The Witchcraft Trial of Samuel Wardwell

Samuel Wardwell was a 49-year-old carpenter from Andover, Mass who was accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials.

Samuel Wardwell was born on May 16, 1643, to Thomas Wardwell, a shoemaker, and Elizabeth Woodruff in Boston, Massachusetts.

As a young teen, Samuel became an apprentice to a master carpenter in Boston. He finished his apprenticeship in 1664, at the age of 21, and went to Salem with his brother Benjamin to take advantage of the wide-scale rebuilding and expanding of the town.

In Salem, Samuel met and married a young woman and had a son, Thomas. In 1671, Samuel’s wife died and Samuel and his son left Salem for Andover.

In Andover, Samuel met 25-year-old Sarah Barker, who was the daughter of Richard Barker, one of Andover’s most prominent citizens. Samuel fell in love with Sarah but she rejected him, leaving him heartbroken.

Then, around 1672 or 73, Wardwell met a young, wealthy widow named Sarah Hooper Hawkes, who like Samuel, also had a young child from her previous marriage, Sarah Hawke’s Jr. The couple became engaged on January 9, 1673.

After Samuel and Sarah married, they purchased a large farm in Andover, as well as some land in Lynn, and went on to have seven children together: Samuel, Jr, Eliakim, William, Mercy, Elizabeth (who died in infancy), another Elizabeth, and Rebecca.

Samuel Wardwell & the Salem Witch Trials:

In September of 1692, Samuel Wardwell was arrested on charges of witchcraft and imprisoned in Salem town. It’s not known who accused Wardwell or what circumstances led to his arrest because the original arrest warrant is missing from the Salem records.

Not only was Samuel Wardwell accused but so was his wife, Sarah, his daughter, Mercy, and his daughter-in-law, Sarah Hawkes Jr.

Samuel Wardwell’s memorial marker, Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Salem, Mass. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks

Samuel Wardwell was examined on September 1, 1692 by Judge John Higginson and he immediately confessed to the crime, telling the court that he said he had signed a pact with the devil at a time when he was unhappy with his life and said he often told fortunes and dabbled in folk magic which may have allowed the Devil to take advantage of him, according to court records:

“He said the reason of his discontent then was because he was in love with a maid named Barker who slighted his love, And the first appearance of the cat then was behind Capt Bradstreet’s house, about a week after that a black man appeared in the day time at the same place and called himself prince and lord and told him the said Wardwell he must worship and believe him, and promised as above, with this addition that he should never want for any thing…”

Wardwell went on to explain that he signed the Devil’s book and was baptized by the Devil in a river but the Devil never helped him as promised even though he told him he was bound in a covenant with him until he was 60 years old.

Wardwell’s wife, daughter and daughter-in-law were examined on the same day and they also confessed to the crime.

Although it’s not clear why the Wardwells confessed, according to Emerson Baker in his book A Storm of Witchcraft, at this point in the trials it was believed that confessing could save your life:

“Meanwhile, throughout most of the summer only those who refused to confess had been tried and executed. So when Wardwell was questioned about witchcraft on September 1, he and others appear to have believed that confessing would at least delay their trial and execution, and might possibly even spare their lives. A plea of not guilty seemed to promise only a quick trial, conviction, and execution, for everyone tried by the court had been found guilty and sentenced to death.” (Baker 154)

After Wardwell’s examination he was indicted on two charges: one for covenanting with the devil and one for bewitching Martha Sprague, which is probably the person who initially accused Wardwell.

It is this second indictment that historian Bernard Rosenthal finds particularly interesting, as he explains in his book Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692:

“A few such indictments had appeared, but it is the remaining one that catches our interest: It charged Wardwell with afflicting Martha Sprague on August 15, two weeks before his examination. After the long pattern of indictments specifically indicating affliction on the day of an examination, this one suggests that the judiciary was backing away, ever so slightly, from its dependence on spectral evidence. That Wardwell was not indicted for behavior on the day of his examination represented an extraordinary shift in procedure by the court.” (Rosenthal 155).

After the Wardwell family’s examinations and confessions, they sat in jail while Samuel and Sarah’s younger children were apparently left to fend for themselves.

Eventually a petition was eventually filed by the Andover selectmen asking to place the children in temporary homes, according to court records:

“To the Honored Court now sitting at Ipswich. The petition of the selectmen of Andover sheweth that whereas Samuel Wardwell and his wife of Andover, were lately apprehended and committed to prison for witchcraft, and have left several small children who are incapable of providing for themselves, and are now in a suffering condition: we have thought it necessary and convenient that they should be disposed of in some families where there may be due care taken of them. We therefore humbly pray your Honors to inform us what is our duty in this case, and to give #(us) order so to dispose of them that their necessities may be relieved, and to grant liberty to improve so much of their fathers Estate as is necessary for their present supply and your petitioners shall ever pray &c
John Abbott.
and John Aslabee
by order of the selectmen”

As Marilynne K. Roach states in her book, The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege, part of the reason the children were suffering is because after Samuel and Sarah Wardwell were arrested, the sheriff showed up at the Wardwell house and confiscated much of their estate, including their “goods, cattle, hogs, horse, carpenter tools, eight loads of hay, and six acres of corn not yet harvested” (Roach 303), which essentially left the children with nothing.

