Husband: Nathaniel Greensmith (1)
Died: 25 Jan 1662/1663 in Hartford, CT
Per Mudge - Memorials 1st husband was Elsing
of Wethersfield at the time of her marriage to Mudge (1649)
Rebecca the Witch
Tonight I will tell you the story of one of our ancestors who met a very sad fate.
The early colonists brought with them from England a belief in witchcraft. Witchcraft was broadly defined as 'familiarity with the evil one.' In any group of people there are those who are 'different' or are disliked for one reason or another. There have always been people who commit crimes, both large and small. In addition there are people who suffer from diseases, such as epilepsy or schizophrenia, or Alzheimers that can cause bizarre behaviors. During the 1600's in colonial New England anyone who fell into one of these categories was in danger of being accused of witchcraft.
In Hartford, Connecticut there were seventeen accusations of witchcraft between 1647 and 1663. Of these only three were executed. One of these was our ancestor Rebecca.
We don't know when Rebecca was born but we think her maiden name was Steele. Her first marriage was to a man named Abraham Elson. With him she had two daughters, Sarah and Hannah Elson. He died in 1648 so then she married Jarvis Mudge. Rebecca and Jarvis had one son, Micah Mudge in 1650. He is our ancestor. Jarvis died in 1653 and Rebecca then married Nathaniel Greensmith.
Nathaniel was not well liked. It seems he was crafty and acquired quite a bit of property from his neighbors. An account from 1908 by John Taylor describes him as “Thrifty by divergent and economical methods.” In addition he had several run-ins with the authorities. His criminal background check finds him accused of stealing a hoe, stealing one and a half bushels of wheat, lying in court, and of battery.
His wife was not well thought of either. The minister of First Church in Hartford, Rev. John Whiting, described Rebecca as, “Lewd, ignorant and considerably aged.” A crisis developed in the spring of 1662 when an eight year old girl, in a fit of delirium before she died, accused Mrs. Ayres of causing her illness. Mrs Ayres was a neighbor of the Greensmiths. One person then accused another.
Rebecca was accused by a neighbor Ann Cole. Two ministers visited Rebecca in jail and confronted her with the accusations. At first she denied them but later admitted her guilt. She admitted that she was familiar with the devil. She had not made a covenant with him but had promised to go with him when he called her. The devil told her that at Christmas they would have a “merry meeting” and draw up the covenant at that time. You see, everyone believed in witchcrafted at that time. Those accused often thought, 'If everyone says I'm a witch, then it must be so.'
A formal complaint was lodged separately against both Nathaniel and Rebecca in court on December 30, 1662. Here is how Nathaniel's read:
“Nathaniel Greensmith thou art here indicted by the name of Nathaniel Greensmith for not having the fear of God before thine eyes, thou hast entertained familiarity with Satan, the grand enemy of God and mankind – and by his help hast acted things in a preternatural way beyond human abilities in a natural course for which according to the law of God and the established law of this commonwealth thou deservest to die.”
When Rebecca confessed she made things worse by implicating several neighbors and her husband as well. She testified:
1) Her husband promised to be good to her children if she would not testify against him.
2) She had seen strange things following her husband in the woods. He claimed they were foxes.
3) Her husband had brought home logs in his cart that she was sure two men of his size couldn't lift.
4) With her neighbors she had danced in the moonlight in the orchard and had drunk 'sack'. A cat had called her out to the party. The other revelers were Elizabeth Seager, Andrew and Mary Sanford, William Ayres and his wife, James Walkey, Peter Grant's wife, Henry Palmer's wife, and Judith Varlett.
5) Judith Varlett had told Rebecca she did not like Marshall Jonathan Gilbert and if she could she would do him mischief.
The Greensmiths were both found guilty and hung on Gallows Hill on or about Jan 25, 1663. About the same time Mary Barnes was convicted of witchcraft. A record for January 20, 1663 says three witches were condemned at Hartford. Mary Barns may well have been the third. Gallows Hill is described by an early resident as, “A logical location as it afforded an excellent view of the execution to the large crowd on the meadows to the west, a hanging being then a popular spectacle and entertainment.”
Of the others accused by Rebecca Greensmith, here is what we know:
Elizabeth Seager was indited three times for witchcraft, spent a year in prison, then went to Rhode Island.
Mary Sanford was found guilty of witchcraft. She may have been hung, but it is not known. Some say she mysteriously disappeared.
William Ayres and his wife were bound hand and foot and thrown into water “to try whether they were witches or not.” They floated and somehow managed to escape and were not seen again in that neighborhood.
James Walkley escaped to Rhode Island.
Judith Varlett was imprisoned and released, perhaps with the help of her brother-in-law, Governor Peter Stuyvesant.
Other members of our family were also involved in this case. Jonathan Gilbert was the marshal responsible for the execution. He was a ninth great grandfather of Paul Stevens. Edward Griswold was on the jury the convicted Nathaniel and Rebecca. He is another ninth great grandfather of Paul Stevens.
This is as much as we know of the story of Rebecca, our early colonial ancestor who had the misfortune to be hung as a witch.
