Susanna Martin, an aged woman of Amesbury, Mass., was tried and executed for the alleged crime of witchcraft. Her home was in what is now known as Pleasant Valley on the Merrimac, a little above the old Ferry way, where, tradition says, an attempt was made to assassinate Sir Edmund Andros on his way to Falmouth (afterward Portland) and Pemaquid, which was frustrated by a warning timely given. Goody Martin was the only woman hanged on the north side of the Merrimac during the dreadful delusion. The aged wife of Judge Bradbury who lived on the other side of the Powow River was imprisoned and would have been put to death but for the collapse of the hideous persecution.
The substance of the poem which follows was published under the name of The Witch’s Daughter, in The National Era in 1857. In 1875 my publishers desired to issue it with illustrations, and I then enlarged it and otherwise altered it to its present form. The principal addition was in the verses which constitute Part I.
I CALL the old time back: I bring my lay
in tender memory of the summer day
When, where our native river lapsed away,
We dreamed it over, while the thrushes made
Songs of their own, and the great pine-trees laid
On warm noonlights the masses of their shade.
And she was with us, living o’er again
Her life in ours, despite of years and pain,–
The Autumn’s brightness after latter rain.
Beautiful in her holy peace as one
Who stands, at evening, when the work is done,
Glorified in the setting of the sun!
Her memory makes our common landscape seem
Fairer than any of which painters dream;
Lights the brown hills and sings in every stream;
For she whose speech was always truth’s pure gold
Heard, not unpleased, its simple legends told,
And loved with us the beautiful and old.
I. THE RIVER VALLEY.
Across the level tableland,
A grassy, rarely trodden way,
With thinnest skirt of birchen spray
And stunted growth of cedar, leads
To where you see the dull plain fall
Sheer off, steep-slanted, ploughed by all
The seasons’ rainfalls. On its brink
The over-leaning harebells swing,
With roots half bare the pine-trees cling;
And, through the shadow looking west,
You see the wavering river flow
Along a vale, that far below
Holds to the sun, the sheltering hills
And glimmering water-line between,
Broad fields of corn and meadows green,
And fruit-bent orchards grouped around
The low brown roofs and painted eaves,
And chimney-tops half hid in leaves.
No warmer valley hides behind
Yon wind-scourged sand-dunes, cold and bleak;
No fairer river comes to seek
The wave-sung welcome of the sea,
Or mark the northmost border line
Of sun-loved growths of nut and vine.
Here, ground-fast in their native fields,
Untempted by the city’s gain,
The quiet farmer folk remain
Who bear the pleasant name of Friends,
And keep their fathers’ gentle ways
And simple speech of Bible days;
In whose neat homesteads woman holds
With modest ease her equal place,
And wears upon her tranquil face
The look of one who, merging not
Her self-hood in another’s will,
Is love’s and duty’s handmaid still.
Pass with me down the path that winds
Through birches to the open land,
Where, close upon the river strand
You mark a cellar, vine o’errun,
Above whose wall of loosened stones
The sumach lifts its reddening cones,
And the black nightshade’s berries shine,
And broad, unsightly burdocks fold
The household ruin, century-old.
Here, in the dim colonial time
Of sterner lives and gloomier faith,
A woman lived, tradition saith,
Who wrought her neighbors foul annoy,
And witched and plagued the country-side,
Till at the hangman’s hand she died.