After the petition was filed by the Andover selectmen, the couple’s 15-year-old son, Samuel Jr, was sent to live with his uncle, John Ballard, for one year while their 13-year-old son, William, was apprenticed until age 21 to learn weaving from selectmen Samuel Fry. Five-year-old Eliakim was apprenticed until age 21 to farmer Daniel Poore while the baby, Elizabeth, was sent to John Steven’s family until age 18 (Roach 303).

Samuel Wardwell’s Trial:

On September 13, 1692, Samuel Wardwell’s trial began and, when his previous confession was read to him, he quickly recanted it, according to court records:

“Samuel Wardwell. owned to the grand inquest that the above written confession was taken from his mouth and that he had said it but he said he belied himself. He also said it was alone one he knew he should die for it whether he owned it or no.”

According to Rosenthal, Wardwell recanted his confession because he realized he would be hanged anyway and wanted to clear his conscience:

“Wardwell had seen the conviction and condemnation of Hoar as well as of other confessors. These were people who believed that they would hang, and Wardwell assumed that he would also hang in spite of his confession…Nineteenth-and twentieth-century chroniclers have made a hero out of Wardwell for ultimately choosing conscience over fraud, and one would have to be mean-spirited to deny him the integrity he gained by choosing to tell the truth; but it remains the case that, from his point of view, the choice was between dying in a lie or dying in the truth. He chose the truth.” (Rosenthal 156).

A handful of people testified against Wardwell at his trial, including: Martha Sprague, Mary Warren, Mary Walcott, Ephraim Foster, Thomas Chandler, Joseph Ballard, Abigail Martin and John Bridges.

Many of these witnesses told the court about Wardwell’s palm reading and fortune-telling practices and how a number of his predictions had actually come true, which is what made many of them first suspect that he was a witch.

Ephraim Foster testified that Wardwell had told his wife’s fortune, during which Wardwell said “that she should have five girls before she should have a son, which thing is come to pass. And I heard him tell Dorothy Eames her fortune which he did and I have heard said Dorothy say after that she believed Wardwell was a witch.”

Thomas Chandler also testified that he had often heard Wardwell telling young people in Andover their fortunes and said Wardwell was “much addicted to that and made sport of it and farther said not.”

Abigail Martin also testified that, while at her father’s house the previous winter, Wardwell had told a young man named John Farnon his fortune, during which he said the young man was in love with a young woman but would be crossed and would be shot with a gun and would fall from his horse, all of which Martin claimed later came true.

Martin went on to say that Wardwell also told another young man, James Bridges, that he too was secretly in love with a young lady, which also turned out to be true and made the Bridges family curious about how Wardwell could know this:

“And further I heard him tell James Bridges his fortune that he loved a girl at fourteen years old which said Bridges owned to be the truth but could not imagine how said Wardwall knew for he never spoke of it. John bridges, father of said James Bridges, said he heard James say ‘I wonder how Wardwell could tell so true.’”

Another witness, Joseph Ballard, testified that Wardwell had complained that Ballard accused him of bewitching his wife, but did so long before Ballard even suspected his wife was bewitched.

The remaining witnesses included Martha Sprague, who accused Wardwell of pinching and striking her using witchcraft and also accused him of afflicting Rose Foster and her mother.
Two of the afflicted girls of Salem Village, Mary Warren and Mary Walcott, also testified against Wardwell by stating that they too saw Wardwell afflict Sprague.

At the end of Wardwell’s trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. On Thursday, September 22, Wardwell and seven other convicted witches, Alice Parker, Mary Parker, Ann Pudeator, Wilmot Redd, Margaret Scott, Martha Corey and Mary Easty, were taken to Proctor’s Ledge in an ox cart but the cart suddenly became stuck as it started to ascend the hill to the execution site.

As the law men struggled to get the wheels to move, the afflicted girls began to cry out that they saw the Devil holding the cart back (Calef 218.) Eventually, the oxen pulled the cart free and they arrived at Proctor’s Ledge.

When it was Wardwell’s turn to be hanged, he stood upon the ladder speaking his last words but coughed when a puff of the executioner’s tobacco smoke blew in his face, which his accusers interpreted as a sign from God:

“At execution, while he was speaking to the people, protesting his innocency, the executioner being at the same time smoking tobacco, the smoke coming in his face interrupted his discourse; those accusers said that the devil did hinder him with smoke” (Calef 218).

After Wardwell and the others were executed and their bodies were still hanging, Reverend Nicholas Noyes remarked “what a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there” (Calef 221).

“What a Sad Thing It Is to See Eight Firebrands of Hell Hanging There,” illustration published in the New England Magazine, Volume 5, circa 1892

It is not known where Samuel Wardwell was buried after he was executed. The bodies of those executed were cut down after they were hanged and temporarily placed in a nearby rocky crevice.

