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GUEST POST: Lynn Carthage’s bewitching ancestor

The leaves are changing, the air is getting colder, I’m wearing about eight layers. It’s that time of year again. Longtime readers of the blog will remember the first #HistoricalFix chat from March: an hour dedicated to gushing over historical fiction. While I wasn’t a host (at the time) I still worked through the night to compile a GoodReads list of the novels recommended over the course of the chat.

The second chat, held this summer, was my first one as co-host and I had an absolute blast! Authors such as Jennifer Laam and Sarah McCoy stopped by to chat and offer giveaways and, again, I put together a GoodReads list of the recommendations – SO many good ones!!

Here we are, October. Time for another chat: October 20 (tomorrow!) 8:30 EST. Be there or be square! As always, we’ll be hosting a Happy (half) Hour for anyone who shows up 30 minutes early. This time around Erin, Ellice, and I have invited some amazing authors: Cat Winters, Katherine Howe (The House of Velvet and Glass was one of my Top Reads of 2012), Lynn Carthage, and sadly Jennifer McMahon won’t be able to chat, though she’ll be offering a copy of her latest, The Night Sister (my 5-star review), to a lucky winner!

This morning I’m thrilled to have Lynn take over the blog and share a story about one of her fascinating ancestors! Take it away, Lynn!

I think I would’ve liked my 1600s Massachusetts ancestor if she lived now. She went over and yelled at a guy because he was whipping her husband’s oxen that he had borrowed (notice I say her husband’s oxen–property laws meant that a married couple’s property was really only the husband’s).

Advocate for treating animals nicely? Check.

Yeah, but then there was that time she was trying to stop her husband from beating their child (good), but she stopped him by using the excuse she’d already beaten the child (bad). However, let’s hope it was a strategic lie on her part.

Then once she went into the river and came out completely dry.

That’s handy for when you want to go to DQ right after swimming and don’t have access to a hairdryer.

All right, I shouldn’t make light of this. She was a woman who faced possible execution because she spoke up in defense of herself and others. I am thoroughly and utterly convinced she did not make people’s swine die, cause oxen to get bitten on the tongue by rattlesnakes, nor try to invisibly wrench kneecaps off little boys, three other things she was accused of.

My ancestor was said to be haughty and that she held herself above others. Reading that criticism with a 21st century perspective, I believe she was probably a woman who spokeher mind and didn’t kowtow to the men in her life. Her lack of subservience marked her as odd, and odd could equal demon-touched back in that time period.

I also note that she may have been mentally ill. Some of her neighbors’ testimony against her suggests that, at least sometimes, she was not aware of her own behavior. “[She] further told me that in her fits she hath gone from her house in the long meadow through the great swamp in her shift, and when she came to herself she could not tell how she came thither,” said neighbor John Mathews under oath.

My ancestor was Mary Bliss Parsons, and she was accused of witchcraft at least twice in her long life (incomplete records intimate a third trial), yet both times she spoke on her own behalf and was acquitted. She died in her 80s, having outlived her husband by thirty years.

I only learned about her when I was in the middle of writing a novel about a woman accused of witchcraft. Uncanny timing. I dedicated my book to her, because her story wasso compelling and unfair and clearly illustrated how much she was a victim of her time.

Mary Bliss Parsons was my eleven-greats grandmother. If you google her (and you should: her story is extraordinary), make sure to type in her full name, because there was another woman named Mary Lewis Parsons accused of witchcraft, in the same town in the same time period, but they were unrelated and their stories different (although somewhat intersecting). My novel The Witch’s Trinity (Random House 2007) has an afterword about Mary Bliss Parsons.

I’m looking forward to our twitter chat at #HistoricalFix this Tuesday. Thank you for hosting me today, Leah!

Thank you, Lynn!! And, seriously you guys, google her. I spent a good half hour reading about Mary Bliss Parsons – from a general overview of her life on wikipedia to a University of Massachusetts site dedicated to the trail.

Lynn Carthage is the author of Haunted, the first in the Arnaud Legacy series. Book two, Betrayed will be out in February.

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