bookcover-hereticsnewMartha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. This is the story of Martha’s courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.

Kathleen Kent is a tenth generation descendent of Martha Carrier. She paints a haunting portrait, not just of Puritan New England, but also of one family’s deep and abiding love in the face of fear and persecution.

THE HERETIC’S DAUGHTER was published in over a dozen countries.


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  • "Gripping and evocative, Heretic is a powerful tale of perilous time." — People Magazine (3 ½ stars)

    "The most shocking aspect of the 17th-century Salem witch trials was that anyone with a grudge could accuse a neighbor of being in league with the devil…It is the fundamental outrageousness of these tragic events that Kathleen Kent portrays to great effect in her debut novel, THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER… Kent tells a heart-wrenching story of family love and sacrifice. Its warnings about the dire consequences of intolerance and fundamentalism still have meaning in the modern world…" — USA Today

    "…a powerful coming-of-age tale in which tragedy is trumped by an unsinkable faith in human nature…Like The Crucible, THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER uses the Salem witch hunt to explore larger themes…but at its core, it's a story about a family." — New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice)

    "[a] sure-footed first novel that draws from Martha's tribulations to evoke the short-lived witch hysteria in the New England colonies…. THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER is haunting; unlike in seventeenth-century Salem, there is real magic at work here." — Texas Monthly

    "A family's conflict becomes a battle for life or death in this gripping and original first novel…Sarah's front row view of the trials and the mayhem that sweeps the close-knit community provides a fresh, bracing and unconvential take on a much covered episode." — San Fransisco Examiner

    "[a] close look at family and village life, at the hearth and the harshness out of which the accusations of witchcraft grew… The misery behind bars reflects Kent's rich imagination. She also shows the fruits of historical research in details that let you glimpse the past as it was lived, in the barn or field, at the inn or church. To this she adds descriptive gifts…. It goes on like that, wonderfully. I hope Kent does too." — Bloomberg News

    "Kathleen Kent takes a new approach to an old topic, the 17th-century Salem, Mass., witch trials, in her engrossing debut novel, THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER…. Ms. Kent movingly sketches the lives of this extended family as they get drawn into the maelstrom of unfounded suspicion and religious insanity, which eventually put more than 150 people behind bars as accused witches, including many children, Sarah and her siblings among them….Ms. Kent brings a gentle decency to her portrait of this nasty episode in American life." — Dallas Morning News

    "A family's conflict becomes a battle for life and death in this gripping and original first novel based on family history from a descendant of a condemned Salem witch. After a bout of smallpox, 10-year-old Sarah Carrier resumes life with her mother on their family farm in Andover, Mass., dimly aware of a festering dispute between her mother, Martha, and her uncle about the plot of land where they live. The fight takes on a terrifying dimension when reports of supernatural activity in nearby Salem give way to mass hysteria, and Sarah's uncle is the first person to point the finger at Martha. Soon, neighbors struggling to eke out a living and a former indentured servant step forward to name Martha as the source of their woes. Sarah is forced to shoulder an even heavier burden as her mother and brothers are taken to prison to face a jury of young women who claim to have felt their bewitching presence. Sarah's front-row view of the trials and the mayhem that sweeps the close-knit community provides a fresh, bracing and unconventional take on a much-covered episode." — Publisher's Weekly

    "History is more than facts and figures; it's something that happens to all of us. That's the thought that may strike readers of Kent's luminous first novel, set at the time of the Salem witch trials. In fact, Martha Carrier, Kent's grandmother back nine generations, was hanged as a witch in 1692. As portrayed here by her daughter, Sarah, Martha is a proud, stubborn, prickly woman, unbending in her beliefs and uninterested in public opinion. When Sarah returns to her family, having been sent away with a little sister because one of her brothers has the plague, she's not sure she wants to go back to her cold mother and dour, seven-foot father, who has some mysterious connection to Cromwell. But when malicious girls start pointing fingers, neighbor turns against neighbor, and Martha is told she will be arrested for witchcraft, she will not run, and she will not make a false confession. But Martha tells Sarah that when she is interrogated about her mother's activities, she must lie to save herself. Amidst the painful details of jail and persecution, deep-seated suspicion and familial betrayal, it is this powerful act of love that crowns the book. Highly recommended." — Library Journal

    "Kent, a tenth-generation descendant of Martha Carrier (who was hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692), personalizes the witchcraft trials in this fictional account by Martha's daughter. Sarah Carrier was just nine years old when she and her three older brothers also were arrested for witchcraft, spending months imprisoned under horrific conditions while following their mother's dictum of admitting the charges against them to escape death. But Martha gave her life maintaining her innocence in the face of lying accusations that were fueled by her sharp tongue, her family's unknowingly bringing smallpox to Andover from their home in Billerica, family disputes (including tensions between a mother and her preadolescent daughter), and grudges between neighbors—all at a time when any negative event was thought to be the work of the devil in human form. Kent brings history to life in this vivid, sometimes wrenching account of a child and her family sustained by love through the hysteria of the time. An illuminating literary debut." — Booklist

    "THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER is raw, honest and completely captivating. Kathleen Kent takes what would seem to be a familiar subject and gives it a fresh, new perspective—moving us through a wrenching gamut of emotions as she does so. A searing look at one of the worst periods in our history." — Anita Shreve

    "Researched with the mind of a skilled genealogist, told with the words of a gifted storyteller and written with a magical pen, THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER is a masterful first person account of the life of Sarah Carrier, daughter to Martha Carrier: witch." — Random Wonder

    "This is historical fiction as it should be written." — Discard Before Using

    "A terrific piece of historical fiction." — FF's Bibliophiles

    "An impressive debut. It was one of those rare times when one finds not only a good story, but good storytelling" — The Persistence of Vision

    "Enjoyable and entertaining." — Fashionista Piranha

    "A subtle, sinister tale. The descriptions of the trials and subsequent prison life are chilling." — The Printed Page

    "One of those books that I couldn't put down." — Virtual Wordsmith

    "I'll remember this book for a long time." — The Book Faerie

    "This book is made even more poignant because its author, Kathleen Kent, is a tenth-generation descendant of Martha Carrier." — Books and Cooks

  • C H A P T E R  O N E

    Massachusetts, December 1690

    THE DISTANCE BY wagon from Billerica to neighboring Andover is but nine miles. For myself it was more than a journey away from the only home I had ever known. It was the ending of a passage from the dark fog of infancy to the sharp remembrances of childhood. I was nine years of age on that December day and my entire family was going back to live with my grandmother in the house where my mother was born. We were six in all, cramped together in an open wagon, carry ing within my mother and father, two of my older brothers, myself, and Hannah, who was but a baby. We had with us all of our house hold possessions. And we were bringing, unbeknownst to any of us, the smallpox.

    A plague of it had swept across the settlements of Middlesex County, and with our crossing east over Blanchard's Plain, contagion and death followed with us. A close neighbor, John Dunkin of Billerica, had died within the space of one week, leaving a widow and seven children. Another neighbor brought us the news, and before the door could close on the messenger, my mother had started packing. We had thought to outrun the pox this time. My father had bitter memories of being blamed for bringing the pox into Billerica many years before. He always said it was because he was a Welshman and a stranger to the town, even after living there for so many years, that he stood accused. But the disease crept along with us like a pariah dog. It was my older brother Andrew who would be the first to succumb. He carried the seeds of sickness within him, and from him it would spread to our new town of residence.

