ray Bradbury, Alan Shepard, Christopher Reeve, and Linda Hamilton - descended from Mary Bradbury (escaped)
  • Walt Disney- descended from George Burroughs (executed)
  • Clara Barton- descended from Sarah Cloyce (accused, sister of Rebecca Nurse)
  • Norman Rockwell and Sarah Jessica Parker- descended from Esther Elwell (accused)
  • William Howard Taft, Grace Coolidge, and Kyra Sedgwick*- descended from George Jacobs (executed)
  • Chester Arthur, Burl Ives, Dick Cheney, and Mickey Rourke*- descended from Susannah Martin (executed)
  • Vincent Price, Mitt Romney, and Amy Grant- descended from Rebecca Nurse (executed)
  • Humphrey Bogart- descended from Ann Pudeator (executed)
  • Claire Danes- descended from Margaret Scott (executed)
  • Millard Fillmore, Richard Gere, and Lucille Ball- descended from Rachel Vinson (accused)
  • Scott Foley- descended from Samuel Wardwell (executed)

*also descended from Mary Osgood (accused)

Image Credit:
Official portrait of First Lady Grace Coolidge (1879-1957)
Howard Chandler Christy, 1924