Bray Wilkins was born around 1610, and the first records of him in New England indicate that he lived in Dorchester, Massachusetts. By 1654, he and his wife Anna (or Hannah) had joined the church in Salem, Massachusetts. In 1660, he and his partner, John Gingell, purchased 700 acres to the northwest of Salem known as "Will's Hill", and attempted to turn a profit on it by harvesting the timber and manufacturing wood products such as barrel staves and shingles. Ultimately, the venture failed, they were forced to sell back part of the land, and by the 1680's, Bray was farming a much smaller tract of land just to feed his family. His farm, along with parts of Andover, Boxford, and Topsfield were incorporated into the town of Middleton in 1728. The Bray Wilkins (Jr.) house still stands there as the oldest house in town.
In November of 1689, the Wilkins were among those who left the First Church of Salem to begin the Church of Christ at Salem Village (now Danvers) with Samuel Parris acting as their pastor. When the first arrests for witchcraft began in the spring of 1692, the husband of Bray's granddaughter Margaret, John Willard, was employed as a constable to bring in several of the accused. As things progressed, and he found himself required to arrest neighbors whom he had held in high regard, he attempted to decline this service, and soon found himself the subject of wild accusations of witchcraft. On May 10 the first warrant for his arrest was issued, but when the constable arrived, he had fled. A second warrant was issued a few days later and John was captured in "Nashawag" (now Lancaster), 40 miles away, and brought back to Salem to stand trial on May 18th. He was accused of causing the death of Daniel Wilkins, son of Henry Wilkins, and grandson of Bray Wilkins. Daniel's girlfriend was Mercy Lewis, one of the most active accusers during the trials. Testimony from several members of the Wilkins family was presented at his trial. 81 year old Bray Wilkins related how that after John Willard had come into a room where he was eating and "lookt after such a sort upon me as I never before discerned in any" that he was struck with a painful condition that may have been a kidney stone. Two of Bray's daughters gave second-hand testimony that John Willard had beaten his wife Margaret (their niece) and then exhibited odd behavior which frightened her into running to a relative's house for safety. Several others similarly charged him with cruelty to his wife. During his examination, he denied these allegations with the rest, and desired that his wife would be called to testify on his behalf, but this does not appear to have been done. He was found guilty of these and many other offenses and executed by hanging on August 19, 1692 at Gallow's Hill, Salem Village (Danvers) as a witch.
I think it is worth noting, whatever the motivation of the rest of the Wilkins clan for testifying against John Willard, that his father-in-law, Thomas Wilkins, third son of Bray Wilkins, would have nothing to do with the proceedings. The records of the Salem Village church show that Thomas was one of four men who, "being grievously offended by reason of the (in their estimation) "unwarrantable actings " of their Pastor, Mr. Parris, in the matter of Witchcraft, do therefore habitually absent themselves from Public Worship, and from "Communion at the Lord's Table," notwithstanding the endeavors of the Pastor and Church to enforce their attendance thereupon. The grounds of their dissatisfaction are these: 1. "The distracting and disturbing tumults and noises made by the persons under Diabolical power and delusions, preventing, sometimes, their hearing and understanding and profiting by the word preached." 2. "Their apprehensions of danger of themselves being accused as the Devil's instruments to molest and afflict the persons complaining; they seeing those whom they had reason to esteem better than themselves thus accused, blemished, and of their lives bereaved." Thomas was also among those who signed the "Anti-Parris Petition" in 1695, an effort to remove Samuel Parris from the pulpit, and against the main Wilkins clan, who were staunchly "pro-Parris".
John Willard's widow, Margaret, married William Towne, whose own family had also been affected by the trials, and added nine more children to the three she had borne to John Willard. In 1710, the court pardoned John Willard, and attempted to make restitution for material damage. Addressing the court, Margaret says, "Having been notified by order of the Generall court to appear before your Honors to give an account as near as I can what dammage my self together with my aforesaid former Husband did sustain in our Estate besides the fearfull odium cast on him by imputing to him & causing him to suffer death for such a piece of wickedness as I have not the least reason in the world to thinke he was guilty of I say besides that reproach & the grief & sorrow I was exposed to by that means I do account our dammage as to our outward estate to have been very considerable. for by reason of my said former Husband being seized by order of the civil Authority & imprisoned all our Husbands concerns were laid by for that summer we had not opportunity to plant or sow whereas we were wont to raise our own bread corn I Reckon (which your Honors may please more certainly to Inform your selves from the Records of those unhappy times & things that happened) I say according to my best Remembranc from the time of his first imprisonment to the time of his suffering was near upon half a year all which time I was at the trouble & charge to provide for him in prison what he stood in need of out of our own estate, my aforesaid Husband was 3 weeks a prisoner at Boston which occasioned me to be at yet more charge & trouble & altho I had after his sentence of death was past upon him obtained a Replevin for him for a little time which not coming as was expected at the time appointed I was forced to hire a horse at Salem & go to Boston to see what was the reason of the failure, I have nothing further to add but only to pray your Honors to guess at the dammage as well as you can by the Information I have here given & that God will direct you in & about what you are now concerned about, & so take Leave to subscribe my self Your Honors Humble & sorrowful servant the marke of Margarett TownI Judge that my Loss and damage in my estate hath not been Less than thirty pounds, But I shall be satisfyed If I may have twenty pounds allowed me. "
For a complete transcript of the trial, as well as many other original documents visit the Salem Witch Trial Documentary Archive.