Biography of Mary Sibley

Minor Figure in Salem Witch Trials

Salem Village Map from Upham
Salem Village 1692. Public Domain Image, originally from Salem Witchcraft by Charles W. Upham, 1867.

A key but minor figure in the historical record of the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts coloony in 1692, Mary Sibley was the neighbor of the Parris family who advised John Indian to make a witch’s cake. The denouncing of that act has been seen as one of the triggers of the witch craze that followed.

Background

Mary Sibley was born Mary Woodrow in Salem. Her parents, Benjamin Woodrow and Rebecca Canterbury, had both been born in Salem as well, in 1635 and 1630, respectively, to parents from England.

She may have been an only child; her mother died when she was about 3 years old.

In 1686, when Mary was about 26 years old, she married Samuel Sibley.  Their first two children were born before 1692, one was born in 1692 (a son, William), and four more were born after the events at Salem, from 1693 on.

Samuel Sibley's Connection to Salem Accusers

Mary Sibley's husband, Samuel Sibley, had a sister Mary. That Mary was married to Captain Jonathan Walcott or Wolcott, and their daughter was Mary Wolcott. Mary Wolcott became one of the accusers in May of 1692 when she was about 17 years old. Those she accused included Ann Foster.  

Mary Wolcott’s father John had remarried after Samuel's sister Mary died, and Mary Wolcott's new stepmother was Deliverance Putnam Wolcott, a sister of Thomas Putnam, Jr.  Thomas Putnam Jr. was  one of the accusers at Salem as were his wife and daughter, Ann Putnam, Sr.

and Ann Putnam, Jr.

Salem 1692

In January of 1692, two girls in the home of the Rev. Samuel Parris, Elizabeth (Betty) Parris and Abigail Williams, ages 9 and 12, began exhibiting very strange symptoms, and a Caribbean slave, Tituba, also experienced images of the devil – all according to later testimony.

  A doctor diagnosed the “Evil Hand” as the cause, and Mary Sibley offered the idea of the witch’s cake to John Indian, a Caribbean slave of the Parris family.

A witch's cake used the urine of the afflicted girls. Supposedly, sympathetic magic meant that the "evil" afflicting them would be in the cake, and, when a dog consumed the cake, it would point to the witches.  While this was apparently a known practice in English folk culture to identify likely witches, the Rev. Parris in his Sunday sermon denounced even such well-intentioned uses of magic, as they could also be “diabolical” (works of the devil).

The witch's cake didn't stop the afflictions of the two girls. Instead, two additional girls began to show some afflictions: Ann Putnam Jr., connected to Mary Sibley through her husband's brother-in-law, and Elizabeth Hubbard.

Confession and Restoration

Mary Sibley confessed in church that she had erred, and the congregation acknowledged their satisfaction with her confession by a show of hands. She probably thereby avoided being accused as a witch.

The next month, the town records note her suspension from communion and restoration to full congregational inclusion when she made her confession.

March 11, 1692 – "Mary, the wife of Samuel Sibley, having been suspended from communion with the church there, for the advices she gave John [husband of Tituba] to make the above experiment, is restored on confession that her purpose was innocent."

Neither Mary nor Samuel Sibley appears on the 1689 register of covenanted church members of the Salem Village church, so they must have joined after that date.

Fictional Representations

In the 2014 Salem-based supernatural scripted series from WGN America, Salem, Janet Montgomery stars as Mary Sibley, who, in this fictional representation, is an actual witch. She is, in the fictional universe, the most powerful witch in Salem.  Her maiden name is Mary Walcott, similar but not the same as the maiden name, Woodrow, of the real life Mary Sibley. Another Mary Walcott in the real Salem universe was one of the key accusers at age 17, a niece of Ann Putnam Sr.

and cousin of Ann Putnam Jr.. That Mary Walcott or Wolcott in the real Salem was a niece of Samuel Sibley, husband of the Mary Sibley who baked the "witch cake."  The producers of the Salem series seem to have combined the characters of Mary Walcott and Mary Sibley, niece and aunt.

In the pilot of the scripted series, this fictional Mary Sibley assists her husband in throwing up a frog. In this version of the Salem witch history, Mary Sibley is married to George Sibley and is a former lover of John Alden (who is much younger in the show than he was in the real Salem.) The Salem show even introduced a character, Countess Marburg, a German witch and terrible villain who has had an unnaturally long life.  (Spoiler alert.)  At the end of Season 2, Tituba, the Countess, and probably Mary Sibley die.

Fast Facts

  • Born: April 21, 1660; date of death unknown
  • Age at the time of the Salem witch trials: 31 or 32
  • Parents:  Benjamin Woodrow (died 1697?) and Rebecca (Rebecka) Canterbury (Caterbury or Cantlebury) Woodrow (died 1663)
  • Married to: Samuel Sibley (or Siblehahy or Sibly), February 12, 1656/7 - 1708. Marriage date 1686.  
  • Children: Mary and Samuel Sibley had at least seven children, according to genealogical resources. One of them, yet another Mary Sibley, was born in 1686, died 1773. She married and had children.

Sources:

  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.  Original data: Town and City Clerks of Massachusetts. Massachusetts Vital and Town Records. Provo, UT: Holbrook Research Institute (Jay and Delene Holbrook).  Note that the image clearly shows 1660 as the birth date, though the text at the site interprets it as 1666.
  • Yates Publishing. U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.  For Mary Sibley's marriage date.