Here is how you are related to Rebecca: Rebecca was the mother of Micah Mudge, Micah fathered Ebenezer Mudge, Ebenezer fathered Deborah Mudge, Deborah was the mother of Abigail Tryon, Abigail was the mother of Mariah Levi, Mariah was the mother of Jacob Demouth, Jacob fathered Samuel DeMouth, Samuel was the father of Thelma DeMouth, Thelma was the mother of Dianne Zimmerman, Dianne is the mother of Dawne Stevens, Dawne is the mother of my beautiful grandbabies!
Wouldn't you know the witch would be on my side of the tree!
Rebecca (b______; d.25 Jan1662/63, Hartdord Connecticut) Some think Rebecca was the daughter of George Steele, a famous colonial citizen. They think so because of what was in George's will.. George Steele died in 1664, shortly after Rebecca was hung. This is what George's will said:
He bequeats to "my dear and loving brother John Steele," 50s.; to "my daughter Elizabeth Wates," "my old mill" and several household objects; to "my grandchild Martha Hanison," best chamber pot; to "Moses and Micah Mudg," 10s. apiece; to "my grandchildren James and Mary Steele," one chest apiece; and to "my dear and loving son James Steele" the residue, he to be executor"
That's what the will says. He has Micah and Moses tucked in between two people he names as grandchildren. Do you think that placement indicates they were also grandchildren? Many people do. Perhaps he was ashamed of Rebecca because of the witchcraft trial and hanging and didn't want to acknowledge the relationship. We can look back at the witchcraft trails with chagrin and horror. But the early colonists had brought the belief in witchcraft from England and it was very real to them. Almost everyone believed in witches, including the accused. Another reason for believing Rebecca was a daughter to George is that, whoever raised Micah after his mother's death, raised him to be an educated person who could read and write, and have a vocation. George only lived a year after Rebecca was killed, but Micah, like George Steele, became a surveyor.
Another reason this relationship is important for us is that George Steele had, a twin brother, John Steele, who became the first governor of Connecticut. We also have ancestors that descend from John Steele. John's Steele's great-great-grandson, Oliver Tryon, married George Steele's great-great-granddaughter, Deborah Mudge.
In an evil hour he (Nathaniel Greensmith) took to wife Rebecca, relict of Abraham Elson, and also relict of Jarvis Mudge
["A Case of Witchcraft in Hartford" by Charles Hoadly, LL.D., publishedd in Connecticut Magazine 1899]
Rebecca Elson Steele is supposedly the daughter of George Steele, one of the founders of Hartford. I’ve had some problems verifying this – for example, she is not listed as a passenger on the ship “Lyon” on which George came to America in 1630. It could be that babies were not listed – she was born in 1629.
The best verification that George was related to Micah is that he is mentioned in George’s will:
In his will, dated 24 May 1663 and proved 2 March 1664/5, George Steele of Hartford bequeathed to "my dear and loving brother John Steele," 50s.; to "my daughter Elizabeth Wates," "my old mill" and several household objects; to "my grandchild Martha Hanison," best chamber pot; to "Moses and Micah Mudg," 10s. apiece; to "my grandchildren James and Mary Steele," one chest apiece; and to "my dear and loving son James Steele" the residue, he to be executor [ Hartford PD Case #5180; Manwaring 1:239].
[It is not proved that Rebecca was indeed a daughter of George Steele.]
@N7062@ NOTEPossible ancestor of Rebecca (--?--) (Elson) (Mudge) Greensmith.Great Migration: Jacobus concluded that Jarvis Mudge or his wife (who had previously been the wife of Abraham Elsen) "was quite likely related to George Steele, but she is not indicated as his daughter" [TAG 36:187]. [Some family researchers claim this is because she was hanged as a witch one year earlier. KP]George is thought to have moved from England to America on the ship Lyon with his wife and at least 4 children, and first lived first in New Town (later Cambridge), Middlesex Co MA in 1632, where he was "proprietor of lands." He was in the company that settled Hartford, Hartford Co CT in 1635-6, and "one of the proprietors of undivided lands" there, starting in 1639. George was a juryman in 1643 and a plaintiff in 3 cases before the general court in 1644 and 1647. He was a selectman and juror in Hartford, Hartford Co CT.George served in the Pequot War and was chosen surveyor of highways. His residence, interestingly enough, was southeast of where Trinity College is today. Trinity College, in turn, is just south of where Rebecca and her husband were hanged, a place called "Gallows Hill." Jarvis and Rebecca had at least 1 child, Micah.Ancestry.com has this: [The following e-mail comes from researcher David C. Mudge at Arkydave@aol.com] "As I have said before, I know I am skating on thin ice, but it seems to be that the timing of George Steele's will (less than a year after Rebecca's execution) is critical to understanding what the will was attempting to accomplish."The taint of witchcraft probably caused George to avoid any mention of his daughter in his will, especially in regards to providing some slight provision for her two sons by Jarvis Mudge. Her daughters (only 2 of the 3 survived) may have already been absorbed into the family [this is unclear to me. KP] , but the two sons were left without any surviving relatives. If the family had been split up and disassociated with Rebecca, which seems to have occurred prior to her arrest and trial, then the family would probably have acted to draw as little "official" attention to the children as possible."This would have included a failure to mention the childrens' exact relationship in any official document, viz. will, etc. While Goerge wanted to provide a little something to the two Mudge boys, he didn't dare draw attention to their mother in his will. If the family had already been broken up, many people may not of been aware of the true parentage of the two boys, and George was loathe to draw attention to it."
[about Rebecca's relation to George Steele]
Revised: November 26, 2016