Monday, September 4, 2017
A Witch In The Family
Upstate New York is cold, last night the mercury fell to 43 degrees! For weeks store aisles have been festooned with skeletons, pumpkins, and giant spiders. Now, with this Halloween like chill in the air, my thoughts turn to my 8th great-grandmother Winifred King -- aka Mrs. Joseph Benham -- aka, "The Witch of Wallingford". I've been doing a bit of reading lately about the witch trials in Connecticut, where Winifred was tried, and those in neighboring Salem, Massachusetts whose witchcraft hysteria is far more famous than Connecticut's. Still trying to fathom how such a tragedy could have occurred.
Winifred was born in Boston, Massachusetts around 1635 to a woman named Mary Williams King who after the death of her husband John King, married a man named Hale. The year 1680 found Mary Hale again widowed, supporting herself by running a boarding house as well as an early version of an infirmary from her home in that city, taking in ailing individuals and attempting to cure them. For their care, she charged 20 shillings per week for three weeks, and 10 shillings per week after that. Mary ran afoul of the local Puritans when in 1681, a young boarder named Michael Smith accused her of poisoning him in a witchy way after his romance with her granddaughter Johanna Benham, a daughter of Winifred, ended. After his death, Mary was arrested and tried, but acquitted. Mary Hale was actually accused on two separate occasions of witchcraft, but not to be outdone, her daughter Winifred, by then a resident of Connecticut, would be accused thrice. Yes, thrice, the last time along with her thirteen year old daughter Winfred Jr. After their last acquittal in 1697 the two Winifreds wisely fled the puritanical Puritans in Connecticut and moved to a better address on New York's Staten Island.
My line from Winifred comes through her thirteenth child James Benham who married Esther Preston, and thence through James and Esther's son Samuel Benham. James remained in Wallingford after his mother departed for New York and Samuel was born there in 1711. After Samuel's marriage to Phebe Andrews in 1736, he and Phebe moved to New Hartford, Connecticut where their son Jehial Simon Benham was born in 1751. It was also there that Jehial would marry Lydia Cadwell and their daughter Phebe Benham would be born. Winifred would have been little Phebe's great-great-grandmother, I wonder if Phebe ever knew she was descended from an accused witch? I wonder if Phebe's husband Abijah Moore Jr. whom she married in 1803 knew, or would have cared? The last witch trial in America took place in 1715 in Annapolis, but superstitions have a way of lingering. Later, Phebe and Abijah were among the first settlers of Wolcott, New York, making their home on New Hartford Street, named for their town in Connecticut. It was in Wolcott their last child and only daughter Harriet Moore was born in 1812. Hattie, as she was known, grew up in Wolcott, marrying Russell Galloway there in 1829.
Hattie and Russell's son George, was born in 1838 in Butler, New York, just south of Wolcott. Interestingly enough, George's wife Clarissa Foster was the child of Asahel Foster whose hometown was New Salem, Massachusetts, founded by former residents of Salem. George and Clarissa's son, Russell Carlton Galloway, married Hattie Vincent in 1884; their daughter Grace was my grandmother. You can believe me when I tell you it's confusing having two men named Russell Galloway, two generations apart, both married to women called Hattie. It gets even more interesting when you throw George Galloway's third wife Hattie Foster, the sister of his first wife Clarissa, into the mix and end up with three Hattie Galloways.
I'd love to know when Winifred's story was lost in the family. I certainly never heard it. I'd wanted a witch for a long time before I finally found Winifred, and now I want another. (OK, I know they weren't really witches.) The New Salem connection of Asahel Foster is fascinating to me because that place was settled by families from the literal "Witch City". They really call it that. Today. Still. Look at the official Police badge below:
My curiosity about the trials and wish for another "witch" in the family has inspired me to learn more about my early colonial ancestors and add their details to my online tree. Today there must be hundreds of thousands of descendants of those unfortunate individuals who were caught up in the New England witchcraft scare of the 1600's. Surely I have at least one more in my family. I'm also hopeful that adding to my Ancestry tree will drum up some letters from cousins, it's been ages since anyone contacted me there and I seldom receive a reply from those I write to. Perhaps the coming of this foul weather will motivate researchers to retreat to the warmth of their computer screens and send me some email already.