Date of Performance/Collection: 4/27/20
Primary Language: English
Context: The informant is my father (DM) who told me about the existence of an ancestor that was accused of being a warlock during the Salem Witch Trials and who was ultimately killed. My father heard about this story from his mother. The following quote is a retelling of the story my father heard from his parents with added information from his online research.
Main Text: “Samuel Wardwell was a wealthy ancestor of ours who was hanged in the Salem witch trials after being convicted of witchcraft. He had a lot of land and we suspect that his neighbor accused him of witchcraft in an effort to steal his property. He was noted as an ‘eccentric but harmless individual who sometimes told fortunes, played with magic, and perhaps in jesting moods even claimed supernatural powers.’ He and his family were pressured into confessing and although he did, he took it back and claimed innocence until his death. Apparently, witch hunters used his hanging as a warning against those who planned on taking back their confessions.”
More can be found about the life and death of Samuel Wardwell here: https://www.geni.com/people/Samuel-Wardwell/6000000001650662249
Analysis: This story interests me because it demonstrates how hard it was to avoid a charge of conviction. Wardwell was pressured into confessing, as were those closest to him. It also seems as if there were ulterior motives behind the witch trials; people used them as a way to improve their societal and financial status. People believed in these superstitions because of the lack of scientific evidence against them and the pressure from the witch hunters to convict innocent people who were forced into confessing. His tendency to perform tricks and his affluence were his downfalls because people feared what they did not understand and were jealous of his status.