By Stacie N. Galang
SALEM — Kathleen Kent took the stories shared by her mother and grandfather and wove them into "The Heretic's Daughter," a novel based on her relative Martha Carrier, who was hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692.
Little did Kent know, her writing would bring together more than 250 of Carrier's descendents, who gathered in Salem this weekend.
"This has turned into something beyond my wildest expectations," said the author, a 10th-generation descendent of Carrier.
Kent flew in from Texas with her mother, Audrey Carrier Hickman, brother Kevin Hickman and sister Kim Morrison. Other relatives traveled from as near as Connecticut and as far as Newfoundland, Washington, Seattle, Arizona and Florida.
"It's really interesting to know where you came from, how far you've come, and the origin of your family and the origin of your own family's history," Kent said.
They kicked off the reunion with a Friday night reception, to be followed by lectures, tours and discussions all day Saturday.
One of the Carrier descendents even designed T-shirts that said, "Are you a good witch or are you a bad witch? Who me? I'm not a witch at all. I'm a CARRIER."
Kate Fox, executive director of the city's tourism arm, Destination Salem, put together some activities for the group, after the author contacted her in September.
"I helped them flesh out a walking tour of sites," Fox said. "I love stuff like this. It's a huge group. They're enthusiastic about why they're coming and what's happening in Salem."
Among the activities planned for the weekend were a visit to The House of the Seven Gables and a guided tour of Danvers and Salem on the Salem Trolley. They also gathered at the Witch Trials Memorial to hear about their distant relative.
"Martha Carrier was sacrificed to superstition and religious intolerance," Kent said. "It's equally sad the other 19 men and women died. I've been really thrilled to see how emotionally connected all of these people are to that story. It still moves them. It's a product of the fact that Martha was so defiant. It really comes through in a very present way."
Shortly after her novel was released in 2008, Kent started receiving e-mails from Carrier descendents. She learned that many knew the same stories of Martha Carrier and her husband, Thomas Carrier.
"The fact that they heard some of the same tales and legends about these two is very surprising," Kent said. "It's been really great."
Incidentally, Kent's latest novel, "The Wolves of Andover," is a prequel to her first book. The book's release date is today.
Often, when her distant relatives would contact her, they would share their genealogies. It was a point of great pride for them. The connections eventually turned into a discussion about a reunion. In May, Kent sent an e-mail to her contacts about the possibility, and very quickly 60 or so replied.
"It just spread like wildfire," she said.
As their numbers grew, Kent said, they eventually had to close some of the group events because of space limitations.
She said they were fortunate, given the advancing age of some of the Carriers, to bring so many of the relatives together.
The Carrier reunion was scheduled to wrap up with a discussion by Kent and fellow authors Brunonia Barry, who wrote "The Lace Reader"; Katherine Howe, who wrote "The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane"; and Alyssa East, who wrote "Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Town."
Kent described the gathering as a "once-in-a-lifetime" event.
"We wanted to try to provide them with as much history and opportunity to explore Salem," she said.