    It was deep into the season and so bitterly cold, the liquid from our streaming eyes and noses froze onto our cheeks like frosted ribbons of lace. All of us had dressed in every bit of clothing that we possessed and we pressed tightly together for warmth. The crudely hewn boards of the wagon had been covered with straw, and my brothers and I had wrapped it around us as best we could. The draft horse labored under his load, for he was not a young gelding, and his breath steamed in great puffs into the air. His coat was as woolly as any bear's and encrusted with a forest of icicles that hung down sharply from his belly. Richard, my oldest brother, was not with us. He was near a man at sixteen and had been sent ahead to help ready the house for our arrival, bringing provisions strapped across the back of our one remaining ox.

    Father and Mother sat at the front of the wagon silent, as was their habit. They rarely spoke to each other in our presence and only then of weights and mea sures and time delineated by the seasons. The language of field and home. He often deferred to her, which seemed remarkable, as he towered over my mother. Indeed, he towered over everyone. He was close to seven feet tall, so it was said, and to me, being a small child, his head seemed to rest in the clouds, his face forever in shadow. He was forty-eight years of age when he married my mother, so I had always thought of him as an old man, even though he carried himself erect and was fleet of foot. Thomas Carrier, so the gossip went, had come from old England as a young man to escape some troubles there. As my father never spoke of his life before marrying, and for truth said hardly a word regarding anything at all, I did not know his history before he plied his trade as farmer in Billerica.

    I knew only two things for certain of his past. The first was that my father had been a soldier during the civil wars of the old England. He had a red coat, old and battered and faded to rust, which he had brought with him from London. One arm was torn, as though slashed through with something sharp, and Richard had told me that, but for the padded lining in the sleeve, Father would have lost an arm for sure. When I pressed Richard for more of the story as to how and where Father had fought, my brother would purse his lips and say, "Ah, but you're only a girl and cannot know the ways of men." The other thing I knew was that men feared him. Often behind my father's back they would gesture secretly to one another a peculiar signal. A thumb passed over the neck from one side to the other as if to sever their heads from their bodies. But if Father ever saw these gestures, he gave them no notice.

    My mother, who was Martha Allen before marrying, sat next to him, holding Hannah, only one year old. She was wrapped into a shapeless bundle and held loosely like a package. I remember watching my little sister with the cruel fascination of a child, wondering when she would topple out of the wagon. We had lost a baby sister, Jane, years before and my lack of close affection could have been for fear that this baby would die as well. The first year was so fragile that some families did not name their child until the child was past twelve months and more likely to live. And in many house holds if a baby died, that same baby's name would be passed on to the next born. And to the very next if that babe died as well.

    At times I suspected my mother had no tender feelings for any of us, even though we were as different from one another as children could be. Richard was very much like Father: tall, silent, and as impenetrable as the rocks in Boston Bay. Andrew, the next oldest, had been a sweet child and cheerfully willing to work, but as he grew, he stayed rather slow in thought and often my mother lost patience with him. Tom, the third son, was closest to me in years and closest to my heart. He was quick and bright, his humors running hot and restless like mine, but he was often afflicted with attacks of labored breathing and so, at the times of seasons' changing, had not much strength to work in the field or barn. I was next in age, stubborn and willful, I was often enough told, and thus not easily loved. I approached the world with suspicion, and because I was not pretty or pliable, I was not doted upon. I often challenged my betters and was therefore often chastised vigorously with a slotted spoon we children had named Iron Bessie.

    It was my manner to openly stare at the people around me, despite knowing how this discomforted them, especially my mother. It was as though my staring robbed her of some essential part of herself, some part that she held in reserve even from those closest to her. There was hardly a time when we were not eating or sleeping or working together, and so we were expected to give quarter in this regard. She loathed my staring so greatly that she would work to catch me at it, and if I could not look away before she turned to me, she would use Iron Bessie on my back and legs until her wrist gave out. And as her wrists were as strong as any man's, this took some time. But in this way, I came to witness so much that others did not see. Or did not wish to see.

    It was not defiance only that made me study her so, although our cat-and-mouse games did become a kind of battle. It was also because she, with a deliberation bordering on the unseemly, set herself apart from what a woman should be and was as surprising as a flood or a brush fire. She had a will, and a demeanor, as forceful as a church deacon's. The passage of time, and layer upon layer of misfortune, had only worked to stiffen the fabric of her being. At first glance, one might perceive a comely woman of some intelligence, not young, but neither yet old. And her face, when not animated by speech or untempered passions, seemed serene. But Martha Carrier was like a deep pond, the surface of which was placid enough but deeply cold to the touch and which was filled beneath the surface with sharp rocks and treacherous choke roots. And she had a tongue, the sharpness of which would gut a man as quick as a Gloucester fisherman could clean a lamprey eel. I know I was not alone in my family, or amongst our neighbors, in fervently praying for a beating rather than having to endure the lacerations of her speech.

    As our wagon moved slowly past fields covered in deep drifts of encrusted snow, I looked expectantly about for farm houses or, better still, the sight of a garrison outpost or a gallows hill with the remains of ropes still dangling from broad-limbed oaks where the hangman had cut down the bodies. We speculated about how long the bodies would be left on the rope before public decency required them to be removed. In years to come children of a tender age would be kept away from the hangings, flailings, and public tortures of the honorable courts of New England. But I was yet in my innocence and thought such necessary instructions to be no more unpleasant than wringing the head from a chicken's neck. I had, from time to time, seen men and women in the stocks, and it had been great sport for my brothers and me to throw bits of refuse at their captive heads.

    Crossing over the Shawshin River bridge, we entered the Boston Way Road, which would lead us north to Andover. We passed the houses of our new neighbors, the Osgoods, the Ballards, and the Chandlers, all to the west of us. And there, just ahead to the east, was the town's southern garrison. The garrison was a stout two-storied house with provisions and ammunition kept on the second floor. The stockades were of great necessity, as there were still violent Indian raids in the surrounds. Only the year before had there been a deadly raid on Dover. Twenty-three were killed. Twenty-nine children were captured to be kept or traded back to their families. We hailed the guard, but as the windows were frosted, the man posted on the lookout did not see us and so he did not raise his hand to us as we passed by.

    Just north of the garrison, set off from the main road, was my grandmother's house. It was smaller than I had remembered and more homely, with a steeply pitched roof and an iron-cladded door. But when the door opened and Richard came to greet us, I remembered well the old woman who followed him out. It had been two years or more since our last visit. Her bones did not like to travel to Billerica by cart, she had said. And she told my mother she would not imperil her daughter's immortal soul by having us travel to Andover until my parents had started going to the meeting house on each and every Sabbath. We could be captured and killed by Indians on the way, or waylaid by path robbers, or fall into a sinkhole and drown, she had said. And then would our souls be lost forever. The years of separation from Grandmother were testament in equal parts to my mother's obstinacy and her great dislike for sitting in a pew.

