Mary Sanford and the Forgotten Connecticut Witch Trials

So halfway through writing book #3 in the Winds of Freedom series, I’m already excited about my next project. When I discovered my heritage, it really was an obvious choice. Someday, after a lot of time and research, I hope to honor my eight-times great grandmother with a novel version of her story. For now, here are the facts.

This story strikes a personal chord with me. Maybe it’s because I just don’t like seeing people suffer for unjust reasons. This the entire family of Andrew and Mary Sanford certainly did.

Andrew Sanford immigrated from England around 1632 and settled in Hartford with his Uncle Andrew Warner. He married a woman of unknown heritage named Mary soon after. In 1657, he was made freeman and then chimney viewer in 1662. The Winthrop Documents call Andrew a pumpmaker. As a physician, John Winthrop, Jr. (Governor of CT) evidently treated the Sanford children. The family was living on North Main Street in 1662.

witchtrials

In March of that year, John Kelley’s 8-year-old daughter Elizabeth was stricken with severe stomach pains. In her agony, the girl blamed Goody Ayres, a woman known for spreading stories of her meetings with the devil. She begged her father to have the woman arrested and with her dying breath said, “Goody Ayres chokes me!” If that weren’t enough, physician Bray Rossiter performed an autopsy on the girl, determining that she died of prenatural causes. Let the witch hunt begin!

Another woman experienced “violent body motions” and spoke in a Dutch accent as she accused Rebecca Greensmith of witchcraft. Greensmith, referred to by John Whiting as “a lewd, ignorant and considerably aged woman” broke under interrogation and testified in court against her husband. She related stories of strange creatures following him in the woods and his possession of supernatural strength. She said that the devil appeared to her first in the form of a deer and that he had frequent use of her body. She described meetings in the woods attended by goodwives Seager, Sanford, and Ayres. She recounted a  story of her and several neighbors meeting under a tree on the green near her home to dance and have a bottle of sack.

Andrew Sanford was accused of witchcraft on June 6, 1662 and tried in court soon after. He and his wife were both indited for “witchcraft or for holding public meetings other than those prescribed by the elders or for dealings with ‘Sathan.'” Among the jury, “some thought guilty, some strongly suspected.” He was therefore acquitted. Mary was found guilty.

grave

Andrew and Mary’s Oldest Son Andrew’s Grave in Milford, CT

No record of Mary’s execution has ever been found, though historians believe she was hanged. John M. Taylor states in his book Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut that she was executed  Further evidence to support this theory comes from the simple fact that Andrew moved to Milford five years later and remarried. However, some sources disagree. The Colonial History of Hartford states that, “Mary Sanford was convicted first, and was not long detained in jail. Like some weird spectre of the spirit world, she disappeared.” Could Mary Sanford have escaped the hands of her accusers? If so, did she join Andrew in Milford? The name of his second wife remains a mystery. While this version of the story may be unlikely, it’s still an interesting one for her hopeful descendants to entertain.

One factor I still do not fully comprehend is how Andrew and Mary Sanford came to be accused and tried. Rebecca Greensmith’s testimony clearly implicated Mary as attending at least one of her mysterious meetings. I’m still unclear as to how Andrew Sanford was involved. One theory has to do with religious leanings. An article in the New England Historical Magazine refers to the Sanfords of Hartford as “all Quakers”, which would have classed them with heretics. Some believe the couple may have adopted the ideals of Anne Hutchinson from Andrew’s brother Thomas and uncle Andrew Warner, who lived in Boston about five years. Their family may have been holding Bible studies in their home that ran contrary to the religious philosophies of their Puritanical neighbors and government.

I find it ironic that one of the main reasons people came to the New World was for religious freedom and then tragedies like these occurred. The colonials did not understand that true worship of God is only made without coercion. In many ways, we still do not understand. So, looking back on this story of my ancestors who lived long ago, on the people who gave me my life and my name, I gain a lesson to take with me. Treat people with compassion, and do not judge when their viewpoint is different from your own. Perhaps you may learn something, however small, from everyone you encounter. I’ve learned a lot from your life, Mary. In the end, I hope you really did outwit your foes and live a long, super-secret spy life with your beloved. Hey, a girl can dream.

latgrave

48 thoughts on “Mary Sanford and the Forgotten Connecticut Witch Trials

  1. chmjr2 says:

    Enjoyed this post very much. A great story!

  2. Gail says:

    This has nothing to do with this book, but when are the other two Winds of Freedom coming?

    • Hi Gail! You can expect Moon Over Blazing Star Field out early next year and Midnight Road to Heaven later in the year. I’m working on them as much as my schedule will allow! Thanks so much for your interest.

      • Gail says:

        I am so looking forward to them!

