A Short History of the Salem Village Witchcraft Trials – M. V. B. Perley

Greater Salem, the province of Governors Conant and Endicott, is visited by thousands of sojourners yearly. They come to study the Quakers and the witches, to picture the manses of the latter and the stately mansions of Salem’s commercial kings, and breathe the salubrious air of “old gray ocean.” The witchcraft “delusion” is generally the first topic of inquiry, and the earnest desire of those people with notebook in hand to aid the memory in chronicling answers, suggested this monograph and urged its publication. There is another cogent reason: the popular knowledge is circumscribed and even that needs correcting. This short history meets that earnest desire; it gives the origin, growth, and death of the hideous monster; it gives dates, courts, and names of places, jurors, witnesses, and those hanged; it names and explains certain “men and things” that are concomitant to the trials, with which the reader may not be conversant and which are necessary to the proper setting of the trials in one’s mind; it compasses the salient features of witchcraft history, so that the story of the 1692 “delusion” may be garnered and entertainingly rehearsed. The trials were all spread upon the records, word for word. Rev. Samuel Parris, stenographer to the court, says they were “taken down in my characters written at the time,” barring, of course, the evidence by affidavits, which were written, signed, and attested, and filed in the Clerk of Court’s office, where they may now be seen. Great research has hitherto been made, keen, sagacious acumen employed, and much written; but the true criterion of judgment, a trial,—a word for word trial,—has not before this been published. Here, then, is the first opportunity of readers to judge for themselves. The trials were unique. The court was without authority; none of the judges, it is said, was bred to the law; evidence was arbitrarily admitted or excluded; the accused were not allowed counsel in law or the consolation of the clergy in religion. The careful reader may discover, between the lines, in questions, in answers, and in the strange exhibitions, the real state of mind pervading all, which has been mildly characterized as a “delusion”; also he may be able to compare the Mosaic, the 1692, and the modern spirit manifestations, and advantageously determine for himself what is worth while in modern spiritualism, mind-reading, clairvoyance, mesmerism, and the rest. Though men of education, religion, titled dignity, and official station, of the professions and the élite, were responsible for the horrible catastrophy, and in one instance or more forced the yeoman jurors to convict (who at the end signed recantations and expressed their grief),—religion and education must not be undervalued; a religious education will yield the highest type of manhood.



The proceedings in witchcraft in 1692 to us who are two hundred and twenty years removed from the scene, seem, at first, impossible, then mortifying, and persuasive of disowning our fathers and forgetting the period of their folly.

At best, the occurrence furnishes the wildest and saddest chapter in our New England history. ANTİQUİTY OF THE WİTCH The doctrine of familiar spirits was current in most ancient times. It is possible that immediately after the fall in Adam the imprisoned spirit of man began to assert its former freedom and ability. The old Scriptures depicted the witch’s character, gave warning of her blighting influence, and enacted heavy penalties against employing her agency. In Exodus, xxii. 18: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” In Leviticus, xx. 27: “A man also or a woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” In Deuteronomy, xviii. 9-12: “When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.

There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or any observer of times, or any enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer; for all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord.” THE COLONİAL LAWS AND The colonial laws to which New England witches were amenable, codified by Rev. Samuel Ward, of Ipswich, who had had extensive legal training and practice before entering the ministry, were published in 1641. Mr. Ward [2] followed Moses, the great Hebrew lawgiver, in great measure, but he distanced England in mildness and was far ahead of his time in scope. With him, however, the witch found no favor. Death was the punishment for witchcraft, first and last, and the Puritan, whose sure palladium of civil and religious freedom was the Bible, obeyed the precept to the letter, his highest knowledge and authority. THE MODERN WİTCH AND The modern witch, it is said, had her birth near the beginning of the Christian era. Her persecution began about two hundred years later. From that time hundreds of thousands of victims were immolated to appease the inconsiderate and insatiate demands of her persecutors.

In the earliest years witches were generally burned, and in the first one hundred and fifty years it is estimated thirty thousand thus perished. Later, in France, in one century, an almost incredible number suffered—one thousand in a single diocese. In the century, 1600 to 1700, two hundred were hanged in England, one thousand were burned in Scotland, and a much greater number on the Continent. THE AMERİCAN WİTCH AND In America there were witch trials—in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania, [3]—some years before 1692. In Boston, 1648, Margaret Jones, of malignant touch, was hanged, and Mrs. Ann (Wm.) Hebbins, in 1655. In Springfield, 1651, Mrs. Mary (Hugh) Parsons was hanged. In Ipswich quarter court, 1652, a man was sentenced to pay a fine of twenty shillings, or to be whipped for “having familiarity with the Devil.

” The doctrine of witches was embraced not only by the common people, but also by the learned; Tycho Brahe, the prince of astronomers, and Kepler, his student, Martin Luther, the bold theologian, and Melancthon, the gentle; the silver-tongued Dr. Watts and the pious Baxter, who styled a disbeliever in witchcraft “an obdurate Sadducee,” and others whom time fails me to mention. OLD CRONE LORE AND Witch stories were a social entertainment, to the mingled fear and merriment of guests and the positive foreboding of children. Who even now among the older people has forgotten the crone lore of our grandmothers—how witches would seize a red-hot iron, glide into a heated oven, ride through the air on enchanted broomsticks, and how stalwart men would stalk through keyholes, supported and directed by Satanic power! It was believed that witches made an actual, deliberate, and formal compact with Satan. There were, however, two or three persons of learning and influence in the Province who (to their great credit, be it said) dared to oppose the doctrine of witches—the celebrated Rev. Samuel Willard, of the Old South Church, Boston,—Maj. Nathaniel Saltonstall, who declined a seat upon the bench rather than participate in the witch trials,—and Rev. John Higginson (son of Rev. Francis, the first minister of Salem), who was cautious and held himself aloof; for his conscience whispered he had gone too far against the Quakers. PEN PİCTURE OF A WİTCH HOME OF THE “DELUSİON” The New England witch was supposed to be an old woman of attenuated form, somewhat bent; clothed in lively colors and ample skirts; having a darting and piercing eye, a head sporting disheveled hair and crowned with a sugar-loaf hat, a carlin’s cheek, a falcated chin bent to meet an aquiline nose, by both of which was formed a Neapolitan bay, her mouth in the background resembling Vesuvius in eruption; and riding an enchanted broomstick with a black cat as guide.

Salem Village, the location of the hideous catastrophe, was the northern precinct of Salem; and when it was incorporated Danvers, its name became Danvers Center. Quite recently (1910) the trolley car company changed the name to Danvers Highlands, but in the steam car nomenclature it is Collins Street. From Town House Square in Salem to the Highlands a trolley ride costs a nickel; the distance is five miles, and every mile a pleasure. INGERSOLL AND HİS TAVERN REVS. BAİLEY, BURROUGHS, LAWSON Nathaniel Ingersoll occupied the central location in the village; a man of industry and thrift; a licensed innkeeper, who sold liquor by the quart on Sunday; a kind of chief of police; managed the defenses against the Indians; a benevolent man, and was chosen deacon. His name does not figure in the witch trials, and the witches have left no records of the influence of his tavern in the results. The open plat of ground in front of his tavern was called Ingersoll’s Common. Farther up the street, at No. 5, is a plat of ground he gave for “a training field forever.” Capt.

Dea. Jonathan Walcott was a neighbor, as was also Sergt. Thomas Putnam, parish clerk.


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