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October 21, 2006

Residents trace spooky history of kith and kin hung as witches

During the Salem Witch trials in 1692, 19 innocent men and women were hanged, one man crushed to death by rocks and four left to die in prison. When the hysteria ended, 24 had been convicted as witches and killed.

Centuries later, two friends in Limestone County discovered a common bond among the executed of 17th century Salem, Mass.

Philip Reyer and Steve Latham have been close friends for at least 10 years and have known each other for longer than that. Reyer is Limestone County’s archivist and Latham is a retired schoolteacher.

Their friendship came about over a common interest in history and ancestry. Through their shared interests, they happened to discover that they are distantly related. Reyer and Latham each are descended from women who were executed in the Salem Witch trials.

They said they are "umpteenth" cousins, related through the Nichols family, which moved from northern Indiana and settled in the Ardmore area in 1900. The Nichols family are descendants of the North family. Susannah North Martin was one of the accused who was hanged. Latham and Reyer said that it is not a surprise that their ancestors were related.

"When you go back to 1692, Salem was not that big of a place," said Latham.



A shared history

“Our grandmothers rode the same wagon to be executed, up to Gallows Hill, and now how many hundreds of years later we meet," said Latham.

Reyer, who has worked at Limestone County Archives for more than 20 years, was a descendent of Susannah North Martin, as well as Edward Bishop and Sarah Wildes Bishop. The Bishops escaped hanging. Martin was not as fortunate. She was known for being a strong and independent woman, Reyer said. She was also a stickler for cleanliness.

“Susannah was a very liberated woman. Very clean,” said Reyer. "On a rainy day, she visited her neighbor and had no mud on her shoes when she arrived. Then they thought she had to be a witch."

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