8. Ann Hibbins was executed for being a witch and was the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorn’s Ester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter
Twice widowed, Ann Hibbins was a wealthy and respected woman in Boston. Shortly before the death of her second husband, Ann had hired some carpenters to make some improvements to her home. Believing that the men had overcharged her for their work, Ann filed a lawsuit. The lawsuit was ruled in her favor, but Ann faced wide-spread opposition for hiring carpernters in the first place.
As a woman, Ann was to refer all matters to her husband or son. Her husband was dead and her sons lived in England. Some in the colony felt that her actions in hiring carpenters in the first place was “abrasive.” Church ministers and elders began an inquest into Ann’s behavior. They believed that Ann acted agains the authority of her dead husband and instructed her to apologize to the carpenters for filing a lawsuit against them. Ann refused.
When Ann refused to apologize, Church leaders excommunicated and admonished the widow. When she still refused to apologize, she was accused of being a witch and she was quickly placed on trial. Ann was tried and convicted of being a witch in 1655. For unknown reasons her first conviction was set aside. Later in May 1656, she was tried again for being a witch. Again she was found guilty and sentenced to hang from an elm tree on 19 June 1656.
Aside from the date of her hanging, there are no records that survived of her trial. This has perplexed scholars because Ann Hibbins was a wealthy and respected Puritan woman. Even lacking details, her story did not go unnoticed. In the mid-19th century, Nathaniel Hawthorn used Ann Hibbins as inspiration for Ester Prynne in his The Scarlet Letter. Ester’s first hanging did not happen because she was found to be pregnant. The same might have happened to Ann.