    The old lady lifted Hannah at once from my mother and welcomed us into a house warmed by a great fire and the smell of a cooking pot, reminding us that we had eaten only a few hard biscuits at dawn. I walked through the house, sucking my stinging fingers, looking at the things my grandfather had made. He had died some years before I was born and so I had never met him, though I had heard Richard say he was so alike my mother that bringing them together was like throwing oil onto a burning brand. The house had one common room with a hearth, a table hand-rubbed and smelling of beeswax, butter, and ashes, a few rush chairs, and one fine carved sidepiece for storing plates. I ran my fingers lightly over the designs, wondering at the cunning workmanship. Our house in Billerica had only benches and a rude trestle table with no pretty patterns to please the eye or the hand. The Andover house had one small bedchamber off the main room and a stairway that led up to a garret room filled with a lifetime of crates and jars and wooden trunks.

    My parents, with Hannah, were given Grandmother's room and bed, while she took a cot next to the hearth in the common room. Andrew, Tom, and I would sleep in the garret, while Richard would have to make his rest with the ox and the horse in the barn close behind the house. He could stand the cold better than most, and Mother said it was because his inner heat was not diminished by an open mouth and a loose tongue. He was handed most of the blankets, as he would have no way of making a useful fire in the hay. Grandmother found for the rest of us a few old relics of batting for our covers against the freezing air.

    The first night, the house was filled with the sounds of the walls settling against the layering snow and the warm animal smells of my brothers. I was used to sleeping in an alcove with Hannah at my chest as a warming stone. I lay on my pallet shivering in the cold, and when I closed my eyes I could yet feel the movement of the wagon. The straw worked its way out of the ticking and pricked the skin on my back, making me restless. There was no candle to light our room, and I could not see where my brothers lay sleeping only a few feet away. At long last a shaft of moonlight worked its way in between the boards at the window, and the long-necked jars made shadows of headless ghost-soldiers on the rough timbers, marching as though in battle with the moon shafts traveling across the walls. I threw off the batting and crawled across the splintered planks, feeling along with my hands until I reached my brothers' pallet and crawled in close to Tom. I was too old to be sleeping with my brothers and would be punished in the morning if caught, but I pressed myself close to his huddled form and, taking in his good warmth, closed my eyes.

    WHEN I WOKE in the morning I was alone, my brothers risen, the objects scattered about the room looking gray and much used. I dressed quickly in the aching cold, my fingers as unbending as sausages. I crept down the stairs and heard the sound of Father's voice vibrating through the common room. The smell of cooking meat made my belly cramp but I crouched low on the stairs so I could see while not being seen, and listened. I heard him say "… it is a matter of conscience. And let us leave it at that."

    Grandmother paused for a moment and, laying her hand on his shoulder, replied, "Thomas, I know of your differences with the parson. But this is not Billerica. It is Andover. And the Reverend Barnard will not brook absence from prayer. You must go today in good faith to the selectmen, before the Sabbath, and give your oath of fidelity to the town if you are to stay. Tomorrow, on the Sabbath, you must come with me to the meetinghouse for service. If you do not, you may be turned out. There is much conflict with newcomers laying claim to land. There are jealousies and resentments here enough to fill a well. If you stay long enough, you will see."

    He looked into the fire, struggling to resolve the conflict within — between compliance to the laws of the meeting house and the desire to be left entirely to his own devices. I was very young but even I knew he was not greatly liked in Billerica. He was too solitary, too imposing in his unyielding beliefs in what was fair and what was not. And there was always whispered gossip of a past life, supposedly unlawful but never precisely named, that created a space for solitude. Last year Father had been fined 20 pence for arguing with a neighbor over property lines. His size, his great strength, and his reputation caused the neighbor to give way in the dispute, allowing Father to plant the boundary stakes where he wanted them despite the fine.

    "Won't you do this for your wife and children?" she asked gently.

    Bowing his head to his breakfast, he said, "For you and for my children I will do as you ask. As for my wife, you must ask her yourself. She has a great dislike for the Minister Barnard and coming from me it would be taken very badly."

    FOR ALL GRANDMOTHER was soft and gentle, she was also persuasive, and like water wearing down rock she worked on Mother until she agreed to attend services on the morrow. Mother said under her breath, "I'd rather eat stones." But she brought out her good linen collar to be washed nonetheless. Richard and Andrew would leave with Father that very morning for the north end of Andover. They would put their mark on the town register and pledge faith to defend it from all attackers, promising to pay tithes in good time to its ministers. I pinched Andrew's arm hard and made him swear an oath that he would repeat everything he would see and hear. Tom and I were to be left behind with Mother for the cooking and gathering of firewood. Grandmother said that a respectful visit should also be made to the Reverend Francis Dane, who lived directly across from the meeting house. He had been pastor in North Andover for over forty years and was greatly loved. He was to have given way in his ministry years ago to the Reverend Barnard but, like a good shepherd, he sensed there was enough wolf in the younger man to warrant his continued protecting presence. The two men grudgingly shared the pulpit, and their sermonizing, every other week or so. I stood at the door and watched the cart's progress as far as the bend in the road, until they were swallowed behind mountainous drifts of snow.

    When I closed the door Grandmother was already seated at her spinning wheel. Her foot was on the treadle but her eyes were thoughtfully on me. The spinner was beautifully carved of dark oak with leaves twining their way round and round the outer rim. It must have been very old, as the designs were too fanciful to have been made in the new England. She called to me and asked if I could spin. I told her yes, well enough, but that I could sew better, which was a statement only half true. A camp surgeon would have had a better hand with a cleaver to a limb than I with a needle on cloth. She spun the wool through knotted fingers glistening with sheep's oil and wrapped the threads neatly around the bobbin. Gently probing, she teased out the story of our days in Billerica just as she teased out the fine line of thread from the mix and jumble of the coarse wool in her hands.

    I did not think to tell her we lived a solitary life, as I did not know there was any other life to be had. Our plot of land in Billerica rested on poor soil and yielded little. And of late our animals seemed to sicken and die as though the ground itself leeched up the ill will of our fitful neighbors like a poisonous fog. Tom was my closest companion but he was ten years of age and worked in the fields with Richard and Andrew. My days were spent caring for Hannah and helping Mother within the dreary confines of the house. I cast about for something of interest to tell her, remembering a day last spring.

    "One day," I began, "this May past, laying Hannah down for to sleep, I crept out of the house and ran to spy on Tom. I hid behind our stone wall, for I was not supposed to be there, y'see, and I saw Father putting the plow harness round Richard and Andrew. Tom was before them, rolling from the field rocks the size of his head. He was sweating and breathing something terrible. And all the while the ox was tied under the shade of a tree. At supper I asked Tom about the ox and he whispered to me that Father was saving the ox for easier work. We have only one ox, y'see, and he is very old. It would be hard on us should he die."

    Grandmother's foot faltered and the wheel slowly ceased turning. She pulled me closer into the crook of her arm and said, "Life is surely hard, Sarah. God tests us to see if we will put our faith in Him no matter what may come. We must attend God's house and be guided by His ministers so that we may make our reward after death." She paused to smooth a strand of hair back under my cap. "What say your parents on this?"

    I reached out, tracing the lines on her face, and answered, "Father has told us that ministers in the new England are no better than kings in the old."

    "And your mother? Has she this opinion also?" she asked.

    I told her what I had heard Mother say about a visiting parson come from the wilderness of the Eastward in the territory of Maine. She had asked him, "Are you the parson who serves all of Salmon Falls?" "No, Goody Carrier," he answered. "I am the parson that rules all of Salmon Falls."

