I had a wonderful opportunity last week while in the Boston area for my nieces wedding. I had planned to visit at least two historical sites that have family connections, to pay my respects and hopefully feel a connection or learn something new about my ancestry.
On Friday we landed in the early morning in Boston and drove to Waltham to our hotel. Since our room would not be ready for hours, we decided to go to the first place I had wanted to visit, Salem. When I asked the hotel employee how long it would take to get there, the woman scrunched up her face, shaking her head side to side and told us we would not like it. Not deterred, we went not really knowing what to expect.
So, why Salem?
I am the 9th great granddaughter of a woman described as “short, active, plump and well developed in her figure, and of extraordinary neatness“, a woman who raised at least 9 children, of which 7 were living at this time, her name is Susannah North Martin. She is the daughter of Richard North and Joan Bartram.
In 1669, Susannah was first formally accused of witchcraft by William Sargent, also an ancestor of mine. Susannah was required to post 100 pounds bond to appear in court on a charge of witchcraft, a capital offense. Her husband, George Martin, sued Sargent for slander against Susannah for accusing her of being a witch, but the Court upheld the accusation of witchcraft. A higher court later dismissed the witchcraft charges.
In 1686, Susannah was left an impoverished widow when her husband George died. It was that year that inhabitants of nearby Salem, stated that she had attempted to recruit them into witchcraft She was described by many of a pious nature and could quote the Bible quite well. A witch should not have been able to do that, but it seems it did not help her case as she was also noted to be outspoken and “contemptuous of authority” or “defiant in the face of slander“.
In April of 1692 an arrest warrant was issued for witchcraft to Susannah of Amesbury, Massachusetts She was 70 yrs of age.
To the Marshall of the County of Essex of his Lawful Deputies or to the Constable of Amesbury:
You are in their Majests names hereby required forthwith or as soon as may be to apprehend and bring (before us) Susanna Mertin of Amsbury in ye county of Essex Widdow at ye house of Lt. Nathaniel Ingersalls in Salem village in order to her examination Relating to high suspicion of sundry acts of Witchcraft donne or committed by her upon ye Bodys of Mary Walcot, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam and Mercy Lewis of Salem village or farmes whereby great hurt and damage hath beene donne to ye bodys of said persons according to complt of Capt. Jonathan walcot & Serg Thomas putnam in behalf of their Majests this day exhibited before us for themselves and also for several of their neighbors and here you are not to fail at your peril.
Dated Salem Aprill 30th 1692.
John Hathorn, Jonathan Corwin, Assistants
INDICTMENT v. SUSANNA MARTIN
Anno Regis et Reginae William et Mariee nunc Anglice etc. Quarto. Essex ss.
The Jurors for our Sovereign Lord and Lady the King and Queen presents that Susanna Martin of Amesbury in the County of Essex, widow the Second day of May in the fourth year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord and Lady William and Mary by the Grace of God of England, Scotland, France and Ireland King and Queen Defenders of the faith etc. and divers other Days and Times as well before as after certain detestable arts called witchcrafts and Sorceries wickedly and Feloniously hath used Practiced and Exercised at and within the Township of Salem in the County of Essex, aforesaid in upon and against one Mary Walcott of Salem Village singlewoman, by which said wicked arts the said Mary walcott the second day of May in the fourth year aforesaid and at Divers other Days and times as well before as after was and is Tortured Afflicted Pined wasted and Tormented as also for Sundry other acts of witchcrafts by said Susanna Martin committed and done before and Since that time against the Peace of our Sovereign Lord and Lady William and Mary King and Queen of England their Crown and Dignity and against the Form of the statute in that case made and Provided.
Sarah Vibber, Sworn
Mary Walcott, Sworn
Mr. Samuel Parris, Sworn
On the 2nd of May, she was arrested and taken to a tavern, Ingersills, in Salem, where she was examined. The Reverend Cotton Mather said of her,
This woman was one of the most impudent, scurrilous, wicked creatures of this world; and she did now throughout her whole trial discover herself to be such a one. Yet when she was asked what she had to say for herself, her chief plea was that she had led a most virtuous and holy life.”
