Digging Into My Roots
January 18, 2020 marks the 74th anniversary of my Grandpa Rodney Senske officially separating from the United States Army. Therefore, I felt it only appropriate to dedicate my next blog to him and to honor his service to our country as a young man.
Rodney’s birth name was James Rodney Senske, and he was born April 7th, 1920 in Watts Flats, New York to Stanley and May (Hodges) Senske. He was the oldest of four children, with siblings Richard (d. 1927), Joan (d. 2014), and Wayne (d. 2005) following after him. When Rodney was 18-years-old, his father passed away, therefore leaving him to be the “man of the house”. He grew up tough, and fiercely protective of his family. There is a story I remember hearing that after their dad passed away, his little brother was having a difficult time with one particular teacher at school. So, Rodney took it in his own hands to handle the situation. He went down to the school, went to the teacher’s classroom, picked the teacher up, and put him in the garbage can. Needless to say, his little brother didn’t have any further “problems.
It was only a few years after his 1939 high school graduation from Chautauqua Lake High School that he was inducted into the United States Army to go off and fight in the Second World War in the European Theatre Operation. According to his discharge paperwork, he was inducted August 11, 1942 in Buffalo, N.Y., and entered into active service 14 days later, at the young age of 22.
Rodney was an infantryman within the 175th Infantry Regiment. He left the United States for the “ETO” (European Theatre Operation) on September 15th, 1944 and arrived September 22nd, nearly two years after his initial enlistment. His particular regiment had been involved in many historic wars and battles since it was organized in 1774 in Maryland, eventually getting their start during the Revolutionary War as well as being present at the Appomattox Courthouse when the Confederates surrendered to the Union.
(Side note: The U.S. Army Center of Military History provides very detailed information on most infantry lineages and honors, for those wanting to learn about others (https://history.army.mil/html/forcestruc/lineages/branches/inf/0175in.htm).)
While enlisted, Rodney fought in the following battles and campaigns as part of the 175th Infantry:
My grandpa’s specific military occupational specialty was that of a Medium Tank Crewman (2736). Based on my research of what that job would have entailed, this is the general gist of we could imagine he was responsible for doing:
“As member of crew of a medium tank or medium tank-mounted assault gun used in the attack of enemy positions, performs one or more of the following duties: Drives the vehicle to secure maximum fire effect without undue exposure to enemy fire.
Considering that by the time Rodney earned his Purple Heart in March of 1945 he was a Corporal, and left the Army as a Sergeant, I’d take a guess that he had a supervisory role. But research has told me that often everyone was cross trained to do all areas of a Tank Crew, and were put in the places they were best at. I could also see him being a gunner because according to his discharge paperwork, he earned Expert Marksmanship on the 45 caliber Submachine Gun. He was all around an impressive infantryman.
Speaking of Rodney earning his Purple Heart, I have been trying to narrow down where he could have received his wounds, since no one seems to know. All we have is a newspaper article that makes vague references to it; but using the timeline of the campaigns he served in, my bets on him earning it during the Rhineland Campaign since he was specifically wounded on 4 March 1945. How or why he was wounded is still a mystery (for now, anyway).
By the end of his service in 1946, Rodney had earned not only the Purple Heart medal, but also the American Service Medal, EAME (European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal) Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. Some of the medals sound self-explanatory, so I think I’ll elaborate on the Good Conduct Medal and how soldiers are selected to receive one. It is awarded for exemplary behavior, efficiency, and fidelity in active Federal military service. It is awarded on a selective basis to each Soldier who distinguishes himself or herself from among his or her fellow Soldiers by their exemplary conduct, efficiency, and fidelity throughout a specified period of continuous enlisted active Federal military service. Sounds easy, right? Except that the soldier cannot have had any non-judicial punishments, court-martials, or other offenses. This behavior must be for three consecutive years. If a member of the military has such an infraction on their record, the three-year timeline for good behavior restarts. The fact that my grandpa received this medal during his 4 years of military service speaks to his quality of being an upstanding soldier considering that soldiers could get NJPs for simply not even showing up on time some place.
