In the 1930s, an excavation crew looking for gravel in Marlborough, Conn. found the bones of several people. Records showed the land was owned in the 18th Century by the Carrier family, and they had maintained a family cemetery there. While in his 70s, Thomas Carrier and his children had become one of the original settlers of the area and had built a house and gristmill on the Jeremy River in 1701. He became one of the largest landowners in the area. Most people chose to be buried in church cemeteries, but Carrier chose to have his own family burial plot. He was buried there in 1735.
The Carriers' remains were taken to the Marlborough Cemetery and buried again. A monument was put up but no one knows who did it or paid for it. The monument is confusing, and the names of Thomas's sons are repeated. The names of two of those sons and their wives also appear on tombstones at the nearby Colchester Congregational Church. Oddly, there are two other people buried in the new Carrier plot who were not moved there.
The life of Thomas Carrier is more unusual and mysterious than what happened after his death, and the worst of his times occurred when he lived in Andover. Carrier was 109 years old when he died. Family members maintained he was 113. A few days after he died, the June 9, 1735 New England Journal reported, "His head, in his last years, not bald nor his hair grey. Not many days before his death he traveled on foot six miles to see a sick friend, and the day before he died he was visiting his neighbors. His mind was alert until he died, when he fell asleep in his chair and never woke up." Thomas left five children, 39 grand children and 38 great grandchildren.
Until close to his death, it had been his practice to walk daily 18 miles to market with a sack of meal over his shoulder. He was a fast walker with an erect bearing, and was called the "Tall Man." His height was 7'4". When he was younger, Carrier was known for being very swift of foot. Physically, he must have been the most amazing man of his time, perhaps of any time; yet, little is known about him, except what appears in this column.
Prior to settling in Connecticut in 1700, Thomas Carrier and his family had lived in Andover. In 1710, he completed his business with Massachusetts when the colony reimbursed him for expenses he'd previously been charged for his wife and children's prison fees. Those expenses were incurred in 1692, the year his wife, Martha Carrier, was hung for being a witch. The influential Puritan minister Cotton Mather had said of her, "This rampant hag, Martha Carrier, was the person of whom the confessions of the rest agreed that the devil had promised her she should be the Queen of Hell." She has come down through history as one of most famous of the accused witches and was the most infamous "witch" in New England for a short time.
The evidence that Martha Allen "Goody" Carrier was a witch was one-sided and overwhelming; at least twelve people testified against her. In Andover, where her family, the Allens, were among the earliest settlers, she was disliked as an argumentative scold. Her neighbor, Benjamin Abbot said she threatened him over a boundary dispute. As a result, he developed boils and when his side was lanced, gallons of pus drained out. (The land in question is where Benjamin Abbot later built what is now called "The Benjamin Abbot House" at 9 Andover St. Likely, the Carriers lived very nearby.)
Ann Foster, an accused witch, said she rode on a broomstick with Martha, but the stick broke requiring Foster to cling to Martha's neck. Two of Martha's sons and her seven-year-old daughter testified against her. The sons' testimony came after being tortured. All three, plus another son, were accused of being witches.
Thomas Carrier was not accused nor mentioned in the proceedings. Nothing is known about what he thought or how he behaved during this horrible time. Andover historian Sarah Loring Bailey said in her 1880 book, "Historical Sketches Of Andover" (Houghton Mifflin & Co.), "He seems to have been blessed with a comfortable temperament, for notwithstanding the misfortunes which befell him as a husband and father in the course of these witchcraft trials...sorrows enough to have brought some men to a premature grave - he lived to an age of 109 years."
Goody Carrier did not help herself in court. ("Goody" was a polite term of address for a woman of humble social standing; it being derived from term "good wife.") She stubbornly exclaimed her innocence in front of the judges, even though a guilty plea would have likely spared her life, and the tone of her answers were not what you'd expect from a person facing a death sentence. The questions she was asked were absurd and insulting although, of course, her accusers and most people in the courtroom didn't think so. Carrier's answers were blunt. At one point she said to the judges, "You lie, I am wronged." The judges were so aggrieved by her behavior that she was ordered out of the court, tied hand and foot. All those found guilty of being witches confessed, except Martha Carrier, who shouted her innocence from the gallows before she was hanged on 19 August 1692, along with four men. The executed witches were roughly buried together in a common grave that was only two feet deep. A hand, foot, and chin were left showing on the surface. It is not known whether Thomas Carrier tried to retrieve his wife's body to give her a decent burial.
(Lest you think the absurdity of the witch hunt, trials, torture, and executions were ended because the people, ministers, and judges came to their senses, that was not the case. The absurdity was halted when Governor William Phips ordered it so after his wife was accused of being a witch in the fall of 1692. He then pardoned the convicted witches.)
Thomas and Martha Carrier had not been welcomed in Andover when she had returned to her hometown. The Carriers had earlier been married in Billerica on March 4, 1674, after she had named Thomas as the father of the child they would have two months later. She was 20 years younger than he. In 1676, the Carriers had been warned by Billerica selectmen to leave town immediately or pay 20 shillings per week. (Thomas was once listed as the second highest taxpayer in the town, so the family was likely not poor.)
More than two centuries later, in 1999, the Billerica Selectman reversed the order, apologizing to the Carrier family. One of the selectmen said the records weren't clear about the reason for the banishment, but said his wife was a Carrier descendant and believed the Carriers were told to leave because they were spreading smallpox. The Carriers possibly moved to North Billerica; in any event, it's believed they were in Andover by 1685. However, in 1690 the Carriers were "warned" out of Andover because of the smallpox outbreak that was blamed on them. (An historical note: towns often "warned" people not to settle in or to move out of town because, under law, towns were responsible for the poor and needy and they didn't want to bear the cost. This tendency to "warn" became common for reasons other than poverty, but was not enforced as often as voted.)
When Thomas Carrier married Martha, he was known as "Thomas Morgan, alias Carrier." One theory for this is that he was born in Wales where the word "ap" meaning "son of" was often added to surnames. When he was born in 1626 his name may have been Thomas Morgan ap Carrier. However, the Carrier family genealogy contains an interesting story. Thomas may have played an important role in the beheading of Charles I in 1649, perhaps as one of the executioners. The executioners were paid 100 pounds and wore masks, something that would not have disguised Thomas's identity, given his size. When the monarchy was restored in 1660, Charles II pardoned all revolutionaries except the regicides, which included judges and executioners.
In 1655, Thomas Morgan, alias Carrier, perhaps fearing for his future in England and knowing he would never be able to hide because of his size, immigrated to Cambridge. He soon moved to Billerica. After the English Restoration and condemnation of regicides in 1660, it would have been important to adopt the new name, "Carrier" and drop the "Morgan." He did that before moving to Andover. If, following the restoration of the monarchy, the people in Billerica knew Thomas was a regicide, they may have warned him out of town for that reason. It would be odd that the Carriers were told to leave Billerica in 1676 because they were spreading smallpox, and then warned to not settle in Andover 14 years later for the same reason (there is documentation for smallpox being the reason for the warning in Andover). Additional evidence that Thomas Morgan/Carrier was a regicide comes from the diary of Major General William Goffe, one of people who signed the death warrant for Charles I. He barely had escaped to the colonies and lived secretly in Hadley, Massachusetts for many years. After his death, his diary was read and it listed the names of 19 regicides "condemned and in the Tower, but Morgan was not in the Tower," meaning Morgan had likely escaped.