[The subject of Salem Witchcraft has been traced to its conclusion, and discussed within its proper limits, in the foregoing work. But whoever is interested in it as a chapter of history or an exhibition of humanity may feel a curiosity, on some points, that reasonably demands gratification. The questions will naturally arise, Who were the earliest to extricate themselves and the public from the delusion? what is known, beyond the facts mentioned in the progress of the foregoing discussion, of the later fortunes of its prominent actors? what the-view taken in the retrospect by individuals and public bodies implicated in the transaction? and what opinions on the general subject have subsequently prevailed? To answer these questions is the design of this Supplement.]
It can hardly be said that there was any open and avowed opposition in the community to the proceedings during their early progress. There is some uncertainty and obscurity to what extent there was an unexpressed dissent in the minds of particular private persons. On the general subject of the existence and power of the Devil and his agency, more or less, in influencing human and earthly affairs, it would be difficult to prove that there was any considerable difference of opinion.
The first undisguised and unequivocal opposition to the proceedings was a remarkable document that has recently come to light. Among some papers which have found their way to the custody of the Essex Institute, is a letter, dated “Salisbury, Aug. 9, 1692,” addressed “To the worshipful Jonathan Corwin, Esq., these present at his house in Salem.” It is indorsed, “A letter
Page 448. to my grandfather, on account of the condemnation of the witches.” Its date shows that it was written while the public infatuation and fury were at their height, and the Court was sentencing to death and sending to the gallows its successive cartloads. There is no injunction of secresy, and no shrinking from responsibility. Although the name of the writer is not given in full, he was evidently well known to Corwin, and had written to him before on the subject. The messenger, in accordance with the superscription, undoubtedly delivered it into the hands of the judge at his residence on the corner of Essex and North Streets. The fact that Jonathan Corwin preserved this document, and placed it in the permanent files of his family papers, is pretty good proof that he appreciated the weight of its arguments. It is not improbable that he expressed himself to that effect to his brethren on the bench, and perhaps to others. What he said, and the fact that he was holding such a correspondence, may have reached the ears of the accusers, and led them to commence a movement against him by crying out upon his mother-in-law.
The letter is a most able argument against the manner in which the trials were conducted, and, by conclusive logic, overthrows the whole fabric of the evidence on the strength of which the Court was convicting and taking the lives of innocent persons. No such piece of reasoning has come to us from that age. Its author must be acknowledged to have been an expert in dialectic subtleties, and a pure reasoner of unsurpassed acumen and force. It requires, but it will reward, the closest attention and concentration of thought in following the threads of the argument. It reaches its conclusions on a most difficult subject with clearness and certainty. It achieves and realizes, in mere mental processes, quantities, and forces, on the points at which it aims, what is called demonstration in mathematics and geometry.
The writer does not discredit, but seems to have received, the then prevalent doctrines relating to the personality, power, and attributes of the Devil; and, from that standpoint, controverts and demolishes the principles on which the Court was proceeding, in reference to the “spectral evidence” and the credibility of the “afflicted children” generally. The letter, and the formal argument appended to it, arrest notice in one or two general aspects. There is an appearance of their having proceeded from an elderly
Page 449. person, not at all from any marks of infirmity of intellect, but rather from an air of wisdom and a tone of authority which can only result from long experience and observation. The circumstance that an amanuensis was employed, and the author writes the initials of his signature only, strengthens this impression. At the same time, there are indications of a free and progressive spirit, more likely to have had force at an earlier period of life. In some aspects, the document indicates a theological education, and familiarity with matters that belong to the studies of a minister; in others, it manifests habits of mind and modes of expression and reasoning more natural to one accustomed to close legal statements and deductions. If the production of a trained professional man of either class, it would justly be regarded as remarkable. If its author belonged to neither class, but was merely a local magistrate, farmer, and militia officer, it becomes more than remarkable. There must have been a high development among the founders of our villages, when the laity could present examples of such a capacity to grasp the most difficult subjects, and conduct such acute and abstruse disquisitions. [See Appendix.]
The question as to the authorship of this paper may well excite interest, involving, as it does, minute critical speculations. The elements that enter into its solution illustrate the difficulties and perplexities encompassing the study of local antiquities, and attempts to determine the origin and bearings of old documents or to settle minute points of history. The weight of evidence seems to indicate that the document is attributable to Major Robert Pike, of Salisbury. Whoever was its author did his duty nobly, and stands alone, above all the scholars and educated men of the time, in bearing testimony openly, bravely, in the very ears of the Court, against the disgraceful and shocking course they were pursuing.*
William Brattle, an eminent citizen and opulent merchant of Boston, and a gentleman of education and uncommon abilities, wrote a letter to an unknown correspondent of the clerical profession,
Page 451. in October, 1692. It is an able criticism upon the methods of procedure at the trials, condemning them in the strongest language; but it was a confidential communication, and not published
Page 452. until many years afterwards. He says that “the witches' meetings, the Devil's baptisms and mock sacraments, which the accusing and confessing witches oft speak of, are nothing else but the effect of their fancy, depraved and deluded by the Devil, and not a reality to be regarded or minded by any wise man.” He charges the judges with having taken testimony from the Devil himself, through witnesses who swore to what they said the Devil communicated to them, thus indirectly introducing the Devil as a witness; and he clinches the accusation by quoting the judges themselves, who, when the accusing and confessing witnesses contradicted each other, got over the difficulty by saying that the Devil, in such instances, took away the memory of some of them, for the moment, obscuring their brains, and misleading them. He sums up this part of his reasoning in these words: “If it be thus granted that the Devil is able to represent false ideas to the imaginations of the confessors, what man of sense will regard the confessions, or any of the words of these confessors?” He says that he knows several persons “about the Bay,” — men, for understanding, judgment, and piety, inferior to few, if any, in New England, — that do utterly condemn the said proceedings. He repudiates the idea that Salem was, in any sense, exclusively responsible for the transaction; and affirms that “other justices in the country, besides the Salem justices,
Page 453. have issued out their warrants;” and states, that, of the eight “judges, commissioned for this Court at Salem, five do belong to Suffolk County, four of which five do belong to Boston, and therefore I see no reason why Boston should talk of Salem as though their own judges had had no hand in these proceedings in Salem.”
There is one view of the subject, upon which Brattle presses with much force and severity. There is ground to suspect, that the proceedings were suffered to go on after some of those appearing to countenance them had ceased to have faith in the accusations. He charges, directly, complicity in the escape of Mrs. Carey, Mrs. English, Captain Alden, Hezekiah Usher, and others, upon the high officials; and says that while the evidence, upon which so many had been imprisoned, sentenced, and executed, bore against Mrs. Thacher, of Boston, she was never proceeded against. “She was much complained of by the afflicted persons, and yet the justices would not issue out their warrants to apprehend” her and certain others; while at the very same time they were issuing, upon no better or other grounds, warrants against so many others. He charges the judges with this most criminal favoritism. The facts hardly justify such an imputation upon the judges. They did not, after the trials had begun, it is probable, ever issue warrants: that was the function of magistrates. With the exception, perhaps, of Corwin, I think there is no evidence of there having been any doubts or misgivings on the bench. It is altogether too heavy a charge to bring, without the strongest evidence, upon any one. To intimate that officials, or any persons, who did not believe in the accusations, connived at the escape of their friends and relatives, and at the same time countenanced, pretended to believe, and gave deadly effect to them when directed against others, is supposing a criminality and baseness too great to be readily admitted. In that wild reign of the worst of passions, this would have transcended them all in its iniquity. The only excusable people at that time were those who honestly, and without a doubt, believed in the guilt of the convicted. Those who had doubts, and did not frankly and fearlessly express them, were the guilty ones. On their hands is the stain of the innocent blood that was shed. It is not probable, and is scarcely possible, that any considerable number could be at once doubters and prosecutors. On this
Page 454. point, Brattle must be understood to mean, not that judges, or others actively engaged in the prosecutions, warded off proceedings against particular friends or relatives from a principle of deliberate favoritism, but that third parties, actuated by a sycophantic spirit, endeavored to hush up or intercept complaints, when directed too near to the high officials, or thought to gain their favor by aiding the escape of persons in whom they were interested.
Brattle uses the same weapon which afterwards the opponents of Mr. Parris, in his church at Salem Village, wielded with such decisive effect against him and all who abetted him. It is much to be lamented, that, instead of hiding it under a confidential letter, he did not at the time openly bring it to bear in the most public and defiant manner. One brave, strong voice, uttered in the face of the court and in the congregations of the people, echoed from the corners of the streets, and reaching the ears of the governor and magistrates, denouncing the entire proceedings as the damnable crime of familiarity with evil spirits, and sorcery of the blackest dye, might perhaps have recalled the judges, the people, and the rulers to their senses. If the spirit of the ancient prophets of God, of the Quakers of the preceding age, or of true reformers of any age, had existed in any breast, the experiment would have been tried. Brattle says, —
“I cannot but admire that any should go with their distempered friends and relations to the afflicted children, to know what their distempered friends ail, whether they are not bewitched, who it is that afflicts them, and the like. It is true, I know no reason why these afflicted may not be consulted as well as any other, if so be that it was only their natural and ordinary knowledge that was had recourse to: but it is not on this notion that these afflicted children are sought unto, but as they have a supernatural knowledge; a knowledge which they obtain by their holding correspondence with spectres or evil spirits, as they themselves grant. This consulting of these afflicted children, as abovesaid, seems to me to be a very gross evil, a real abomination, not fit to be known in New England; and yet is a thing practised, not only by Tom and John, — I mean the rude and more ignorant sort, — but by many who profess high, and pass among us for some of the better sort. This is that which aggravates the evil, and makes it heinous and tremendous; and yet this is not the worst of it, — for, as
Page 455. sure as I now write to you, even some of our civil leaders and spiritual teachers, who, I think, should punish and preach down such sorcery and wickedness, do yet allow of, encourage, yea, and practise, this very abomination. I know there are several worthy gentlemen in Salem who account this practice as an abomination, have trembled to see the methods of this nature which others have used, and have declared themselves to think the practice to be very evil and corrupt. But all avails little with the abettors of the said practice.”