    I had thought to make her smile but she cupped her hands around my face and said, "Parsons are men and men will often fall short of Grace. But you could do no better than to put your faith in the Reverend Dane. He was my sister's husband and has looked after me since your grandfather died." She paused with her hand on my cheek and looked suddenly beyond me into the still-darkened common room. The sun had barely risen above the bottom window casing, leaving shadows pooled around the walls like draperies of black velvet. A barn owl at the end of his night's hunting gurgled out one last protesting song. Grandmother raised her chin and sniffed at the air as though a warning wisp of smoke had found its way from the hearth. Her arm tightened around me, pulling me closer to the warmth of her body.

    I have come to believe that some women can see things yet undone. My mother surely had this gift. Often without a word she would straighten her cap and smooth her apron and stand looking down the empty road that led to our house. And before long some neighbor or journeyman would appear at the yard and be surprised to find Goodwife Carrier standing at the door waiting for him. Perhaps that thread of knowingness had been passed to her from her mother. But Grandmother must have known that seeing is not enough to change the course of things, for she released me, starting the action of the treadle once more. Picking up the string of wool she said, "Accept what ever comes as the will of God, no matter how harsh. But if you are ever in need, turn to Reverend Dane and he will find a way to help. Do you hear me, Sarah?"

    I nodded and stayed awhile at her side, until Mother called me away. Later I would often think on her words and wonder that she could have remained so kind under the yoke of a God who caused infants to die in the womb, women and men to be hacked to death by stone adzes, and children to suffer and die from the plague. But then, she would not be alive to witness the worst of it.

    "WE'VE BEEN GIVEN a warning," said Andrew, his voice high and brittle. It was dark but we could feel our breaths mingled together as we talked. Tom and Andrew and I sat on the sleeping pallet, our knees touching, our heads covered with the batting to mask the sounds of our whispers. Grandmother had prepared for the Sabbath with lengthy readings from Scripture before supper and it was hours before we could climb the stairs to our garret room for sleep. And so in the dark of the attic Andrew told us of Father's progress north up Boston Way Road to the meeting house, the farmsteads lying along the frozen banks of the Shawshin as many as cones in a forest.

    Approaching the village center, they came upon the meetinghouse, larger than the one in Billerica, with a full two stories with leaded-glass windows. It was the constable who unlocked the doors, letting them in to wait for the selectmen. The constable, John Ballard, had been positioned for fifteen years, though he was but thirty-two, and was a great bull of a man who lived less than half a mile from Grandmother's house. Andrew grabbed my elbow, saying, "Sarah, you should have seen this fellow. He had hair the color of brass and a face that looked like boiled wax. Surely the man was poxed to have such holes on his face."

    It was another two hours before John Ballard returned with the selectmen, having left my father and brothers to shake off the cold below the drafty timbers. There were five patriarchs who finally gathered together in the meeting house, each wearing a thick woolen cape, none being turned or patched. They bore themselves with tight reserve and had names that were well known in Andover: Bradstreet, Chandler, Osgood, Barker, and Abbot. It was they who had the power to decide which families could stay and which families would be turned out. They sat together on benches facing my father, appearing as judges at a trial to which one was considered guilty until innocence could be proven. The most impressive, according to Andrew, was Lieutenant John Osgood, a severe and long-faced man who neither smiled nor made any words of greeting. The other men deferred to him in all things and it was he who asked most of the questions. A younger man, the town clerk, followed close by and made with quill and ink a record of the judgment.

    Andrew said, leaning closer to me, "This Lieutenant Osgood shuffled a few papers about, then looked Father up and down and asked him if he knew of the smallpox in Billerica. Father answered him aye, he did know of it. Then he asked if any of us was brought to Andover ill, and Father answered no, that all of us were fit. The lieutenant squinted hard at Father, shaking his head, and I thought we were in for it. And then, what do you think happened? The door flew open and there, standing like the Angel of Light, was Reverend Dane. He stood next to us, facing those five men, and spoke of Grandmother and her long good standing in the town and asked to let us stay. I tell you, they were blown over by his words as foxglove is by a summer wind."

    "Then, can we stay? Yes or no?" demanded Tom, gripping my hand.

    Andrew paused, savoring our tension, and finally said, "We may stay but are given a caution. We must follow all the town's laws and attend prayer service or we will be sent back to Billerica." With that, a violent shudder passed through his body and he coughed a dry, rasping cough. I placed my palm over his forehead, and it was like placing it on a burning kiln.

    "I'm very tired," he said, dropping back onto the pallet, his eyes like two burnt coals in a blanket. Tom and I lay down and followed Andrew into our own dreams. Sometime later in the night, I woke thinking I had fallen asleep next to the hearth. I reached out in the darkness and touched Andrew's neck. His skin felt hot and papery-dry, and his breath smelled sour and thick. I moved closer to Tom and fell quickly back to sleep.

    When I woke again it was the Sabbath, and I threw back my covers, eager to see the meeting house where the prayer service would be held. Tom was gone but Andrew still lay on the pallet, his back to me. His breathing seemed queer, halting and shallow. I reached over to shake him, and his body was warm. He moaned softly and mumbled but did not rise. I told him it was morning and he must ready himself for leaving. I was already dressed and on the stairs before he sat up, clutching his head. His color was high and the shadows under his eyes were dark like bruises. He slowly put a silencing finger to his lips and I went quickly down to the light of the common room. Soon after, Andrew followed, his fingers still fumbling to button his shirt and pants, as though his hands had lost their strength.

    As soon as we were able, we left, bundled together in the wagon. Grandmother sat in front between Mother and Father and spoke to us at length of the warmth of the Andover fellowship. After a time Mother said, "I pray that may be so, for though I have not been there for some time, I remember well enough there is little fire to keep a body warm."

    Grandmother said sharply, "Martha, you have always spoken for the attention it would bring you. You put your soul and the souls of your children at peril. You, and your family, have come back to live in my home, and it is by my rules that you shall live. The day of the Sabbath is for prayer, and prayer we shall have."

    I looked with stealth at my mother's rigid back. I had never heard anyone speak so harshly to her without a quick answer in return. Father coughed into his fist but said nothing. The meeting house was larger than I had imagined it to be, and as we tied up the horse's reins, we saw a town full of people entering through the forward doors. Many faces were turned our way, some in curiosity, a few in open hostility. Just outside the doors stood an aged woman ringing with both hands a large brass bell. Grandmother nodded to her and told me she was the widow Rebecca Johnson, who rang the bell signaling the beginning of service. Many years before, she said, a man would have been selected by the town to beat a drum, marking the beginning of services and ending the day's toil in the fields.

    The placement of the people for services was of solemn and inviolable importance. The wealthiest and most prominent families sat close to the front near the pulpit, and so backwards until the last rows were filled with the town's least fortunate or newly arrived citizens. Grandmother had a place of prominence on the women's side, and after much jostling and shaking of heads took place at our presence, space was made for Mother, Hannah, and me. Father and Richard sat across from us with the other men, and Andrew and Tom sat in the gallery above us. I could turn my head and see them clearly, Tom looking expectantly about, Andrew with his head cradled in his hands. I started to wave to Tom but Mother grabbed my hand and pushed it back into my lap.

    The pews were set together close and I wondered how Father would fold his long legs to fit under them through the entire service. The building was as cold within as without, and so I was grateful for the number of bodies pressed together for warmth. There was a constant and frigid passage of air rushing past my legs, and through the long hour on the hard bench, my feet and my backside battled for prominence in discomfort. And then a collective sigh went out as the Reverend Dane swept forward past the pews. He seemed to rush towards the pulpit as though his eagerness for spreading the Gospel might overpower him and cause him to begin sermonizing before attaining his lofty position in front of the congregation.

