She’s a Witch!
When suspicion falls on midwife Margaret Jones, she becomes the first victim of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s witch trials.
Margaret Jones, along with her husband, Thomas, their 3-year-old daughter Sarah and newborn, John, arrived at Massachusetts Bay Colony from England in 1634. The colony had only been established a mere four years prior. Theirs was one of 30 ships to arrive in the Bay that year, a mass migration of Brits to the new world. As of May 1634, Boston Governor John Winthrop reported a (non-Native) population of 4,000. Immigrants to New England would reach 20,000 by the end of the decade.
Margaret became one of the colony’s trusted midwives and healers. At the time, midwives were generally highly valued and well-respected members of the community. It was common for communities to hire a midwife by offering her a house, land, or salary in exchange for her services. In New Amsterdam, the Dutch West India Company actually employed midwives beginning around the 1630s.
I recently wrote about how making medicines was closely tied to culinary endeavors in this early-modern colonial era for Smithsonian Magazine. Knowledge of basic first aid and healthcare was expected of women as managers of their households. Recipes for medicinal tinctures, ointments, and various other remedies appeared alongside those for breads and pies in household cookbooks. Even deeper knowledge of these topics would’ve been expected of the village healer.
Midwives also acted as the local healers in colonial America. Using time-tested folk medicine knowledge passed down orally through family members or apprentices over generations, wise women would tend the sick, proffer herbal remedies, and prepare the dead for burial. She was just as skilled as an apothecary and nurse as she was at delivering babies. In essence, we have lay women healers to thank for the survival of the early North America settler colonies.
“The geographic isolation of settlers in the North American colonies meant that the knowledge of female healers, particularly in regards to botanic, or plant-based…