What happened to the bodies after that is unknown. Convicted witches weren’t allowed to be buried in consecrated ground so they were not allowed to buried in a graveyard.

Meanwhile, Samuel’s wife, Sarah Wardwell, was tried in January of 1693, found guilty and was sentenced to hang but Governor Phips ordered a stay of execution for Wardwell and two others convicted in January on the advice of the Attorney General to King William and Queen Mary.

In May of 1693, Governor Phips issued a proclamation declaring that all accused persons were pardoned, and those awaiting trial were granted amnesty.

Sarah Hawkes, Jr, and Mercy Wardwell were never tried and were released after many months in prison.

Wardwell’s Family After the Salem Witch Trials:

In May or June of 1703, a petitioned was filed asking for the names of Abigail Faulkner, Sarah Wardwell and Elizabeth Proctor to be cleared.

On July 27, 1703, the petition was granted and the general court cleared the names of the three women.

On September 13, 1710, Sarah Hawkes’s now husband, Francis Johnson, petitioned the court for restitution for the five months she spent in prison and submitted a list of expenses she paid while imprisoned. These expenses included £2 and 14 shillings paid to the sheriff and jailer in order to be released and £2 and 10 shillings for her provisions while she was in prison.

Also on September 13, 1710, Mercy Wardwell Wright petitioned the court for restitution for her time spent in jail and Samuel Wardwell, Jr, petitioned the court for restitution for the goods seized from his father’s estate after his arrest in 1692 and asked that his parent’s names be cleared. He listed the goods seized from his father’s estate as:

5 cows worth £10
One heifer and a yearling worth £2 and 5 shillings
One horse worth £3
9 hogs worth £7
8 loads of hay worth £4
A set of carpenter tools worth £1 and 10 shillings
6 acres of unharvested corn worth £9
Grand total of: £36 and 15 shillings

On October 17, 1711, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill restoring some of the names of the accused which included Samuel Wardwell.

On December 17, 1711, the Massachusetts legislature awarded the Wardwell family £36 and 15 shillings in restitution for the loss of their goods.

In December of 1711, Samuel Wardwell, Jr, signed a letter, along with 33 other victims and relatives, asking that Stephen Sewall acquire a copy of the 1711 act and collect their restitution on their behalf since traveling to Boston would be very difficult for them.

On February 19, 1712, Samuel Wardwell, Jr, petitioned the court again because his mother, who was at the point deceased, was not listed in the 1711 bill and he wanted her name to be cleared and to be awarded restitution as well, according to court records:

“To the honourable, the Gentlemen of the Committee sitting at Salem
Whereas my mother Sarah Wardel was condemned by the court at Salem sometime in January in the year 1692, as I suppose will appear by the Records of the Tryalls at that Court, but her name is not inserted in the late Act of the Generall Court, for the taking of the Attainder of those that were condemned in that year my mother being since deceased, I thought it my duty to endeavour that her name may have the benefit of that Act. I therefore humbly pray your Honours to Represent this case to the Honourable Gen’ll Court, that my mothers name may be inserted in the said Act. And whereas in the account which I gave to your Honors when you met at Salem the Last winter, I mentioned only what was seized of my Father’s Estate by the Sherriffe, but gave no account of other charges which did arise from the imprisonment of my Father and mother, they having provided for their own subsistance while they were in Prison, and I suppose there was something considerable payd to the keeper of the prison, though I am not able now to give a particular account how much it was. If your Honours please to allow me something opon that account, It will be thankfully acknowledged by [you] Your honours most humble servant
*Samuel wardel ”

It doesn’t appear that the court cleared Sarah Wardwell’s name in future revisions to the bill in 1957 or 2001, possibly because her name had already been cleared in the 1703 petition.

Samuel Wardwell’s memorial marker, Proctor’s Ledge Memorial, Salem, Mass

In 1992, the Salem Witch Trials Memorial was built in Salem, Mass and a marker was established for Samuel Wardwell.

In 2017, the Proctor’s Ledge Memorial was built in Salem, Mass and a marker was established for Samuel Wardwell.

Baker, Emerson W. A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience. Oxford University Press, 2014.
Calef, Robert. More Wonders of the Invisible World. Salem: Cushing and Appleton, 1823
Municipal History of Essex County in Massachusetts. Edited by Benj. F. Arrington, Vol. II, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1922.
Rosenthal, Bernard. Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692. Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Goss, K. David. The Salem Witch Trials: A Reference Guide. Greenwood Press, 2008.
Pierce, William Macbeth. Old Hancock Families. Hancock Family Publishing, 1933.
Kirby, Amy. “The Legacy of the Salem Witch Trials in New Britain.” New Britain City Journal, 30 Oct. 2014,
“People Accused of Witchcraft in 1692.” A Guide to the Online Primary Sources of the Salem Witch Trials,
“Samuel Wardwell Executed, September 22, 1691.” Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project, University of Virginia,