    The Reverend Dane was seventy years of age in that year, yet he had all of his hair and carried himself with great vigor. I cannot say in truth that I remember much of what he said that day but I do remember the tone of it well. My expectations were that we were to have a full mea sure of hellfire and damnation, as we had had in Billerica, but he read from Ephesians and spoke pleasantly of the Children of Light. I would later learn that one of the men sitting in the front pew, frowning, was his adversary, the Reverend Thomas Barnard. He had looked hard at us as we entered, pursing his lips and shaking his head at me when I did not drop my eyes in modesty. As I practiced rolling the name "Ephesians" round my tongue, I carefully moved my head so that I could catch a glimpse of Andrew and Tom. Andrew had his head nesting in his arms, but Tom looked transfixed upon the Reverend.

    A dark figure took shape behind Tom and my mouth hinged open, knocking my chin against my neck. It was as though the very shadows in the gallery had taken on solid form. There, seated behind my brothers, was a child, a very lumpen and deformed-looking child, who was as black as the inside of a cauldron. I had heard of black slaves but had never before seen one. His eyes seemed to bulge out and his head twitched as though chasing away some stinging insect. I stared until he felt me looking. He made faces at me, sticking out his tongue, until I thought I might laugh out loud. But Mother elbowed me sharply so I would once again sit facing the Reverend.

    When the service was over, after much rising and sitting and singing psalms, and rising and sitting again, we made our way soberly out into the snow. The day was brilliant with the noonday sun, and I waited for my brothers to come down with the odd little shadow-boy. When Andrew walked out, he lurched about, unsteady on his feet, and Tom had to help him to the cart. Seeing the black boy, I rushed to Richard and tugged on his sleeve until he stopped and spoke to me. He told me that the boy was a slave who belonged to Lieutenant Osgood, one of the selectmen. I stood and stared at the child who seemed miserably dressed for such weather, even though he held a good heavy cloak for his master. We made faces at each other until the lieutenant came out, put on his cloak, and mounted his horse. The boy followed along on foot, his overly large shoes slipping in the snow. I strained to watch him until both the boy and rider passed beyond Haverhill Way.

    BY THE TIME we had arrived home, Andrew's illness could no longer be hidden. Father carried him to the hearth and laid him down on the cot. Andrew was insensible, grasping at the covers and then throwing them off again as he was set upon by chills and fevers. Grandmother felt his face and knelt beside him, gently opening his shirt to reveal the first flush of a rash across his chest and belly. Mother came to stand next to the cot, her hand hovering just over the crimson patches.

    "It could be any number of ailments," she said, her voice sounding defiant, even angry. But she wiped her palms against her apron and I smelled fear among the folds of her skirt.

    "We will know soon … perhaps tomorrow," Grandmother said quietly as she laced up my brother's shirt. She carefully inspected each of us for fever or crimson patches and then, without another word, began to prepare food for us and a posset to ease Andrew's fever.

    We ate our dinner in silence, broken only by the sound of the fire and the soft moaning coming from the corner where Andrew lay on his cot. Grandmother and Mother bathed his forehead and tried to force him to swallow what ever they could pour down his throat. Father sat as close to the fire as he could without climbing under the roasting spit and stared into the flames. The sweat poured from his face and he worked his hands together as though kneading beeswax between his palms.

    Soon after, Tom and I were sent to bed, but neither of us could sleep. Sometime during the night I heard Andrew cry out as though in pain. I crept swiftly down the stairs in time to see him standing in the middle of the room, his arms outstretched, lit from behind by the fire that had burned low to embers. He had wet himself and seemed confused and wandering in his mind. Mother was trying to move him back onto the cot and he fought her as though drowning. Moving swiftly into the room, I took a rag and bent to clean up Andrew's mess. Grandmother grabbed my arm and pulled me harshly away.

    "Sarah, you must not touch any part of Andrew now," she said urgently. She softened her grasp and stroked my face. "By touching him you may become ill as well." She moved me to a chair close to the fire and threw her shawl around my shoulders. She wrapped the rag on a broom handle and cleaned up the clouded water on the floor, then threw the rag into the fire. I fell asleep watching the dark shapes of the two women hovering above my brother's grasping, restless form.

    I opened my eyes to the sound of Father's voice in the room. It was early morning, and though there was little light, I could see the drawn face of my mother in the gloom. They were speaking quietly but passionately and did not hear me pad on cold bare feet to stand next to my brother's cot. I looked at the blanket covering him and saw the faint movement of breath. I bent closer to peer at him and could plainly see on his face and neck the slightly raised pustules of the plague, rosy pink to deep purplish red; a pretty color on the petals of a rose or carnation. I took two, then three, steps backwards from his cot, and the thudding of my quickening pulse sounded like the drumming of hussars on horse back, sabers flashing through the air coming to sever our heads from our bodies. Many were the stories of entire families waking together in the morning but by supper all lying dead on the floor, festering in their seeping flesh. He coughed suddenly and I raised my shift in alarm over my face and turned away in fear. The shame over my disgust at his contagion was not enough to stay me as I raced with all the strength in my legs back up the stairs and into the safety of the garret.

    ALTHOUGH IT WOULD cost us dearly, Grandmother insisted on sending to town for Andover's only physician. Richard went straightaway but it took him four hours to come back with the doctor, who stood a good distance from Andrew, careful not to touch anything in the room. Covering his face with a large handkerchief, he looked at Andrew for the space of three breaths, then made a rapid retreat through the front door. But not before being escorted out by my mother's voice, braying, "You're no better than a barber!" As he mounted his horse, he told Father that he would have to sound the alarm, post the Bill of Isolation for our family, and send the constable to read the bill to our neighbors. He said all this as he beat the ribs of his horse to ribbons making his escape. Grandmother did not let Richard back into the house but sent him away to stay for safekeeping with the Widow Johnson. As he had slept in the barn, there was a chance he would yet be free from contagion. He did not return that day, and we believed him to be in the home of at least one charitable Christian woman.

    Grandmother, sitting at the common-room table, wrote a letter and called me over to her knee. She held my hands, saying, "Your father will be taking you and Hannah to your aunt Mary back in Billerica. You will stay there … perhaps for quite a while." I must have stirred, for she quickly said, "You will be happy there with your cousin Margaret. And you will have Hannah to look after." It had been years since I had seen my cousin, who lived in the northernmost part of Billerica, and my memory of her was of an odd, dark girl who would at times talk to an empty corner of a room.

    "Can I take Tom as well?" I asked her, and my mother answered for her.

    "No, Sarah. We need Tom to stay and help with the farm. Richard is gone and Andrew …" She paused, her meaning clear. Andrew would die soon or if he lived would be an invalid for months. It would be left to Tom and Father to carry all the weight of the fieldwork. Tom stood quietly by, regarding me with the eyes of someone falling down a hill made of powdered limestone. There came a hard knocking on the door, and a large, bristling man came in, announcing himself to be the constable. Holding the Bill of Isolation in one hand and a vinegar-soaked handkerchief in the other, he walked boldly to where Andrew lay groaning on his cot. His cratered face was as Andrew had described it and gave proof that some did survive the pox by the grace of God, or through protection by the Devil. He read aloud the posting that would be nailed on the meetinghouse door for all to see so that we should not "spread the distemper through wicked carelessness." I looked about my grandmother's neat little room and saw no carelessness, only order and sober tranquillity. As he left our house he said under his breath, "God grant mercy …"

    I sat shivering, hidden in the frozen straw piled into the wagon, and held on tightly to a restless, struggling Hannah. We were leaving against the quarantine and so must sneak out in the dark of night like thieves. If we were caught, the entire family could go to the jailer. If any of us were left alive, that is, after the pox had spent its fire. Mother's mouth was pinched tightly as she handed me a bundle of food and a few pieces of clothing. I had expected few words of comfort beyond caring for Hannah, but she straightened my cap with a firm grip, and her fingers lingered overly long at the laces.

