19 April 2016

Using restitution lists from the 1692 Salem witch trials to rebuild Dorcas Hoar’s family

After the Salem witch trials were over and the victims were released from prison, some families petitioned the government for restitution and reversal of attainder. These records are useful for rebuilding families.

A Bittersweet Homecoming

When Dorcas Hoar was accused of witchcraft in April 1692, she was a recent widow in her late 50s, no doubt struggling financially to survive in her humble abode in Beverly. After many months of imprisonment, she came home to find what little she had was confiscated, even her bed. In 1696, her husband’s estate was probated, showing William’s assets, including five acres and the remainder of an old house, were worth less than his debts, so everything went to his creditors. Without a reversal of attainder, Dorcas probably was not entitled to her widow’s third since legally she was still guilty of witchcraft, a capital crime.

Settling Debts

On 13 September 1710, John and Annis King petitioned for restitution on behalf of Dorcas Hoar. Besides providing acknowledgment of a wrongful imprisonment (and, in some cases, death), this act allowed some victims and their families to receive money for associated costs. In the case of Dorcas Hoar, her family was paid for jail costs, travel expenses, and items taken from her home, including two cows, an ox, a mare, bedding, curtains, and household stuff. We know Dorcas was dead by this date because the full amount of £21 17s was split between her heirs.

By the time the heirs received the money, there were some changes in the family, as shown in the following chart.

13 Sept. 1710 list
19 Feb. 1711/2 receipts
Wm. Hoar 3 children
William Hoar Dec’d left 3 daughters
Mary Birtt
Mary Burt widow
Eliz Reed
Elizabeth Read wife of Christopher Read
Annis Kinge
Annis King wife of John King
Joanna Green
Johanna Green wife of widow
Tabath Slue 3 children
Tabitha Slue dec’d left two children her Leonard & R[a]chel

Using the two lists gives us extra details, providing more information to create a basic genealogy.

The Family of Dorcas (Galley) Hoar

Dorcas Galley, daughter of John Galley (b. abt. 1605, d. 1683) and Florence (d. 1686), was born about 1635 in what is now Beverly, Massachusetts. She married, about 1655, fisherman William Hoar (b. abt. 1628, d. winter 1691/2). They had at least eight children, though no birth dates are recorded in the Beverly vital records:

1. Mary Hoar married in Beverly (1) on June 30 1671 Samuel Harris (probate 1682). In 1710, she was called “Birtt” and in 1712 “Mary Burt widow,” suggesting her husband may have died within those 17 months, however no death or probate records were found. It's possible she married in Marblehead (2) 4 Sept. 1684 as Mary Harris and John Bush, “both inhabitants at Basriner” [Bass River, a.k.a. Beverly]. A “___ Burt, widow,” died before May 1732 in Beverly. She had at least one child, Daniel Harris, born 31 March 1672 in Beverly.

2. Elizabeth Hoar married in Beverly (1) on 13 Nov. 1676 Jonas Johnson and (2) Christopher Read in 1682. Six Read children were recorded in Beverly. Christopher Read was the sexton in Beverly from 1715 to 1727. He may have died in 1727, since Elizabeth was his widow when she died between September 1736 and June 1737.

3. Tabitha (“Tabbie”) Hoar married Leonard Slue/Slew about 1677 as her wedding is mentioned in the 1678 court case. She was baptized as an adult a week after her sister-in-law Sarah (Ross) Hoar, on 22 Dec. 1695, in Beverly. In 1700, Leonard Slue had land in Purpooduck (Cape Elizabeth), Maine. On August 10, 1703, 26 people in Purpooduck were killed by Indians, including Leonard Slue, his wife, and three children. (However, “__ Slue” appears on a 1710/1711 list of persons still being held captive.) Three children were living in 1710, but only two in 1712. (1) Mary Slue married Joshua Beans in Salem on 23 June 1701 and died before he married, second, Mary Fuller on 7 June 1704. (2) Leonard Slue married Abigail Johnson in Beverly on 23 Nov. 1703. He was the sexton in Beverly from 1727 to 1737 and died in 1744. (3) Rachel Slue died unmarried in Beverly in 1734.

4. William Hoar Jr. was born about 1661. He married 3 June 1685 in Beverly Sarah Ross. His wife was baptized and admitted into full communion with the Beverly Church on 15 Dec. 1695 and their four daughters were baptized 2 Feb. 1695/6. William and one of his daughters died before the September 1710 list. Children: (1) Mary married in Marblehead on 18 Nov. 1708 Moses Pitman Jr. (children born 1711-1723); (2) Rebecca Hoar married in Marblehead 22 Dec. 1712 Benjamin Carder; (3) Abigail Hoar married John Grover on 8 Dec. 1715 in Beverly; leaving (4) daughter Sarah Hoar the one who died by September 1710. William's widow, Sarah (Ross) Hoar married James Taylor Sr. in Beverly on 21 June 1720.