If Mr. Brattle and the “several worthy gentlemen” to whom he alludes, instead of sitting in “trembling” silence, or whispering in private their disapprobation, or writing letters under the injunction of secrecy, had come boldly out, and denounced the whole thing, in a spirit of true courage, meeting and defying the risk, and carrying the war home, and promptly, upon the ministers, magistrates, and judges, they might have succeeded, and exploded the delusion before it had reached its fatal results.
He mentions, in the course of his letter, among those persons known by him to disapprove of the proceedings, —
“The Hon. Simon Bradstreet, Esq. (our late governor), the Hon. Thomas Danforth, Esq. (our late deputy-governor), the Rev. Mr. Increase Mather, and the Rev. Mr. Samuel Willard. Major N. Saltonstall, Esq., who was one of the judges, has left the court, and is very much dissatisfied with the proceedings of it. Excepting Mr. Hale, Mr. Noyes, and Mr. Parris, the reverend elders, almost throughout the whole country, are very much dissatisfied. Several of the late justices — viz., Thomas Graves, Esq.; N. Byfield, Esq.; Francis Foxcroft, Esq. — are much dissatisfied; also several of the present justices, and, in particular, some of the Boston justices, were resolved rather to throw up their commissions than be active in disturbing the liberty of Their Majesties' subjects merely on the accusations of these afflicted, possessed children.”
It is to be observed, that the dissatisfaction was with some of the methods adopted in the proceedings, and not with the prosecutions themselves. Increase Mather and Samuel Willard signed the paper indorsing Deodat Lawson's famous sermon, which surely drove on the prosecutions; and the former expressed, in print, his approbation of his son Cotton's “Wonders of the Invisible World,” in which he labors to defend the witchcraft prosecutions, and to make it out that those who suffered were “malefactors.”
Page 456. Dr. Increase Mather is understood to have countenanced the burning of Calef's book, some few years afterwards, in the square of the public grounds of Harvard College, of which institution he was then president. It cannot be doubted, however, that both the elder Mather and Mr. Willard had expressed, more or less distinctly, their disapprobation of some of the details of the proceedings. It is honorable to their memories, and shows that the former was not wholly blinded by parental weakness, but willing to express his dissent, in some particulars, from the course of his distinguished son, and that the latter had an independence of character which enabled him to criticise and censure a court in which three of his parishioners sat as judges.
Brattle relates a story which seems to indicate that Increase Mather sometimes was unguarded enough to express himself with severity against those who gave countenance to the proceedings. “A person from Boston, of no small note, carried up his child to Salem, near twenty miles, on purpose that he might consult the afflicted about his child, which accordingly he did; and the afflicted told him that his child was afflicted by Mrs. Carey and Mrs. Obinson.” The “afflicted,” in this and some other instances, had struck too high. The magistrates in Boston were unwilling to issue a warrant against Mrs. Obinson, and Mrs. Carey had fled. All that the man got for his pains, in carrying his child to Salem, was a hearty scolding from Increase Mather, who asked him “whether there was not a God in Boston, that he should go to the Devil, in Salem, for advice.”
Bradstreet's great age prevented, it is to be supposed, his public appearance in the affair; but his course in a case which occurred twelve years before fully justifies confidence in the statement of Brattle. The tradition has always prevailed, that he looked with disapprobation upon the proceedings, from beginning to end. The course of his sons, and the action taken against them, is quite decisive to the point.
Facts have been stated, which show that Thomas Danforth, if he disapproved of the proceedings at Salem, in October, must have undergone a rapid change of sentiments. No irregularities, improprieties, extravagances, or absurdities ever occurred in the examinations or trials greater than he was fully responsible for in April. Having, in the mean while, been superseded in office, he
Page 457. had leisure, in his retirement, to think over the whole matter; and it is satisfactory to find that he saw the error of the ways in which he had gone himself, and led others.
The result of the inquiry on this point is, that, while some, outside of the village, began early to doubt the propriety of the proceedings in certain particulars, they failed, with the single exception of Robert Pike, to make manly and seasonable resistance. He remonstrated in a writing signed with his own initials, and while the executions were going on. He sent it to one of the judges, and did not shrink from having his action known. No other voice was raised, no one else breasted the storm, while it lasted. The errors which led to the delusion were not attacked from any quarter at any time during that generation, and have remained lurking in many minds, in a greater or less degree, to our day.
There were, however, three persons in Salem Village and its immediate vicinity, who deserve to be for ever remembered in this connection. They resisted the fanaticism at the beginning, and defined its wrath. Joseph Putnam was a little more than twenty-two years of age. He probably did not enter into the question of the doctrines then maintained on such subjects, but was led by his natural sagacity and independent spirit to the course he took. In opposition to both his brothers and both his uncles, and all the rest of his powerful and extensive family, he denounced the proceedings through and through. At the very moment when the excitement was at its most terrible stage, and Mr. Parris held the life of every one in his hands, Joseph Putnam expressed his disapprobation of his conduct by carrying his infant child to the church in Salem to be baptized. This was a public and most significant act. For six months, he kept some one of his horses under saddle night and day, without a moment's intermission of the precaution; and he and his family were constantly armed. It was understood, that, if any one attempted to arrest him, it would be at the peril of life. If the marshal should approach with overwhelming force, he would spring to his saddle, and bid defiance to pursuit. Such a course as this, taken by one standing alone against the whole community to which he belonged, shows a degree of courage, spirit, and resolution, which cannot but be held in honor.
Martha Corey was an aged Christian professor, of eminently devout habits and principles. It is, indeed, a strange fact, that, in her humble home, surrounded, as it then was, by a wilderness, this husbandman's wife should have reached a height so above and beyond her age. But it is proved conclusively by the depositions adduced against her, that her mind was wholly disenthralled from the errors of that period. She utterly repudiated the doctrines of witchcraft, and expressed herself freely and fearlessly against them. The prayer which this woman made “upon the ladder,” and which produced such an impression on those who heard it, was undoubtedly expressive of enlightened piety, worthy of being characterized as “eminent” in its sentiments, and in its demonstration of an innocent heart and life.
The following paper, in the handwriting of Mr. Parris, is among the court-files. It has not the ordinary form of a deposition, but somehow was sworn to in Court: —
“The morning after the examination of Goody Nurse, Sam. Sibley met John Procter about Mr. Phillips's, who called to said Sibley as he was going to said Phillips's, and asked how the folks did at the village. He answered, he heard they were very bad last night, but he had heard nothing this morning. Procter replied, he was going to fetch home his jade; he left her there last night, and had rather given forty shillings than let her come up. Said Sibley asked why he talked so. Procter replied, if they were let alone so, we should all be devils and witches quickly; they should rather be had to the whipping-post; but he would fetch his jade home, and thrash the Devil out of her, — and more to the like purpose, crying, `Hang them! hang them!”'
In another document, it is stated that Nathaniel Ingersoll and others heard John Procter tell Joseph Pope, “that, if he had John Indian in his custody, he would soon beat the Devil out of him.”
The declarations thus ascribed to John Procter show that his views of the subject were about right; and it will probably be generally conceded, that the treatment he proposed for Mary Warren and “John Indian,” if dealt out to the “afflicted children” generally at the outset, would have prevented all the mischief. A sound thrashing all round, seasonably administered, would have reached the root of the matter; and the story which has now been concluded of Salem witchcraft would never have been told.
When the witchcraft tornado burst upon Andover, it prostrated
Page 459. every thing before it. Accusers and accused were counted by scores, and under the panic of the hour the accused generally confessed. But Andover was the first to recover its senses. On the 12th of October, 1692, seven of its citizens addressed a memorial to the General Court in behalf of their wives and children, praying that they might be released on bond, “to remain as prisoners in their own houses, where they may be more tenderly cared for.” They speak of their “distressed condition in prison, — a company of poor distressed creatures as full of inward grief and trouble as they are able to bear up in life withal.” They refer to the want of “food convenient” for them, and to “the coldness of the winter season that is coming which may despatch such out of the way that have not been used to such hardships,” and represent the ruinous effects of their absence from their families, who were at the same time required to maintain them in jail. On the 18th of October, the two ministers of Andover, Francis Dane and Thomas Barnard, with twenty-four other citizens of Andover, addressed a similar memorial to the Governor and General Court, in which we find the first public expression of condemnation of the proceedings. They call the accusers “distempered persons.” They express the opinion that their friends and neighbors have been misrepresented. They bear the strongest testimony in favor of the persons accused, that several of them are members of the church in full communion, of blameless conversation, and “walking as becometh women professing godliness.” They relate the methods by which they had been deluded and terrified into confession, and show the worthlessness of those confessions as evidences against them. They use this bold and significant language: “Our troubles we foresee are likely to continue and increase, if other methods be not taken than as yet have been; and we know not who can think himself safe, if the accusations of children and others who are under a diabolical influence shall be received against persons of good fame.” On the 2d of January, 1693, the Rev. Francis Dane addressed a letter to a brother clergyman, which is among the files, and was probably designed to reach the eyes of the Court, in which he vindicates Andover against the scandalous reports got up by the accusers, and says that a residence there of forty-four years, and intimacy with the people, enable him to declare that they are not justly chargeable with any
Page 460. such things as witchcraft, charms, or sorceries of any kind. He expresses himself in strong language: “Had charity been put on, the Devil would not have had such an advantage against us, and I believe many innocent persons have been accused and imprisoned.” He denounces “the conceit of spectre evidence,” and warns against continuing in a course of proceeding that will procure “the divine displeasure.” A paper signed by Dudley Bradstreet, Francis Dane, Thomas Barnard, and thirty-eight other men and twelve women of Andover, was presented to the Court at Salem to the same effect.
