The Ayers were involved with one of the greatest tragedies / mistakes in early New England - The Salem Witchcraft Trials.
"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 without trials. Then, almost as soon as it had begun, the hysteria that swept through Puritan Massachusetts ended.
Why did this travesty of justice occur? Why did it occur in Salem? Nothing about this tragedy was inevitable. Only an unfortunate combination of an ongoing frontier war, economic conditions, congregational strife, teenage boredom, and personal jealousies can account for the spiraling accusations, trials, and executions that occurred in the spring and summer of 1692."
Douglas Linder - website
Click here for actual letters and court document scans in regards to Mary (Ayer) Parker and Francis Hutchins. These scans are courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum.
The first member of the Ayer family to discsus is Mary Ayer, daughter to John and Hannah, married Nathanial Parker. Mary (Ayer) Parker was accused of witchcraft in 1692. Mary Parker refused to confess during the witchcraft trials saying, "I know nothing of it, there is another woman of the same name in Andover." She was refering to her sister-in-law, Mary Parker, the aged and senile widow of Joseph Parker" [ref Woodward, Records of Salem Witchcraft, 2:163-154]
On September 17, 1692 Margaret Scott, Wilmott Redd, Samuel Wardwell, Mary Parker, Abigail Faulkner, Rebecca Eames, Mary Lacy, Ann Foster, and Abigail Hobbs were tried and condemned.
On September 22, 1692 Martha Corey, Margaret Scott, Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Wilmott Redd, Samuel Wardwell, and Mary Parker were hanged.
Mary (Ayer) Parker was buried in an unmarked grave, somewhere in Salem Massachusetts.
Mary (Ayer) Parker memorial stone at the Salem Witchcraft Trials Memorial in Salem MA
Another member of the Ayer Family (by marriage) was Francis Hutchins - mother-in-law to Thomas Ayer (son of John and Hannah). Thomas married Elizabeth Hutchins (daughter of John and Francis Hutchins) in 1656.
Francis Hutchins was arrested on the 19th August 1692 as a result of a witchcraft complaint filed by Timothy Swan, Ann Putnam, Jr., and Mary Walcott. She was imprisoned until the 21st December 1692 when she was released on bond. No trial records were found. Samuel Hutchins and John Kingsbury posted the bond.
Warrant for Arrest of Frances Hutchins and Ruth Wilford
"Essex/ To the Constable of Haverhill
Complaint being made to me this day, by Timothy Swan of Andover: & Mary Wallcott & Anna Putnam of Salem Village, Against Mrs: frances Hutchins & Ruth Willford, of Haverhill that the s'd frances Hutchins & Ruth Willford, hath sorely afflicted them, the s'd Timothy Swan Mary Walcott & Anna Putnam in their bodies, by witchcraft Severall times Contrary to the Peace of o'r: Sovereigne Lord & Lady King William & Queen Mary, of England &c: & to their Majests Law in that Case provided: & s'd Timothy Swan having according to Law, given sufficient bond, to Prosecute s'd Complaint, before Their Majests: justices of Peace att Salem the 19th: or 20th Instant. These therefore require you in their Majests. names to Apprehend & sease the bodies of the afores'd frances Hutchins & Ruth Willford, upon sight hereof, & them safely Convey to [to] Salem afores'd, to their Majests: justices of the Peace there, to be examined & proceeded with according to law: for which this shall be yo'r warrant: Given under my hand & seal this eighteenth day of August Anno Domini 1692: In the 4th year of their Majests. Reigne. &c
Justice of Peace
(Reverse) according to this warrant I have seesed and brought don mrs frances huchins: but sought with Diligenc for Ruth Wilford and she cannot be found
August 19: 1692
by Me Wilum Strlin Constbl for haverihill"
(Note: Ruth Wilford was taken into custody on August 20, 1692.)
In a seperate case, Francis was in court in 1653. Around 1650 the General Court had passed a law prohibiting the display of finery by persons "of meane condition" defined as persons whose property was valued under £200. Francis was arrested on 17 September 1653 for wearing a silk hood, as was her friend, Mrs. Joseph Swett. Francis Hutchins was acquitted because she had been brought up above the ordinary rank, while Mrs. Swett was found guilty and had to pay ten shillings.
The record does include a deed registered by Francis Hutchins in 1686:
"To all christian people to whom these presents may come, on the north side of Merrimack in the county of Essex sendeth greetings":
"Know ye that I above said Francis Huthcins as well for and in consideration of the natural love that I do owe and bear to my beloved son Joseph Hutchins of Haverhill abovesaid as also in consideration of divers articles hereafter mentioned to be done and truly performed unto me during my natural life, etc." - confirms to Joseph "all my land that is lying between the land of Thomas Ayers of Haverhill and a creek commonly known by the name of Merries Creek with all my houseing barn and outhouseing except 20 acres already laid out to my son Benjamin excepting also about three acres given to my son Samuel by the Rivers side adjoining to said Creek" reserves ten acres for her own use the east side of the dwelling house and the cellar under it and the chamber over it, also the benefit of the orchard.
She gives him the Spickett meadow and three acres in Policy meadow - - is to receive ten pounds per annum, in the first week in December, in wheat rye and Indian corn, one third each, and firewood winter and summer.
Dated 21st november 1686 in the 2nd year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord, James ye second.
Signed Francis Huthcins
mark & seal
Francis Hutchins deeded 10 acres to Johannah (Corliss) Hutchins on 25 December 1686, she died on 5 April 1694.
Will of Francis Hutchins is as follows:
"The last will and testament of Francis Hutchins of Haverhill in perfect memory and understanding but sensable of my drawing nigh the day of my death:
Do in the first place bequeath my soul to God and my body to decent burial and after my just debts being paid to will my estate as followeth and in the - -
First place I do will to my son William Hutchins one common right having his portion sufficient already this being in full.
2ndly I do will to my two daughters Elizabeth and Love my wearing apparel both lining and woolen.
3dly I do will to my daughter in law Johannah Hutchins my mortar and pestal.
4thly I do will to my son Benjamin the great brass kettle and one common right.
5thly I do will to my son Samuel the table board and the frame and great cubbard.
6thly I do will to my son joseph, his children viz: John, Francis, Mary, Samuel, Joseph twelve acres of land adjoining to the land which I have given to their mother at the west end of my land adjoining to the land of Samuel Hutchins.
7thly I do will to my son Joseph Hutchins deceased his children one common right.
8thly I do will to my daughters Elizabeth and Love and to my two sons Samuel and Benjamin all the rest of my estate of what nature and kind soever to be equally divided amongst them all that is to say the said four.
9thly If any of my above children shall lay any claim to any of my husband's lands or other estate of my husbands or mine by verture of any former promise not given under hand in writing shall forfeit their right unto what is bequeathed and willed unto him or them except five shillings which I do will to any such person and no more provided he or they shall endeavor to make out any such claim by law.
To this will I do constitute and appoint my son samuel Hutchins and my son in law Samuel Sherburn executors - the words common right was interlined as to my son Benjamin, before assinging and hearunto I have set my hand this fourth day in March in the year of our Lord, one thousand six hundred and ninety-four.
Before Honorable Bartholemew Gedney, Exquire, May 16, 1694.
Robert Ford and Josiah Gage made oath that they were present and saw Mrs. Francis Hutchins sign this Instrument and heard her declare it to be her last will and testament and that she was then of a disposing mind to my best deserning.
Stephan Sewall (Registrar)"
** I am aware of "typos" in the quoted sections. These have been transcribed from the original sources**
Thanks to Willis Brown of whom contributed the Will and Warrant trascriptions, as well as his great research and insite!