The Haunting of Salem

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Photo by Malgorzata Frej on Unsplash

In the cold of winter, a darkness spread through the town of Salem, Massachusetts. The people of this village were haunted by the fears of the unknown. Whispered worries about a force of evil from the realms of hell created a mass hysteria that flowed through the town and caused panic, discord, and even murder, for a civilized people truly believed that witches walked among them, and they believed these spirits came to cause them harm.

In the midst of their trying troubles, neither the church nor the minister offered a peaceable solution to this growing gloom. In fact, many of the Puritans of Salem disliked their preacher, Reverend Samuel Parris, who was the first ordained minister to the tiny hamlet of Salem. Many townspeople believed their minister was a greedy and selfish man who was far too harsh and unyielding in his ways.

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At the start of this malicious crisis, in January 1692, several girls started having unnatural fits that were considered to be the work of the devil himself. The strange events began with the minister’s daughter Elizabeth, age nine, and his niece, Abigail Williams, age eleven. The young girls screamed and threw objects, uttered strange guttural sounds, contorted their bodies into unnatural positions, and the town’s doctor, William Griggs, blamed their ailments on the work of the devil.

In time, more girls, Ann Putnam, Mercy Lewis, Elizabeth Hubbard, Mary Walcott, and Mary Warren, also began experiencing the same type of abnormal disturbances as the other two girls. On February 29, the girls accused three women for their afflictions; the three faulted were the Parris’ Caribbean slave, Tituba; a homeless beggar, Sarah Good, and a poor, elderly woman, Sarah Osborne.

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“Accused of Witchcraft.” by Douglas Volk, 1884

During the trials in March, the women were probed and interrogated for days.  Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne maintained their innocence, but Tituba professed of an allegiance with the devil, and she stated, “The devil came to me and bid me serve him.”  She spoke of a “black man” who asked her to sign his book, and she claimed that she did indeed sign her name to his evil text.  She continued to elaborate that other women from the village also served as witches with the hope of destroying the people of Salem Village.1

As terror and horror quickly found its foothold, panic filled the streets. Soon, many innocent villagers discovered they were also accused of the horrible crime of witchcraft. Even the upright and virtuous were condemned for practicing black magic, for upstanding citizens and members of the church were not safe from accusations. During this time, Martha Corey, Rebecca Nurse, and even a four-year-old child, the daughter of Sarah Good, were accused of being witches, and the people in Salem became burdened with this fright, for even the good among them faced persecution. This terror increased, as one by one, more innocent villagers became the accused in a merciless trial of lies and deception.

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As the trials became more intense and frightening, in April, Deputy Governor Danforth and his assistants attended the witch hunt trials. Many of the townspeople were brought in for questioning.

By May 1692, Governor William Phipps established a committee to oversee the proceedings in the counties of Suffolk, Essex, and Middlesex.   The court known as a Special Court of Oyer (to hear) and Terminer (to decide), and the court’s judges included John Hawthorne, Samuel Sewall,  William Stoughton, and Waistill Winthrop.  The court’s first case was an older woman, Bridget Bishop, who enjoyed spreading tales about fellow villagers, and rumors suggested that she also liked to flirt and carry on with the menfolk of Salem. Although she declared her innocence when accused of witchcraft, she was found guilty and hanged at Gallows Hill on June 10, 1692.

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Salem Village

Finally, Governor Phipps, whose own wife had been interrogated for witchcraft, banned the arrests of anyone accused of witchcraft, and he released many from teir false sentencing. On October of 1692, he dispersed the Court of Oyer and Terniner and exchanged it for a Superior Court of Judicature; this court barred spectral evidence, a form of evidence based on dreams and visions.  However, this court still condemned three out of 56 people suspected of sorcery. By May of 1693, the governor pardoned all who were in prison for the crime of witchcraft.  Still, 19 people died for a crime they could not possibly commit, and an elderly succumbed after being pressed to death with massive rocks and stones.  Others perished in prison, and almost 200 people lived in fear after people charged them with practicing witchcraft.

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“Witch Hill,” or “The Salem Martyr”
  Oil painting by New York artist Thomas Slatterwhite Noble, 1869.

After the trials and executions, some people involved in the witch hunts and murders, came forward to confess of their wrongdoings and involvement in the court hearings. One judge, Samuel Sewall, stepped forward and publicly proclaimed his guilt.  Of the “afflicted girls,” Ann Putnam was the only one to make a public apology.

On January 15, 1697, the towns ordered a day of fasting, so people could honor and remember those who were condemned to die. The day was called the Day of Official Humiliation, and people were requested to plead with God for forgiveness.  In 1702, the courts found the trials to be unlawful, and in 1711, a bill was passed to restore the rights and good names of those falsely and unjustly accused of performing the black arts. In addition, the courts approved monetary restitution to surviving family members.

Over 250 years later, in 1957, the state of Massachusetts finally publicly apologized for the horrible events of the Salem Witch Trials. Although theories abound, no one knows how these horrific events came into play. No one understands the trepidation or the suspicions that caused neighbor to accuse neighbor. No one could comprehend how a group of children started an intense flame of fear. This unimaginable and terrible haunting terrorized entire communities.  These ominous accusations ultimately led to the death of nineteen innocent people, and in the end, nearly 200 citizens suffered from false accusations of practicing the sinister act of black magic.