None of the persons named by Brattle can present so strong a claim to the credit of having opposed the witchcraft fanaticism before the close of the year 1692, as Francis Dane, his colleague Barnard, and the citizens of Andover, who signed memorials to the Legislature on the 18th of October, and to the Court of Trials about the same time. There is, indeed, one conclusive proof that the venerable senior pastor of the Andover Church made his disapprobation of the witchcraft proceedings known at an earlier period, at least in his immediate neighborhood. The wrath of the accusers was concentrated upon him to an unparalleled extent from their entrance into Andover. They did not venture to attack him directly. His venerable age and commanding position made it inexpedient; but they struck as near him, and at as many points, as they dared. They accused, imprisoned, and caused to be convicted and sentenced to death, one of his daughters, Abigail Faulkner. They accused, imprisoned, and brought to trial another, Elizabeth Johnson. They imprisoned, and brought to the sentence of death, his grand-daughter, Elizabeth Johnson, Jr. They cried out against, and caused to be imprisoned, several others of his grandchildren. They accused and imprisoned Deliverance the wife, and also the “man-servant,” of his son Nathaniel. There is reason for supposing, as has been stated, that Elizabeth How was the wife of his nephew. Surely, no one was more signalized by their malice and resentment than Francis Dane; and he deserves to be recognized as standing pre-eminent, and, for a time, almost alone, in bold denunciation and courageous resistance of the execrable proceedings of that dark day.
Francis Dane made the following statement, also designed to reach the authorities, which cannot be read by any person of sensibility
Page 461. without feeling its force, although it made no impression upon the Court at the time: —
“Concerning my daughter Elizabeth Johnson, I never had ground to suspect her, neither have I heard any other to accuse her, till by spectre evidence she was brought forth; but this I must say, she was weak, and incapacious, fearful, and in that respect I fear she hath falsely accused herself and others. Not long before she was sent for, she spake as to her own particular, that she was sure she was no witch. And for her daughter Elizabeth, she is but simplish at the best; and I fear the common speech, that was frequently spread among us, of their liberty if they would confess, and the like expression used by some, have brought many into a snare. The Lord direct and guide those that are in place, and give us all submissive wills; and let the Lord do with me and mine what seems good in his own eyes!”
There is nothing in the proceedings of the Special Court of Oyer and Terminer more disgraceful than the fact, that the regular Court of Superior Judicature, the next year, after the public mind had been rescued from the delusion, and the spectral evidence repudiated, proceeded to try these and other persons, and, in the face of such statements as the foregoing, actually condemned to death Elizabeth Johnson, Jr.
It is remarkable that Brattle does not mention Calef. The understanding has been that they acted in concert, and that Brattle had a hand in getting up some of Calef's arguments. The silence of Brattle is not, upon the whole, at all inconsistent with their mutual action and alliance. As Calef was more perfectly unembarrassed, without personal relations to the clergy and others in high station, and not afraid to stand in the gap, it was thought best to let him take the fire of Cotton Mather. His name had not been connected with the matter in the public apprehension. He was a merchant of Boston, and a son of Robert Calef of Roxbury. His attention was called to the proceedings which originated in Salem Village; and his strong faculties and moral courage enabled him to become the most efficient opponent, in his day, of the system of false reasoning upon which the prosecutions rested. He prepared several able papers in different forms, in which he discussed the subject with great ability, and treated Cotton Mather and all others whom he regarded as instrumental in precipitating the community into the fatal tragedy,
Page 462. with the greatest severity of language and force of logic, holding up the whole procedure to merited condemnation. They were first printed, at London, in 1700, in a small quarto volume, under the title of “More Wonders of the Invisible World.” This publication burst like a bomb-shell upon all who had been concerned in promoting the witchcraft prosecutions. Cotton Mather was exasperated to the highest pitch. He says in his diary: “He sent this vile volume to London to be published, and the book is printed; and the impression is, this day week, arrived here. The books that I have sent over into England, with a design to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, are not published, but strangely delayed; and the books that are sent over to vilify me, and render me incapable to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, — these are published.” Calef's writings gave a shock to Mather's influence, from which it never recovered.
Great difficulty has been experienced in drawing the story out in its true chronological sequence. The effect produced upon the public mind, when it became convinced that the proceedings had been wrong, and innocent blood shed, was a universal disposition to bury the recollection of the whole transaction in silence, and, if possible, oblivion. This led to a suppression and destruction of the ordinary materials of history. Papers were abstracted from the files, documents in private hands were committed to the flames, and a chasm left in the records of churches and public bodies. The journal of the Special Court of Oyer and Terminer is nowhere to be found. Hutchinson appears to have had access to it. It cannot well be supposed to have been lost by fire or other accident, because the records of the regular Court, up to the very time when the Special Court came into operation, and from the time when it expired, are preserved in order. A portion of the papers connected with the trials have come down in a miscellancous, scattered, and dilapidated state, in the offices of the Clerk of the Courts in the County of Essex, and of the Secretary of the Commonwealth. By far the larger part have been abstracted, of which a few have been deposited, by parties into whose hands they had happened to come, with the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston and the Essex Institute at Salem. The records of the parish of Salem Village, although exceedingly well kept before and after 1692 by Thomas Putnam, are in another hand for that
Page 463. year, very brief, and make no reference whatever to the witchcraft transactions. This general desire to obliterate the memory of the calamity has nearly extinguished tradition. It is more scanty and less reliable than on any other event at an equal distance in the past. A subject on which men avoided to speak soon died out of knowledge. The localities of many very interesting incidents cannot be identified. This is very observable, and peculiarly remarkable as to places in the now City of Salem. The reminiscences floating about are vague, contradictory, and few in number. In a community of uncommon intelligence, composed, to a greater degree perhaps than almost any other, of families that have been here from the first, very inquisitive for knowledge, and always imbued with the historical spirit, it is truly surprising how little has been borne down, by speech and memory, in the form of anecdote, personal traits, or local incidents, of this most extraordinary and wonderful occurrence of such world-wide celebrity. Almost all that we know is gleaned from the offices of the Registry of Deeds and Wills.*
to describe, into which the community suffered itself to be led in the witchcraft proceedings of 1692, — with a desire, on the contrary, to make the lesson then given of the mischief resulting from misguided enthusiasm, and which will always result when popular excitement is allowed to wield the organized powers of society, as impressive as facts and truth will justify, — I feel bound to say, in advance, that there are some considerations which we must keep before us, while reviewing the incidents of the transaction. The theological, legal, and philosophical doctrines and the popular beliefs, on which it was founded, have, as I have shown, led, in other countries and periods, to similar, and often vastly more shameful, cruel, and destructive results. But there was something in the affair, as it was developed here, that has arrested the notice of mankind, and clothed it with an inherent interest, beyond all other events of the kind that have elsewhere or ever occurred.
The moral force engendered in the civilization planted on these shores, and pervading the whole body of society, supplied a mightier momentum, as it does to this day, and ever will, to the movement of the people, acting in a mass and as a unit, than can anywhere else be found. A population, invigorated by hardy enterprise, and the constant exercise of all the faculties of freedom, and actuated throughout by individual energy of character, must be mightier in motion than any other people. Such a population multiplies tenfold its physical forces, by the addition of
Page 465. she followed him so soon to the grave. Of the other accusers, we have but little information. Elizabeth Booth was married to Israel Shaw about the year 1700. Mary Walcot was married, somewhere between 1692 and 1697, to a person belonging to Woburn, whose name is torn or worn off from Mr. Parris's records. Of the other “afflicted children” nothing is known, beyond the fact, that the Act of the Legislature of the Province, reversing the judgments, and taking off the attainder from those who were sentenced to death in 1692, has this paragraph: “Some of the principal accusers and witnesses in those dark and severe prosecutions have since discovered themselves to be persons of profligate and vicious conversation;” and Calef speaks of them as “vile varlets,” and asserts that their reputations were not without spot before, and that subsequently they became abandoned to open and shameless vice.
