Bewitched by her past, Canyon Country woman shares link to ancestor executed for witchcraft

Kathy Kellar, left, and Family Search Center consultant Glenna Rae White read the printout of a trial transcript of Bridget Bishop from 1692 during the Salem Which Trials in Massachusetts. Kellar says that Bishop was a distant relative of hers and the first of 19 accused witches to be hanged. (Photo by Dan Watson)

It’s the season for ghouls and goblins, witches and black cats and hauntings and horrors.

For Kathy Keysor Kellar, of Canyon Country, Halloween is an apt time to remember one of her ancestors caught up in one of the most notorious cases of mass hysteria, paranoia and injustice in American history.


Salem Witch Trials

More than 300 years ago the infamous Salem Witch Trials were held in Massachusetts.

The trials, instigated by the accusations of a group of (mostly) teenage girls, resulted in accusations against 200 people between February 1692 and May 1693 — 14 women and five men were convicted and were executed by hanging. One man was pressed to death for refusing to plead. The term “witch hunt” is used today to refer to accusations that are perceived to be false and to lapses in due process.


Finding Bridget Bishop

Kellar’s great-grandmother, going back six generations, was Bridget Bishop. Bishop, born in 1632, was the first person executed for witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials on June 10, 1692.

“The joke is that if you want to find out who the horse thieves were in your family, you have to research your family tree,” Kellar said.

Kellar’s family discovered the connection to the infamous Bishop when her father, Bud Keysor, had his family genealogy professionally researched several decades ago.

“That was before computers, and all the DNA testing we see now,” she said.

Kellar said she is related to Bishop through a daughter born to Bishop during her second marriage (she was married three times).

“Her daughter Christian Oliver also had a daughter and she married Joseph Henry Felt, and I come through him,” she said. “He was born in Salem.”

Glenna Rae White, director of the Valencia California Family History Center, recently met with Kellar and reviewed her genealogy.

White confirmed that Kellar’s family tree includes Bridget Bishop as her sixth great-grandmother.


Historians believe a financial motive may have been responsible for many of the accusations and executions that occurred during the trials. Bishop may have been accused because of financial assets she inherited from a deceased husband.

Kellar said Bishop, who was tried twice before being convicted, may have been a target because of her “different” lifestyle, which might have been considered not in keeping with the Puritan values of the times. Her first trial for witchcraft occurred after the death of her second husband. She was accused of bewitching Thomas Oliver to death, but was acquitted for lack of evidence.

“She did not conform to the times. She owned a tavern where they would play shuffleboard, and was very outspoken,” said Kellar. “She also wore a red bodice.”

Historical records indicate that Bishop may have had run-ins with her neighbors, Kellar said.

“Bridget was perhaps not a well-loved woman in the community,” she said.

Despite Bishop’s untimely end, Kellar is proud of her ancestor.

“I think she was outspoken, like I am,” she said.


Visiting Salem

Kellar visited Salem, Mass., and the sites associated with her ancestor’s untimely demise in 1998 and again in 2003.

“I visited Salem with my daughter and my nephew,” she said. “I looked in the phone book and there are still people with the last name of Felt living in Salem.”

Kellar said she also visited the historic Charter Street Cemetery and found numerous old headstones inscribed with the Felt surname.

The Old Burying Point Cemetery, also known as the Charter Street Cemetery, is the oldest cemetery in Salem, and the second oldest in the United States. It was opened in 1637.

When Kellar visited Salem, she took in the all the tourist sites related to the witch trials.

“I took a tour where they explained what happened during the trials. It was a terrible time in our history,” she said.

Kellar also visited the Salem Witch Museum and the Witch Trials Memorial.

“The sad thing was that when they were taken to Gallows Hill you then don’t have a clue to where they were buried,” she said.

In recognition of the 300th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials, the Witch Trials Memorial was dedicated in 1992.

The memorial consists of 20 granite benches cantilevered from a low stone wall surrounding an area adjoining the Old Burying Point. The benches are inscribed with the name of the accused and the means and date of execution.

“It is interesting to think that this is one of your ancestors,” she said. “Even though it happened a long time ago, it is still very moving.”


Kathy Keysor Kellar

Kellar’s roots to Santa Clarita predate her move to the SCV. Her parents and four siblings (she has three brothers and one sister) were born in Salt Lake City, but Kellar was born in Glendale and grew up in Burbank. Her father’s company, Keysor-Century Corp., was located on Springbrook Avenue in Saugus, beginning in the 1950s. The company manufactured resins used in long-playing records, plastic bottles, floor tiles, credit cards and other products. The company ceased operations in the early 2000s.

Kellar remembers her father had a long commute to work before the construction of the I-5 freeway.

“I remember he had to take Sierra Highway to San Fernando Road to get to work,” she said. “No freeways, it was probably an hour commute from Burbank.”

She remembers her father telling her the family would probably move to Newhall.

“My sister and I would say, ‘No! There’s nothing out there. Don’t take us away from our friends,’” she said. “My sister and I got our way, but in the end we both ended up moving out here as adults.”

After Kellar married she moved to Valencia in 1971. She is the mother of two sons and two daughters.

“We convinced our parents to move out in 1975,” Kellar said.

Kellar said she has never regretted moving to the SCV.

“Santa Clarita is a jewel,” she said. “I love the community and level of community involvement with the nonprofits and charitable giving. I don’t think there is any place with so many organizations dedicated to helping children, single mothers, the disabled and so many others.”

Kellar married Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar in 2009, after she was introduced to him by a mutual friend.

“We met after a nonprofit event held at the Hyatt. Then we saw each other frequently at other fundraisers,” she said. “What really brought us together was our belief in serving the community and others.”

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