5. Annis (“Nancy”) Hoar married in Salem on 10 Sept. 1688 John King (1661-1718) and had at least six children. She was still living in 1731.

6. Samuel Hoar was in court in July 1678 with his father for “neglecting the public ordinances.” No further record; he died before September 1710 list.

7. Simon Hoar was in court February 1678/9 with sisters Elizabeth Johnson and Annis Hoar, for “abusing Mr. Hale’s cattle,” probably in retribution for the burglary ring charges of 1678. No further record; he died before September 1710 list.

8. Joanna Hoar married in Salem (1) on 25 April 1694 Moses Parnell (b. 1670) and (2) on 27 Oct. 1699 to Benjamin Green (b. 1678). Joanna was widowed by 12 Feb. 1712. No children recorded.


Bernard Rosenthal et al, Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt

Robert Charles Anderson, Great Migration: Immigrants to New England 1634-1635 (AmericanAncestors.org)

Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 (AmericanAncestors.org)

Torrey's New England Marriages to 1700 (AmericanAncestors.org)

Essex County MA: Probate File Papers, 1638-1881 (AmericanAncestors.org)

'Where Thieves Break Through and Steal': John Hale versus Dorcas Hoar 1672-1692 by Barbara Ritter Dailey in Essex Institute Historical Collections, Vol. 128, (1992). 

Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts

Sidney Perley, History of Salem, Massachusetts

George Walter Chamberlain, Descendants of Michael Webber of Falmouth, Maine and of Gloucester, Massachusetts 

13 April 2016

Dorcas Hoar really was a witch

Image: Chris 73/Wikimedia Commons
It could be an omen that John and Florence Galley were fined by the Essex Quarterly Court in 1635 for fornication before marriage. Born shortly thereafter, their daughter Dorcas had several confrontations with the law and clergy throughout her married life. Growing up, however, she lived a comfortable but not overly religious life. Her father was admitted to the church in Beverly, Massachusetts, in his early 60s, so it’s likely the Galley household was not as God-fearing as their neighbors. And, at his death in 1683, John Galley, planter, left an estate worth £200.

Living in a Puritan church-state and believing in its teachings are not one and the same. After settling into married life about 1655 and having children, Dorcas and her husband, fisherman William Hoar, strayed from the gospel. In 1661 and 1662, William was brought before the court for “allowing tippling” and celebrating Christmas at his house. All along, Puritans discouraged holidays as pure popery—especially Christmas, which not only had no celebratory date in the Bible, it also usurped a pagan solstice festival. In fact, from 1659 to 1681 the Massachusetts Bay Colony outlawed Christmas.

Around the same time, Dorcas started dabbling in the dark arts.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live

Dorcas admitted she learned witchcraft from a book of palmistry and from a practicing healer. She and her daughters married poor men, and her skills at fortunetelling and predicting illnesses (even death) supplemented a meager income, not only for her household but for her grown children’s households too. Even though Puritan theology denounced divination as trespassing on God’s all-knowing plan, people still wanted to know what the future held for them. Badgered by the local minister, Mr. John Hale, in 1670 Dorcas repented for her sins.

Unfortunately, the good reverend didn’t understand her needs.

People in Beverly started noticing small things went missing, like an apron or a pillowcase of flour. After a while, John Hale realized the criminals in their midst were specifically targeting him and his house of plenty. At first, blame was placed on his servant, Margaret Lord, but stolen items appeared throughout Dorcas Hoar’s extended family, making her the mastermind behind the burglary ring. (Margaret Lord threatened the Hales' daughter into silence by telling her Dorcas Hoar was a witch.) In 1678, Dorcas was in court listening to a catalog of the bushels of foodstuff, the yards of cloth, the items of apparel, coins, and jewelry that were stolen, most of which was bartered off to keep the Hoars fed.

The court records don’t provide a verdict. Two years later, however, William Hoar was put in charge of sweeping the Beverly meetinghouse, keeping the time (using an hourglass!), and ringing the bell at nine o’clock every night. In recompense, he received one peck of corn yearly from every family in Beverly.

Escaping the Noose

Not surprisingly, in 1692 widow Dorcas Hoar was convicted of witchcraft and condemned to hang on September 22. She confessed and received a reprieve, with supporting testimony from none other than Mr. Hale. Given a month to prepare her soul for death, she fortunately survived the witch hunt and was set free. 

* As a footnote to Dorcas Hoar’s story, Deodat Lawson claimed she had an “elf-lock,” a matted section of hair different from the rest that was four feet and seven inches long—further evidence of being a witch. 

See also: Using restitution lists from the 1692 Salem witch trials to rebuild Dorcas Hoar’s family


'Where Thieves Break Through and Steal': John Hale versus Dorcas Hoar 1672-1692 by Barbara Ritter Dailey in Essex Institute Historical Collections, Vol. 128, (1992). 

Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts

Deodat Lawson, A Brief and True Narrative of Some Remarkable Passages Relating to Sundry Persons Afflicted by Witchcraft, at Salem Village (1704)

Bernard Rosenthal et al, Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt