Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Hanging of Goodwife Knapp in 1653

Roger Knapp was born about 1618 in England and came to New England in the early 1640s. He eventually settled in Fairfield in the colony of New Haven in 1644 (now Connecticut). Not much is known about Roger Knapp except that he is listed as a farmer and an Indian trader.

His wife is known only as "Goodwife" Knapp—a title that’s equivalent to "Mrs." Knapp in modern times. (Sometimes shortened to “Goody”. Women with a higher status in society were referred to as “Mistress.”) In 1653 Goodwife Knapp was accused and convicted of witchcraft and executed by hanging in Try’s field outside the village of Fairfield. (None of the witches executed in New England were burned at the stake.)

Nothing is known of the trial of Goodwife Knapp or what she was accused of. This was right in the middle of the epidemic of witch trials and executions in England and Scotland and the phenomenon naturally made its way to the new colonies. Typically, the witch was accused of associating with the Devil, sometimes intimately. The “evidence” was usually a series of unusual happenings that occurred in the presence of the accused, or strange behavior that was deemed to be inappropriate. In many cases, the accused women seem to be rather more outspoken than others—in other words, they didn’t know their proper place.

Men who were accused of witchcraft were also people who were not satisfied with the status quo.

One of the books put on line by Googel is The Salem Witch Trials: a Reference Guide (by K. David Goss). It recounts the trial of Anne Hibbins who was hanged in 1656.
Anne Hibbins (1656) was censured by Boston church leaders for her contentious behavior in repeatedly accusing a local craftsman of overcharging for his labor. She was furthermore charged with supplanting her husband’s position in dealing with this problem, violating the puritan belief that wives should submit themselves to the leadership of their husbands. For this offense, she was unrepentant. She was removed from membership in the Boston church and found guilty of witchcraft in 1654 after the death of her husband. Although the magistrates denied the initial vedict, a second trial was held before the Massachusetts Great and General Court. Anne Hibbins was convicted a second time of witchcraft and executed in 1656. In his assessment of this tragedy, Governor Thomas Hutchinson, in his "History of Massachusetts," places the blame for this conviction upon the people of Boston who disliked Anne Hibbin’s contentious nature. He wrote that the trial and the condemnation of Anne Hibbins for withcraft was "a most remarkable occurrence in the colony," for he found tha is was her temper and argumentative nature that caused he neighbors to accuse he of being a wtich.
It’s very likely that Goodwife Knapp was hung for the same reasons three years earlier in Fairfield in the New Haven Colony.

The remarkable thing about the Goodwife Knapp execution is not the trial itself but the aftermath. Roger Ludlow, the Deputy Governor of Connecticut, had been fighting on and off for several years with his neighbor Mary Staples (wife of Thomas Staples, also known as Staplies). In 1651 Ludlow won a suit against Mary Staples for slander but this did not put and end to their dispute.

During the trial and imprisonment of Goodwife Knapp, Roger Ludlow and his supporters tried to get her to affirm that Mary Staples was a witch but Knapp refused. Just before the execution, Ludlow claimed that Goodwife Knapp came down the ladder and whispered in his ear that Mary Staples was, indeed, a witch.

Ludlow told this story to his friends, Rev. John Davenport and his wife, and it soon spread to the entire village of Fairfield. Accusing someone of witchcraft was a very serious charge—especially just after Goodwife Knapp had been hanged. When Thomas Staples heard that Ludlow was making these accusations against his wife he filed a defamation suit against Roger Ludlow.

The trail took place in May, 1654. There are several accounts on the internet taken from books that have recently been scanned. The best and most readable is from The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut by John M. Taylor. This is from the trial records and some of the descriptions are quite graphic, particularly the account of the examination of Goodwife Knapp’s body for witch’s teates.

There’s another good account in Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth-Century New England: A Documentary History 1638 ... by David D. Hall.

The role of the Sherwood family in the trial is described in A Changing America: Seen Through One Sherwood Family Line 1634-2006.

The reason for my interest in this trial is that many of my ancestors lived in Fairfield at the time and their names are mentioned in the account. Some of my ancestors were friends of the Staples and defended Mary Staples while others sided with Roger Ludlow. Ludlow lost the case and he left Fairfield the following year (1654), making his way eventually back to England and then to Ireland where he remained for the rest of his life.

By an extraordinary coincidence, my good friend and former best man at my wedding, Charles Beach, is a descendant of Mary Staples and Thomas Staples. Their daughter, Mary Nicol Staples (1630-1677) married John Beach (1623-1677).

My living relatives might be interested in our connections to the trial: here they are.

These are ancestors of Isabelle Hooper Burns (1862-1923) the mother of my maternal grandfather. More specifically, they are direct ancestors of her mother’s mother, Esther Treen (1807-~1891).

Here are the names of people mentioned in the defamation lawsuit. Our direct ancestors are underlined. (Some of these have subsequently been proven to be incorrect = strikeout.)

John Banks (1619-1684), attorney for Thomas Staples. (He is my great9-grandfather. Most of the others are from this generation or one generation earlier: great10)

Witnesses Andrew Ward (1597-1659) and his wife Hester Ward = Hester Sherman (1606-1666).

Witnesses: Goodwife Barlow = Ann Ward (?-1684) and her husband John Barlow (1599-1674)

Witness: Goodwife Sherwood = Mary Onge? second wife of Thomas Sherwood (1586-1655). Thomas' first wife, my ancestor, was Alice Tiler1 (1585-1635).

Witness: Goodwife Odell (Odill) daughter-in-law of John Odell (1574) and Joan Bingley (1581-1640).

Witness: Mr. Jones is John Jones (1591-1665).

Witness: Goodwife Lockwood is Susan (Susanna) Norman (1616-1661) wife of Robert Lockwood (1600-1658).

Witness: Deborah Lockwood (1636-?), 17 years old at the time of the trial and my great9-grandmother. She is the daughter of Robert Lockwood and Susanna Lockwood.

Witness: Thomas Lyon (1621-1690).

Witness: Rebecca (Rebecka) Hull is Rebecca Jones, wife of Cornelius Hull and daughter of John Jones (1591-1665) and Sarah UNKNOWN (1599-1650).

Witness: Thomas Barlow was the second husband of Rose Sherwood, daughter of Thomas Sherwood (1586-1655) and Alice Tiler1 (1585-1655).

Goodwife Pell is not an ancestor of mine but she has an interesting connection. She is Lucy Pell, wife of Thomas Pell who later founded Pelham, in what is now the Bronx, New York City [The Involvement of Thomas Pell's Family in the Witchcraft Persecution of Goody Knapp].

1. Usually given as Alice Seabrook but this is almost certainly wrong according to A Changing America: Seen Through One Sherwood Family Line 1634-2006, Volume 1 By Frank P. Sherwood.

The drawing of the hanging of Ann Hibbins and the map of the colonies in 1650 are from the HTY277 website of the University of Maine at Farmington.


  1. Larry,
    The links to trial information don't work.

  2. Yes, the links (at least to the first one) say that sandwalk isn't a good link, so if you could change the place where the " is (or tell us all we have to di is delete everything from " and back) the links will work.

  3. Thanks. I fixed them. It's a problem with quotation marks when I copy into my blog from a word processor.

    The word processor uses a different kind of quotation marks than those recognized by html so I have to change them.

  4. Found this post googling and, "Robert Lockwood"+1600, and came across your blog.

    Spooky and really cool.

    I'm another guy poking around Ancestry with a Lockwood line. I share Robert & Susannah, and then drop down to Deborah's brother Jonathan.

    I loved your other two posts with Nixon and Betty Davis . I'm frankly amazed by your navigation of Ancestry and your ability to link to famous people.

    Overall cool blog, cousin.

  5. hi larry,

    i am related to (by marriage) to Mary Fitch who was married to John Banks (2nd husband) after Thos Sherwood.

    at geni.com there is a project underway related to the Salem Witch Trials, which is what caused me to make the connection between Maryr, John banks, Goodwife Knapp and your project.

    -tristram coffin
    (great grandson[9]-Tristram Coffyn)

    1. Mary Fitch was NOT the wife of Thomas Sherwood. Mary Fitch (1644 -1730) married Mathew Sherwood, son of Thomas by his second wife Mary Onge (b ~1607). We know that Mary Fitch is wrong.

      We don't know for certain that Mary is Mary Onge but it looks pretty good. Here's the evidence for Mary Onge: MARY (ONGE ?) SHERWOOD by Gene Chamberlain.

    2. Larry, came accross your blog last night. Roger Ludlow was my 10G Grandfather. Lucy Jones Brewster Pell was my 10G Greatgrandmother. Roger and Lucy were inlaws by way of Lucy's son Nathaniel Brewster and Roger's daughter Sarah Ludlow. So, we have some connections through this history. I was unaware of Rogers scandal trial and his connections to these witch hunts. I find this history very facinating. Thank you for your wonderful post. Sally Lyon.

  6. Thomas Sherwood's first wife was Alice Seabrook b. 1587-1639

    1. No, that's been conclusively disproved. We now know that his first wife was Alice Tiler (1585 - 1639) of Hitcham parish in Suffolk, not far from Ipswich where they were married.

      Source: "The Parentage of Alice Tiler First Wife of Thomas Sherwood of Wethersfield, Stamford and Fairfield Connecticut", The American Genealogist, July 2007, by Leslie Mahler

  7. Robert Lockwood and Susan Norman are my 9th Great Grandparents, on my mothers side

    Jack Dunn

    1. Well, I have tried 3 times now to post... lets try one more time!!
      Thank you so much for sharing this story. Robert and Susan are ancestors of my grandmother Lillian Myrtle Remington.