A very considerable number of the people left the place. John Shepard and Samuel Sibley sold their lands, and went elsewhere; as did Peter Cloyse, who never brought his family to the village after his wife's release from prison. Edward and Sarah Bishop sold their estates, and took up their abode at Rehoboth. Some of the Raymond family removed to Middleborough. The Haynes family emigrated to New Jersey. No mention is afterwards found of other families in the record-books. The descendants of Thomas and Edward Putnam, in the next generation, were mostly dispersed
Page 466. to other places; but those of Joseph remained on his lands, and have occupied his homestead to this day. It is a singular circumstance, that some of the spots where, particularly, the great mischief was brewed, are, and long have been, deserted. Where the parsonage stood, with its barn and garden and well and pathways, is now a bare and rugged field, without a vestige of its former occupancy, except a few broken bricks that mark the site of the house. The same is the case of the homestead of Jonathan Walcot. It was in these two families that the affair began and was matured. The spots where several others, who figured in the proceedings, lived, have ceased to be occupied; and the only signs of former habitation are hollows in the ground, fragments of pottery, and heaps of stones denoting the location of cellars and walls. Here and there, where houses and other structures once stood, the blight still rests.
Some circumstances relating to the personal history of those who experienced the greatest misery during the prevalence of the dreadful fanaticism, and were left to mourn over its victims, have happened to be preserved in records and documents on file. On the 30th of November, 1699, Margaret Jacobs was married to John Foster. She belonged to Mr. Noyes's parish; but the recollection of his agency in pushing on proceedings which carried in their train the execution of her aged grandfather, the exile of her father, the long imprisonment of her mother and herself, with the prospect of a violent and shameful death hanging over them every hour, and, above all, her own wretched abandonment of truth and conscience for a while, probably under his persuasion, made it impossible for her to think of being married by him. Mr. Greene was known to sympathize with those who had suffered, and the couple went to the village to be united. Some years afterwards, when the church of the Middle Precinct, now South Danvers, was organized, John and Margaret Foster, among the first, took their children there for baptism; and their descendants are numerous, in this neighborhood and elsewhere. Margaret, the widow of John Willard, married William Towne. Elizabeth, the widow of John Procter, married, subsequently to 1696, a person named Richards. Edward Bishop, the husband of Bridget, a few years afterwards was appointed guardian of Susannah Mason, the only child of Christian, who was the only child of Bridget by her
Page 467. former husband Thomas Oliver. Bishop seems to have invested the money of his ward in the lot at the extreme end of Forrester Street, where it connects with Essex Street, bounded by Forrester Street on the north and east, and Essex Street on the south. This was the property of Susannah when she married John Becket, Jr. Bishop appears to have continued his business of a sawyer to a very advanced age, and died in Salem, in 1705.
Sarah Nurse, about two years after her mother's death, married Michael Bowden, of Marblehead; and they occupied her father's house, in the town of Salem, of which he had retained the possession. His family having thus all been married off, Francis Nurse gave up his homestead to his son Samuel, and divided his remaining property among his four sons and four daughters. He made no formal deed or will, but drew up a paper, dated Dec. 4, 1694, describing the distribution of the estate, and what he expected of his children. He gave them immediate occupancy and possession of their respective portions. The provision made by the old man for his comfort, and the conditions required of his children, are curious. They give an interesting insight of the life of a rural patriarch. He reserved his “great chair and cushion;” a great chest; his bed and bedding; wardrobe, linen and woollen; a pewter pot; one mare, bridle, saddle, and sufficient fodder; the whole of the crop of corn, both Indian and English, he had made that year. The children were to discharge all the debts of his estate, pay him fourteen pounds a year, and contribute equally, as much more as might be necessary for his comfortable maintenance, and also to his “decent burial.” The labors of his life had closed. He had borne the heaviest burden that can be laid on the heart of a good man. He found rest, and sought solace and support, in the society and love of his children and their families, as he rode from house to house on the road he had opened, by which they all communicated with each other. The parish records show that he continued his interest in its affairs. He lived just long enough to behold sure evidence that justice would be done to the memory of those who suffered, and the authors of the mischief be consigned to the condemnation of mankind. The tide, upon which Mr. Parris had ridden to the destruction of so many, had turned; and it was becoming apparent to all, that
Page 468. he would soon be compelled to disappear from his ministry in the village, before the awakening resentment of the people and the ministers. Francis Nurse died on the 22d of November, 1695, seventy-seven years of age. His sons with their wives, and his daughters with their husbands, went into the Probate Court with the paper before described, and unanimously requested the judge to have the estate divided according to its terms. This is conclusive proof that the father had been just and wise in his arrangements, and that true fraternal love and harmony pervaded the whole family. The descendants, under the names of Bowden, Tarbell, and Russell, are dispersed in various parts of the country: those under the name of Preston, while some have gone elsewhere, have been ever since, and still are, among the most respectable and honored citizens of the village. Some of the name of Nurse have also remained, and worthily represent and perpetuate it.
I have spoken of the tide's beginning to turn in 1695. Sure indications to that effect were then quite visible. It had begun far down in the public mind before the prosecutions ceased; but it was long before the change became apparent on the surface. It was long before men found utterance for their feelings.
Persons living at a distance have been accustomed, and are to this day, to treat the Salem-witchcraft transaction in the spirit of lightsome ridicule, and to make it the subject of jeers and jokes. Not so those who have lived on, or near, the fatal scene. They have ever regarded it with solemn awe and profound sorrow, and shunned the mention, and even the remembrance, of its details. This prevented an immediate expression of feeling, and delayed movements in the way of attempting a reparation of the wrongs that had been committed. The heart sickened, the lips were dumb, at the very thought of those wrongs. Reparation was impossible. The dead were beyond its reach. The sorrows and anguish of survivors were also beyond its reach. The voice of sympathy was felt to be unworthy to obtrude upon sensibilities that had been so outraged. The only refuge left for the individuals who had been bereaved, and for the body of the people who realized that innocent blood was on all their hands, was in humble and soul-subdued silence, and in prayers for forgiveness from God and from each other.
It was long before the public mind recovered from its paralysis. No one knew what ought to be said or done, the tragedy had been so awful. The parties who had acted in it were so numerous, and of such standing, including almost all the most eminent and honored leaders of the community from the bench, the bar, the magistracy, the pulpit, the medical faculty, and in fact all classes and descriptions of persons; the mysteries connected with the accusers and confessors; the universal prevalence of the legal, theological, and philosophical theories that had led to the proceedings; the utter impossibility of realizing or measuring the extent of the calamity; and the general shame and horror associated with the subject in all minds; prevented any open movement. Then there was the dread of rekindling animosities which time was silently subduing, and nothing but time could fully extinguish. Slowly, however, the remembrance of wrongs was becoming obscured. Neighborhood and business relations were gradually reconciling the estranged. Offices of civility, courtesy, and good-will were reviving; social and family intimacies and connections were taking effect and restoring the community to a natural and satisfactory condition. Every day, the sentiment was sinking deeper in the public mind, that something was required to be done to avert the displeasure of Heaven from a guilty land. But while some were ready to forgive, and some had the grace to ask to be forgiven, any general movement in this direction was obstructed by difficulties hard to be surmounted.
The wrongs committed were so remediless, the outrages upon right, character, and life, had been so shocking, that it was expecting too much from the ordinary standard of humanity to demand a general oblivion. On the other hand, so many had been responsible for them, and their promoters embraced such a great majority of all the leading classes of society, that it was impossible to call them to account. Dr. Bentley describes the condition of the community, in some brief and pregnant sentences, characteristic of his peculiar style: “As soon as the judges ceased to condemn, the people ceased to accuse.... Terror at the violence and guilt of the proceedings succeeded instantly to the conviction of blind zeal; and what every man had encouraged all professed to abhor. Few dared to blame other men, because
Page 470. few were innocent. The guilt and the shame became the portion of the country, while Salem had the infamy of being the place of the transactions.... After the public mind became quiet, few things were done to disturb it. But a diminished population, the injury done to religion, and the distress of the aggrieved, were seen and felt with the greatest sorrow.... Every place was the subject of some direful tale. Fear haunted every street. Melancholy dwelt in silence in every place, after the sun retired. Business could not, for some time, recover its former channels; and the innocent suffered with the guilty.”
While the subject was felt to be too dark and awful to be spoken of, and most men desired to bury it in silence, occasionally the slumbering fires would rekindle, and the flames of animosity burst forth. The recollection of the part he had acted, and the feelings of many towards him in consequence, rendered the situation of the sheriff often quite unpleasant; and the resentment of some broke out in a shameful demonstration at his death, which occurred early in 1697. Mr. English, representing that class who had suffered under his official hands in 1692, having a business demand upon him, in the shape of a suit for debt, stood ready to seize his body after it was prepared for interment, and prevented the funeral at the time. The body was temporarily deposited on the sheriff's own premises. There were, it is probable, from time to time, other less noticeable occurrences manifesting the long-continued existence of the unhappy state of feeling engendered in 1692. There were really two parties in the community, generally both quiescent, but sometimes coming into open collision; the one exasperated by the wrongs they and their friends had suffered, the other determined not to allow those who had acted in conducting the prosecutions to be called to account for what they had done. After the lapse of thirty years, and long subsequent to the death of Mr. Noyes, Mr. English was prosecuted for having said that Mr. Noyes had murdered Rebecca Nurse and John Procter.
