Ancestors in Salem, Massachusetts

Goodale/Goodall/Goodell Family

We had always been aware that my husband had New England ancestry. His grandmother had been told stories of Patriot ancestors that fought during the Revolutionary War and she had passed those stories on to her children and grandchildren. That particular branch – the Ehle family – had come to the colonies in the mid 1700’s and were of German descent. The Ehle brothers and their children married into some of the families descended from some of the earliest settlers to come to New England.

When we (finally) discovered the lost parentage of Harriet Elizabeth “Libby” Sharp, it opened up a whole new avenue of research in New York and other New England states. It turns out that Harriet’s great great grandmother was a woman named Sarah Goodell. Sarah had married Solomon Sharp in Connecticut in 1739 and this is where the Sharp and Goodell family lines meet.

Sarah was the daughter of Thomas Goodale and Sarah Horrell and the granddaughter of Zachariah Goodale and his wife Elizabeth Beauchamp. Zachariah and Elizabeth were both born in Salem and remained residents of Salem presumably until their deaths sometime after 1715. As residents of Salem, they would have been witness to many of the events leading up to and surrounding the notorious witch trials of 1692-1693. Zachariah was listed in the membership of the church lead by Samuel Parris.

Zachariah’s father, Robert Goodale, was an English immigrant who settled in Salem in 1634. In the years following his immigration, Robert purchased land in the village amounting to nearly 500 acres. Robert gifted his children with generous parcels of land when they married, and some he sold off to other residents. In 1660, Robert sold 50 acres to Giles Corey. (You can read more about Robert Goodale here.)

excerpt from Salem Quarterly Court Records and Files

The Corey farm was about a mile from the farms of Zachariah Goodale and his brother Isaac Goodale. The youngest Goodale son, Jacob, was a hired worker at the farm of Giles Corey. In 1675, Jacob was caught stealing some apples and Giles beat him so severely that he died. Giles was put on trial and even though several village members testified against him, Giles was fined and released. (You can read the court transcript here.)

There are varying versions of the story in biographies on Giles Corey, but the overall impression is that some people thought that Giles Corey bought his way out of a murder charge. There is also some speculation that Jacob may have been mentally challenged in some way. In any case, Mr. Corey was evidently not the most popular man in the village.

Giles had a long history with the law in Salem. In the early court records he is mentioned on several different occasions being accused of stealing, shirking his duty on watch, and even arson. Seventeen years after Jacob Goodale’s death, when the strange happenings began in Salem and citizens were being accused with alarming speed, Giles and his wife Martha were both among them.

Martha was arrested first and Giles spoke against her in court. A month later, Giles was arrested on the same charge. Giles Corey was pressed to death in September of 1692 because he refused to plead to the charges against him in court. It took 3 days for him to die. He was 80 years old at the time. Martha was hanged 3 days later. (There is a great website dedicated to the witch trials and you can see images of original documents here.)

It is a gruesome piece of American history and sadly also a part of my husband’s personal history. Try as I might, I cannot find any evidence that the Goodale’s testified against anyone in the trials and they were not among the accused. As Salem residents during this time, the Goodells had to be very aware of the accusations and trials. What would it have been like to live in the village during that time? Surely the Goodells knew many if not most of those accused and those convicted personally. I’m sure the family was present for some of the church sermons, the trials, and the executions.

I wasn’t sure what I would find as I researched this branch of the tree. In reading many of the court documents and various versions of the events published, I was left with a sense of profound sadness for the people who died so needlessly during the hysteria surrounding the trials. It is a relief to know that our ancestors seemed to have skated the edge of this tragic event with out coming to harm or causing harm to anyone else.

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