      • Gail, that means so much to me, especially as a new author trying desperately to follow my lifelong dream and passion while juggling a very full life. To know there are people out there anticipating the work I’m doing makes me want to hurry all the more! I am excited, too. I can’t wait to share with the world the unexpected and exciting events in store for these characters.

        Have you joined the mailing list on my website? I’ll e-mail you as soon as the next book is available. Thank you so much!

  3. Hi Laurie, I too am descended from the same Sanford line! Thomas, Andrew’s brother, is my 8th great-grandfather and is a town founder in Milford, where I can see you have visited. His name and his wife Sarah’s are named on a bridge there. I came across Andrew and Mary’s story in my research, and it is incredibly sad.

    I guess this makes us distant cousins?

    • Hi, Jamie! Yes, in fact, I think I commented on your post about them a while back. It is a very sad story, one that touched me especially when I visited Milford. What a neat town. I have quite a few ancestors with names on that bridge, and it felt honoring to see the home they helped to establish and visit their graves. Augh, just want to go back! But California is so very far. I’m so glad you said something on my blog. I love meeting relatives, no matter how distant. We have an important connected history, and a pretty awesome name. 🙂

      • Kenneth Congrove says:

        Laurie, I had a book about Witchcraft Trials In England and New England but the omitted Salem. It was written by an Egyptologist. She had identified the Sandford Coven in Hartford, CT., as the first coven in the New World. She listed 13 total members including Mary & Andrew. Mary was the only one that didn’t recant. Do you know about the 13 fellow coven members?

      • No, I’m not familiar with this.

  4. These people are also my very distant great-grandparents. What a horrible story. In researching the family tree, I have found some other tales of Puritan injustices. I think history is all too often whitewashed. They were very good at persecuting people who were in any way different or followed another religion.

    • Hi, Andrea! Nice to meet a distant relative. Yes, I agree. It makes me wonder what exactly these two did to upset their neighbors. What a perilous time. But I’m glad they left behind plenty of descendants to honor their memory.

  5. Dave Hall says:

    Thanks for the story. I am a direct descendant of Andrew Sanford. 12 generations. Harriet Sanford was the last Sanford Descendant of mine, born about 1840’s. When I think about it, doesn’t seem all that long ago.

    • Hi Dave! Yay, another distant relation! It always makes me so happy to hear from you all. I’m curious…when and where was your Harriet Sanford born? Just wondering, since I do have one in my tree born in the 1840s. Wishful thinking, most likely. But it would be pretty neat if they were the same person.

  6. Margretta Clark Aviles says:

    A distant cousin by way of Andrew and Thomas Sanford. I hope a book will be coming!

  7. Margretta Clark Aviles says:

    I look forward to your book!

    • I’m sorry; for some reason I didn’t see these comments. I was so enthusiastic when I wrote this post, but I’m afraid life has gotten in the way of my plans and I’ve had very little time to write lately. Plus, I’m not sure I have the courage to try and do justice to her story just yet. It’s easy when the characters aren’t real, but I’ve gotten a little more than frightened when considering telling the story of my flesh and blood. But perhaps some day! It is on the list of stories I truly want to write.

  8. John says:

    Hi Laurie,

    I’m also a distant cousin. Thanks for your work on this!

  9. Susan Youngblood Gilbert says:

    Laurie, I was referred to your blog after I posted the information I had on my 9th Great Grandmother…Mary Sanford, Andrew Sanford Jr.’s wife. My last living Sanford relative is Rhoda Adeline Sanford Brown 1851 – 1917. She is buried less than 15 miles from my house. I used her Mother’s grandfather as my Patriot to get into the DAR. I so enjoyed reading your research on Mary and Andrew. You are a gifted writer.

  10. Kenneth W Congrove Jr says:

    I am a Andrew Sanford descendant through his second wife. Nice post on family history.

  11. Susie Risher says:

    Mary was my 9th great grandmother on my mother’s side, so we’re related! I was reading through my mom’s thick genealogy binder and came across Andrew and Mary, and was fascinated with the story, as well! Thank you for all your research. I hope to get out East someday to see some of these places!

  12. Hi Laurie,
    I just stumbled upon this while doing some quick research. I am a distant cousin of yours (and all those above who are also descended from him), only I’m descended from Andrew’s brother Robert.
    What a dark time in our nation’s history. I’m the 13th great granddaughter of Mercy Disbrow, who, in 1662, was the last woman to be accused of witchcraft in CT. She was floated in the mill pond, stripped and searched for witch marks, found guilty and sentenced to hang. She sat in jail for a year and was later acquitted. I’m sorry that Mary wasn’t.

    Take care.

    Your “Cous”.

  13. Joanne Goodwin says:

    Mary would be my 10th great grandmother on my father side. Would love to learn more.

  14. Bray Rossiter who performed the autopsy is my ancestor. Such a wild story!

  15. Sarah says:

    I am a descendent of Thomas Sanford and have been to Much Hadham, Hertfordshire to visit where the Sanfords came from.
    There is a large two volume book about the Sanford’s written around 1900.

  16. Judy Black McFalls says:

    Rebecca Steele Elson Mudge Greensmith was my 10th great grandmother on my Dad’s side. And I am sadden by her ultimate death, but so proud and interested about all of these people.

  17. Susie Risher says:

    Hi Laurie! Mary’s my 9th great-grandmother! I found her in my mom’s genealogy book, so I guess you and I are loosely related :). It’s so great you’ve done so much research. I think it’s all fascinating and I’m planning a trip to Connecticut to see of my ancestor’s places.

  18. Tom Hall says:

    Really? I haven’t seen that one. Unfortunately my branch wouldn’t be in it, since my grandfather never knew his father.

  19. Have you joined The Associated Daughters of American Witches? I just found out about them tonight.

    • No, I don’t think I can prove ancestry. My grandfather’s records were burned in a fire, and he never actually knew his father.

      • Have you or any of your family done a DNA test through ancestry.com? If so, it may match you up with those family members in the book, if they did the same DNA test and were willing to be contacted by distant family members. Good luck!
        In regard to The Associated Daughters of American Witches, I only joined their FB page, not the actual group itself. You could do the same. I’ve met distant cousins who have had more genealogy info. for me. It’s been a fascinating journey.

    • That’s true, I have done both ancestry and 23andme DNA tests. I’ll have to look into it. I haven’t gone searching for Sanford matches yet.

  20. Merita Sanford Stormzand says:

    Andrew Sanford was a brother to my Thomas Sanford

  21. Merita Sanford Stormzand says:

    I joined the DAR on my Sanford line. The Book is so sad, but true.

    Merita Sanford Stormzand

    • Sherri Piazza says:

      Hello, I also joined the DAR on the Sanford line. Ebenezer Sanford was my 8x great grandfather. I’d really like to chat with my relatives about our heritage!

  22. I think everyone here would be interested in joining the FB page called The Associated Daughters of American Witches (you don’t have to join the actual group, just the FB page). Various members have posted a lot of information. I’ve met distant relatives through it, and we’ve shared genealogy charts. It’s quite interesting!

  23. Hi I’m also a sandford although with a “d” my fam is in NJ and we are very connected to the pagan religion. We r going to dig up some ancestry stuff and will be in touch!!

  24. Sherri Piazza says:

    Hi, Laurie! My mom was a Sanford and Mary is my 9x great aunt. I’d love to chat about Mary Sanford!

  25. Kate Power says:

    Mary Sandford of Hartford CT was my 9th great-grandmother, hanged as a witch on Trinity Hill in 1662. I can’t seem to find much about her trial. I know her husband Andrew Sandford was also charged with witchcraft but subsequently “recanted” and was released. He went on to marry again and sire many more children. I’m descended from the only child Mary and Andrew had, he was born in 1643 and married Mary Botsford, born 1643.

  26. Toniann Sandford says:

    I believe we may be distant relatives. When I tracked my family it seems Andrew may have added a D into Sandford or one of his two brothers did so. Changing Sanford to Sandford – 3 brother came over and someone one ended up with a d
    Nice to meet u!

  27. Kate Power says:

    Laurie, I’m descended from Mary Sanford’s eldest son, Andrew Sanford. I first discovered Mary’s witchcraft trial documentation in a dusty archive at the Ohio Historical Society, 26 years ago. In that book, it documented that Mary’s husband ultimately “recanted” his testimony and that’s what set him free to go on and marry again and have more children, while Mary was hanged on Trinity Hill. I’d love to see how we’re connected. Is your tree posted on Ancestry.com? Have you done your DNA? I’m a double Sanford/Sandford because my maternal grandparents were both descended from the same Sanford ancestor back in England, through two of his sons who came to America. There are two descendant branches here in Ohio, and we all know about Mary’s witchcraft trial and ultimate hanging. An original Sanford log cabin exists in northern Ohio, and descendants live in it to this day.

    • Hi, Kate. Well, I did have a huge tree on Ancestry and I did do my DNA…and found out I am a Sanford in name only. Apparently, my great-grandmother was not exactly faithful. So I still love researching this family and hearing from its descendants, but we’re not related, at least through this line. 😦

  28. Jamie says:

    Hi, I too am a descendant by way of Andrew’s brother Thomas Sanford. I came across your story some years back while researching the Sanford side of my genealogy. I wondered how records of what truly happened to Mary Sanford went missing while others did not. I hope there will come a day when those who were convicted of witchery in Connecticut will be pardoned. Afterall, they immigtrated seeking religious freedom and were judged for being and believing different from the “norm.” Respectfully, Jamie Herbert

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