Is she a witch?

While my Dad was always hoping that I would find Irish on his side of the family, (yay! I did), I have always wanted to find an accused witch!

And I did! Surprisingly this find wasn’t on Mom’s side of the family, where we have oodles and oodles of New England ancestors, it is on Dad’s side, where we find Clarisy/Clarissa Cross Rosa, the daughter of two New England raised parents and our only English ancestry on Dad’s side of the family.


Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop and Lieutenant Governor Thomas Dudley were granted land along the Concord River in 1638. Located in this grant was an Indian village named Shawshin where in 1652 about a dozen families began to settle, with more families joining them in later years. Of course Shawshin sounded way too foreign for the intolerant settlers so they decided to rename the place Billerica, a much more musical, [yuck, not], and English name.

Rebecca _____ Chamberlain and her husband William, were one of those families that made the move. Rebecca and William resided in Boston for a very short time after they were married, in about 1648, before they settled in Woburn, until about 1652 when they made their final move to the new settlement of Billerica. Over the years of their marriage Rebecca became the mother of thirteen children, twelve of whom reached adulthood and ten of whom had children of their own. This is the little we know about her, (the rest we would have to extrapolate).

In 1692, when Rebecca was in her late 50s to early 60s1, during the Salem witch trial frenzy, Billerica became one of quite a few towns around Salem that soon found many of its citizens accused of practicing witchcraft. Although there is no testimony to such, it is the belief of many that Rebecca Chamberlain is one of those innocent  victims of the Salem witch hunts. In the History of Middlesex County, Samuel Adams Drake writes “Rebecca, the wife of William Chamberlain and John Durrant, both of Billerica, died in prison in Cambridge where they were incarcerated for witchcraft.” Rev. Henry Hazen, in the History of Billerica, states that Rebecca Chamberlain “died in prison at Cambridge, 1692, Sept. 26, possibly charged with witchcraft.”2

Others debate on the matter, one website states, “An examination of every paper in the Middlesex county court files from 1670 to 1700 has revealed many witchcraft cases, but nothing relating to Rebecca Chamberlain.” And I am not surprised, because from what I have learned reading a recently published book3 where the author states, “no trace of a single session of the witchcraft court survives.” Everything we know about the event is taken from accounts of the trials, preparatory papers, and two death warrants. Salem village in their enthusiasm to forget ‘it’ ever happened expunged their record books, so there is much documentation missing regarding what happened in those 9 months of crazy. Also, there was no daily paper, or twitter, around at the time to keep folks apprised of the daily goings on in the court room. So the fact that there are no records mentioning Rebecca, and many others who were also accused, but never stood trial, shouldn’t make one disbelieve or really even question. I believe. It is too coincidental that she was in prison at the exact same time all this hysteria was going on, and died there in September.

While I am excited to find that we most likely have an accused witch in the family, I am now imagining how horrible and sad her death must have been. The prisons these people were kept in were a veritable hell, barely maintained by fanatics fighting demons of their own imaginings.4

So, this Halloween I will raise a toast in memory of Rebecca Chamberlain. Accused witch. Innocent vicim.

Image of Salem witch hangings. No accused was ever burned at the stake.


  1. We don’t know exactly when she was born and can only speculate from her first child’s birth.
  3. The Witches: Salem, 1692, by Stacy Schiff; New York : Little, Brown and Company, 2015, first edition. Excellent read by the way!
  4. ibid. digital edition p123-124 of 536 this is a description of the Boston jail being used for the accused: “The stone facility announced itself from a distance with a stench of refuse and rotting wounds…Visitors did not tarry long…Iron bars covered the open windows; one could reach out for provisions or in to touch a loved one’s hand. One could also spit and jeer; some came to the prison expressly for those purposes. Sarah Good…what remained of her clothing barely covered her body.” The description goes on. I imagine the conditions were similar in the Cambridge prison where Rebecca was incarcerated.



January 27, 1943 William Shepard to home…

Finally the letter we have all been waiting for, mom’s birth.


January 287, 1943

Dear Mother,

I received your telegram this noon. Im relieved and happy. We have quite a family now don’t we? You & Lois & K. W. and Susan can come out the last of Feb. if everything goes OK.

Im trying to get to come home but I may not make it.

Mom Im sending ten dollars home and I want you to go to a flourist and arrange to have him deliver Lois a few flowers each day she is in the hospital.

Send only a few, but get real


good ones. If you can get an orchid each day. (If they don’t cost too much) If you cant, get a few roses 1/2 doz or like) use your own taste, but get something good and have them sent each day. Im enclosing some of my cards to have put in with them. See to this right away please mother.

Im real busy so Ill have to close. I appreciate all you’re doing mom and you know it.

Ill send Lois some money the first of the month.

Let me know about everything

Your son


I wasn’t sure what to make of this document when I saw it listed in the papers of William Shepard at the Westfield Athenaeum as ‘indenture 3 year old negro girl.’ At first I was indignant at the hypocrisy of yet another revolutionary figure fighting for the rights of all [white, rich, men] yet dealing in slavery, but after reading over the document I wasn’t really sure what to think. So I decided to dig into the matter.

From what I understand, regarding this document, William Shepard, along with several other men (who were also relatives of Williams’), were overseers of the poor in Westfield, and on the 16th day of November 1791 signed over:

“a female negro child aged three years the first day of October last past, as an apprentice & servant girl unto Capt. Ezra Clap of said Westfield & Grace his Wife.”

Courtesy of the Westfield Athenaeum, 6 Elm Street Westfield, MA  01085.