  8. Great post! I am somehow related to Goody Knapp and many of my ancestors lived in Fairfield as well.

  9. I am a descendant of Rev. John Jones through his daughter Rebecca who m. Cornelius Hull. If the underlined reference to Rev. John Jones on your site is supposed to be a live link, it does not work for me.

    I was looking for the transcript of the Staples trial of 1654 as I read it some 23 years ago in The History of Fairfield Connecticut, by Elizabeth Schenk. The copy I saw was published in 1889. Google Books shows a version published in 1904. I got to your site before I got to check out the Google Books.

    I am looking to send information on the Staples trial to my sister (by snail mail) whose birthday is this week.

    Rev. John Jones was married 3 times. I do not have the names of the later wives with me, but one of them had a daughter who was tried as a witch in the 1692 when her married name was Mercy Disbrow. See http://www.cricketmag.com/ProductImages/articles/beautiful-witch.pdf and this on Rev. John Jones http://www.wellswooster.com/tree/getperson.php?personID=I48992&tree=bryant&tngprint=1

    1. I am also a descendent of Rev. Jones. I have never found mention of 3 wives. He was married to Sarah, until she died around 1650, after 30 years of marraige. The next references I could find was when he married Susanna Hilbige, widow of Arthur Holbidge , sometime between 1659-1661, Mercy Disbrow was the daughter of Susanna and Arthur Hilbidge, and Rev. Jones step daughter. Mercy was at least 21 when her mother married John Jones. I would appreciate any information on a 3rd wife.

  10. I am related to Rev. John Jones through his daughter Rebecca who m. Cornelius Hull. I found your site while looking for a transcript of the Staples witch trial of 1654 in CT. It appears in a book by E. Schenck published in 1889 called The History of Fairfield. This book appears on Google Books, but I got to your site before I got there.

    If the underlining on your site indicates a live link to Rev. John Jones, I cannot get it to work. My preferred email is khnorddal@yahoo.com

  11. Wow -through various means I discovered today that I am not only related to Goody Knapp and Thomas Sherwood but to Rev. John Jones! Thanks for the enlightenment in your blog too -I have lots more to follow up on!
    If you or anyone has come across in later years, an Anna Knapp,Widow Meeker,and possibly maiden name Hull (or Hill), I'd love to know how to get to her parentage too!!! I can be messaged in Ancestry.com as MLeeCygnet. Thanks.

    1. I have Hull in my Knapp ancestry. This will take time to find though, I can't seem to find that book.

  12. This was startling. I had been reading your blog but was unaware of this post until I did a web search on Goody Knapp this week. My great-grandmother, Rebecca Sherwood Lewis, was the daughter of Henry Sherwood and Phoebe Knapp.

  13. Do you have any idea when the Sherwoods immigrated? Or whether daughter Thomasine was born in England, or in New England?

    1. Thomas Sherwood and his wife, Alice Tiller, arrived in Boston in 1634 from Ipswich, Suffolk (UK) on the ship "Francis."

      Thomasine was baptized on April 10, 1615 in Kettlebaston, Suffolk, England.

    2. thank you so much for this info. I also have one Hannah Knapp in my line, who married Zerubbabel Hoyt (1650). While I have discovered lots on the Hoyt family, Hannah Knapp remains a question mark.

    3. I've seen Hannah Knapp in my genealogy books. If I don't contact you in the next few days, holler (I'm hoping this blog updates you on posts) mickmetzler@gmail.com

  14. I am thrilled to have found this! Susanna Norman was my great aunt (x9). My grandmother was a Norman (Susie). Our family site is at www.normannash.org.

    I'm at www.lauriewiegler.com

  15. I am related to some Knapps from Fairfield Connecticut: Moses (1709), married to Jemima Mead/Willard; Caleb (1677), married to Sarah Rundle; Joshua (1635), married to Hannah Close; Nicholas (1592), married to Eleanor Disbrow Lockwood. Do you know how/if they fit into any of this?

    1. Caleb born in Greenwich in 1677. Married 4/1/1697 Sarah, daughter of William Rundle. He (Caleb) was commissioned at the August session 1710, Ensign of the company, or train band of the town of Greenwich, and in the May session 1719 was commissioned Captain of the company or train band on the west side of the Mianus river. From 1726 to 1735 he was Captain of the militia at Greenwich. (I copied this verbatim from my genealogy books) I add, Caleb is my 6th great grandfather. I am a raymond, my great grandmother was a Knapp. Hope this helps!

  16. I am a desc. of Thomas and 2nd wife,( the one who tried to defend Goodwife Knapp, and after his death m. the lawyer, Banks.) from the last child, Isaac.

  17. I'm a direct descendant of Goodwife(Elizabeth) Knapp. Only just discovered she was hung as a witch. If any Knapps want more info on her children, or of Roger Knapps relatives, holler, I have our familial genealogy for centuries. mickmetzler@gmail.com