Her trail was the 29th of June and it was recorded that she “laughed out loud at the afflicted persons as the writhed about the floor in great pain, which they said was caused by Susannah having bewitching arts”. I have to admit, I too would probably laugh at that, how absurd the whole thing must have been to her.
Though she pleaded innocence at her trial, on July 19 1692 she and four others were thrown into a cart, taken through Salem town up to Gallows Hill, where they were hung. The bodies were then thrown carelessly into an unmarked crevice among the rocks. At some point, late in the evening, one of the husbands (or family members) came to reclaim the body of his wife and secretly buried her, place still unknown. The others were Sarah Good, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Wilde and Elizabeth Howe.
In 1696 a document was signed by the 12 jurors in that trial asking for forgiveness in their part. In 1706 Ann Putnam, one of the main witnesses, an “afflicted child“, confessed and asked to be pardoned and forgiven. In 1709 twenty-one accused witches and children of these witches asked that their reputations be restored and also sought compensation. In 1711 the General Court granted compensation to the many victims however, Susannah’s children never applied for or received any restitution.
In 1957 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts cleared the names of everyone ever accused of witchcraft.
It was my intention to go up to Salem and pay my respects at the memorial garden that was created for those that were convicted and hung. As we drove into the city, I was appalled by what I saw. Dollar Store Halloween at it’s worst. Even as close as a foot from one the oldest cemeteries and the memorial to these innocents there were trailers of cider, t-shirts and souvenirs being sold. There were buildings of witch and vampire goods being sold, with smoke coming out to form mists and scary sounds being pumped into these businesses. Flags and banners on the businesses and just a scary b-movie kind of look to the town. The Park Ranger told me it would only get worse in the next week, but yes it was this cheesy most of the time. I asked where we could go to see more of the historic parts of the city and lazily he noted on the map, “well this house was owned by one of the judges” as he circled it. He was not even interested in telling me more when I told him I wanted to learn more about it. Just directions to this house, though he failed to mention it was not open.
The (Salem) Witch Hunts were and are nothing to be made fun of, nor taken lightly. It was a time in our history that innocent victims were accused, abused and then hung and if not killed, they were never the same again in their own hometowns or even some within their own families. These men and women were violated with their bodies being combed over for any sign of being a witch, any thing as simple as a mole or malformation could be used to accuse. Every aspect of their lives were looked into for any possible reason to cry out “Witch!“
Imagine your neighbor has a dispute with you, over land or water rights, or if he he thinks you have coveted something of his. Imagine you do not want to attend the church, would rather not be a part of the faithful and wish to be left alone. Maybe someone in your house was so ill that death was expected but you tended to the sick and were able to make them better. Perhaps you were seen to give the sick something to drink or eat, yes you could be a witch indeed. Children heard stories and became “afflicted” and this hysteria caught on from one child to the next, suddenly you are accused of being able to transport your being into these children and cause them harm. If crops failed, winter was worse than before, infestations of flies or other insects abound, if cattle died or you had a child who was born deformed or died, cry witch!
To take a town like Salem, beautiful and full of history and let it become a mockery to this history and to allow these businesses to be so very close to sacred ground is just wrong. Do I take it too seriously, I think not.
Just as people do not want shopping malls on Civil War battlefields, I do not want our history to be forgotten and turned into a shameless way to make money and fun at the expense of the memories of these citizens; wives, husbands, daughters and sons, who were tortured and killed in an angry, frightful superstitious time.
Better that we learn from this part of our history, a time when fear was high in the new world, times and ways were changing faster than the people could adapt to and the unknown was far to scary for many. When we let fear rise to the top of our emotions, we tend to inflict pain on others thinking we are helping ourselves.
I for one, will keep the Witch Trials in mind, so that when I look into another’s way of life, I will not let judgments, prejudice, and yes even pride, form at the top of my thoughts.