    Grandmother came with her knuckles pressed over her lips and, handing me a small bundle, said, "Now is the time to give you this." I unwrapped the cloth and saw it was a poppet fully clothed, with strands of wool on its head dyed in reddish tint to match my own hair. The mouth was made from the tiniest stitches.

    "But she has no buttons for eyes," I said. Grandmother smiled and kissed my hands.

    "I had not time to finish it. We shall sew some on when you are returned to us," she whispered.

    Tom waved with a weak hand as Father shook the reins and we started south, back towards Billerica. We had gone but a short distance when we heard Tom calling out to us. He ran to the wagon and pressed something into my palm, closing my fingers back again so I would not drop it. He then turned and ran back towards the house. I opened my fist to find two small white buttons torn from his only good shirt resting in my hand like twin pearls. I would often worry during that long, cold season that the wind was finding its way up his open sleeves, making him feel the bite of winter all the more.

    Copyright © 2013 by Kathleen Kent

  • Since the publication of THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER, Kathleen Kent has spoken with book clubs nationally, both in person and by phone, about the Carrier family history passed down through nine generations, and about her extensive research of the Salem witch trials of 1692. If you would like to schedule Ms. Kent for a book club discussion, please contact the author.


    1) How was Sarah changed by living with her cousin Margaret? How was she changed by returning to her family?

    2) What was it about Martha's character that seemed to antagonize so many neighbors?

    3) What do you think was the most compelling reason that Martha was eventually brought to trial?

    4) Discuss the various factors that lead to the witch hysteria.

    5) Why did Martha choose to take a stand of innocence knowing that a refused confession meant death?

    6) Why did Thomas, despite his size and capabilities, not seek to persuade or deter Martha from her course of action?

    7) Why did the community of Salem, and the magistrates, so easily believe in and rely on "spectral evidence?"

    8) How has reading the book changed your opinions about the men and women hanged as witches?

    9) Are there modern day "witches?"

    10) Can we, or should we, redefine the meaning of the word "witch?"

  • Download a PDF of the Teacher's Guide.

    THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER by Kathleen Kent

    In THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER, author Kathleen Kent fictionalizes the life of one of the first women hanged as a result of the Salem witch trials—Martha Carrier—and tells the story of her indictment, trial, and execution through the eyes of Martha's young daughter Sarah.

    More than a year before the trials begin, Sarah Carrier and her family arrive in Andover, Massachusetts, to face a community gripped by superstition and fear. With an increase in Indian raids and the spread of the plague, the Puritans come to believe that heretics in their midst are responsible for their misfortune. Based on the accusations of a dozen young girls, neighbor is pitted against neighbor, friend against friend, and the hysteria escalates, sweeping more than two hundred men, women, and children into prison on charges of witchcraft—Sarah's mother, Martha, among them.

    Often at odds with each other, mother and daughter must now stand defiantly together in the face of imprisonment, torture, and even death. Out of love for her children, Martha asks Sarah to commit an act of heresy—a lie that will most surely condemn Martha even as it saves her daughter.

    The Salem witch trials left an indelible mark on the fabric of American history, and the lessons from these events are many and profound, even to this day. THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER carries forth these relevant themes, showing the specter of the trials from a young person's perspective, and offering practically every modern American teenager a topic or idea to which they can relate, whether they've been wronged by their peers, felt singled out or ostracized, been pressured to conform to judgments made by others, or have ever been mystified or annoyed by the actions of one of their parents.

    The hope is that upon reading this book, students will come away with not only a more personal awareness of this dark period in our nation's infancy, but a deeper appreciation of what lessons these trials have to offer us in the twenty-first century, and how, as a community, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past if we don't make the effort to understand our history.

    Kathleen Kent, author of THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER, is a tenth-generation descendant of Martha Carrier, the mother of the novel's young protagonist, Sarah. Kent has said that the inspiration for this novel came from the many stories told to her over the years by her mother and grandmother about Martha Carrier, the Carrier family, and what it was like to live in colonial Massachusetts during the seventeenth century. With this background in mind, consider charging your class to conduct a group research project on the Salem witch trials and Martha Carrier's role in them.

    Divide your students into teams and assign each team one of the following tasks:

    • Write a synopsis of the Salem witch trials, encapsulating the events that led to the hysteria, the charges brought, the events of the trials, and the aftermath of the verdicts and executions.
    • Create a visual timeline of events, from the first accusations to the last of the executions, including when the trials were finally put to an end.
    • Determine the key figures of the Salem witch trials and write a "dossier" on each—Abigail Williams, John and Elizabeth Proctor, Tituba, William Stoughton, Cotton Mather, and so on.
    • Through online research, locate transcripts of one of the Salem witch trials; if possible, locate the transcript of Martha Carrier's trial.

    Attn: Some plot spoilers in these questions.

    • Author Kathleen Kent, a direct descendant of the real Martha Carrier, says she grew up hearing stories about Carrier and her tribulations from her mother and grandmother. Do you have a long-lost relative whose memory is kept alive in your family in this way?
    • What were your first impressions of Martha? Did you share Sarah's antagonism toward her at first? Did your opinion of Martha change as the novel continued?
    • The author fills the novel with vivid imagery of the dress and customs of seventeenth-century Massachusetts, as well as examples of the many hardships people of that time endured. Do you think you could have lived in that era?
    • Before reading this book, did you know what a heretic was? Does this term have any relevance today?
    • "Ah, but you're only a girl and cannot know the ways of men" (page 5). Talk about the role of women in this society, as depicted in the novel. What was it like to be a girl or woman then?
    • What do you think the difference is between misunderstanding and prejudice? Between superstition and fear?
    • Based on the actual events that led to the Salem witch trials, playwright Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible in the early 1950s as a reaction to events of the so-called McCarthy era, during which U.S. government agencies and private industry used questionable tactics and unsubstantiated testimony to accuse and investigate people suspected of being communists. Do you think the Salem witch trials hold allegorical meaning in light of more current events? Which events and why?
    • Rumor and innuendo have enormous influence over the lives of the characters in THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER. What are some examples of destructive rumors, as well as beneficial ones? Why did rumor hold so much power then?
    • Can you name some famous people in history who, in the same way Martha Carrier did, stood up for what they believed while facing dire consequences or even death? What happened as a result of their actions?
    • What did you think of Sarah's cousin Margaret? Why did Sarah form such an immediate and intense connection to her?
    • "I could not imagine the gentle seamstress described by Aunt as the same woman who could see … my misdeeds at two hundred paces" (page 44). Why do we view our parents differently from how other people see them? Would you want to know your parents the same way their friends or other family members do?
    • What was your opinion of Mercy Williams when she was first introduced in Chapter Three? Did you expect she'd be the reason that suspicion was cast on the Carrier family? As Mercy was portrayed at the book's end, do you think she "got what she deserved"?
    • Why did the townspeople fear Sarah's father, Thomas? Why did Martha write down his life story in the red book that she later asked Sarah to hide? What would have happened to the family if that book had been discovered?
    • The heart of the tragedy in THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER is in the rush to judgment made by townspeople against one of their own. Talk about some examples of this. Can you really know a person if you focus only on the surface things about them? Has anyone made assumptions about you without talking to you or getting to know you? How did that make you feel?
    • If you were Martha Carrier and faced being condemned as a witch, would you have made the decisions she made, including asking your children to lie to save themselves?
    • How did you feel when Sarah "confessed" in open court? Did you expect she'd do so?
    • Do you think the townspeople's mistrust of witches was related in some way to their deep fear of Indians? What was at the heart of their contempt of the former and terror of the latter?
    • Think of examples of the hardships faced by farmers in 1690s Massachusetts: Did any of these things surprise you or make you think differently about these early settlers?
    • How would the novel have been different if we heard Martha Carrier's story directly, instead of its being narrated by her daughter Sarah?
    • What do you think the main themes of THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER are? As readers, what are we supposed to have learned after finishing the book?

