We’re all familiar with the Salem witch trials that plagued the small town in Massachusetts from February 1692 to May 1693 and claimed the lives of nearly 20 victims who were accused as practicing witchcraft.
You might even have read Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” in high school, but long before the "witches" made their way to Salem, there was a series of executions in Boston in the 1650s related to suspected witchcraft.
And while there were only 12 executions in New England prior to the Salem Trials, none of them were quite as odd as the killing of Ann Hibbins, who found herself facing death after bumping heads with a group of carpenters.
Ann Hibbins was the second wife of William Hibbins, esteemed deputy to the General Court and assistant governor of Massachusetts. She was also the sister-in-law by marriage of then-governor Richard Bellingham.
Hibbins had three children from a previous marriage and given her high-ranking husband, she was a woman of high social standing. It was this status that eventually got her into trouble with the church.
In 1940, Hibbins sued a group of carpenters who had completed work on her home, saying they'd wrongfully overcharged her for the services performed. Her actions were viewed by many church members to be extreme and abrasive. After refusing to apologize for pressing charges, Hibbins found herself accused of using her husband’s name for her own personal gain and was excommunicated from the church.
Her husband died shortly thereafter. Within months of her husband’s death, Hibbins was plagued by accusations that she was a practicing witch.
Following a trial in 1655, Hibbins was convicted of witchcraft, but her sentencing was put to the side. The case was then taken to the General Court in 1656, then headed by Humphrey Atherton, and Hibbins was once again found guilty of all charges. This led to a death sentence.
The Governor sent her home until the time of execution. On June 19, 1656, Ann Hibbins was hanged in the center of the Boston Commons for all the townspeople to see.
While historians have found little evidence to support the notion that Hibbins was a witch, her story became a key plot point in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.”
In the book, Hawthorne uses a character named Mistress Hibbins as a symbol of evil who tempts women like Hester Prynne to dabble in witchcraft.