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.

Known for: A 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.

Age at the time of the Salem witch trials: 31-32
Dates: April 21, 1660 - ?
Parents:  Benjamin Woodrow and Rebecca Canterbury Woodrow
Married to: Samuel Sibley (or Siblehahy), February 12, 1656/7 - 1708.

Marriage date 1686.  One of his sisters, also named Mary Sibley, married Capt. Jonathan Walcott; their daughter, Mary Walcott, was one of the accusers at Salem.
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 or 1692, died 1773.  She married and had children.

Also known as: Mary Woodrow

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.

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).

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.

Samuel Sibley’s sister Mary was married to Captain Jonathan 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 had remarried after he’d been widowed, and her stepmother was Deliverance Putnam Wolcott, a sister of Thomas Putnam, Jr., who was himself one of the accusers at Salem as were his wife and daughter, Ann Putnam, Sr. and Ann Putnam, Jr.

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.