About Mary Parsons (Bliss)
Mary Bliss Parsons, wife of Cornet Joseph Parsons, daughter of Thomas and Margaret Bliss of Hartford, Ct., both very prominent families, was born in England about 1628 and came to this country with her parents when she was about eight years old. She was eleven or twelve when they decided on still another move, to the rude little settlement of Hartford. There for a time life stablized, and Mary grew to womanhood as an average member of an ordinary New England community. In 1646 she married Joseph Parsons, a successful merchant, and went to live in Springfield. Henceforth, her life would be increasingly set apart from the average.
In 1654 the Parsonses moved to Northampton. The family, which included eleven children, became members of the church. Local tradition has remembered Mary as being "possessed of great beauty and talents, but...not very amiable...exclusive in the choice of her associates, and...of haughty manners."
In 1656, soon after the Parsons family moved to Northampton, Joseph Parsons brought an action for slander against Sarah Bridgeman, charging that Sarah had accused Mary, his wife, of being a witch. On the docket of the Middlesex County Court, for its session of October 7, 1656, is found the following entry: "Joseph Parsons, plaintiff, against Sarah, the wife of James Bridgman, defendant, in an action of the case for slandering her [Parson's wife] in her name. This action, by consent of both parties, was referred to the judgment of the Honored Bench of Magistrates." A separate document records the magistrates' finding in favor of the plaintiff and their order that the defendant make "public acknowledgment" of the wrong she had done. The acknowledgment was to be a dual performance - once in the town of Northampton and again at Springfield. Failure to fulfill either part of this requirement would result in a fine of £10.
The testimony against Mary Parsons was that following hard upon the heels of any disagreement or quarrel between Mary Parsons and any member of the Bridgeman family, a fatal disease would seize upon some horse, cow, or pig, belonging to the Bridgeman family and, as the disease could not be accounted for in any other way, it must be the result of Mary's uncanny influence exercised by way of revenge.
The first set of testimonies was recorded at Northampton on or about the 20th of June. For example: Robert Bartlett testifieth that George Langdon told him the last winter that Goody Bridgman and Goody Branch were speaking about Mary Parsons concerning her being a witch. And the said George told to the said Robert that my [Langdon's] wife being there said she could not think so - which the said Goody Bridgman seemed to be distates with. As also [according to Langdon] they had hard thoughts of the wife of the said Robert [Bartlett] because she was intimate with the said Mary Parsons."
The other depositions in this early group enlarge on the gossip theme. The same Hannah Langdon mentioned in Bartlett's statement testified that "Sarah Bridgman ... told her that her boy when his knee was sore cried out of the wife of Joseph Parsons." Bridgman had also alleged widespread "jealousies that the wife of Joseph Parsons was not right." For a time Langdon herself had entertained suspicions of Mary Parsons, but recently "it hath pleased God to help her over them, ... and [she] is sorry she should have [had] hard thoughts of her upon no better grounds." These depositions converged on the issue of what Goody Bridgman had said.
The second major group of papers in the case carries a date several weeks later. They were taken before a different official, and probably in a different place (Springfield). They expressed a different viewpoint, as the recorder noted at the top of the opening page: "Testimonies Taken on Behalf of Sarah, the wife of James Bridgman, the 11th day of August, 1656." The Bridgmans themselves supplied lengthy testimony on the events which had caused them to suspect Goody Parsons.
The previous summer the Bridgemans' eleven-year-old son had suffered a bizarre injury while tending their cows: "In a swamp there came something and gave him a great blow on the had...and going a little further he...stumbled...and put his knee out of joint." Subsequently, the knee was "set" but it would not heal properly - and he was in grievous torture about a month." Then the boy discovered the cause of his sufferings: "He cried out [that] Goody Parsons would pull off his knee, [saying] 'there she sits on the shelf.' ...I and my husband labored to quiet him, but could hardly hold him in bed for he was very fierce. We told him there was nobody...'Yea," says he, 'there she is; do you not see her? There she runs away and a black mouse follows her.' And this he said many times and with great violence...and he was like to die in our apprehension." At about the same time the Bridgmans had also lost an infant son:
"I [Sarah] being brought to bed, about three days after as I was sitting up, having the child in my lap, there was something that gave a great blow on the door. And that very instant, as I apprehended, my child changed. And I thought with myself and told my girl that I was afraid my child would die...Presently... I looking towards the door, through a hole...I saw...two women pass by the door, with white clothes on their heads; then I concluded my child would die indeed. And I sent my girl out to see who they were, but she could see nobody, and this made me think there is wickedness in the place."