As a disclaimer, I never had the opportunity to know my grandfather because he had died nearly nine months before I was born. I don’t know if that is the reason that I became so intrigued and interested in military history, particularly World War II, but I know I certainly would have had so many questions for him growing up if he had been around. However, over the years, I have been able to glean some understanding about what he experienced between studying the specific battles he fought in, as well as learning about his particular regiment (the 175th). We are lucky enough to have a few stories that have passed down through family, but like most veterans, Rodney did not speak about his time in the war very much, and understandably so.
I am also lucky in that I was given his Purple Heart, one of the only medals of his that still exists since he returned home from war. I have it proudly on display in my apartment next to the small bible that was given to him from the Blockville Watts Flats Methodist Church before he deployed.
I am very proud of who my grandfather was and for all he had done when he served. I was told he was apart of the liberation of some of the concentration camps, and the proof we have of this are his original photographs he took during his service. Photographs which are much too graphic for this blog. (Note: if anyone would care to see some of these photographs, I will be happy to share them privately, so as to avoid upsetting anyone on this page). The only photo I am willing to share from the liberation he was present for is above. A prisoner standing next to a U.S. medic. The end of a catastrophic genocide that many of us can relate to personally in some form. Mine is the form of my grandfather being witness to the atrocity, and coming home to tell family that they could smell the camps 30 miles away. May we never forget. Thank you, Grandpa Rodney, for all you did.
Sebastiana Mazzurco was born November 1, 1902 in Tortorici, Sicily. For those unaware of the significance of this date, this means that my Nonna was born on All Saints’ Day, a huge holiday in the Roman Catholic Church. And it’s no coincidence then that by the end of her life in 1999, when I was only in first grade, that she herself was regarded as a Saint for all she did for those in her family and community within Jamestown, New York.
She was born to Rosario and Rosaria (Bellitto) Mazzurco, the second oldest of seven children. As far as I am aware, only she and her two sisters immigrated to the United States from Sicily. I heard that some of her brothers came over, but ended up returning home at some point; however, this is an area of research I do need to dedicate more time to still.
Unlike my past posts where I have focused on one particular area of an ancestor’s life, I decided to use this post as a way to remember and share some of my favorite stories about her and the person she was. Still to this day when I mention that Bessie Guiffreda (Giuffrida back in Tortorici) is my Nonna, people know exactly who I am talking about. Please enjoy the following collection of very true (and often hilarious) stories of the life of Sebastiana “Bessie” Mazzurco Guiffreda as an Italian immigrant in Jamestown, New York:
Rumor has it, she once sang in a talent show for the St. James Church, but turned her back to the audience so that she didn’t have to see them. She also had pre-recorded herself singing, so they just played the recording, as she stood with her back to the audience, pretending to sing.
She was also known for making people pull off the side of the road when she saw a particularly ripe looking patch of cardoons (also known as burdock root) meant to make carduni fritti. And yes, she did carry a knife on her for this exact reason. Most Italians in Jamestown are very familiar with this delicious dish, and if you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, PLEASE go to the next Italian Festival!
Her own personal philosophy of religion went a little something like this: Even people who were Catholic, but not Roman Catholic, weren’t even “good”. She was that “old school”. It was either Roman Catholic or you’re a heathen.
Speaking of religion and the Church, she and her sisters were some of the founders for the St. Joseph’s Table (her sisters being Sarah (Rosaria) and Josephine). Her life revolved around the Church and her family, precisely in that order. She would send a dish of spaghetti to the priest every Sunday, which was convenient since she lived across the street from the church along Institute Street. You can still see and visit the place where she raised her family, including my mom and her siblings, as it has become the St. James Thrift Store since she passed.