It has been suggested, that the bearing of the executive officers of the law towards the prisoners was often quite harsh. This resulted from the general feeling, in which these officials would have been likely to sympathize, of the peculiarly execrable nature of the crime charged upon the accused, and from the danger that
Page 471. might attend the manifestation of any appearance of kindly regard for them. So far as the seizure of goods is considered, or the exaction of fees, the conduct of the officials was in conformity with usage and instructions. The system of the administration of the law, compared with our times, was stern, severe, and barbarous. The whole tone of society was more unfeeling. Philanthropy had not then extended its operations, or directed its notice, to the prison. Sheriff Corwin was quite a young man, being but twenty-six years of age at the time of his appointment. He probably acted under the advice of his relatives and connections on the bench. I think there is no evidence of any particular cruelty evinced by him. The arrests, examinations, and imprisonments had taken place under his predecessor, Marshal Herrick, who continued in the service as his deputy.
That individual, indeed, had justly incurred the resentment of the sufferers and their friends, by eager zeal in urging on the prosecutions, perpetual officiousness, and unwarrantable interference against the prisoners at the preliminary examinations. The odium originally attached to the marshal seems to have been transferred to his successor, and the whole was laid at the door of the sheriff. Marshal Herrick does not appear to have been connected with Joseph Herrick, who lived on what is now called Cherry Hill, but was a man of an entirely different stamp. He was thirty-four years of age, and had not been very long in the country. John Dunton speaks of meeting him in Salem, in 1686, and describes him as a “very tall, handsome man, very regular and devout in his attendance at church, religious without bigotry, and having every man's good word.” His impatient activity against the victims of the witchcraft delusion wrought a great change in the condition of this popular and “handsome” man, as is seen in a petition presented by him, Dec. 8, 1692, to “His Excellency Sir William Phips, Knight, Captain-general and Governor of Their Majesties' Territories and Dominions of Massachusetts Bay in New England; and to the Honorable William Stoughton, Esq., Deputy-Governor; and to the rest of the Honored Council.” It begins thus: “The petition of your poor servant, George Herrick, most humbly showeth.” After recounting his great and various services “for the term of nine months, as marshal or deputy-sheriff in apprehending many prisoners, and conveying
Page 472. them “unto prison and from prison to prison,” he complains that his whole time had been taken up so that he was incapable of getting any thing for the maintenance of his “poor family:” he further states that he had become so impoverished that necessity had forced him to lay down his place; and that he must certainly come to want, if not in some measure supplied. “Therefore I humbly beseech Your Honors to take my case and condition so far into consideration, that I may have some supply this hard winter, that I and my poor children may not be destitute of sustenance, and so inevitably perish; for I have been bred a gentleman, and not much used to work, and am become despicable in these hard times.” He concludes by declaring, that he is not “weary of serving his king and country,” nor very scrupulous as to the kind of service; for he promises that “if his habitation” could thereby be “graced with plenty in the room of penury, there shall be no services too dangerous and difficult, but your poor petitioner will gladly accept, and to the best of my power accomplish. I shall wholly lay myself at Your Honorable feet for relief.” Marshal Herrick died in 1695.
But, while this feeling was spreading among the people, the government were doing their best to check it. There was great apprehension, that, if allowed to gather force, it would burst over all barriers, that no limit would be put to its demands for the restoration of property seized by the officers of the law, and that it would wreak vengeance upon all who had been engaged in the prosecutions. Under the influence of this fear, the following attempt was made to shield the sheriff of the county from prosecutions for damages by those whose relatives had suffered: —
“At a Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assize, and General Jail Delivery, held at Ipswich, the fifteenth day of May, anno Domini 1694.— Present, William Stoughton, Esq., Chief-justice; Thomas Danforth, Esq.; Samuel Sewall, Esq.
“This Court, having adjusted the accounts of George Corwin, Esq., high-sheriff for the county of Essex, do allow the same to be just and true; and that there remains a balance due to him, the said Corwin, of ¥67. 6s. 4d., which is also allowed unto him; and, pursuant to law, this Court doth fully, clearly, and absolutely acquit and discharge him,
Page 473. the said George Corwin, his heirs, executors, and administrators, lands and tenements, goods and chattels, of and from all manner of sum or sums of money, goods or chattels levied, received, or seized, and of all debts, duties, and demands which are or may be charged in his, the said Corwin's, accounts, or which may be imposed by reason of the sheriff's office, or any thing by him done by virtue thereof, or in the execution of the same, from the time he entered into the said office, to this Court.”
This extraordinary attempt of the Court to close the doors of justice beforehand against suits for damages did not seem to have any effect; for Mr. English compelled the executors of the sheriff to pay over to him ¥60. 3s.
At length, the government had to meet the public feeling. A proclamation was issued, “By the Honorable the Lieutenant, Council, and Assembly of His Majesty's province of the Massachusetts Bay, in General Court assembled.” It begins thus: “Whereas the anger of God is not yet turned away, but his hand is still stretched out against his people in manifold judgments;” and, after several specifications of the calamities under which they were suffering, and referring to the “many days of public and solemn” addresses made to God, it proceeds: “Yet we cannot but also fear that there is something still wanting to accompany our supplications; and doubtless there are some particular sins which God is angry with our Israel for, that have not been duly seen and resented by us, about which God expects to be sought, if ever he again turn our captivity.” Thursday, the fourteenth of the next January, was accordingly appointed to be observed as a day of prayer and fasting, —
“That so all God's people may offer up fervent supplications unto him, that all iniquity may be put away, which hath stirred God's holy jealousy against this land; that he would show us what we know not, and help us, wherein we have done amiss, to do so no more; and especially, that, whatever mistakes on either hand have been fallen into, either by the body of this people or any orders of men, referring to the late tragedy, raised among us by Satan and his instruments, through the awful judgment of God, he would humble us therefor, and pardon all the errors of his servants and people that desire to love his name; that he would remove the rod of the wicked from off the lot of the
Page 474. righteous; that he would bring in the American heathen, and cause them to hear and obey his voice.
“Given at Boston, Dec. 17, 1696, in the eighth year of His Majesty reign. Isaac Addington, Secretary.”
The jury had acted in conformity with their obligations and honest convictions of duty in bringing in their verdicts. They had sworn to decide according to the law and the evidence. The law under which they were required to act was laid down with absolute positiveness by the Court. They were bound to receive it, and to take and weigh the evidence that was admitted; and to their minds it was clear, decisive, and overwhelming, offered by persons of good character, and confirmed by a great number of confessions. If it had been within their province, as it always is declared not to be, to discuss the general principles, and sit in judgment on the particular penalties of law, it would not have altered the case; for, at that time, not only the common people, but the wisest philosophers, supported the interpretation of the law that acknowledged the existence of witchcraft, and its sanction that visited it with death.
Notwithstanding all this, however, so tender and sensitive were the consciences of the jurors, that they signed and circulated the following humble and solemn declaration of regret for the part they had borne in the trials. As the publication of this paper was highly honorable to those who signed it, and cannot but be contemplated with satisfaction by all their descendants, I will repeat their names: —
“We whose names are underwritten, being in the year 1692 called to serve as jurors in court at Salem, on trial of many who were by some suspected guilty of doing acts of witchcraft upon the bodies of sundry persons, — we confess that we ourselves were not capable to understand, nor able to withstand, the mysterious delusions of the powers of darkness and Prince of the air, but were, for want of knowledge in ourselves and better information from others, prevailed with to take up with such evidence against the accused as, on further consideration and better information, we justly fear was insufficient for the touching the lives of any (Deut. xvii. 6), whereby we fear we have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon ourselves and this people of the Lord the guilt of innocent blood; which sin the Lord saith in Scripture he would not pardon
Page 475. (2 Kings xxiv. 4), — that is, we suppose, in regard of his temporal judgments. We do therefore hereby signify to all in general, and to the surviving sufferers in special, our deep sense of, and sorrow for, our errors in acting on such evidence to the condemning of any person; and do hereby declare, that we justly fear that we were sadly deluded and mistaken, — for which we are much disquieted and distressed in our minds, and do therefore humbly beg forgiveness, first, of God, for Christ's sake, for this our error, and pray that God would not impute the guilt of it to ourselves nor others: and we also pray that we may be considered candidly and aright by the living sufferers, as being then under the power of a strong and general delusion, utterly unacquainted with, and not experienced in, matters of that nature.
“We do heartily ask forgiveness of you all, whom we have justly offended; and do declare, according to our present minds, we would none of us do such things again, on such grounds, for the whole world, — praying you to accept of this in way of satisfaction for our offence, and that you would bless the inheritance of the Lord, that he may be entreated for the land.
“Thomas Fisk, Foreman.
Thomas Fisk, Jr.
Thomas Pearly, Sr.
Henry Herrick, Sr.”
In 1697, Rev. John Hale, of Beverly, published a work on the subject of the witchcraft persecutions, in which he gives the reasons which led him to the conclusion that there was error at the foundation of the proceedings. The following extract shows that he took a rational view of the subject: —
“It may be queried then, How doth it appear that there was a going too far in this affair?
“Answer I. — By the number of persons accused. It cannot be imagined, that, in a place of so much knowledge, so many, in so small a compass of land, should so abominably leap into the Devil's lap, — at once.
“Ans. II. — The quality of several of the accused was such as did bespeak better things, and things that accompany salvation. Persons whose blameless and holy lives before did testify for them; persons that had taken great pains to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, such as we had charity for as for our
Page 476. own souls, — and charity is a Christian duty, commended to us in 1 Cor. xiii., Col. iii. 14, and many other places.
“Ans. III. — The number of the afflicted by Satan daily increased, till about fifty persons were thus vexed by the Devil. This gave just ground to suspect some mistake.