The decision of the court was in favor of the plaintiff and against Mrs. Bridgeman, and she was ordered to make public acknowledgment of her fault at Northampton and Springfield, and that her husband, James Bridgman, pay to plaintiff 10£ and cost of court.
But the charge of witchcraft against Mary Parsons did not end with the judgment in the slander suit. Her name was cleared, but only from a legal standpoint. In the years that followed, her husband prospered ever more greatly, her children grew in number and (mostly) flourished, her mother and brothers sank the Bliss family roots deep into the CT Valley. But her reputation for witchcraft hung on.
In 1674 the whole matter was renewed in court - with the important difference that now Mary Parsons was cast as defendant. Unfortunately, most of the evidence from this later case has disappeared. All that survives is the summary material from the dockets of the two courts involved. In August 1674, a young woman of Northampton, Mary Bartlett, had died rather suddenly. She was twenty-two, wife of Samuel Bartlett and the mother of an infant son. More importantly, she was a daughter of Sarah and James Bridgman. Her husband and father jointly believed, as they later testified in court, that "she came to her end by some unlawful and unnatural means, ... viz. by means of some evil instrument." And they had distinct ideas about the person most likely to have used such means.
On September 29, the Hampshire County Court received "diverse testimonies" on the matter. Mary Parsons was also there - on her own initiative: "She having intimation that such things were bruited abroad, and that she should be called in question..."the fact that Mrs. Parsons voluntarily appeared before the court desiring to clear herself of such an execrable crime, and that subsequently she argued her own case before the court must not be overlooked. On both these occasions she met her accusers boldly, protesting her innocence, and showing 'how clear she was of such a crime.' In this trial Mrs. Parsons was called to speak for herself and from the meager report upon record, undoubtedly did so most effectively." The court examined her, considered all the evidence, and deferred further action to its next meeting in November. There followed a second deferral "for special reasons" (about which the court did not elaborate).
On January 5, 1675, the county magistrates conducted their most extended hearing of the case. The previous depositions were reviewed and (apparently) some new ones were taken. Both Samuel Bartlett and Mary Parsons were present in person once again.
Mary was "called to speak for herself, [and] she did assert her own innocency, often mentioning ... how clear she was of such a crime, and that the righteous God knew her innocency - with whom she had left her cause." The magistrates decided that final jurisdiction in such matters belonged not to them but to the Court of Assistants in Boston. Still, considering "the season" and "the remoteness" [i.e., of their own court from Boston] and "the difficulties, if not incapabilities, or persons there to appear," they determined to do their utmost "in inquriing into the case." Among other things, they appointed a committee of "soberdized, chaste women" to conduct a body-search on Mary Parsons, to see "whether any marks of witchcraft might appear." (The result was "an account" which the court did not disclose.) Eventually, all the documents were gathered and forwarded to Boston.
At the same court, and apparently as part of the same proceeding, "some testimony" was offered "reflecting on John Parsons." John was Mary's second son: he was twenty-four at the time, and as yet unmarried. How and why he should have been implicated in the charges against his mother cannot now be discovered; but the evidence was in any case unpersuasive. The court did "not find...any such weight whereby he should be prosecute on suspicion of witchcraft" and discharged him accordingly.
