Mary Walcott

The witchcraft accusations against Sarah Buckley and Mary Witheridge

Sarah Buckley
Sarah Buckley and her daughter Mary Witheridge were accused of witchcraft and were imprisoned for eight months.

Sarah Buckley was brought from England to Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a child with her parents. She joined the Ipswich church around 1650, and married a local yeoman, William Buckley. The couple moved to the Marblehead area of Salem where they acquired a home, and Sarah transferred her church membership to Salem.

In 1675, Buckley was sued by Simon Bradstreet of Salem for unpaid debts. Bradstreet was the governor of Massachusetts and a former Ipswich resident. William Buckley lost his house and lands, and the family moved to Salem Village, which is now the town of Danvers. In 1680, Buckley was again sued for debts, incurred by his son, and he lost his cobbler’s tools, leaving the family destitute without a means to produce an income, without land or home.

On May 23, 1692, a complaint for witchcraft was filed by Lieutenant Nathaniel Ingersall of Salem Village and a warrant was issued the same day. Sarah and her widowed daughter Mary Witheridge had been accused by the “bewitched” girls of Salem Village, who claimed that the women’s specters had attacked them. Sarah and Mary were examined on May 18. The primary witnesses against them were the “afflicted girls,” who as usual, went into fits upon the sight of the women. Their statements and the court proceedings are recorded in the Salem Witchcraft Papers, Vol. 1.

Despite the family’s many hardships, Sarah Buckley was held in high regard by those who knew her. The Rev. William Hubbard of Ipswich was known as “a man with a candid and benevolent mind,” and testified for Sarah Buckley:

Testimony of Ipswich minister William Hubbard for the accused, Sarah Buckley
Testimony of Ipswich minister William Hubbard for the accused, Sarah Buckley

“These are to certify whom it may or shall concern that have known Sarah the wife of William Buckley of Salem more or less ever since she was brought out of England which is above fifty years ago and during all that time I never knew nor heard of any evil in her carriage or conversation unbecoming a Christian, likewise she was bred up by Christian parents all the time she lived here at Ipswich. I further testify that the said Sarah was admitted as a member into the church of Ipswich above forty years since and that I never heard from others or observed by myself any thing of her that was inconsistent with her profession or unsuitable to Christianity either in word deed or conversation and am strangely surprised that any person should speak or think of her as one worthy to be suspected of any such crime that she is now charged with. In testimony hereof I have here set my hand this 20th of June 1692, William Hubbard”

Sarah Buckley and Mary Witheridge were held in shackles for eight months in the cold crowded jail, with all of the horrors and deprivations of the accused. They were both acquitted in January 1692. Their few remaining possessions had all been seized by the sheriff. Although they were not found guilty, they were required to pay for the expenses of their imprisonment before being released, leaving the family desperately impoverished. It is at that point that Sarah Buckley disappears from recorded history; we find a record of Sarah’s husband’s death a few years later.

John Proctor's memorial stone at the Salem witchcraft memorial
John Proctor’s memorial stone at the Salem witchcraft memorial

Mary’s widowed daughter Mary later married Benjamin Proctor. He and his parents John and Elizabeth Proctor were also originally from Ipswich. All three had been complained of by Nathaniel Ingersoll and were arrested for witchcraft. The sheriff seized all of their household belongings. Benjamin Proctor was released, John Proctor was hanged in August, 1692, but Elizabeth’s sentence was not carried out, due to her pregnancy. Mary and Benjamin Proctor raised four children in Salem Village, where he died in 1717.


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