“Ans. IV. — It was considerable, that nineteen were executed, and all denied the crime to the death; and some of them were knowing persons, and had before this been accounted blameless livers. And it is not to be imagined but that, if all had been guilty, some would have had so much tenderness as to seek mercy for their souls in the way of confession, and sorrow for such a sin.
“Ans. V. — When this prosecution ceased, the Lord so chained up Satan, that the afflicted grew presently well: the accused are generally quiet, and for five years since we have no such molestation by them.”
Such reasonings as these found their way into the minds of the whole community; and it became the melancholy conviction of all candid and considerate persons that innocent blood had been shed. Standing where we do, with the lights that surround us, we look back upon the whole scene as an awful perversion of justice, reason, and truth.
On the 13th of June, 1700, Abigail Faulkner presented a well memorial to the General Court, in which she says that her pardon “so far had its effect, as that I am yet suffered to live, but this only as a malefactor convict upon record of the most heinous crimes that mankind can be supposed to be guilty of;” and prays for “the defacing of the record” against her. She claims it as no more than a simple act of justice; stating that the evidence against her was wholly confined to the “afflicted, who pretended to see me by their spectral sight, and not with their bodily eyes.” That “the jury (upon only their testimony) brought me in `Guilty,' and the sentence of death was passed upon me;” and that it had been decided that such testimony was of no value. The House of Representatives felt the force of her appeal, and voted that “the prayer of the petitioner be granted.” The council declined to concur, but addressed “His Excellency to grant the petitioner His Majesty's gracious pardon; and His Excellency expressed His readiness to grant the same.” Some adverse influence, it seemed, prevailed to prevent it.
On the 18th of March, 1702, another petition was presented to
Page 477. the General Court, by persons of Andover, Salcm Village, and Topsfield, who had suffered imprisonment and condemnation, and by the relations of others who had been condemned and executed on the testimony, as they say, of “possessed persons,” to this effect: —
“Your petitioners being dissatisfied and grieved that (besides what the condemned persons have suffered in their persons and estates) their names are exposed to infamy and reproach, while their trial and condemnation stands upon public record, we therefore humbly pray this honored Court that something may be publicly done to take off infamy from the names and memory of those who have suffered as aforesaid, that none of their surviving relations nor their posterity may suffer reproach on that account.”
[Signed by Francis Faulkner, Isaac Easty, Thorndike Procter, and eighteen others.]
On the 20th of July, in answer to the foregoing petitions, a bill was ordered by the House of Representatives to be drawn up, forbidding in future such procedures, as in the witchcraft trials of 1692; declaring that “no spectre evidence may hereafter be accounted valid or sufficient to take away the life or good name of any person or persons within this province, and that the infamy and reproach cast on the names and posterity of said accused and condemned persons may in some measure be rolled away.” The council concurred with an additional clause, to acquit all condemned persons “of the penalties to which they are liable upon the convictions and judgments in the courts, and estate them in their just credit and reputation, as if no such judgment had been had.”
This petition was re-enforced by an “address” to the General Court, dated July 8, 1703, by several ministers of the county of Essex. They speak of the accusers in the witchcraft trials as “young persons under diabolical molestations,” and express this sentiment: “There is great reason to fear that innocent persons then suffered, and that God may have a controversy with the land upon that account.” They earnestly beg that the prayer of the petitioners, lately presented, may be granted. This petition was signed by Thomas Barnard, of Andover; Joseph Green, of Salem Village; William Hubbard, John Wise, John Rogers, and Jabez
Page 478. Fitch, of Ipswich; Benjamin Rolfe, of Haverhill; Samuel Cheever, of Marblehead; Joseph Gerrish, of Wenham; Joseph Capen, of Topsfield; Zechariah Symmes, of Bradford; and Thomas Symmes, of Boxford. Francis Dane, of Andover, had died six years before. John Hale, of Beverly, had died three years before. The great age of John Higginson, of Salem, — eighty-seven years, — probably prevented the papers being handed to him. It is observable, that Nicholas Noyes, his colleague, is not among the signers.
What prevented action, we do not know; but nothing was done. Six years afterwards, on the 25th of May, 1709, an “humble address” was presented to the General Court by certain inhabitants of the province, some of whom “had their near relations, either parents or others, who suffered death in the dark and doleful times that passed over this province in 1692;” and others “who themselves, or some of their relations, were imprisoned, impaired and blasted in their reputations and estates by reason of the same.” They pray for the passage of a “suitable act” to restore the reputations of the sufferers, and to make some remuneration “as to what they have been damnified in their estates thereby.” This paper was signed by Philip English and twenty others. Philip English gave in an account in detail of what articles were seized and carried away, at the time of his arrest, from four of his warehouses, his wharf, and shop-house, besides the expenses incurred in prison, and in escaping from it. It appears by this statement, that he and his wife were nine weeks in jail at Salem and Boston. Nothing was done at this session. The next year, Sept. 12, 1710, Isaac Easty presented a strong memorial to the General Court in reference to his case. He calls for some remuneration. In speaking of the arrest and execution of his “beloved wife,” he says “my sorrow and trouble of heart in being deprived of her in such a manner, which this world can never make me any compensation for.” At the same time, the daughters of Elizabeth How, the son of Sarah Wildes, the heirs of Mary Bradbury, Edward Bishop and his wife Sarah, sent in severally similar petitions, — all in earnest and forcible language. Charles, one of the sons of George Burroughs, presented the case of his “dear and honored father;” declaring that his innocence of the crime of which he was accused, and his excellence of character, were shown in “his careful catechising his children, and upholding
Page 479. religion in his family, and by his solemn and savory written instructions from prison.” He describes in affecting details the condition in which his father's family of little children was left at his death. One of Mr. Burroughs's daughters, upon being required to sign a paper in reference to compensation, expresses her distress of mind in these words: “Every discourse on this melancholy subject doth but give a fresh wound to my bleeding heart. I desire to sit down in silence.” John Moulton, in behalf of the family of Giles Corey, says that they “cannot sufficiently express their grief” for the death, in such a manner, of “their honored father and mother.” Samuel Nurse, in behalf of his brothers and sisters, says that their “honored and dear mother had led a blameless life from her youth up.... Her name and the name of her posterity lies under reproach, the removing of which reproach is the principal thing wherein we desire restitution. And, as we know not how to express our loss of such a mother in such a way, so we know not how to compute our charge, but leave it to the judgment of others, and shall not be critical.” He distinctly intimates, that they do not wish any money to be paid them, unless “the attainder is taken off.” Many other petitions were presented by the families of those who suffered, all in the same spirit; and several besides the Nurses insisted mainly upon the “taking off the attainder.”
The General Court, on the 17th of October, 1710, passed an act, that “the several convictions, judgments, and attainders be, and hereby are, reversed, and declared to be null and void.” In simple justice, they ought to have extended the act to all who had suffered; but they confined its effect to those in reference to whom petitions had been presented. The families of some of them had disappeared, or may not have had notice of what was going on; so that the sentence which the Government acknowledged to have been unjust remains to this day unreversed against the names and memory of Bridget Bishop, Susanna Martin, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Wilmot Read, and Margaret Scott. The stain on the records of the Commonwealth has never been fully effaced. What caused this dilatory and halting course on the part of the Government, and who was responsible for it, cannot be ascertained. Since the presentation of Abigail Faulkner's petition in 1700, the Legislature, in the popular branch at least, and the
Page 480. Governor, appear to have been inclined to act favorably in the premises; but some power blocked the way. There is some reason to conjecture that it was the influence of the home government. Its consent to have the prosecutions suspended, in 1692, was not very cordial, but, while it approved of “care and circumspection therein,” expressed reluctance to allow any “impediment to the ordinary course of justice.”
On the 17th of December, 1711, Governor Dudley issued his warrant for the purpose of carrying out a vote of the “General Assembly,” “by and with the advice and consent of Her Majesty Council,” to pay “the sum of ¥578. 12s.” to “such persons as are living, and to those that legally represent them that are dead;” which sum was divided as follows: —
John Procter and wife¥15000George Jacobs7900George Burroughs5000Sarah Good3000Giles Corey and wife2100Dorcas Hoar21170Abigail Hobbs1000Rebecca Eames1000Mary Post8140Mary Lacy8100Ann Foster6100Samuel Wardwell and wife36150Rebecca Nurse2500Mary Easty2000Mary Bradbury2000Abigail Faulkner2000John Willard2000Sarah Wildes1400Elizabeth How1200Mary Parker800Martha Carrier760¥578120
The distribution, as above, according to the evidence as it has come down to us, is as unjust and absurd as the smallness of the
Page 481. amount, and the long delay before it was ordered, are discreditable to the province. One of the larger sums was allowed to William Good, while he clearly deserved nothing, as he was an adverse witness in the examination of his wife, and did what he could to promote the prosecution against her. He did not, it is true, swear that he believed her to be a witch; but what he said tended to prejudice the magistrates and the public against her. Benjamin Putnam acted as his attorney, and received the money for him. Good was a retainer and dependant of that branch of the Putnam family; and its influence gave him so large a proportionate amount, and not the reason or equity of the case. More was allowed to Abigail Hobbs, a very malignant witness against the prisoners, than to the families of several who were executed. Nearly twice as much was allowed for Abigail Faulkner, who was pardoned, as for Elizabeth How, who was executed. The sums allowed in the cases of Parker, Carrier, and Foster, were shamefully small. The public mind evidently was not satisfied; and the Legislature were pressed for a half-century to make more adequate compensation, and thereby vindicate the sentiment of justice, and redeem the honor of the province.
