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History Corner: A Salem “Witch’s” Ties to Plainfield

The garden house on Goddard’s campus. Photo by Carla Occaso.
Goddard College’s campus is tranquil and storied … and some say haunted. My summer job in housekeeping there this year prompted me to learn a lot about the place that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. One story in particular captured my attention: The connection of the Martin family — who owned the property from the late 1700s to 1938 — to Susannah Martin — condemned to death during the Salem witch trials. 

Susannah, the wife of blacksmith George Martin, was a mother of eight. She was first accused of witchcraft in 1669, but her husband sued, and the charges were dropped, according to womenhistoryblog.com. Later she became an impoverished widow and was again accused of witchcraft. Following a lengthy and contentious trial, she was hanged at Gallows Hill in Salem, Massachusetts on July 19, 1692, along with Sarah Good, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Wilde, and Elizabeth Howe. Susannah was 71.

One of Susannah’s descendants, Marjorie Martin Johnson Townsend, recorded a speech in the 1970s. She said her family left Massachusetts because of the Salem witch trials and relocated to New Hampshire and then to Vermont. Over the years the Martins built a farmstead by the river on the land now home to Goddard College. Shortly after the Martin Manor house was built in the 1920s, the family built the “Garden House ‘’ with stone work and sculpture such as the ram’s heads and woodland creatures. The work was done under the supervision of landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff, who also supervised restoration work in Colonial WIlliamsburg, Virginia. Shurcliff oversaw the building of the garden house using beams he got from the Salem Court — held in the Ipswich Town House. There were no actual court houses back then. Trials were held in either taverns or town houses, according to salemwitchmuseum.com. Those beams were removed when the structure was demolished. This is the court where Susannah and many others sat to be condemned to death on charges of witchcraft.

Those fateful beams still support the historic garden house, accented by a stone wall and gardens, which are a fine place to sit in the shade on a hot summer day.