For many people the discovery of their ancestry begins later in life; following school, career-building, perhaps marriage and family. It’s often only when we have the extra time and resources to look backwards that we pursue our lineage through genealogy, or, if we’re lucky, through family stories. I was extremely fortunate to have been given some of my mother’s family history as a young child. I was about eight years old when I was told by my maternal grandmother that my grandmother, back nine generations, was one of the nineteen men and women hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692. Her name was Martha Carrier and she was called by Cotton Mather, “The Queen of Hell.” My first novel, told from the point of view of her daughter, Sarah, was titled The Heretic’s Daughter, and it chronicled the growing witchcraft hysteria and the subsequent trials and imprisonment of Martha and four of her five children. Martha was ultimately hanged in August of 1692, going to her death refusing to admit to being a witch, refusing to implicate any of her neighbors, and chastising her judges for listening to a group of girls who were “out of their wits.”
Martha’s story, however, was only part of the Carrier family lore. Her husband, Thomas Carrier, according to local Massachusetts’ gossip was thought to be one of the executioners of King Charles I of England. He was long suspected in the colonies to be part of the group of regicides—confederates of Cromwell—who fled to New England following the restoration of King Charles II to the English throne. According to my grandmother, Thomas lived to 109 and was over seven feet tall. This giant figured prominently in my imagination for most of my childhood and it was with great enthusiasm, and more than a little awe, that I wrote about this remarkable man in my second novel, The Traitor’s Wife (published in hardcover as The Wolves of Andover).
It is a fictional rendering, built in part on true-to-life history of Restoration England, and, to a greater extent, on my own imaginings of the experiences of a soldier who survived the English Civil War, sailed to a new world with a price on his head, and married in the colonies at forty-eight years of age. After the death of his wife, Martha, he moved to Connecticut, began building three homes for himself and his children, and started a blacksmith forge—all at seventy years of age. Contrary to custom, and the formidable pressures of Puritan society, he never took another wife.
The photo shown above is the last surviving Carrier house of that era, built in Colchester, Connecticut, around 1730, five years before Thomas died.