On the 8th of December, 1738, Major Samuel Sewall, a son of the Judge, introduced an order in the House of Representatives for the appointment of a committee to get information relating to “the circumstances of the persons and families who suffered in the calamity of the times in and about the year 1692.” Major Sewall entered into the matter with great zeal. The House unanimously passed the order. He was chairman of the committee; and, on the 9th of December, wrote to his cousin Mitchel Sewall in Salem, son of Stephen, earnestly requesting him and John Higginson, Esq., to aid in accomplishing the object. The following is an extract from a speech delivered by Governor Belcher to both Houses of the Legislature, Nov. 22, 1740. It is honorable to his memory.
“The Legislature have often honored themselves in a kind and generous remembrance of such families and of the posterity of such as have been sufferers, either in their persons or estates, for or by the Government, of which the public records will give you many instances. I should therefore be glad there might be a committee appointed by this Court to inquire into the sufferings of the people called Quakers, in the early days of this country, as also into the descendants of such
Page 482. families as were in a manner ruined in the mistaken management of the terrible affair called witchcraft. I really think there is something incumbent on this Government to be done for relieving the estates and reputations of the posterities of the unhappy families that so suffered; and the doing it, though so long afterwards, would doubtless be acceptable to Almighty God, and would reflect honor upon the present Legislature.”
On the 31st of May, 1749, the heirs of George Burroughs addressed a petition to Governor Shirley and the General Court, setting forth “the unparalleled persecutions and sufferings” of their ancestor, and praying for “some recompense from this Court for the losses thereby sustained by his family.” It was referred to a committee of both Houses. The next year, the petitioners sent a memorial to Governor Spencer Phips and the General Court, stating, that “it hath fell out, that the Hon. Mr. Danforth, chairman of the said committee, had not, as yet, called them together so much as once to act thereon, even to this day, as some of the honorable committee themselves were pleased, with real concern, to signify to your said petitioners.” The House immediately passed this order: “That the committee within referred to be directed to sit forthwith, consider the petition to them committed, and report as soon as may be.”
All that I have been able to find, as the result of these long and long-protracted movements, is a statement of Dr. Bentley, that the heirs of Philip English received two hundred pounds. He does not say when the act to this effect was passed. Perhaps some general measure of the kind was adopted, the record of which I have failed to meet. The engrossing interest of the then pending French war, and of the vehement dissensions that led to the Revolution, probably prevented any further attention to this subject, after the middle of the last century.
It is apparent from the foregoing statements and records, that while many individuals, the people generally, and finally Governor Belcher and the House of Representatives emphatically, did what they could, there was an influence that prevailed to prevent for a long time, if not for ever, any action of the province to satisfy the demands made by justice and the honor of the country in repairing the great wrongs committed by the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the Government in 1692. The only bodies
Page 483. of men who fully came up to their duty on the occasion were the clergy of the county, and, as will appear, the church at Salem Village.
What was done by the First Church in Salem is shown in the following extract from its records: —
“March 2, 1712. — After the sacrament, a church-meeting was appointed to be at the teacher's house, at two of the clock in the afternoon, on the sixth of the month, being Thursday: on which day they accordingly met to consider of the several following particulars propounded to them by the teacher; viz.: —
“1. Whether the record of the excommunication of our Sister Nurse (all things considered) may not be erased and blotted out. The result of which consideration was, That whereas, on July 3d, 1692, it was proposed by the Elders, and consented to by an unanimous vote of the church, that our Sister Nurse should be excommunicated, she being convicted of witchcraft by the Court, and she was accordingly excommunicated, since which the General Court having taken off the attainder, and the testimony on which she was convicted being not now so satisfactory to ourselves and others as it was generally in that hour of darkness and temptation; and we being solicited by her son, Mr. Samuel Nurse, to erase and blot out of the church records the sentence of her excommunication, — this church, having the matter proposed to them by the teacher, and having seriously considered it, doth consent that the record of our Sister Nurse's excommunication be accordingly erased and blotted out, that it may no longer be a reproach to her memory, and an occasion of grief to her children. Humbly requesting that the merciful God would pardon whatsoever sin, error, or mistake was in the application of that censure and of that whole affair, through our merciful High-priest, who knoweth how to have compassion on the ignorant, and those that are out of the way.
“2. It was proposed whether the sentence of excommunication against our Brother Giles Corey (all things considered) may not be erased and blotted out. The result was, That whereas, on Sept. 18, 1692, it was considered by the church, that our Brother Giles Corey stood accused of and indicted for the sin of witchcraft, and that he had obstinately refused to plead, and so threw himself on certain death. It was agreed by the vote of the church, that he should be excommunicated for it; and accordingly he was excommunicated. Yet the church, having now testimony in his behalf, that, before his death, he did bitterly repent of his obstinate refusal to plead in defence
Page 484. of his life, do consent that the sentence of his excommunication be erased and blotted out.”
It will be noticed that these proceedings were not had at a regular public meeting, but at a private meeting of the church, on a week-day afternoon, at the teacher's house. The motives that led to them were a disposition to comply with the act of the General Court, and the solicitations of Mr. Samuel Nurse, rather than a profound sense of wrong done to a venerable member of their own body, who had claims upon their protection as such. The language of the record does not frankly admit absolutely that there was sin, error, or mistake, but requests forgiveness for whatsoever there may have been. The character of Rebecca Nurse, and the outrageous treatment she had received from that church, in the method arranged for her excommunication, demanded something more than these hypothetical expressions, with such a preamble.
The statement made in the vote about Corey is, on its face, a misrepresentation. From the nature of the proceeding by which he was destroyed, it was in his power, at any moment, if he “repented of his obstinate refusal to plead,” by saying so, to be instantly released from the pressure that was crushing him. The only design of the torture was to make him bring it to an end by “answering” guilty, or not guilty. Somebody fabricated the slander that Corey's resolution broke down under his agonies, and that he bitterly repented; and Mr. Noyes put the foolish scandal upon the records of the church.
The date of this transaction is disreputable to the people of Salem. Twenty years had been suffered to elapse, and a great outrage allowed to remain unacknowledged and unrepented. The credit of doing what was done at last probably belongs to the Rev. George Corwin. His call to the ministry, as colleague with Mr. Noyes, had just been consummated. The introduction of a new minister heralded a new policy, and the proceedings have the appearance of growing out of the kindly and auspicious feelings which generally attend and welcome such an era.
The Rev. George, son of Jonathan Corwin, was born May 21, 1683, and graduated at Harvard College in 1701. Mr. Barnard, of Marblehead, describes his character: “The spirit of
Page 485. early devotion, accompanied with a natural freedom of thought and easy elocution, a quick invention, a solid judgment, and a tenacious memory, laid the foundation of a good preacher; to which his acquired literature, his great reading, hard studies, deep meditation, and close walk with God, rendered him an able and faithful minister of the New Testament.” The records of the First Church, in noticing his death, thus speak of him: “He was highly esteemed in his life, and very deservedly lamented at his death; having been very eminent for his early improvement in learning and piety, his singular abilities and great labors, his remarkable zeal and faithfulness. He was a great benefactor to our poor.” Those bearing the name of Curwen among us are his descendants. He died Nov. 23, 1717.
The Rev. Nicholas Noyes died Dec. 13, 1717. He was a person of superior talents and learning. He published, with the sermon preached by Cotton Mather on the occasion, a poem on the death of his venerable colleague, Mr. Higginson, in 1708; and also a poem on the death of Rev. Joseph Green, in 1715. Although an amiable and benevolent man in other respects, it cannot be denied that he was misled by his errors and his temperament into the most violent course in the witchcraft prosecutions; and it is to be feared that his feelings were never wholly rectified in reference to that transaction.
Jonathan, the father of the Rev. George Corwin, and whose part as a magistrate and judge in the examinations and trials of 1692 has been seen, died on the 9th of July, 1718, seventy years of age.
It only remains to record the course of the village church and people in reference to the events of 1692. After six persons, including Rebecca Nurse, had suffered death; and while five others, George Burroughs, John Procter, John Willard, George Jacobs, and Martha Carrier, were awaiting their execution, which was to take place on the coming Friday, Aug. 19, — the facts, related as follows by Mr. Parris in his record-book, occurred: —
“Sabbath-day, 14th August, 1692. — The church was stayed after the congregation was dismissed, and the pastor spake to the church after this manner: —
“`Brethren, you may all have taken notice, that, several sacrament days past, our brother Peter Cloyse, and Samuel Nurse and his wife,
Page 486. and John Tarbell and his wife, have absented from communion with us at the Lord's Table, yea, have very rarely, except our brother Samuel Nurse, been with us in common public worship: now, it is needful that the church send some persons to them to know the reason of their absence. Therefore, if you be so minded, express yourselves.'
“None objected. But a general or universal vote, after some discourse, passed, that Brother Nathaniel Putnam and the two deacons should join with the pastor to discourse with the said absenters about it.
“31st August. — Brother Tarbell proves sick, unmeet for discourse; Brother Cloyse hard to be found at home, being often with his wife in prison at Ipswich for witchcraft; and Brother Nurse, and sometimes his wife, attends our public meeting, and he the sacrament, 11th September, 1692: upon all which we choose to wait further.”