She would always be cooking. I loved walking into her home because you would go right into her kitchen first, and it ALWAYS smelled so good. She would cook food for her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren well into her 80s and 90s, and if you forgot to pick it up, you’d receive a phone call from a very irate old woman yelling at you in broken English. As my mom shared with me, if she would forget to get the food Nonna cooked for us as a family on a Sunday, she’d receive this phone call (side note: my mom’s name is Karen): “Kareanna, you forgotta ta pick up ya soup! *slams phone down and hangs up on her*”
Regardless of the fact that there wasn’t much yard space at their home on Institute Street, she made do with what she could to make her home feel like she was back in Tortorici. What little bit of land they had (about three feet worth of grassy area), she had it dug up completely and turned into a garden. She also grew grape vines over their home entranceway, which can still be seen there today.
She’d always call my uncle “Tommy”, when in fact his name is Carl. She also hated his mustachio, she’d say. She especially wanted him to get rid of it for his wedding to her granddaughter (my aunt), but he didn’t. So perhaps she purposefully never remembered his name because he refused to give up his amazing mustache (stay strong, UC!)
She despised smokers. Her husband smoked cigars, her children would smoke, but she never took up the habit. To help “deter” her own children from smoking, she would plot with her grandchildren to go to the barn where their parents kept about a dozen horses at one time, cut the horse hair off the horse tails, and told them to stuff that hair into the ends of the cigarettes so that it would taste awful when they would smoke again. She was quite the saboteur.
At one point, Saint James Church was doing some remodeling, and somehow my Nonna ended up with a statue of what we believe was Saint Anthony, in which she kept it in her dining room until the day she died. Naturally, she and her friends would recite their Rosaries over it quite often. After she passed, it was donated to the Fenton, where (I believe) it gets put on display every Christmas. According to my mom, my sister and I were terrified of this thing whenever we’d go over to visit, which is not surprising to anyone.
Unfortunately, she never got back to her home country. I’m not sure when the last time it was that she saw her parents or her siblings who stayed back in Tortorici. It’s certainly not something I ever considered until I was much older in life; I also feel it’s even more present now in the political climate we’re in where immigration is a huge topic for many people. But as a single, 20-year-old young woman, who made the trip to the United States for a better future for herself and her family, I can’t imagine what sort of emotional toll that took on her to be away from her family, knowing she may never see them again. My immigrant great-grandparents are not a unique story in the United States, it’s actually a very common story starting with the first colonizers who arrived on the shores of New England for hopes of better futures. It’s also a story that we see still continues today, and I think if we could take a few moments to remember our own immigrant relatives and the fact that they are no different than those seeking different futures today, that, that bit of empathy out in the world could begin to have a ripple effect. The bottom line is that none of us would have been born American citizens without some immigrant taking the risk and uprooting their life to pave a better future for themselves in the first place.
This is a “thank you” to my Nonna for being brave enough to venture into the unknown as a young girl, starting a lineage of strong, independent women in our family.
This is going to be a special edition of my blog posts. Instead of the usual post about a family member, I wanted to talk a little about adoption laws in New York State. Specifically, the laws which restrict the original birth certificates from being released to adoptees or their family members. So, if you’re an adoptee or know someone who is, this should be a very informative post for you that maybe be able to help you!
The more I became involved in helping people with their genealogy and ancestry, the more I researched and learned about NYS adoption laws. Believe it or not, NYS has one of the most restrictive laws with regard to access to an adoptee's original birth certificate.
The history of it goes a little something like this:
Tip: If you don’t want to wait to find out where we’re currently at in NYS regarding adoptee rights, skip toward the end a bit.
New York did not require the sealing of original birth certificates (OBCs) until 1936. The portion of the bill which restricted OBCs read:
“2. …No person shall be allowed access to such sealed records and order and any index thereof except upon an order of a judge or surrogate of the court in which the order was made or of a justice of the supreme court. No order for disclosure or access and inspection shall be granted except on good cause shown and on due notice to the adoptive parents and to such additional persons as the court may direct...”
Not only does the state purport to seal adoption records and OBCs forever, but it also relies upon an archaic and expensive court process to access anything remotely identifying, with an added requirement to notify nearly everyone in your family if you seek an OBC. This includes adoptive parents, biological parents (or their appointed guardians), siblings, aunts, even spouses. All just for requesting an original birth certificate, no matter when the birth, no matter the type of adoption.
If you want to understand how ridiculous it all is, here is just one case that was decided in the last couple years by New York courts. I will be quoting it from the Adoptee Rights Law website (source cited at the end of the blog).
“In Re the Matter of Rose is not a typical adoptee rights case. I expect, however, that it may become more and more common as adoptees age and die – and then their children pursue a parent’s OBC. In Rose, the petitioner sought the OBC of his deceased adopted father so that his family could seek dual Italian-United States citizenship. Here’s how the appeals court summarized the case:
To summarize, the adoptee had been born more than 100 years ago, in 1917, when original birth certificates were not sealed. He was adopted by his stepfather. His birth mother, who died in 1939, is on both the original and the amended birth certificates. The birth father of the adoptee – whose name on the OBC could prove eligibility for Italian citizenship – was also long gone. Yet, because of New York’s law, the court required the petitioner not only to notify his biological sister and mother, but it also extended the law to create alleged privacy rights to people born in the 19th century.
The Adoptee Rights Law group surveyed adoptees across the country. Of the 101 New York adoptees who responded to their survey and reported that they had sought an OBC, four received the OBC. Four. That’s four percent. But of these four, three actually didn’t get an OBC: two received redacted OBCs and one OBC was disclosed not to the adoptee but to a Canadian Indian tribe. So, it was actually one person out of 101. One percent.
So, what could they do instead of going through the court process? Adoptees reported that they moved on to DNA and its public registries. And nearly 75 percent of New York adoptees have done so. Which, for the record, I have helped some of those adoptees navigate their DNA results to help them find or connect with family.
DON’T FRET THOUGH! There has been recent progress (meaning it literally just happened less than 2 months ago in June of 2019).
“The New York legislature secured history on an extra day of the legislative session by reversing more than eight decades of discrimination against New York adopted people. With the bill moving through three committees on the final two days of an extended session, the Assembly Members voted 126-2 to pass S3419/A5494 and forward it to Governor Andrew Cuomo for signature and final enactment. If you have not been following this, the soon-to-be enacted law will:
TLDR: Come January 15, 2020, adoptees will be able to request their OBCs and receive them just as any of us who weren’t adopted would receive a copy of our own birth certificates! No restrictions. And all future adoptees may request the OBC at the age of 18.
Watch the video below of the passing of this historic bill, it gave me chills!
Imagine for those of us who weren't adopted being told we aren't allowed access to our birth certificates. It sounds ridiculous. I'm glad NYS is finally fixing their 1936 mistake.
I have had people ask me, “But what if the parents don’t want to be found?” And my response is that wanting a closed adoption is different than restricting someone from seeking information about who they are. So, if there was a desire to not be found or known, then the adoptee would need to respect that once they learn who their biological parents are. But I will also say that most adoptees just want to know where they come from. It is as simple and benign as that. Working with adoptees as some of my clients has been heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. But I have made sure to keep them up to date with the status of this new legislation and have been able to share in their excitement over finally being able to do something that should normally be so SIMPLE, yet has been blocked off to them for their entire lives simply because they were adopted as children.
“Finding my birth family was the single most important moment of my entire life, it was (as) if I’d been holding my breath my entire life and for the first time, I could let it out. My ability to be a healthy adult depended on the chance to sit in a room with people who look like me and to feel truly known for the first time in my entire life.”
It is important to remember that these are people, no different from the rest of us. Who are we to say we wouldn’t do any different if we were in the shoes of an adopted person?
Congratulations, NYS adoptees!
I hope you find the answers you need come January (and I’d be more than happy to help).
I wanted to dedicate my May blog post to a family member’s story fitting for Memorial Day. A day in which we remember those who lost their lives in their service to the United States, as well as those who have served and died. My family, like some of yours, has many men and women who we remember on this day. One of those relatives of mine is Alpheus Hodges, my great-great-great paternal uncle, the man who fired the first shot on the Confederates at Gettysburg.
Alpheus Hodges was born on May 4, 1843 to James Marshall Hodges Sr. and Lucinda Nichols in Cabridgeboro (or Cambridge Springs), Pennsylvania, just over the border from us here in Chautauqua County, NY. His mother passed away only a year later, and his father James remarried his sister-in-law (Alpheus’s aunt), Keziah Nichols. They would later have a son, James Marshall Hodges Jr., my direct descendant, making Alpheus his half-brother, and my uncle.
He had humble beginnings, like most did at the turn of the century in the 1800s. He was sent to live with his grandparents for a few years after his mother’s death, until his father remarried. In 1853 Alpheus moved back to live with his dad again and like many in our area of the county, they were farmers or farm laborers. Alpheus did not get to escape the farm life as a young man as he had worked on his own father’s farm according to census records.
At this time in American history, the United States was gearing up to start the Civil War between North and South. In 1861 President Abraham Lincoln called the American Civil War “a people’s contest,” a cause that had to be taken up by all: men, women, and children. Citizens in the 23 northern states loyal to the Union took his words to heart and threw themselves into the war effort. At the age of 18, Alpheus heard the call of duty when the North declared war on the South and enlisted into the 9th Cavalry of New York, F Company here in Ashville, New York in September of 1861. He will later be promoted to Corporal on September 26, 1862, according to his muster rolls.
Some background for the Battle of Gettysburg is as follows:
The story of the first shots fired in Gettysburg goes a little something like this (it gets a little technical): “At daylight on the morning of July 1, men were seen approaching on the road beyond Willoughby Run, and nearly a mile away. Acting on his orders, Hodges sent his men to notify the line and the reserve while he advanced across the stream stopping to water his horse, then rode to the higher ground beyond far enough to see that the men approaching were Confederates. He then turned back and as he did so they fired at him. Hodges retired to the bridge where, from behind its stone abutments he fired several shots at the advancing enemy. This occurred at about 5:20 A.M., and this exchange of shots is believed to be the first shots fired at the battle of Gettysburg on the morning of July 1, 1863. When Hodges rode back from the bridge to the line of videttes on the higher ground east of Willoughby Run he found Col. Sackett [in command of the regiment] had formed a skirmish line of his whole picket force. A detachment of the 8th Ill. [cavalry] afterward rode out the Chambersburg road and had a skirmish about half a mile beyond Willoughby Run losing one man killed.”
PLOT TWIST: There’s some scholars who like to argue that it wasn’t Alpheus, but another man from another Company within the Union army. However, what they can all generally agree on is that the two of those men have the best claims to the honor of having fired upon the Confederates first to mark the start of the Battle of Gettysburg. And the people of Western New York, and here in Ashville, New York, will always stand behind Alpheus as being #1!
But also, there’s a statue at the Gettysburg Battlefield commemorating the 9th Calvary of New York for “discovering the enemy” and being “fired upon at 5AM” at Chambersburg Road. So as far as Gettysburg is concerned, too, the 9th Calvary had dibs on the Confederates, as well.
After learning of this very interesting family member, I went to the National Archives and requested to see his military records that they might still have. A few months and $30 later I received copies of the muster rolls detailing every place Alpheus was located during the war, including his eventual capture after obtaining an injury at Brandy Station. August 1, 1863, Alpheus’s horse was shot out from under him, and he injured his ankle during the fall. He was soon captured and taken prisoner to Belle Island, where his ankle was never properly set, leading him to have a limp for the rest of his life.
He was eventually released in a general exchange of prisoners in March 1864 (after seven months as a POW). However, I think it’s important that we all remember the conditions of what these Confederate POW camps, like Belle Isle, were like.
“By the autumn of 1863, Belle Isle's population swelled to at least twice the prison's capacity, with estimates ranging from 6,000 to 8,000. On October 5, 1863, the Richmond Examiner complained that the capital was overrun with the "'azure-stomached' race this winter.
The overcrowding led to numerous health problems among the prisoners—including, most notably, the smallpox outbreak of December 1863. Moreover, during the summer of 1863, the prison's conditions came to the attention of the Northern media and were thereafter used as a major source of propaganda regarding Confederate cruelty to prisoners. According to the diary of John Ransom, a soldier who was incarcerated there, "Stormy and disagreeable weather. From fifteen to twenty and twenty-five die every day and are buried just outside the prison with no coffins—nothing but canvas wrapped around them." In his entry for February 11, 1864, Ransom implies that prisoners were robbing each other of rations and blankets: "… a good deal of fighting going on among the men … [They are] "just like so many hungry wolves penned together."
Alpheus would have been one of those Union soldiers whom endured disease outbreak, tight quarters, bordered on starvation with high population levels, as well as general disorder of being treated as prisoners by the enemy. Thankfully not long after his release in a prisoner exchange, he was mustered out of the Union army on October 29, 1864 as Corporal Alpheus Hodges, in Middletown, Virginia.
He returned to Ashville following the war, but eventually moved to Kansas where he ended up meeting his wife, Lucy Steen. They would move back to Westfield, New York and then later East Rochester, New York, where he would live out the rest of his long life. Alpheus died on August 1, 1922 at the age of 80. However, he would die as a local hero to both the people of Rochester as well as to his family still here in Harmony, Chautauqua County, New York, for fighting and serving his country so bravely during one of the United States’ bloodiest wars.
Although Alpheus has a heroic story, please remember to take today to remember all of those men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Remember that it's not as simple as "they want and fought and came back". They saw and experienced things we as civilians will never be able to fathom, and Alpheus's experience at Belle Isle is one of those things. I thank him today for enduring what he had gone through as a 20 year old so that I may be sitting here tonight at my laptop, without a worry in the world (for now).
Sources used outside of my own primary resources:
Thomas “Old Pharoah” Farrar Sr., was a man born in Burnley, Lancashire, England on January 29, 1614, who later emigrated to Massachusetts while it was still a colony. Little did he know that at the age of 78 he would be accused of witchcraft at the Salem Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts on May 8, 1692.
Thomas Farrar is my 10th great-grandfather (great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandpa!) on my mother’s side. Believe it or not, no one knew about this story at all. I certainly hadn’t heard about it because I can tell you that my jaw dropped when I found him and all the records that were showing up relating to the witch trials. On the other hand, however, it may not really be too surprising if this wasn’t exactly a family story they wanted passed on to the next generations. Being accused and put on trial for witchcraft wasn’t exactly the most honorable thing to have happen to you in the late 1600s.
I came across this family member while researching through records of his son, Stephen Farrar, where within the records it listed his parents as Thomas Farrar and Elizabeth (no surname). If you’re familiar with using Ancestry, you can add the record and also create new records for parents relatively at the same time, which is what I did. Within a few minutes of adding “Thomas “Old Pharoah” Farrar Sr.” to my tree, I had over a dozen “leaves” (hints) from Ancestry. At this point, my brain was getting so excited because for there to be that significant amount of hints for a person who lived over 300 years ago tells me there was a reason for such heavy documentation of his life. For good reasons or bad was something I was about to find out.
In our family’s case, it wasn’t so good. Although, for me at least, I was still really excited and thought it was very interesting to discover we had family involved in a huge historical event that many people in the United States are still fascinated by today. If you aren’t entirely familiar with the Salem Witch Trials, it may be worth perusing some basic Wikipedia pages before continuing on with this story.
