Mary Bliss Parsons: Was She a Witch?

This painting is widely believed to be that of Mary Bliss Parsons, but that is not certain.

This painting is widely believed to be that of Mary Bliss Parsons, but that is not certain.

On June 23 I wrote a brief posting about Mary Bliss Parsons and promised you, the reader, that there would be more information to follow.  Today I am keeping that promise.

Like most families, mine can claim a few scoundrels in our history, but few can claim to be related to a witch.  My 7th great grand aunt was Mary Bliss Parsons, acquitted twice of being a witch in early New England.  My direct ancestor was Lawrence Bliss, brother of Mary Bliss.  Here is the story.

Mary Bliss, daughter of Thomas and Margret Bliss, was born about 1625 (some references say 1628) in England.  Her family moved to the New World while she was very young and, after several moves, settled in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Thomas Bliss died, but Margret and her children prospered.

In 1654, a few years after Mary’s marriage to Cornet Joseph Parsons, the couple moved to the newly settled town of Northampton, Massachusetts.  “Cornet” is a title, rather than a name, and Joseph earned the title as Color Bearer in the Hampshire Troop of Horses.  He was also a merchant and fur trader, eventually becoming the wealthiest man in the area.

A website developed by the University of Massachusetts describes the events leading up to the witchcraft trials of Mary Bliss Parsons.  It states:

…soon after the Parsonses moved to Northampton, rumors of witchcraft began to circulate, implying that the family’s success came at the expense of other families, and was the result of Mary’s dealings with the devil. To head off the allegations, Joseph Parsons initiated a slander case in 1656, which he won. But eighteen years later, Mary was officially accused of and tried for witchcraft in 1674. She was eventually acquitted, but it seemed that the residents of Northampton, despite any court decrees, were convinced that Mary was a witch.

The charges of witchcraft against Mary are confusing because there was apparently another woman named Mary Lewis Parsons who was also charged with witchcraft.  The two cases are unrelated, but it is easy to “merge” the two cases into a single account, which would be inaccurate.

Was Mary Bliss Parsons really a witch?  Evidence indicates that the first charge was the result of jealousy and gossip spread by another woman named Sarah Bridgman.  The UMass website goes on to say:

Joseph Parsons won the slander trial, but the feuding did not stop.  Years later, Mary was again charged with witchcraft after the daughter of the Bridgman’s died unexpectedly.  This time Mary was charged officially and tried as a witch, but was acquitted.

Mary and Joseph Parsons had 11 children.  Joseph died in 1683 in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Mary lived until 1715, dying at the age of 87, also in Springfield.

You can get more information at http://ccbit.cs.umass.edu/parsons/hnmockup/home.html. 

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11 Responses to Mary Bliss Parsons: Was She a Witch?

  1. What a fascinating background – and a well written article with lots of information.
    Welcome to Geneabloggers!
    Evelyn in Montreal

  2. winegar says:

    Evelyn,

    Thanks for your comment. I have to admit that my wife wrote the Mary Parsons article. She appreciates your comment too:-)

    I am glad to learn of the Geneabloggers and will need to check out the site.

    Jim

  3. Hi! Great post, and nice to meet another descendant of Mary Bliss Parsons.

    Alas, this is most certainly not a painting of MBP. Please see my blogpost about this:

    http://erikamailman.blogspot.com/2007/12/mary-bliss-parsons-is-that-you.html

    I kind of wish it was… :)

  4. Janet Bliss Parks says:

    Thanks for posting this! Mary Bliss Parsons was my 7th great grandaunt too! My heart goes out to her–she went through a lot! I love the fact that she presented her own case at trial! Strong woman!

  5. kathy says:

    hi my name is kathy martenies.my maiden name is june. i have a sheet with my ancesters on it. somehow i am related to mary bliss. i would like to talk to any living relatives.

  6. I so enjoyed this MBP article… ( and Erika Mailman’s as well.) I’m also an 8th GGdaughter of MBP via her son Jonathan m. Mary Clark 1682.
    I’m a Visionary artist and clairvoyant ( since the 1960s)… and utterly convinced our gifts are DNA/RNA-carried. A family-wide survey would be fascinating.

    Amber

  7. Jennifer says:

    Nice post. It’s unfortunate, though, that that image keeps being circulated in association with MBP. As Erika noted earlier, it is not a depiction of the accused witch. According to Historical Northampton: ‘The image is not a portrait of Mary Bliss Parsons. There is no known portrait of her. The painting on the site is titled “Mrs. Baker” and dates to 1675. The catalog entry in the 1982 book, New England Begins: The Seventeenth Century Volume 3 states that the portrait is owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society.’

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