Half-Hanged Mary Webster (no relation)

These are personal notes I probably cribbed from Wikipedia. I’m interested in her because 1) she lived in Hadley at the time some of my ancestors also did, and they would surely have known her or at least her family, and 2) my ancestor Rev. Cotton Mather wrote extensively about her, and the Salem witch trials.

Mary Webster, née Reeve, was a resident of Puritan Hadley, Massachusetts, who was accused of witchcraft. She was born in England. Her exact birth year is unknown but is believed to be around 1624. Accounts of her birthdate range from 1617 to 1624, but she most certainly was born in England. She was the daughter of Thomas Reeves (father) of Springfield, Massachusetts, and sister to Thomas Reeves. Her mother is unknown.

She was accused of witchcraft. Later, she was hanged from a tree by some residents of Hadley. According to one of several accounts, she was left hanging all night. It is known that when she was cut down she was still alive and lived for another 14 years. Canadian author Margaret Atwood, who believed Mary to be her ancestor, made Webster the subject of her poem “Half-Hanged Mary,” and dedicated her novel The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) to her. No records exist of Webster having had any children.

Perhaps the most exhaustive account of Mary Webster’s disputes with Philip Smith and the subsequent accusations and witchcraft trial comes from Cotton Mather’s Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions: A Faithful Account of many Wonderful and Surprising Things, that have befallen several Bewitched and Possessed Persons in New-England. Mather does not identify Mary Reeve Webster personally, but the dates and names that are included leave little doubt that her case is the one being documented. Webster’s case is Cotton Mather’s “second exemple” in the text.


And how can I not love this poem?

HALF-HANGED MARY – by Margaret Atwood

(“Half-hanged Mary” was Mary Webster, who was accused of witchcraft in the 1680’s in a Puritan town in Massachusetts and hanged from a tree – where, according to one of the several surviving accounts, she was left all night. It is known that when she was cut down she was still alive, since she lived for another fourteen years.)


Rumour was loose in the air
hunting for some neck to land on.
I was milking the cow,
the barn door open to the sunset.

I didn’t feel the aimed word hit
and go in like a soft bullet.
I didn’t feel the smashed flesh
closing over it like water
over a thrown stone.

I was hanged for living alone
for having blue eyes and a sunburned skin,
tattered skirts, few buttons,
a weedy farm in my own name,
and a surefire cure for warts;

Oh yes, and breasts,
and a sweet pear hidden in my body.
Whenever there’s talk of demons
these come in handy.


http://web.archive.org/web/20080913014839/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/Bur4Nar.htmlBurr, George Lincoln, 1857-1938. “The Wonders of the Invisible World,” by Cotton Mather, 1693 ; from Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706

Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library


Henry Woodward – 10th gg

10th great-grandfather – Henry Woodward, b. Muchworton, Lancashire, England 22 March 1607), d. Northampton, Hampshire County, Massachusetts Bay Colony 7 April 1685).

Accident at Upper Grist Mill caused death, physician, “liscenced to keep ordinary and sell wines and liquors”, Doctor

Henry Woodward, a physician, arrived in Dorcester, MA from England on the “James” (Captain Taylor) in 1635. he served as a constable in Dorcester MA. He moved to Northampton, MA in 1659. He was one of the founders of the Church in Northampton. He served as a tithing-man there. [WHAT IS A TITHING-MAN? UNPOPULAR?] He was killed either in a grist mill accident or by lightning on April 7, 1685 in Northampton.


Henry Woodward came with his wife to be Elizabeth to Dorchester, Mass. in the ship James in 1635. He removed with his family to Northampton, Mass. in 1659 where he was a founder of the first church.

Killed By Accident at His Mill – Henry Woodward

  1. about 1601 in Much Woolton, England
  2. 4 Sep 1638 in Dorchester, Massachusetts

Wife: Elizabeth Mather

  1. 7 Apr 1683 in Northampton, Massachusetts

Emigrated: (probably) 23 May 1635 on the ship James

Henry Woodward was born in about 1601 to Thomas and Elizabeth Woodward in Much Woolton, England and baptized on March 22, 1607 at Childwall. These places are a part of present-day Liverpool. Henry was one of seven children.

Henry is believed to have migrated to America on the ship James, arriving in the Massachusetts Bay colony on August 17, 1635. Another passenger on the ship was Reverend Richard Mather, who would become the father of Increase Mather [I take it back – they did name boys weird Puritan nouns, too] and grandfather to Cotton Mather [in hopes of a fine crop of cotton???wtf srsly]. On September 4, 1638, Henry married Elizabeth Mather, who was believed to be Richard’s sister (their father Thomas was from Lowton, Winwick Parish, Lancashire, England. Winwick was the site of a battle in the English Civil War on 19 August 1648, where Oliver Cromwell defeated a mainly Scottish royalist army). Between 1643 and 1649, they had three daughters and one son, the girls being given the Puritan names of Experience, Freedom, and Thankful (the son was named John).

The Woodward family lived in Dorchester. In some early records, Henry was referred to as a physician, but it isn’t clear how much he actually practiced medicine because no details exist in the records. He was an early member of the Dorchester church and a freeman. In 1657, he was named constable; he also “frequently served on committees.”

In 1659, Henry and his family moved to the new settlement of Northampton, Massachusetts. It has been suggested that Reverend Mather induced “three Dorchester men” to settle there and Henry was one of them. He received a grant of 12 acres to build his house and 100 acres of meadowland. [MUST SEE WHERE]

Henry was an important man in the early years of Northampton. In 1660, he was chosen a selectman and “Commissioner to end Small Causes” in 1660. The following year, he served as a member of the jury at the first court held in that town. Henry served as surveyor of highways in 1664. He was also among the group of eight persons who founded the First Church in 1661; he and Elizabeth were signers of the Church Covenant (since Henry signed documents with an X, it’s believed that he was illiterate).

In 1665, Henry was licensed to run a tavern; he maintained that business until 1681. It is said that court sessions were sometimes held in Henry’s tavern. He was also involved in farming and had a corn mill.