Meanwhile, the case against Mary Parsons moved towards its final round. On March 2, Mary was taken to Boston, "presented" at the Court of Assistants, and formally indicted by the grand jury. Thereupon the court ordered her commitment to prison until "her further trial." The trial came some ten weeks later (May 13, 1675). An imposing roster of Assistants lined the bench: the governor, the deputy-governor, and a dozen magistrates (including her husband's old associate, John Pynchon). However, her fate rested with "the jury of trails for life and death" - twelve men, of no particular distinction, from Boston and the surrounding towns. The indictment was read one last time: "Mary Parsons, the wife of Joseph Parsons...being instigated by the Devil, hath...entered into familiarity with the Devil, and committed several acts of witchcraft on the person or persons of one or more." The evidence in the case was also read. And "the prisoner at the bar, holding up her hand and pleading not guilty, ...[put] herself on her trial." The tension of this moment must have been very great, but it does not come through in the final, spare notation of the court recorder: "The jury brought in their verdict. They found her not guilty. And so she was discharged."
The jury gave her a full acquittal of the crime. Of Mary's life subsequent to 1674 there is little direct information. She and her husband would eventually give up their home in Northampton and move back to Springfield. Joseph would died in 1683, leaving a substantial estate of £2,088, and Mary would enter a very long widowhood.
She remained thereafter in Springfield, completed the rearing of her numerous progeny, and saw her sons - and then her grandsons - assume positions of prominence in several CT Valley towns. Death claimed her in January, 1712, when she was about eighty-five years old. She was not again tried for witchcraft, but neither was she ever free from local suspicion.
Details concerning her life and her court cases of practicing witchcraft can be found in: John Putnam Demons, Entertaining Satan, Oxford University Press, New York, 1982; Davd D. Hall, Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth-Century New England, Northeastern University Press, Second Edition, Boston, MA, 1999; Henry Parsons, A.M., Descendants of Cornet Joseph Parsons, Springfield, 1636--Northampton, 1655, Frank Allaben Genealogical Company; and J. Hammond Trumbull, History of Northampton, Vol. I, pp. 43-50; also on pages 228-234.
1654 Cornet Parsons moves his family to Northampton, MA
1656 He wins libel suit against neighbor Bridgeman's wife
1656-1674 Grudges fester
1674 Mary is accused of witchcraft
1675/05/13 The trial; verdict: acquittal
1675/09 Parson's son Ebenezer killed by Indians at Northfield
1676-1679 Lingering suspicions
1679-1680 Cornet Parsons moves his family back to Springfield
Mary Parsons, wife of Coronet Joseph Parsons one of the first settlers in town, who had disembarked as a child in Plymouth and moved to the "wilds to become one of Northampton's most prominent citizens was accused of witchcraft in the first case in Northampton to come to trial in 1674. "She was a woman of more than ordinary intelligence, and of unquestioned respectability. Her accusers were also persons of high standing and good reputation. Mary was different: rich, beautiful, high strung, and argumentative. One man admitted that he stalked her. (Trumbull's History of Northampton. She was brought to trial 3 times for the charge of practicing witchcraft. Finally she was taken to Boston and jailed for 3 months where her body was searched for devil marks. She spoke effectively in her own defense, and the jury found her innocent. After she returned home to Northampton, the villagers began calling her son, John, a warlock. He had defended the innocence and dignity of his mother against the "witch-finders," the Bartletts and Bridgemans. After a younger son was killed in a battle at Northfield by Indians, her accusers claimed that was God's judgement. At that point, most of the family moved back to Springfield.