 

 

 

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Note: as I continue my research, I will update these lists of family members that were involved in the Salem Witch Trials.

Family Members Accused of Witchcraft

Dudley Bradstreet and Anne Wood – 8x Great Uncle an his Wife

Captain Dudley Bradstreet was a Justice of the Peace in Andover.  Through his job, he was expected to serve warrants for accused witches although he was skeptical of the claims of the so-called victims and their witnesses. While he did serve over 40 warrants, he stopped.  Once he stopped serving warrants, he and his wife, Ann, were accused of nine murders through the power of witchcraft.  The couple fled.

John Bradstreet (1652-1718) – 7x Great Grandfather

While walking in the street of Salem, John unexpectedly met with the afflicted girls of Salem.  Unfortunately, at that moment a dog ran up to him and barked and then quickly ran away.  The girls accused him of afflicting the dog with black magic.  Once accused, my grandfather left for New York.  Once captured, the dog was hanged.

 

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Family Members That Accused

“The Afflicted Girls”

Ann Putnam Jr. – 3rd Cousin

Mary Walcott – 4th Cousin

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Henry Kinne –  11x Great Gradfather

Henry Kinne accused Martha Corey  and Rebecca Nurse of witchcraft.

(Warrant for apprehension of Martha Corey ) [ March 19, 1692 ]

Salem, March the 19’th 1691/2

There being Complaint this day made before us, By Edward put- nam and Henery Keney Yeoman both of Salem Village, Against
Martha Cory the wife of Giles Cory of Salem farmes for suspition
of haveing Comitted sundry acts of Witchcraft and thereby donne
much hurt and injury unto the Bodys of Ann Putnam the wife of
Thomas Putnam of Salem Village Yeoman And Anna Puttnam the
daugtter of s’d Thomas putnam and Marcy Lewis Single woman Live-
ing in s’d Putnams famyly; also abigail Williams one of mr parris
his family and Elizabeth Hubert Doctor Grigs his maid.

You are therefore in theire Majest’s names hereby required to
apprehend and bring; before us. Martha Cory the wife of Giles Cory
abovesaid on Munday next being the 21’t day of this Instant month,
at the house of Lt Nathaniell Ingersalls of Salem Village aboute
twelve of the Clock in the day in order to her Examination Relateing
to the premises and hereof you are not to faile

Dated Salem. March. the 19’th. 1691/2

p us
*Jonathan. Corwin
*John:Hathorne
*Jonathan. Corwin {
Assists

To Geo Herrick Marshall of the County of Essex — or any Constable in Salem


 

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Thomas Putnam and Ann Carr Putnam – 2nd Cousins

Both Thomans and Ann ‘Carr Putnam falsley accused Rebecca Nurse of sorcery.

(Warrant v. Rebecca Nurse )

To the Marshall of Essex or his deputie

There Being Complaint this day made (before us by Edward putnam and Jonathan putnam Yeomen both of Salem Village, Against Rebeca Nurce the wife of franc’s Nurce of Salem Village for vehement Suspition, of haveing Committed Sundry acts of Witchcraft and thereby haveing donne Much hurt and Injury to the Bodys of Ann putnam the wife of Thomas putnam of Salem Village Anna puttnam the dauter of Said Thomas putnam and Abigail Williams &c

You are therefore in theire Majesties names hereby required to apprehend and bring before us Rebeca Nurce the wife of franc’s Nurce of Salem Village, to Morrow aboute Eight of the Clock in the forenoon at the house of Lt Nathaniell Ingersoll in Salem Village in order to her Examination Relateing to the aboves’d premises and hereof you are not to faile Salem March the 23’d 1691/2

p us *John. Hathorne ] Assists

*Jonathan Corwin ] Assists

March 24’th 1691/2 I have apprehended the body of Rebeca Nurse and brought her to the house of Le’t Nath. Ingersal where shee is in Costody

p’r *George Herrick Marshall of Essex

(Reverse) in the meeting house (be) Mary Walkott Marcy Lewis Eliz: Hubberd

all these accused goody Nurce then to her face that she then hurt them &c and they saw besides the others on Contra Side.

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Waitstill Winthrop – 1st Cousin

A magistrate of the Court of Oyer and Terminer that heard the Salem Witch Trials.

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Sources

 

 

Painting:  “Examination of a Witch” by Thompkins H. Matteson, 1853.

6 thoughts on “The Haunting of Salem

    1. I was shocked by the number of family members involved in this historical event, and once I am finished connecting all the pieces, I will have a few more to add. What has really surprised me about my family research is how often my maternal and paternal lines cross paths throughout history. In this piece, both sides of the family lived in the same area at the same time and knew one another. Thank you for reading and commenting. Glad you stopped by!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is pretty amazing. I’ve had one like that. My mother’s family mainly Dutch Protestants in MIchigan, my father’s German Catholics in Illinois. But dad’s aunt married a Dutch man in the same area my mom’s family was living. So many coincidences and oddities in this genealogical search, aren’t there?!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. My dad and my mom’s family ended up in Michigan for a time too. My maternal grandmother had French Canadian roots that wandered into Michigan, and my father’s Pennsylvanian Dutch ancestry headed west into Michigan too. Yes there are many strange events when researching the family tree!

    Like

  2. My wife and I visited Salem and Boston eight years ago and we were impressed the same way I am of your story here. It was our favorite vacation. It’s all fascinating and amazing, a national treasure.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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