Monday, October 13, 2014

Matthias Button -- Witch Trials, Fires, and Godfrey (52 Ancestors, #33)

Matthias Button > Sarah Button > Ephraim Kingsbury > Rachel Kingsbury > Esther Laurence > George Palmer Ransom > Samuel Ransom > Jameson Harvey Ransom > Charles Francis Ransom > Lillian Emma Ransom > Charles Lloyd Walters

The early life of Matthias Button is unclear. Some histories say he was English, other that he was a Dutchman. We do know he was in Boston by 1634, moved to Ipswich by 1641 and by 1646 he had settled in Haverhill, Massachusetts. In looking through local and family histories, the family live of Matthias is a bit unclear. He was married a number of times. His first wife, Lettyce was a member of the First Church of Boston in 1634 and had at least 2 children baptized in the church. It is believed his next wife was Joan, followed by Teagel. (I’ve also seen it suggested that Lettyce and Teagel could be the same person and Joan wasn’t married to Matthias). Elizabeth (Wheeler) Duston was Matthias’ final wife who outlived him.

One thing is very clear – Matthias had an enemy in John Godfrey.

John Godfrey was an unusual man. His background is unknown and he never seemed to settle into any permanent home, instead moving from place to place, staying with various people. One place he could be found, however, was in court. Between 1658 and 1675 Godfrey was in court for a minimum of 132 cases, 89 times as the plaintiff, 30 times as the defendant, and 13 times under criminal charges, all with a surprisingly high success rate.
What John Godfrey is most notorious for however, were the charges of witchcraft. He was first charged in 1658/9 and although he was acquitted, the courts labeled him as “suspicious.” Godfrey, it would seem, had little concern for how he was received by others. Even though the communities regarded him as suspicious, Godfrey had a “tendency to say things that would startle, or confuse, or annoy his listeners.”

In 1665/6 he was again charged with witchcraft and Matthias Button and his daughters Sarah and Mary were called as witnesses before the court in Boston. The verdict of the court was, “We find him not to have the fear of God in his heart. He has made himself suspiciously guilty of witchcraft, but not legally guilty according to the law and evidence we have received.”

In 1669, Matthias sued Godfrey for “firing his chimney which caused his house to burn and the goods therein, also the death of his wife, and for running away as soon as he had done it.” Matthias’ wife Teagel died in 1662 and it is believed that she was victim of this fire. I find it curious that Matthias would wait so long to make the claims against Godfrey. Perhaps the witchcraft and other charges brought against Godfrey helped to spur Matthias to believing that Godfrey was to blame. Whether Godfrey was at fault or not, we’ll never know, but the courts of the day believed him to have some part in the tragedy. While the court did not have the power to claim that Godfrey was responsible for the death, they did award Matthias £238 2s.

The drama between Matthias and Godfrey didn’t stop here. For years they continued to bring each other to court over a variety of issues, many connected to the loss of his wife and personal property. The troubles even extended past Matthias’ death as their final court case was dismissed because Matthias was unable to make his court appearance, having been dead for several weeks. Even after his death, Godfrey continued to appear in the court records, seeking payments that were promised him from previous cases involving Matthias.
Haverhill is only a few miles from Salem, Massachusetts and in looking through some of the pages and volumes of court case for Essex County, it is little wonder that, in about 20 years, the area would find itself in the middle of the Salem Witch Trials.

Matthias died on August 13, 1672 and didn’t leave a will. The estate’s inventory was taken, in part, by Henry Kingsbury (his daughter, Sarah’s father-in-law) on March 9, 1673. The division of the estate was finally decided by the courts on November 14, 1676, more than four years after Matthias’ death. The estate was to be divided into five equal parts, one part for each child. Two daughters were to have their portions “delivered to their husbands as soon as possible” and the other shares were to be delivered when the other children were of age or married.

Sources: The Records ofthe First Church in Boston, 1630-1868, volume 1, Richard D. Pierce, editor; Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988, Ancestry; Records and filesof the Quarterly Courts of Essex County Massachusetts, vol. IV 1667-1671 (and additional volumes); Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of EarlyNew England, chapter 2, “Peace with No Man” by John Putnam Demos, Google Books; History of Haverhill, Massachusetts: From its first settlement, in 1640, to the year 1860, Ancestry; Probate Court Records of Essex County, Massachusetts


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