- 'Genealogy of the Bliss family in America, from about the year 1550 to 1880 (1881, )
- THOMAS, of England, of Braintree, Mass., and afterwards of Hartford, Conn., was a son of the first Thomas Bliss, of England, and was born about the year 1580 or 1585. He married in England about 1612-15, to Margaret __,* and had ten children, of whom six were born previous to their removal to this country; these were name respectively, Ann, 'Mary', Thomas, Nathaniel, Lawrence, and Samuel; and in this country were probably born Sarah, Elizabeth, Hannah and John. Owing to religious persecutions, Thomas Bliss was compelled to leave England, and in the autumn of 1635, he with his younger brother George embarked at Plymouth with their families for the then wilderness of America. Upon their arrival at Boston, as before stated, Thomas located temporarily at Braintree, Mass., whence he afterwards removed to Hartford, Conn., where he died in 1640. We have been unable to ascertain the dates of birth of all the children in this family, but is is evident that Thomas was the oldest son, and that he must have been of age at the time of the distribution of the lots in Hartford, which would place his birth at about the year 1615-16. The births of the other children must have occurred between that of Thomas, jr. (unless Ann and 'Mary were older'), and the death of Thomas sen., in 1640, which would allow two years at least between them. Probably there were no other sons of age at the time of their arrival in Hartford, as otherwise they would have had lots assigned them -- and there is nothing more discoverable respecting any of the children in Hartford.
- *It is thought her maiden name was Margaret Lawrence, and that she was born about the year 1594, and married to Thomas Bliss about 1612-15. She was a good looking woman, with a square ablong face that betokened great capability and force of character. She had a broad open brow, fair hair, and blue eyes. After the death of her husband, which took place about the close of the year 1639, she managed the affairs of the family with great prudence and judgment. He eldest daughter, Ann, was married to Robert Chapman, of Saybrook, Conn., April 29, 1642, choosing April for their marriage month instead of May, for the old English adage ran - "To wed in May, you'll rue the day." She removed with her husband to Saybrook, where her eldest brother, Thomas, came soon after to live with them, and where he married in 1644, and in 1659 removed to Norwich, Conn., with thirty-four or thirty-five others and effected the settlement of that town. The other children of the widow Margaret Bliss, of Hartford, concluded not to settle there permanently, chills and fever prevailing in some localities near the town; she and her children, therefore in the year 1643, removed to the settlement of Springfield, Mass., thirty miles or more up the Conecticut River. Margaret sold her property in Hartford, and gathering her household goods and cattle together, prepared with her eight children to make the journey through the forest to Springfield, which she accomplished in about five days. Nathaniel and Samuel, her second and fourth sons, had been there previously, and a dwelling had been prepared for the family on their arrival. A journey like this was thought a great thing in those days. They camped out in the forest three nights with their teams, so sparsely was the country settled at that time; and the forests, infested with savage beasts and scarcely less savage Indians, were broken only by the single roads to the seaboard, on the east and on the south, and these were by no means of the best. Mrs. Margaret had acquaintances in Springfield whom she had known in England, and here she settled down for the remainder of her days. It is said she purchased a tract of land in Springfield one mile square, situated in the south part of the town, on what is now Main Street, and bordering on Connecticut River. One of the streets laid out on the manor tract has been named "Margaret Street," and another "Bliss Street," on which has been built a Congregational Church. She lived to see all her children brought up, married and established in homes of their own, except Hannah, who died at about twenty-three years of age. Mrs. Margaret died in Springfield, August 28, 1684, after a residence in America of nearly fifty years, and over forty since her husband's death. She was an energetic, efficient woman, capable of transacting most kinds of business, and was long remembered in Springfield as a woman of great intellectual ability. A mother with these characteristics seldom fails to transmit them to posterity. Her will, dated in September (1683?) mentions her son John, son Lawrence, deceased, son Samuel, daughter Elizabeth (Morgan), deceased, 'daughter Mary Parsons (widow of Joseph)', and daughter Sarah (Scott). As no reference is made to Thomas or Ann, it has been questioned whether they were her children. But neither is there any reference in it to the children of her son Nathaniel, deceased, to which in their younger years she had been guardian and guide; so that it cannot be inferred from such omission that Thomas, jr., and Ann were not her children. As she survived her husband forty-four years, it may have been that she was a second wife, and that these were children of a former marriage. He must have died comparatively young, or there may have been a great disparity in their ages. She lived more than ninety years, in spite of the hardships and anxieties she had passed through, and her grandchildren were generally very strong of consitution and long-lived, as where also her children. She was a woman of superior abilities, great resolution, and uncommon enterprise, and is entitled to the respect of her descendants, both for her vigor of mind and consitution.