    • Compile a list of questions to ask the author about the writing of THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER and submit it to her via the book's website; inquire as to whether she'd be willing or able to address your class, either over the phone or via e-mail.
    • Research how to write a script for a stage play. Choose one scene from the book and write a script based on it, and include the characters' dialogue, the stage direction, and descriptions of the scenery. Cast the scene, rehearse, and perform it in class.
    • What role did your school's town/village play in any point in American history? Ask your local historical society for information, or invite one of their members to speak to your class.
    • Conduct a mock trial based on the trials depicted in the book, or on a more modern-day trial of equal significance. Have students assign themselves the roles of the accused, any witnesses, lawyers, the judge, and jury.
    • In the same way that Sarah Carrier wrote a letter to her granddaughter, write a letter to your future grandchild about a historical event that's taken place during your lifetime.
    • The people of seventeenth-century New England lived in fear of contracting smallpox. Research smallpox: What were its symptoms, how was it transmitted, what were its treatments, how was it finally eradicated?
    • Pick a chapter from the novel and reimagine it as if it were being told from the perspective of a different character.
    • Declare a "Seventeenth-Century Weekend" and ask students to refrain from using as many modern conveniences as they can over the course of two days. Create a chart in the classroom, and check off which devices or technologies/advancements were avoided, as well as those that weren't.
    • Have students research their individual family trees to determine if any are descendants of the first American settlers. What are other ancestral groups of the students?
    • In colonial times, Americans lived in fear of Indians—now known as Native Americans. Research the history of Native Americans in colonial New England.

    The Crucible (Penguin Classics Edition), by Arthur Miller, with introduction by Christopher Bigsby.

    The Salem Witch Trials Reader (Da Capo Press), by Frances Hill.

    The Scarlet Letter (Penguin Classics Edition), by Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Thomas E. Connolly and with an introduction by Nina Baym.

    Wikipedia entry "Salem witch trials"

    The website for the "Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project" (University of Virginia)

    The website "17th Century Colonial New England"

    The Crucible (1996 film adaptation), starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, and Joan Allen. DVD, Twentieth Century Fox, rated PG-13.

    Salem Witch Trials (2005), History Channel DVD, no rating.

    Endorsements for THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER:

    I do strongly endorse THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER as an essential part of any school or public library collection. At a personal level, the book addresses family and social conflicts from the narrative of a young girl. At a societal level, it is a compelling story of the witch trials and the destruction the trials brought to many families. While the setting is the late 1600s- early 1700s, the voice is that of a girl from any period, and certainly a voice with which readers of all ages can identify today.
    Amanda Green, Librarian, Paris Public Library, Texas

    Kathleen Kent and THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER should be welcome guests in literature and history classrooms ( 9th Grade up) across our United States. Ms. Kent is a very talented author and speaker; THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER generates emotions and insights, intrigue and drama, all sure to create imaginative discussions in classrooms and book clubs in every section of our country.
    Margaret Butler, Sixth Grade Literature, St. John's Episcopal School, Dallas, Texas

    Kathleen Kent's THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER satisfies all my strongest literary cravings. This is history, drama, family dynamics, and a great read! Her book takes the reader on a journey through a sad and shameful period of American Colonial history. Kent further explores the universal problem of young people who must grapple with peer pressure and shoulder family responsibilities far beyond their years. I recommend it highly for both adults and young adults. —Marge Stockton, Dallas Public Library Genealogical Society, Texas

    Kathleen Kent absolutely captivated our middle and high school students as she shared details about her book, THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER. As Kathleen shared on stage, one 8th grader experienced, for a very short time, one of the torture treatments used on those people accused of heresy. The whole book captured the dialect of the time period and gave accurate details due to her extensive research while preparing to write the book.
    Margaret Simmons, Librarian, June Shelton School, Dallas, Texas

    This very moving book is a tale which brings a message, which is as relevant today as the time in which the story takes place. As an educator, I see our students have more models of cruel and unkind behavior everyday. At Shelton School we do have the Rachel's Challenge program, which is attempting to help us influence the considerate behavior we would like to see in each student. THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER was a perfect story to reference in our study this year. The suffering and pain of a young person in another time period was palpable for students in 2009.
    Joyce S. Pickering, Shelton School & Evaluation Center

  • The Salem witch trials of 1692 were a unique and tragic part of American history. The trials and executions, which took place in Salem Village, included nearly 150 men and women arrested from many different villages in Massachusetts. The accused came from such towns as Andover, Topsfield, Beverly, and as far away as Wells, in what is now the state of Maine. Ultimately 19 men and women were hanged, and one man pressed to death with stones because he would not testify, either to his guilt or his innocence. The witch hysteria, and the ensuing legal actions, took a little more than a year from January 1692 to May of 1693, and yet the fascination with the Salem "witches" has never diminished.

    One of the most  terrifying aspects of the trials was the reliance by the court magistrates on "Spectral Evidence," said to be the manifestation of Satan's Invisible World seen only by the afflicted, accusing girls. It was the testimony of these young women which was accepted and written into the court transcripts; the original documents held for posterity in such institutions as the Peabody Essex Museum in Boston.

    Many of the accused, to save themselves from death, pled guilty to consorting with the Devil and so were only imprisoned. The men and women who held fast to their innocence were all condemned to be hanged. Martha Carrier, one of the 19 accused witches who was hanged, not only professed her innocence, but harshly admonished her judges for allowing the words of a few hysterical girls determine such a cruel fate for so many. It is a common misunderstanding that the Salem witches were burned, but no witches in the Colonies were ever killed at the stake as they were in Europe, as the British courts considered a burning death too cruel. But to the Puritans who had forsworn themselves to being in league with Satan, this false self-testimony meant eternal damnation. 

    The imprisonment of mostly women and children took place in some of the most appalling conditions ever seen by the Colonial judicial system. Upon release from jail, many of the accused were never compensated for their expenditures for provisions such as food and water, as well as for the very shackles and heavy chains that confined them. With a few exceptions, such as the grave memorial of Rebecca Nurse, there are no known grave sites for most of the executed witches, as they were tossed into shallow open pits after being hanged.

