My Ancestor Orlando Bagley and the Salem Witch Trials

While perusing old Mack family annals (Highland Scots who settled in New England) my mom and I discovered a direct link to the infamous Salem Witch Trials.
According to these records, the first Mack arrival in the New World, John, (born in 1653) emigrated from Inverness and married Sarah Bagley in Boston in 1681. She was the daughter of Orlando (note the name) and Sarah Bagley.  Orlando Bagley was a man of considerable influence in the district, a constable, who apprehended his friend and neighbor, Susannah Martin, for a witch.  Good heavens, we have an ancestor at least partly responsible for the death of this unfortunate woman.  Further research revealed that likely it was Orlando’s son, same name, who made the arrest as his father was dead by then.Back to the Macks; an early genealogist says the name wasn’t an abbreviation of some other such as MacDonald or McKenzie, but that they were a family of sufficient importance to have a Coat of Arms in Scotland with a Latin motto indicating they were hard workers and hopeful, of good estates and families, of liberal education, and of large experience, and they were strict Puritans. Seems it was a good enough family name to warrant admission into the upstanding Bagleys who were among the earliest Puritan settlers of Amesbury, Massachusetts.

I discovered more about Orlando Bagley and his ill-fated neighbor, Susanna Martin, at these sites:

I watched (on Netflix) a History Channel documentary about the Salem Witch trials and combined that with the information I’ve gleaned elsewhere.  A most bizarre period of history.  Adolescent girls and young women insisted specters appeared to them in various forms, as animals or that of the accused themselves, and cruelly abused them.  Pinching and hitting them…the girls then continued these hysterics in court with lethal effect.

Panic spread far and wide with neighbor after neighbor falling under the malignant shadow until “From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village, for hanging. Another man of over eighty years was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft; dozens languished in jail for months (*some of them dying there) without trials until the hysteria that swept through Puritan Massachusetts subsided.”

The above quote is from:

Women in that rigidly defined community had no voice or authority, but these girls wielded an almighty power over everyone by simply pointing their fingers.  The power must have gone to their heads, along with the dizzying attention they gloried in. However, I wonder, had they no conscience? So many innocent people suffered and died as a result of this craze.  For a people obsessed with the fate of their immortal souls, would this not weigh heavily upon them?  Only one girl ever offered an apology.

Oddly, the one individual who bore any real resemblance to a witch, the young slave woman, Tituba, who lit the initial powder keg with strange Voodoo practices from her South American background, was never hung.  She confessed (possibly after a beating) and then joined with the girls in naming suspected witches. Maybe it was payback for her slavery.  I don’t know, but she’s also responsible for taking a lot of people down.
I’ve also read about and seen a documentary suggesting there may have been an outbreak in Salem at that time of ergot poisoning (a mold similar to LSD) on the rye used for bread making.  Symptoms of such poisoning include hallucinations and physical pain which may account for some of the girls symptoms, but why only them?  Wouldn’t more people have been afflicted? Maybe more were and that’s why they tossed all reason to the wind.

As for allowing ‘spectral’ evidence as testimony, this was previously unheard of at witch trials and Salem is unique in that regard.  There were other time honored methods for ferreting out a witch.  For example, the water test–if you sank you were innocent; if you floated, guilty, of course, and then you were put to death.  Or, strip the supposed witch, shave her entire body, then carefully examine every inch of her for a ‘devil’s’ mark.  I’ll bet a lot of men preferred this method. Woe unto you, if you had any funny shaped moles or birthmarks.

Spectral evidence based on gyrating girls shrieking that you came to them in a way that only they could see and caused excruciating torment while enticing them to make a pact with Satan was a no win scenario for the accused. Any and all denials were met with increased screams and accusations. Only if you confessed your sin,did they fall silent. Then you were free to go; God alone being your judge, which makes no sense to me.  Crucify the innocent, or gain confessions from the so-called damned, thus freeing them.  But those truly concerned for the state of their souls refused to make such a blasphemous admission, preferring death.
To understand the mindset of these Salem Puritans is almost impossible, but I’ll try.  It seems they were terrified of the dark forest.  Though only six miles from the coast, Salem was on the edge of the wilderness.  The dreaded Indians dwelt in the woods, and the settlers feared Satan also brooded over the forest.  Disease and misfortune were attributed to evil entities.  Deeply insecure and preoccupied with horror of the dark forces, they sought its manifestation in everything and everyone.  And you tend to find what you look for.  Particularly when fear of the demonic is mixed in with an extremely judgmental community, resentment toward your neighbor, a means to get even, and young actresses happy to oblige you with a stellar performance.

