Witch Tales for Children

With great delight, last year I told my grown children I’d discovered a 10th great-grandmother, Susanna Roots (1621-1692) was an accused witch. From a safe vantage point in the 21st Century, this bit of trivia just seemed a ‘cool’ addition to family lore. Then we gathered together to feast and celebrate the winter holidays and my 10-year-old grandson asked me for a more detailed story of Susanna, the almost witch. The more I’ve considered it, the less cool it seems. A month has passed and I’m still struggling with how and how much to tell an intelligent, good and kind youngster about what happened to the victims of the worst in human nature.

History knows Susanna only as the wife of husband, Josiah Rootes (1613-1683). He came from Kent in England and arrived in New England on the ship Hercules with his mother and brother in spring 1634/35. He acquired property and Susanna as wife around the year 1639. The couple had six children and lived on the Bass River, which was part of Salem, Massachusetts until 1668 when it was set off as the town of Beverly.

On June 25, 1678, Josiah made a sworn accusation of thievery against William and Elizabeth Hoar. He claimed the family had stolen (clothing, apples, wood and hay) from him for nearly twenty years, and he had only just discovered proof – in the form of Goody Hoar’s apron.

That same day, Susanna first appears on record: Susanah Roots, aged about fifty-three years, Mary, wife of Heugh Woodbery, aged about forty-eight years, and Sarah Roots, aged about twenty-four years, deposed that about two months ago they saw Mary, wife of Samuell Harres and Tabitha Slew carry a parcel of small linen into Samuell Harris’ house.

Accusing neighbors of stealing is an ugly thing in a small community and perhaps, friends of William and Mary Hoars, Mary Harres and Tabitha Slew nursed enmity toward the Rootes family.

Five years after that, in the spring of 1683, Josiah Rootes died. He named Susanna executrix of his will and stipulated, “…my loveing wife Susanna [have] the use & improvement of all my small estate, what ever untill such time, as my son Jonathan cometh to the age…” and if she did not remarry, “[Jonathan] shall pay unto her, his said mother eight pounds, [yearly] duerring the terme of her widdowhood, or her natural life, and let her have the use of the west end of my now dwellinghouse, of a bed, beding, her firewood brought to the doare [door].”

For the period, this is an appropriate provision for a wife who worked land, maintained a household, bore and nurtured six children. Josiah’s specification that Susanna have the sunny west-facing room with cozy bed and fire burning is lovely and fitting after 40 years of toil at his side.

But Susanna did not execute Josiah’s will and a year later, she lost control of the living Josiah bequeathed her. Other men governed the 60-year-old widow as her health and strength declined with age. Nine years later, as she approached her 70th year, she would find herself carted into Boston and thrown into jail on a charge of witchcraft, which carried a sentence of death.

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11 thoughts on “Witch Tales for Children

  1. That is quite interesting. John and Bethia seem to have had had eight children. Because your grandmother remembers the LOVETT name, one of the six boys must have founded your line. It would make a fascinating project for you to trace the ancestral migration from Massachusetts to Kentucky. – Best wishes

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    • Yes this is what we are getting into the process of doing . My uncle and grandmother are the ones doing it . And my uncle would love to talk to you to exchange information with you if that’s alright (: this is all very interesting and I’m very excited to find out more . I know we have tracked family far back and we are English and German maybe a little bit of Irish . I do not know many names or dates of family but my uncle and grandmother do and are going to get started more thru the process of finding out more about everyone

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  2. This story is very interesting to me because my grandmother searches for our family on ansestory.com and just recently came across Susanna and she is a maybe 9th great grandmother to me (: would really like to know who the author of this article is , you may be family !

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    • Thanks for writing, cousin Samantha! My information is on the “About” page here – https://pooririshandpilgrims.com/about/

      If my research is correct (the evidence is not complete), I descend from Josiah and Susanna Roots’s daughter, Bethia (1639-1714) who married John LOVETT (1636-1727) in 1663. The Roots had at least five children other than Bethia, – Josiah, John (married Dorcas ABBOTT), Susannah (married Roger HOSKIN), Thomas (married Sarah CLARKE) and Jonathan. Do you know which is your ancestral line?

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      • I remember my grandma talking about Clarke and lovitt I will have to read to her this information you gave me and ask her

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      • Could you please give me your email my uncle would like to contact you via email and exchange information and see if there is blood that we have see if we are related and just talk to you about this family history . Thank you so much (;

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    • I agree. Witchcraft trials and executions seem particularly horrifying to we 21st-century folk, but 17th-century people behaved like us. We suffer a loss and look to blame someone for it, then authorize our leaders to punish and kill those we designate as ‘the other.’

      Yet people arise in every generation who speak out against inhumanity and injustice, and Americans can take pride in ending slavery, giving women the vote, establishing social security, and enacting civil rights protections. Imagine the great good history we are capable of creating…

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  3. Hi Christine, nice post and very interesting. I know something of witches and the trials they had to endure, the torture they suffered at the hands of supposed “human beings”. We are so cruel it beggars belief, we are alone in the animal kingdom!
    Speak soon Christine and take care, James 🙂

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