Three year old Phoebe ___  was being indentured to Capt. Ezra Clapp for the term of 15 years (until she was 18). And according to the indenture, they were to teach and instruct “or cause the said apprentice to be instructed in the art, trade or calling of a: Housewife” they also had to provide “meat drink, cloathing & prove[provide?] for her in health & sickness & to teach her to read[?] English”. After her term was up, which would be in 1806, she was to receive “two suits of apparel for all parts of her body suitable for such an apprentice[?] & dismiss her from his said service at expiration of said term.”

According to online sources, Ezra arrived in Westfield in 1743 and built his house a few years later. The house was used as a tavern and later as a meeting place for Revolutionary War plotting. It’s operation as Clapp Tavern occurred from 1766 to the 1790s. I would assume that Phebe’s responsibilities were related to those of someone working in a tavern. Although what duties one expects a 3 year old child to perform is beyond my ken.

Old picture of tavern date not given.3

Ezra appears to have tried to owned slaves, it is unclear at this time if he actually purchased any outright. In 1781 he was sued by a gentleman by the name of Tony “a negro man of Westfield,” for unlawful imprisonment when Ezra tried to enslave him. Tony won the case.1,2 This evidence from Ezra’s past makes me doubtful that Ezra and this wife Grace were looking at this situation as benevolent parental figures. They were most likely looking to get themselves some cheap slave labor, apparently with the full cooperation of the overseers of the poor, which included William Shepard.

Thankfully Phebe’s indenture would be over when she reached 18, so her years of ‘slavery’ were at least legally finite. I am sure they were not joyful ones. (There is no mention of Phebe or any other indentured persons in Ezra’s household when you read any biographies about him, nor his court case with Tony.)

I have been unable to find out any more about Phebe. Having lost her family when she was a child, I am hoping that she eventually married and had one of her own.


1. Tony Negro vs. Ezra Clapp, Case No. 30, Sept. 1781, pp. 204, 216, v13, Inferior Court of Common Pleas Records, Hampshire Co. Commissioners Office, Northampton.

2. Hamden County, MA: Black Families in Hamden County, 1650-1865. by Joseph Carvalho III. Boston: New England Historic Genealogy Society. 2011.

3. “Clap’s Tavern then and now,” Edwin Online, accessed October 9, 2016, Courtesy of the Westfield Athenaeum, 6 Elm Street Westfield, MA 01085.


Party time…

Birthday Party
A surprise party was tendered Mrs. John Cain Thursday evening in honor of her birthday anniversary [67 years old]. Bunco was played, the prize going to Mrs. Surprise and Mrs. William Trepanier.1

Carrie Rosa Cain was born before the Civil War and married her first husband at the age of 13, John Cain was her second husband. She died in 1952 at the age of 94.

Carried probably had a very good time at her party, as long as there was music playing, because she loved to dance.

Oconto County Reporter Enterprise-Enquirer; v54issue28, 1925-04-23


January 22, 1943 William Shepard to home…


January 22, 1943

Dear Dad:

I was happy to hear from you. I hear from Lois all the time but she dont tell me much about herself.

I bet Kenny is a circus. I would like to see him. How much does he weigh now?

The weather here is bad. We had a blizzard the other night that blew over a hundred homes down in Sacramento. Its raining now, as it has been for a few day.

I don’ know for sure whether or not I will be home. To many things can happen to definitely say one way or the



One more week to go, then Ill have another school behind me. This school is one Herman would have enjoyed. We have been tearing airplanes & engines apart and putting them together again. We wont have to do it as officers, but we will know how it should be done, and can better supervise it.

How is the house & farm? How are the Fritschis, Boltons and Fishers? I offer wonder about the folks at home. It seems like a long time ago since I was home. Dont work to  add Dad. Ill see you soon

Your son

Little girl dies of broken heart…

This was such a sad and touching story that I had to share it.

George Dennis Cain born in Oconto, Wisconsin in 1882, was the fourth child born to John and Carrie Cain. His middle name appears to be in honor of his great grandfather Dennis Connelly. Like the rest of his siblings he grew up in the City of Oconto. And when he was old enough he married a young women by the name of Estella ___ . Sometime about 1900 he moved his family to Forest County, Wisconsin (Leona / Soperton). Estella and George had at least three children together: Milton, Marion (Mae) and Pat, (This was apparently not Estella’s first marriage though, as she had an 8 year old son Thaddeus who lived with them in 1920.)

Unfortunately for George he inherited that CAIN family bad luck, which appeared when he developed stomach cancer in 1925 and by the end of the year it killed him. He was only 42 when he died, another young death for the CAIN line.


His daughter Mae took his death very hard:



NOTE: I don’t know if the above article has the surviving child incorrect, or if it his obituary that is wrong, but something is amiss regarding the matter. In the 1920 census a child Thaddeus is listed as a stepson and Milton is the only child listed as George and Stella’s, so Marion and Pat must have been infants, 4-1 years of age, in 1925. I don’t know who George, jr. is.

January 19, 1943 Lyndsay Forder to William and Rachel Shepard

Rachel and William Shepard bought a cottage in Canada. I believe this letter is in regards to payment for upkeep on the place, while they were off back home in Ohio.


Thessalon Chrt.
Jan. 19th/43

Dear Mrs. Shepard:

Have your letter & also balance of money owing, for which I thank you. Am enclosing receipt for same. Have lots of snow & very cold. Just finished cutting dad’s ice. Boy that was a cold, hard job. Glad its done. Have to cut my own now. How is Herman & Mr. Shepard. Give them my regards. See you this spring I hope.

Best Wishes

Thessalon Chrt.
Jan 19th/43
Received the sum of $8.00 (eight dollars) from Mrs. W. A. Shepard which pays up in full wages on cottage at Cummings Lake.
Lyndsay Forder.