There’s a vast deal more to be said on the subject and I may continue this post another time.  Meanwhile, if you know anything of my distant ancestor Orlando Bagley (sounds straight out of the Shire) and his part in the trial and execution of Susanna Martin, I’d be glad to learn more.  And to her descendants, in behalf of our family, I offer my deepest apology.*Two more interesting sites about the Salem Witch Trials:

34 responses to “My Ancestor Orlando Bagley and the Salem Witch Trials

  1. Great piece Beth. The Salem Witch Trials were a dark period in our past, but fascinating just the same. I have heard of other places that were held in terror because, it was later found, of bread mold. Kinda makes you glad we live in such an enlightened age! While idiots still mess with their own heads by taking drugs, at least we know why they are crazy!


  2. Beth, have you heard the theory that their flour had become tainted with mold that caused hallucinations? I can’t understand how that would cause only the teens to hallucinate, but perhaps the teens needed less incentive to overreact. Such a sad, frightening time!


    • Yes, I have heard that theory and agree it may have entered into the girls behavior, but at the same time I think they were power-crazed and out to get anyone they chose to take down.


  3. That is absolutely fascinating, Beth, as well as being more than a little scary. What an amazing family background you have.


  4. Great post, Beth! Imagine having an ancestory directly involved in this! I’ve always been fascinated by the witch trials. I think my interest started when I watched the soap ‘Dark Shadows’ when I was young, and of course, I read ‘The Crucible’ when I was in high school.


    • Thanks Susan. I read the Crucible too, never realizing my family tied so directly into this time period. I really like the movie! I’ve thought about setting a story in this time period, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten.


  5. Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated case. Witch burning & hanging was common in Europe. Herbalists & healers were always suspect. I think I’ll stay in the 21st century.


  6. “Then you were free to go; God alone being your judge, which makes no sense to me.”

    Well, they were free, but had their own problems. The reason Gilles Corey was pressed to death was because he refused to answer “guilty” or “not guilty” to the charge of witchcraft. No matter the answer, to respond meant one’s property was taken immediately. By not answering, the Coreys kept everything. So even if they admitted to being witches and were released to jail, they didn’t have much to go back to.

    And that’s another theory–that some of the girls were genuinely affected (maybe by the ergot poisoning) but others were pawns in a land grab.


  7. Ergot was used to cause abortions so it might have had a stronger effect on young teens than on men or older women. Still, mob hysteria and a sort of mutual enticing the others to hysteria has been suggested. A few people have suggested that while most of the girls were just hysterical teens, a few were acting and were paying off old scores..
    Hadn’t heard about the forfeiture of property, but that is reasonable as it was part of the legal system in England.


  8. Kelly Daniels

    Orlando and the Mack’s are my ancestors too! There are more connections between the Mack’s and witches. I found a book that speculates that John Mack fled from Scotland and changed his name when his parents were burned at the stake for being witches. And if you descend through Ebenezer Mack there is another witch trials connection in Balthazar de Wolf.


  9. Jennifer (JC Page)

    Interesting but ugly part of our history. Loved your approach Beth! Can certainly understand the fear and prevalent evil. A time we could bury but never forget..the victims.


  10. I’m also a relative to Orlando Bagley.


  11. Just read this. Fascinating! Orlando Bagley is my 9th Great Grandfather. Thank you for posting this.


  12. Thanks for sharing. Orlando is my 7th great grandfather.


  13. John Mack is my 7th great grandfather and Orlando Bagley is my 8th ggf. I knew the story about Susanna Martin. There were other’s in the community that also accused her. I’ve never heard the story about John changing his name. Pretty sure Mack Genealogy never said anything about this.


  14. winonabennettcross

    Great post! I’ve always held an interest in the Salem Witch Trials suspecting many of not all of those killed were simple people with some kind of curious “thing”. Ergot poisoning was rampant in many places during that time. I would love to know more about the genealogy of my family. Perhaps one day I’ll delve into it. Thanks for the links as well. Please do write a follow-up on this subject.


  15. Pingback: Sleepy Hollow and the Persecution of Witches in America | One Writer's Way

  16. Pingback: “Rowan trees and red thread put witches to their speed.” | One Writer's Way

  17. Great info. I am a direct descendant of Orlando Bagley and we actually have a three volume set of Bagley family history. It does tell the story of Orlando though really does not paint him as evil, moreso a person sadly doing his job. Of you are interested in any of the family info in the books please let me know.


  18. Sheryl Carpenter Johnson

    I am just now working on my family ancestry, and Orlando Bagley was my 10th great grandfather. I think you showed up on my DNA match. I know this is an old post, but like you, this piqued my interest because of how terrifying the whole issue of the Salem Witch trials had to have been.

    Liked by 1 person

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