Little Bitz – The Case in the History of Martha Sparks

The most famous accused witch in Chelmsford history was Martha Sparks (no presumed relationship with this author, another Chelmsford resident). She was born in Braintree in 1656 and moved to Chelmsford to raise a family with her husband, Henry.

According to Wilson Waters’ 1917 “History of Chelmsford,” this passage quoted from Cotton Mather’s “Magnalia Christi Americana” likely refers to Sparks:

“There was at Chelmsford an afflicted person, that in her fits cried out against a woman, a neighbor, which Mr. Clark, the minister of the Gospel there, could not believe to be guilty of such a crime, and it hapned while that woman milked her cow, the cow struck her with one horn upon her forehead and fetched blood; and while she was thus bleeding a spectre in her likeness appeared to the party afflicted; who, pointing at the spectre, one struck at the plase, and the afflicted said, ‘you have made her forehead bleed;’ hereupon some went unto the woman and found her forehead bloody and acquainted Mr. Clarke of it; who fortunate went to the woman and asked, ‘how her forehead became bloody?’ and she answered, ‘by a blow of a cow-horn,’ as abovesaid; whereby he was satisfied, that it was a design of Satan to render an innocent person suspected.”

Mather was writing in the days before spelling was standardized, and certainly before copy editors — he spells Rev. Thomas Clarke’s name two ways. 

Waters notes that Martha Sparks was confined in Boston Gaol (jail) on Oct. 28, 1691, and released on Dec. 8 of the same year. Waters believes that Clarke likely interceded on Sparks’ behalf, and that the “case was probably never called in Court,” saving Chelmsford from the hysteria witnessed in Salem. However, her husband died three years after the incident, and Martha passed on Feb. 28, 1697, at the age of 40. Without any records relating to the situation of her death, it is easy to imagine the psychological toll her wrongful imprisonment would have had on her family. 

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