My informant first heard about his blood relation to a Salem Witchcraft victim when he was about eight or nine years old. Among stories of being related to pirates in the Mediterranean and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who killed Billy the Kid), my informant’s late grandmother, who was well read in her family history, also informed him that he was related to Samuel Wardwell.
Informant: “Well the story as I know it, or remember from what [my grandmother] told me, is that Samuel Wardwell, who I guess is my great-great-great-great-great grandfather… I don’t really know how many ‘greats,’ but he is my very distant grandfather… He and his wife were accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. He was made to confess, I think quite forcibly… and he uh, later recanted his confession. From what I know, he confessed to save his life – his wife was pregnant with one of my relatives… I don’t know if it was my great-great-great-grandfather or one of his brothers or sisters, but she was pregnant… And because she was pregnant, she wasn’t executed… That’s why I’m here today, because she wasn’t killed. I also don’t know exactly why Samuel recanted his confession, but I guess that was the reason why he was put to death. He was hanged for suspected witchcraft in 1692… I’ve never been there, but he has a gravestone in Massachusetts that’s still there today…”
Interviewer: “How do you know for sure that you’re related to him? You have so many crazy family stories, how can you be sure that they’re true?”
Informant: “I look at it like, some of them may not be true… but I know for sure, that the Wardwell story is true. My grandmother’s maiden name was Wardwell, and she was told by her family about the Witch Trials…My family came over on the ship after the Mayflower… So they had a lot of time to do a crazy shit… Oh, and I also remember my grandmother saying that the story of Samuel Wardwell was the influence of Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible.’ I can’t be sure that that’s true, but it’s still pretty cool.”
My informant voiced that the some aspects of the Samuel Wardwell story may have been embellished, since the story has been passed down from multiple generations. He says “The Crucible” influence especially may have be an elaboration, but at the same time, might also be true. The character of John Proctor in the play follows the same general sequence of events: he and his wife are accused of witchcraft, his wife claims to be pregnant, he confesses so he can live and care for his family, but then retracts his confession rather than admit to witchcraft and is finally hanged at the end of the play. The two narratives are so similar that it made me think that maybe the story of Samuel Wardwell was altered in order to fit the story in “The Crucible.” However, I was quickly taken by surprise when I read Court Records of the Salem Witch Trials. The records report the same basic story that my informant revealed and also add more details about Samuel Wardwell.
To learn more about Samuel Wardwell, refer to these sites: