Martha Carrier Biography

Key People in the Salem Witchcraft Trials

Martha Carrier

 Dex/CC BY-NC 2.0/Flickr

 Martha Carrier (​Née Allen) was born in Andover, Massachusetts; her parents were among the original settlers there. She married Thomas Carrier, a Welsh indentured servant, in 1674, after giving birth to their first child; this scandal was not forgotten. They had four or five children (sources differ) and lived in Billerica, Massachusetts, moving back to Andover to live with her mother after her father's death in 1690. The Carriers were accused of bringing smallpox to Andover; two of their own children had died of the disease in Billerica. That Martha's husband and two children were ill with smallpox and survived was considered suspect, especially because some other deaths from the illness put her husband in line to inherit her family's property.

Martha's two brothers had died, and so Martha inherited property from her father. She argued with neighbors when she suspected them of trying to cheat her and her husband.

Martha Carrier and the Salem Witch Trials

Martha Carrier was arrested on May 28, 1692, along with her sister and brother-in-law, Mary Toothaker and Roger Toothaker and their daughter, Margaret (born 1683), and several others, and charged with witchcraft. Martha was the first Andover resident accused in the trials. One of the accusers was a servant of a competitor of Toothaker, a physician.

On May 31, judges John Hathorne, Jonathan Corwin, and Bartholomew Gedney examined Martha Carrier, John Alden, Wilmott Redd, Elizabeth How, and Phillip English. Martha Carrier maintained her innocence, though the accusing girls (Susannah Sheldon, Mary Walcott, Elizabeth Hubbard and Ann Putnam) demonstrated their supposed affliction by her "powers." Other neighbors and relatives testified about curses. She pled not guilty and accused the girls of lying.

Martha's youngest children were coerced into testifying against their mother, and her sons, Andrew Carrier (18) and Richard Carrier (15) were also accused, as was her daughter, Sarah Carrier (7). Sarah confessed first, as did her son Thomas, Jr.; then under torture (tied neck to heels), Andrew and Richard also confessed, all implicating their mother. In July, Ann Foster also implicated Martha Carrier.

On August 2, the Court of Oyer and Terminer heard witnesses against Martha Carrier, as well as against George Jacobs Sr., George Burroughs, John Willard, and John and Elizabeth Proctor, and on August 5 a trial jury found all six guilty of witchcraft and sentenced them to hang.

On August 11, Martha's 7-year-old daughter Sarah Carrier and her husband Thomas Carrier were examined.

Martha Carrier was 33 years old when she was hanged on Gallows Hill on August 19, with George Jacobs Sr., George Burroughs, John Willard, and John Proctor. Martha Carrier shouted her innocence from the scaffold, refusing to confess to "a falsehood so filthy" in order to avoid hanging. Cotton Mather was an observer at this hanging, and in his diary noted Martha Carrier as a "rampant hag" and possible "Queen of Hell."

Martha Carrier After the Trials

In 1711, her family received a small amount of recompense for her conviction: 7 pounds and 6 shillings.

While different historians have advanced theories that Martha Carrier was caught up because of a fight between two Andover ministers, or because she held some property, or because of the selective smallpox effects in her family and community, most agree that she was an easy target because of her reputation as a "disagreeable" member of the community.