I was a child when I first heard from my maternal grandmother that I was the descendent of an accused Salem witch, Martha Carrier. When I asked if Martha had really been a witch, my grandmother laughed. There are no such thing as witches, I was told, merely ferocious women. Well she would have known as she was fairly ferocious herself; outspoken, prone to riding saddle-shy horses, and a dead shot with a rifle. I am happy to say we have our fair share of ferocious women in my family.
I grew up hearing stories of the witch trials at most family gatherings, but there were also stories of the Carriers’ day to day life in 17th century Massachusetts that made this challenging time in American history come alive for me. For example, the tale of the family cow that had been fed pumpkins and produced golden milk which, unfortunately, was probably one more bit of proof that the Carriers were playing with magic.
I spent several years doing research for The Heretic’s Daughter, drawing on numerous traditional sources about the witch trials. But some of the most revealing anecdotes, a few of which were woven into the novel, came from Massachusetts village sextants, local town historians, and even amateur genealogists. After the book was published, I was delighted to receive emails and letters from dozens of other Carrier descendants who had heard the same stories, passed down through nine and ten generations. Their family remembrances reinforced what I already knew; that Martha Carrier was both a courageous and ferocious woman, and someone I was proud to call my ancestor.
Kathleen Kent, author of The Heretic’s Daughter and recipient of the David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction, is a tenth-generation descendant of Martha Carrier. To read more about the author and her book, click here.
IMAGE: The Trial of George Jacobs, Thomkins H. Matteson, 1692