William Ham - My Witchy Ancestor
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
I'm 1/1024th Witch. Really!
I have been on a big genealogy kick lately. I had always heard that my first "Ham" ancestor had come to America in the early 1600's but the family tree that my family currently had dead-ended many generations before that.
Thanks to leg work and ancestry.com, I was able to locate an error in my original family tree - and oddly enough I had a relative (My dad's cousin) who was also doing family tree research and when we found out and compared, we were both on the same track. We have verified our "Ham family" lineage back to William Ham, who landed in Richmond Island, Maine in 1635 having traveled aboard the ship The Speedwell either as a fisherman, or indentured servant (or both I suppose?)
in 1652 William was granted land in Portsmouth, NH (Then called Strawberry Bank) on a spot named "Ham's Point." A few years later is when it got interesting.
William Ham had a grandson named - cleverly - William Ham. In my research I discovered the grandson WIlliam Ham first, and a notation besides his name that read "named after his Grandfather William Ham, accused of witchcraft April 11,1656." Whaaaatttttttt????
A quick google brought up a tweet from Emerson Baker (Vice Provost and History Professor at Salem State, author of A Storm of Witchcraft and The Devil of Great Island) referring to the 1656 accusation by Elizabeth Row - naming "Old Ham" and 2 other men as man-witches in Strawberry Bank, NH. I immediately emailed Prof. Baker for more information but he had none. He showed me his source for the information, which was an early New Hampshire court record, which is also cited in David Hall's book Witch Hunting in 17th Century New England:
It seemed like Elizabeth Row was singling my grandfather out, as of the other two men, one was already dead and the other she refused to fully name. "Old Ham" happened to be my grandfather's nickname because... he was old. At the time of this accusation he was almost 60 in a time when the average lifespan was 40.
It seems like the accusation ended non-dramatically, thankfully for my grandfather. For starters, pre-Salem witch accusations were not so quick to "burn the witch." Also, Elizabeth Row seems to have been kind of a chronic witch-caller, as she also accused a neighbor in 1648 (Jane Walford) of being a witch. "You are a witch" was also a 17th century form of hostile takeover if you wanted someone's land and they wouldn't sell. Call someone a witch, and if they are found guilty their lands are seized and auctioned off.
The rest of William Ham's life is a bit of a mystery. He died in 1673 in Portsmouth, NH at the very old age of 76.
While a minor accusation, due to it's official status and documentation it does qualify William Ham as one of only about 300 documented "witches" in colonial America, which I learned on the Associated Daughter of Early American Witches website (https://www.adeaw.us/)