- The following are the names of the children of Thomas and Margaret Bliss, with their chronology as far as we have been able to ascertain:
- 9. ANN, b. in England, __, m. April 29, 1642, Robert Chapman, of Saybrook, Conn., and d. November 20, 1685. He was born about 1616, and came from Hull, England, to Boston, in August 1635 and in November to Saybrook, Conn. He d. October 13, 1687. Issue: 1. John, b. July, 1644. 2. Robert, b. September, 1646. 3. Ann, b. September 12, 1648, d. next year. 4. Hannah, b. October 4, 1650. 5. Nathaniel, b. February 16, 1653. 6. Mary, b. April 15, 1655. 7. Sarah, b. September 25, 1657.
- '10. MARY, b. in England, __, m. November 26, 1646, Joseph Parsons, Springfield, Mass., who d. October 9, 1683. She d. January 29, 1712. Mr Parsons, associated with Mr. Pynchon, was one of the most prominent men in the public business of the place, and quite wealthy. He was a witness to the deed given by the Indians to Pynchon,* July 15, 1636. Joseph and Mary Parsons had five children before their removal to Northampton, Mass., in 1654. (Their son Ebenezer, born in this place, May 1, 1655, was the first white child born in the town, and he was killed by the Indians at Northfield, September 2, 1675.) Here in Northampton they had seven more children, making twelve in all, but three, named Benjamin, John and David, died young. Mary Bliss, the mother of this family, two years after the birth of her youngest child, was charged with witchcraft by some of her neighbors who were envious of their prosperity and endeavored in this way to disgrace them. She was sent to Boston for trail where the jury gave her a full acquittal of the crime, and she returned home to Northampton, from whence they removed back to Springfield in 1679. Just after he acquittal in Boston, her son Ebenezer was killed by the Indians, and those who had been instrumental in bringing her to trial said: "Behold, though human judges may be bought off, God's vengeance neither turns aside nor slumbers." It is said that she possessed great beauty and talents, but was not very amiable.
- 11. *THOMAS, b. in England, __, d. April 15, 1688.
- [ A Mr. Thomas Blythe (aged twenty years) came over in the barque "Globe" from London, August 7, 1635. If this was Thomas Bliss, afterwards of Norwich, Conn., it gives his birth date as 1615.]
- 12. *NATHANIEL, b. in England, __, d. November 8, 1654.
- 13. *LAWRENCE, b. in England, __, d. in 1676.
- 14. *SAMUEL, b. in England in 1624, d. March 23, 1720.
- 15. SARAH, b. at Boston Mount, about 1635-6, m. at Springfield, Mass., July 20 1659, John Scott, by whom she had nine children, only one of whom (William) had issue. Mr. Scott died January 2, 1690, and the same year she was married again, to Samuel Terry. She d. September 17, 1705.
- 16. ELIZABETH, b. at Boston Mount, about 1637, was m. February 15, 1669-70, as the second wife of Sergeant Miles Morgan (b. 1615 and d. May 28, 1699), who had eight children by a previous marriage. Elizabeth had only one child, named Nathaniel, b. June 14, 1671. She was thirty-two or three years of age at the time of her marriage, and had been engaged in marriage before, but her intended husband was killed by the Indians.
- 17. HANNAH, b. at Hartford, 1639, d. single, January 25, 1662.
- 18. *JOHN, b. at Hartford, 1640, d. September 10, 1702.