Here are some links for those needing a refresher:
Salem Witch Trials Synopsis:
Ann Putnam (Jr) - One of the many teenager accusers:
My relative, Thomas, was not only involved in the Salem Witch Trials, but accused by little Mis Ann Putnam (Jr.) herself (yes, the one known as “Ruth” from “The Crucible” that we all read or watched in school). I weirdly felt honored by this, and had to keep reminding myself about the seriousness of the situation to give myself a reality check. According to official records kept from the ordeal, Thomas Farrar Sr. was accused of torturing Ann Putnam through witchcraft and trying to make her write in his book. To quote the passage from Ann Putnam’s “deposition”:
“…there appeared to me the apperishion of an old gray head man, with a great nose, which tortured me, and almost choaked me, and urged me to writ in his book; and I asked him what was his name and from whence he came, for I would complain of him; and people used to call him old father pharaoh; and he said he was my grandfather, for my father used to call hi father; but I tould him I would not call him grandfather for he was a wizard and I would complain of him; and ever since he hath afflicted me by times, beating me and pinching me and almost choaking me and urging me continewally to writ in his book.” (History of Lynn, p. 295)
SPOILER ALERT: She’s lyin’. And if you didn’t know that, you’ve only had over 300 years to figure it out.
The outcome for those accused of witchcraft was often death in a variety of ways. Some actually died in prison. Others were hanged, while a few were tortured by means of peine forte et dure. This was a method of placing the accused beneath an increasingly heavy load of stones in an attempt to make them enter a plea; unfortunately, it killed those who refused to give in. To my surprise, Thomas Farrar wasn’t killed, but sent to prison in Boston for several months, where it is said he “narrowly escaped with his life” (p. 75) I tried understanding why he received the sentence he did: Could it have been because he was such an old man at the time? Was it because he was a man a not a woman? Unfortunately, the records I have access to don’t explain the reasoning behind the sentencing he received, but this may be a point of future research later on to help learn more about the trials themselves.
Now if you’ve made it this far, I have to share my theory for why a poor, old, 78-year-old man was one of the many targets of false accusations by a bunch of teenagers that seemed to have nothing better to do with their time.
This theory involves another family that had multiple people accused of witchcraft during 1692, as well. That is the family of William Bassett, a known Quaker. Quakers weren’t fully accepted by the Puritans of Massachusetts, although there was a push for tolerance. Apparently, though, a lot of those accused were found within the Quaker population. There are also theories that people had personal vendettas with people in their community and used accusations as a means to get rid of them and acquire their land and property.
Thomas Farrar Sr.’s granddaughter, Rebecca Berry was married to a man named William Bassett Jr. (son of William Bassett). This connects Farrar to the William Bassett Sr. family through marriage. William Bassett Sr. had a sister, Elizabeth accused of witchcraft. Her husband then was accused of being a wizard for standing up in her defense, in which both ended up convicted, the husband ultimately hanged. William Bassett Sr.’s wife was also accused of being a witch and imprisoned, later released.
In further connection to the Bassett family, there is documentation that Thomas Farrar Sr. took inventories of estates of different people in partnership with William Bassett. This told me there was some sort of relationship between the families beyond marriage relations; they seemed to have worked together in some capacity. The records note that they took inventory of “the Estate of Mrs. Elizabeth King on 26 May 1678. They also took the inventory of the estate of Michael Lambert of Lynn on 29 September, 1676. Finally, Thomas and Henry Collins took inventory of the estate of John Humphreys, Esq. on 3 July 1663.”
In addition, Thomas’s wife, Elizabeth, had died in 1680, meaning at this point in time he was left to defend himself, as well. Making him even more an easy target.
So, here we have two men and their family members being accused for witchcraft. With the context I have provided, it is possible that one of the family’s they conducted inventories for wasn’t happy with their work, and then throw in the Quaker religious background, and Farrar’s general isolation as an older widower, they and their families were perfect targets for these false accusations of disgruntled community members.
If you're interested in learning similar stories about your own family, please comment or reach out via my contact options found on my website!