    There have been many different theories as to the cause of such a terrifying outcry by young women, ranging in age from 11 to 20, accusing their neighbors and friends of witchcraft; ergot poisoninig, encephalitis, and, more reasonably, conflict brought about by land disputes, disagreements over fundamental religious practices and the dread of attacks and capture by the indigenous native tribes. Whatever the confluence of causes, it is the mystifying social drama of family against family, friend against neighbor, that still haunts us and echoes today through the current events of religious intolerance, superstition and the fear of the "Other."

    The men and women hanged by the Court of Oyer & Terminer 1692:

    June 10 Bridget Bishop
    July 19 Sarah Good
    July 19 Elizabeth Howe
    July 19 Susannah Martin
    July 19 Rebecca Nurse
    July 19 Sarah Wildes
    August 19 George Burroughs
    August 19 Martha Carrier
    August 19 George Jacobs
    August 19 John Proctor
    August 19 John Willard
    September 22 Martha Corey
    September 22 Mary Easty
    September 22 Alice Parker
    September 22 Mary Parker
    September 22 Ann Pudeator
    September 22 Margaret Scott
    September 22 Wilmot Redd
    September 22 Samual Wardwell
    Pressed to Death
    September 19 Giles Corey

    For further reading on the Salem witch trials, the author recommends:

    "In the Devil's Snare" by Mary Beth Norton (Published Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2002)

    "The Salem Witch Trials Reader" by Frances Hill (Published DaCapo Press)

  • Dear Readers,

    Martha Carrier, my grandmother back nine generations, was hanged as a witch in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts. Called the "Queen of Hell" by Cotton Mather, Martha was unyielding in her refusal to confess and went to her death rather than join the accused men and women who did so and were spared.

    I've read countless historical sources about the trials, including the transcripts that captured verbatim Martha's defiance to the court. But it was the stories of my mother and my maternal grandparents that defined more clearly the courage—and obstinacy—that set the Carriers apart.

    All the Carrier tales I heard as a child were enthralling. The children made bows and arrows and practiced shooting objects off each other's heads. Their cow was fed pumpkins so she would give golden milk. Martha’s husband Thomas was, according to local gossip, a soldier for Cromwell and the executioner of King Charles I of England. Thomas was over seven feet tall and, when he died at 109, two coffins had to be fitted together to bury him.

    Sarah is the central character of THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER, and Martha did have a daughter with that name. She was arrested on suspicion of witchcraft along with her three brothers and spent months in captivity in a crowded cellar prison. It's my hope that weaving my family legends into the fictional narrative will bring an authenticity to the story of their tremendous bravery and fortitude.

    Kathleen Kent

  • The author recommends these related sites to learn more about Martha Carrier and the Salem witch trials.

    The Court of Oyer & Terminer transcripts, warrants, and depositions of Martha Carrier and her children, Sarah, Tom, Richard and Andrew (The Salem Witchcraft Papers, Paul Boyer & Stephen Nessenbaum, Volume 1)

    The Danvers (formerly Salem Village) Witch Trial Memorial

    Witch House Museum; the home of Jonathan Corwin, one of the key judges in the Court of Oyer & Terminer who signed the arrest warrants, and interrogated, the Carrier family. Judge Corwin, along with other Salem witch judges, signed the death warrant for Martha Carrier.

  • Thomas Carrier House, Colchester, CT

  • Thomas Carrier House, Colchester, CT

  • Thomas Carrier Tombstone, died 1735, aged 109 years

  • Martha Carrier Memorial Stone, Salem, MA

  • Author Kathleen Kent

  • Welcome reception for the Carrier descendants' reunion. Salem, MA, November 5, 2010

  • Carrier descendants from all over the US sign their names on the family tree.

  • Kathleen Kent talks to descendants about the history and research for THE TRAITOR'S WIFE. Salem, MA, November 6, 2010

  • Descendants gather to pay homage at the Martha Carrier Witch Trial Memorial. Salem, MA, November 6, 2010

  • The Red Book, where all the attending Carrier descendants signed their names.

  • Authors' Panel, First Church in Salem, MA. (From left to right: Elyssa East, Kathleen Kent, Brunonia Barry, Katherine Howe)

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10 Responses

  1. David Duff

    Thank you for such a fascinating and informative read. I’ve known for several years now that Martha Carrier and beyond were relations through some of the more popular family history websites. A DNA test through one of those has hooked me up with other cousins. But thank you for providing me more info about Great Grandpa Thomas. My relation is though Sarah’s older brother Richard and his daughter Remembrance (your book lent me a clue as to the possible why the name Remembrance). Bless you dear cousin, and to all of the others out there.

  2. Mary Kidder

    my maiden name is Ingalls so very interested as to if I am related. I’v heard that I am related to Charles Ingalls from Cuba,NY Is this also related to Martha Carrier?

  3. Bonnie Robillard

    I have DNA matching this lady!!! Wow, what a lady she was…. I am so pleased to hear about your book. I have just found out that I most likely descend from Richards brother Andrew 1677 and his descendant Louis Dumont Carrier 1856 Omaha. My grandfather is unknown. So it is nice to read of the history that could be mine. Thank you for this. Bonnie from Edmonton

  4. Cody Kayser

    Hi Kathleen:

    It appears that we, you and I, share the 9th great grandmother distinction with Martha Carrier. I have not read your book, yet, but the story of such a strong woman seems fascinating! My family comes through her child Richard. Best wishes to you~

  5. Carol Brockway Lieto

    Your book The Heretic’s Daughter was wonderful. I read it when it was first published and I plan to read it again. I am also a descendant of Martha Carrier. One of her grandchildren married a Brockway. Please contact me via e-mail if possible so I can see what our connections might be. I had heard the rumor that Thomas Carrier was the executioner of King Charles. I look forward to reading The Traitor’s Wife. I hope we can speak soon.


    • Kathleen Kent

      Thank you Carol for writing! I’m always thrilled to hear from fellow Carrier descendants. It’s amazing how many Carriers grew up with the tale of Thomas being one of the executioners of King Charles I of England. Of course, there may never be proof to this story, but it’s a fascinating part of our family history, and one I write about in The Traitor’s Wife. Best regards, KK

  6. Rebecca

    I picked up the book at a thrift store. I had never really read anything on the Salem trials before, but it sounded intriguing. I was horrified by what this men and women had to live through. I felt like crying through most of the story. I couldn’t wait to finish it, for no other reason than I wanted their struggle and the injustice to end. I don’t know that I have ever been so affected by a book before. The tale will stay with me long after this day.

    • Kathleen Kent

      Rebecca, Thank you so much for your response. Heretic’s Daughter was near and dear to my heart as it was story based on my Carrier family’s roots in New England. My second book, The Traitor’s Wife, answers some of the mysteries about Thomas Carrier and his experiences during the English Civil War and the events leading to the death of King Charles I of England. Best regards, KK

  7. Mary Kellerman

    Hi Just read your bk. as suggested by my book club not realizing that we not only visited the Witch Museum in Salem this past summer and saw names of Martha and Sarah Carrier as people suspected of being witches and that your book would be not only about them but also did not realize till I read the first sentence to see that your book actually starts out in Billerica which happens to be my place of residence for the last 40yrs! I really thought the story was spellbinding and well written as far as descriptions of New England land and weather. Look forward to reading more of your works:)

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