Sarah Averill Wildes and Elizabeth Jackson How stood together, maybe even holding hands, as they waited for their turn on the rope on Gallows Hill. The village of Salem turned out to watch these two women and three others die.
What had they done?
According to their sentences, they both were witches.
Three hundred years later, two first cousins, Elizabeth and Ann, stood in a bookstore, shoulder to shoulder, reading from a classic (and some consider out-of-date) book on the Salem witch hysteria and realized that they each came from two separate lines of strong Puritan women. Two women, who had both been labeled with the appellation and accusation "witch."
Georg: Corwine Gent'n High Sheriff of the County of Essex GreetingWhereas Sarah Good Wife of William Good of Salem Village Rebecka Nurse wife of Francis Nurse of Salem Villiage Susanna Martin of Amesbury Widow Elizabeth How wife of James How of Ipswich Sarah Wild Wife of John Wild of Topsfield all of the County of Essex in their Maj'ts Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England Att A Court of Oyer & Terminer held by Adjournment for Our Soveraign Lord & Lady King William & Queen Mary for the said County of Essex at Salem in the s'd County on the 29th day of June [torn] were Severaly arraigned on Several Indictments for the horrible Crime of Witchcraft by them practised & Committed On Severall persons and pleading not guilty did for their Tryall put themselves on God & Thier Countrey whereupon they were Each of them found & brought in Guilty by the Jury that passed On them according to their respective Indictments and Sentence of death did then pass upon them as the Law directs Execution whereof yet remains to be done:
Those are Therefore in thier Maj'ties name William & Mary now King & Queen over England &ca: to will & Comand you that upon Tuesday next being the 19th day of [torn] Instant July between the houres of Eight & [torn] in [torn] forenoon the same day you
Elizabeth How & Sarah Wild From their Maj'ties Goal in Salem afores'd to the place of Execution & there Cause them & Every of them to be hanged by the Neck untill they be dead and of the doings herein make return to the Clerke of the said Court & this precept and hereof you are not to fail at your perill and this Shall be your Sufficient Warrant Given under my hand & seale at Boston the 12'th day of July in the fourth year of the Reign of our Soveraigne Lord & Lady Wm & Mary King and Queen &ca:
Annoq Dom. 1692 --
Salem July 19th 1692
I caused the within mentioned persons to be Executed according to the Tenour of the with [in] warrant
*George Corwin Sherif
( Boston Public Library -- Dept. of Rare Books and Manuscripts [ 1939 acquisition ] )
How did these puritan bloodlines trickle down through the years to find themselves joined in the same Italian-American family? Elizabeth's mother, descended from Sarah Averill Wildes, married Joseph, while Ann's father, descended from Elizabeth How, married his sister Paula.
I have always been interested in the Salem witchcraft hysteria, both as a student of history and an observer of human behavior. Researching my family tree has also been a passion, first fueled by a seventh grade civics class homework assignment. When I came home from school and mentioned my assignment at dinner one evening, my father, a newspaperman, suggested I start by interviewing his mother that weekend. He set me up with a microphone, tape recorder and suggested I write down some questions that I would like to ask Grandma. Thankfully those precious tapes survive of my Sicilian Grandma spinning tales about "Daddy's mother's uncle" and other colorful members of our family.
That same weekend I also called my mother's mother—Grandmère—in Florida, and filled in the blanks on my tree from her side of the family. When I brought my tree into class the next week and watched other students point to Grandma, Grandpa, aunts, cousins, etc. perfunctorily on their trees, I fidgeted in my seat in anticipation. Finally my turn came and I pinned my tree up on the wall at the back of the class and started to read off the names from my mother's side: Winship, Nichols, Averill. Then I switched to my father's side: Periale, D'Ippolito, Quartuccio. I spun some of Grandma's stories—of Massimo the baker, Don Peppino the chef—and some of Grandmère's—how my grandfather, Lionel William Taylor Winship, "walked across Africa" on one occasion, and on another, to have traveled to the North Pole. We have pictures of him in his North Pole gear.
My teacher and the class were fascinated. There were giggles on hearing some of the "exotic" names from the family, such as Giacomo Quartuccio, Gaetana Marta D'Ippolito, even Lionel William Bretherton Stapleton Winship. Why were my family's names so funny to the kids? There were other British- or Italian-descent kids in the class. It wasn't the names. It was the stories that made them all come alive.
All those years ago I had no knowledge of Sarah Averill Wildesnand her fascinating and tragic story. I stumbled upon her quite recently, while poking around on ancestry.com. At first I couldn't believe it. My maternal grandmother Grandmère had done quite a bit of research in her lifetime, even to the extent of hiring a genealogist, to help confirm her family roots all the way back to the American Revolution for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and then even further back in our family's history in colonial America for membership in the Colonial Dames. But neither of these societies required her going back as far as 1692. Had she discovered what I had and decided not to share the connection with my mother or me? Was she ashamed? After some extensive checking and verification, I called my mother in excitement at my bit of detection and she was . . . interested, but not exactly thrilled with the Salem connection. I was a little surprised. "I'm not saying she's a witch. She was innocent." (And pardoned, but not until 1710—23 pounds being paid in restitution to her family.) "It's a huge part of American history, and we're part of it!" My mom agreed, but she would have preferred it be a nicer part of history.
I have since decided that Grandmère did not know about Sarah Averill Wildes. She was the sister of the ancestor we claim direct descent from, William Averill. She was my great grand-aunt x9. I don't think Grandmère would have been documenting all the siblings of the genealogical line, at least not in any great detail—it is so much easier to do that today with ancestry.com and other internet resources.
Lewes and Abigail willia [ms] and severall times sence Sarah wilds or hirs Apperance has most greviously tortored and afflected me with variety of torturees as by pricking and pinching me and almost choaking me to death
Ann Putnam Jun'r
What would Grandmère have thought about Sarah? Well, she might have reacted much like my mother did at first, but I suspect that her strong sense of family would have prevailed, and she would have become as interested in Sarah and her story as I have.