- 'PARSONS FAMILY ASSOCIATION
- 'Mary BLISS
- ABT 1625 - 29 Jan 1711
- BIRTH: ABT 1625, ,Gloucestershire,Canterbury Prov.,England
- DEATH: 29 Jan 1711, Springfield,Hampshire Co.,MA,USA
- BURIAL: ABT 1711, Elm St. Cemetery,Springfield,MA,USA
- REFERENCE: 2049
- Father: Thomas (Sen.) BLISS
- Mother: Margaret HULINS
- 'Family 1 : Joseph (Cornet) PARSONS
- MARRIAGE: 26 Nov 1646, Hartford,Hartford Co.,CT,USA
- 1. +Joseph (Hon.) (Esq.) PARSONS
- 2. Benjamin (A) PARSONS
- 3. +John (Capt.) PARSONS
- 4. +Samuel (Lt.) PARSONS
- 5. +Ebenezer PARSONS
- 6. +Jonathan PARSONS
- 7. David PARSONS
- 8. +Mary PARSONS
- 9. +Hannah PARSONS
- 10. Abagail PARSONS
- 11. +Esther PARSONS
- 12. Benjamin (B) PARSONS
- 'Mary Bliss1
- F, b. 1628, d. 29 January 1712
- Father Thomas Bliss1 b. c 1600, d. 1651
- Mother Margaret Hulings1 b. 15 Jul 1595, d. 28 Aug 1684
- ' Mary Bliss was born in 1628 at of Rehoboth, Bristol, MA.1 She married Joseph Parsons, son of Hugh Parsons and Elizabeth Bagshawe, on 26 November 1646 at Springfield, Hampden, MA.1 Mary Bliss died on 29 January 1712 at Springfield, Hampden, MA.1
- 'Family Joseph Parsons b. 25 Jun 1620, d. 9 Oct 1683
- ◦Joseph Parsons1 b. 1 Nov 1647, d. 29 Nov 1729
- ◦Esther Parsons+1 b. 24 Dec 1672, d. 30 May 1760
- 1.[S61] Unknown author, Family Group Sheets, SLC Archives.
Millennium File about Mary Bliss
Name: Mary Bliss
Spouse: Joseph Parsons
Birth Date: 1626
Birth City: Balstone
Birth County: Devon
Birth Country: England
Death Date: 29 Jan 1712
Death City: Springfield
Death County: Hampden
Death State: Massachusetts
Death Country: USA
Parents: Thomas Bliss, Margaret Hulins
Children: Mary Parsons
Heritage Consulting. Millennium File [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2003.
Original data: Heritage Consulting. The Millennium File. Salt Lake City, UT, USA: Heritage Consulting.
Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s about Mary Bliss
Name: Mary Bliss
Place: Hartford, Connecticut
Source Publication Code: 8395
Primary Immigrant: Bliss, Mary
Date and port of arrival or date and place of first mention of residence in the New World. In some cases, the name of the ship and spousal information is also provided.
SHERMAN, JOHN H. "'Second Boat' Ancestors." In The Second Boat (Pentref Press, Machias, ME), vol. 4:2 (Aug. 1983), pp. 49-55.
Source Citation: Place: Hartford, Connecticut; Year: 1636; Page Number: 49.
Gale Research. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2010.
Original data: Filby, P. William, ed. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s. Farmington Hills, MI, USA: Gale Research, 2010.
U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 about Mary Bliss
Name: Mary Bliss
Birth Place: EN
Birth Year: 1628
Spouse Name: Joseph Parsons
Spouse Birth Place: EN
Spouse Birth Year: 1619
Marriage Year: 1646
Marriage State: MA
Number Pages: 1
Source Citation: Source number: 10673.000; Source type: Electronic Database; Number of Pages: 1; Submitter Code: BFO.
Yates Publishing. U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.
Original data: This unique collection of records was extracted from a variety of sources including family group sheets and electronic databases. Originally, the information was derived from an array of materials including pedigree charts, family history articles, querie
Mary Parsons (Bliss)'s Timeline
March 16, 1616
Rodborough, Gloucestershire, England, (Present UK)
March 16, 1616
Probably Rodborough, Gloucestershire, England, (Present UK)
March 16, 1616
March 16, 1616
March 16, 1616
Daventry, Belstone, England, Uk
March 16, 1616
Daventry, Northampton, Eng
November 26, 1646
Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut, United States
November 26, 1646
Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut Colony, (Present USA)