When it is remembered that the individuals aimed at all belonged to the family of Rebecca Nurse, whose execution had taken place three weeks before under circumstances with which Mr. Parris had been so prominently and responsibly connected, this proceeding must be felt by every person of ordinary human sensibilities to have been cruel, barbarous, and unnatural. Parris made the entry in his book, as he often did, some time after the transaction, as the inserted date of Sept. 11, shows. What his object was in commencing disciplinary treatment of this distressed family is not certain. It may be that he was preparing to get up such a feeling against them as would make it safe to have the “afflicted” cry out upon some of them. Or it may be that he wished to get them out of his church, to avoid the possibility of their proceeding against him, by ecclesiastical methods, at some future day. He could not, however, bring his church to continue the process. This is the first indication that the brethren were no longer to be relied on by him to go all lengths, and that some remnants of good feeling and good sense were to be found among them.
But Mr. Parris was determined not to allow the public feeling against persons charged with witchcraft to subside, if he could help it; and he made one more effort to renew the vehemence of the prosecutions. He prepared and preached two sermons, on the 11th of September, from the text, Rev. xvii. 14: “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is
Page 487. Lord of lords, and King of kings; and they that are with him are called and chosen and faithful.” They are entitled, “The Devil and his instruments will be warring against Christ and his followers.” this note is added, “After the condemnation of six witches at a court at Salem, one of the witches, viz., Martha Corey, in full communion with our church.” The following is a portion of “the improvement” in the application of these discourses: —
“It may serve to reprove such as seem to be so amazed at the war the Devil has raised amongst us by wizards and witches, against the Lamb and his followers, that they altogether deny it. If ever there were witches, men and women in covenant with the Devil, here are multitudes in New England. Nor is it so strange a thing that there should be such; no, nor that some church-members should be such. Pious Bishop Hall saith, `The Devil's prevalency in this age is most clear in the marvellous number of witches abounding in all places. Now hundreds (says he) are discovered in one shire; and, if fame deceive us not, in a village of fourteen houses in the north are found so many of this damned brood. Heretofore, only barbarous deserts had them; but now the civilized and religious parts are frequently pestered with them. Heretofore, some silly, ignorant old woman, &c.; but now we have known those of both sexes who professed much knowledge, holiness, and devotion, drawn into this damnable practice.”'
The foregoing extract is important as showing that some persons at the village had begun to express their disbelief of the witchcraft doctrine of Mr. Parris, “altogether denying it.” The title and drift of the sermons in connection with the date, and his proceedings, the month before, against Samuel Nurse, Tarbell, and Cloyse, members of his church, give color to the idea that he was designing to have them “cried out” against, and thus disposed of. It is a noticeable fact, that, about this time, Cotton Mather was also laying his plans for a renewal, or rather continuance, of witchcraft prosecutions. Nine days after these sermons were preached by Parris, Mather wrote the following letter to Stephen Sewall of Salem: —
Boston, Sept. 20, 1692. My dear and my very obliging Stephen, — It is my hap to be continually... with all sorts of objections, and objectors against the... work now doing at Salem; and it is my further good hap to do some little service for God and you in my encounters.
But that I may be the more capable to assist in lifting up a standard against the infernal enemy, I must renew my most importunate request, that you would please quickly to perform what you kindly promised, of giving me a narrative of the evidences given in at the trials of half a dozen, or if you please a dozen, of the principal witches that have been condemned. I know 'twill cost you some time; but; when you are sensible of the benefit that will follow, I know you will not think much of that cost; and my own willingness to expose myself unto the utmost for the defence of my friends with you makes me presume to plead something of merit to be considered.
I shall be content, if you draw up the desired narrative by way of letter to me; or, at least, let it not come without a letter, wherein you shall, if you can, intimate over again what you have sometimes told me of the awe which is upon the hearts of your juries, with... unto the validity of the spectral evidences.
Please also to... some of your observations about the confessors and the credibility of what they assert, or about things evidently preternatural in the witchcrafts, and whatever else you may account an entertainment, for an inquisitive person, that entirely loves you and Salem. Nay, though I will never lay aside the character which I mentioned in my last words, yet I am willing, that, when you write, you should imagine me as obstinate a Sadducee and witch-advocate as any among us: address me as one that believed nothing reasonable; and when you have so knocked me down, in a spectre so unlike me, you will enable me to box it about among my neighbors, till it come — I know not where at last.
But assure yourself, as I shall not wittingly make what you write prejudicial to any worthy design which those two excellent persons, Mr. Hale and Mr. Noyse, may have in hand; so you shall find that I shall be, sir, your grateful friend, C. Mather. P.S. — That which very much strengthens the charms of the request which this letter makes you is, that His Excellency the Governor laid his positive commands upon me to desire this favor of you; and the truth is, there are some of his circumstances with reference to this affair, which I need not mention, that call for the expediting of your kindness, — kindness, I say, for such it will be esteemed as well by him as by your servant, C. Mather.
In order to understand the character and aim of this letter, it will be necessary to consider its date. It was written Sept. 20, 1692. On the 19th of August, but one month before, Dr. Mather
Page 489. was acting a conspicuous part under the gallows at Witch-hill, at the execution of Mr. Burroughs and four others, increasing the power of the awful delusion, and inflaming the passions of the people. On the 9th of September, six more miserable creatures received sentence of death. On the 17th of September, nine more received sentence of death. On the 17th of September, Giles Cory was crushed to death. And, on the 22d of September, eight were executed. These were the last that suffered death. The letter, therefore, was written while the horrors of the transaction were at their height, and by a person who had himself been a witness of them, and whose “good hap” it had been to “do some little service” in promoting them. The object of the writer is declared to be, that he might be “more capable to assist in lifting up a standard against the infernal enemy.” The literal meaning of this expression is, that he might be enabled to get up another witchcraft delusion under his own special management and control. Can any thing be imagined more artful and dishonest than the plan he had contrived to keep himself out of sight in all the operations necessary to accomplish his purpose? “Nay, though I will never lay aside the character which I mentioned in my last words, yet I am willing, that, when you write, you should imagine me as obstinate a Sadducee and witch-advocate as any among us: address me as one that believed nothing reasonable; and when you have so knocked me down, in a spectre so unlike me, you will enable me to box it about among my neighbors, till it come — I know not where at last.”
Upon obtaining the document requisite to the fulfilment of his design, he did “box it about” so effectually among his neighbors, that he succeeded that next summer in getting up a wonderful case of witchcraft, in the person of one Margaret Rule, a member of his congregation in Boston. Dr. Mather published an account of her long-continued fastings, even unto the ninth day, and of the incredible sufferings she endured from the “infernal enemy.” “She was thrown,” says he, “into such exorbitant convulsions as were astonishing to the spectators in general. They that could behold the doleful condition of the poor family without sensible compassions might have entrails, indeed, but I am sure they could have no true bowels in them.” So far was he successful in spreading the delusion, that he prevailed upon six men to testify
Page 490. that they had seen Margaret Rule lifted bodily from her bed, and raised by an invisible power “so as to touch the garret floor;” that she was entirely removed from the bed or any other material support; that she continued suspended for several minutes; and that a strong man, assisted by several other persons, could not effectually resist the mysterious force that lifted her up, and poised her aloft in the air! The people of Boston were saved from the horrors intended to be brought upon them by this dark and deep-laid plot, by the activity, courage, and discernment of Calef and others, who distrusted Dr. Mather, and, by watching his movements, exposed the imposture, and overthrew the whole design.
Mr. Parris does not appear to have produced much effect by his sermons. The people had suffered enough from the “war between the Devil and the Lamb,” as he and Mather had conducted it; and it could not be renewed.
Immediately upon the termination of the witchcraft proceedings, the controversy between Mr. Parris and the congregation, or the inhabitants, as they were called, of the village, was renewed, with earnest resolution on their part to get rid of him. The parish neglected and refused to raise the means for paying his salary; and a majority of the voters, in the meetings of the “inhabitants,” vigilantly resisted all attempts in his favor. The church was still completely under his influence; and, as has been stated in the First Part, he made use of that body to institute a suit against the people. The court and magistrates were wholly in his favor, and peremptorily ordered the appointment, by the people, of a new committee. The inhabitants complied with the order by the election of a new committee, but took care to have it composed exclusively of men opposed to Mr. Parris; and he found himself no better off than before. He concluded not to employ his church any longer as a principal agent in his lawsuit against the parish; but used it for another purpose.
After the explosion of the witchcraft delusion, the relations of parties became entirely changed. The prosecutors at the trials were put on the defensive, and felt themselves in peril. Parris saw his danger, and, with characteristic courage and fertility of resources, prepared to defend himself, and carry the war upon any quarter from which an attack might be apprehended. He
Page 491. continued, on his own responsibility, to prosecute, in court, his suit against the parish, and in his usual trenchant style. As the law then was, a minister, in a controversy with his parish, had a secure advantage, and absolutely commanded the situation, if his church were with him. From the time of his settlement, Parris had shaped his policy on this basis. He had sought to make his church an impregnable fortress against his opponents. But, to be impregnable, it was necessary that there should be no enemies within it. A few disaffected brethren could at any time demand, and have a claim to, a mutual council; and Mr. Parris knew, that, before the investigations of such a council, his actions in the witchcraft prosecutions could not stand. This perhaps suggested his movements, in August, 1692, against Samuel Nurse, John Tarbell, and Peter Cloyse. He did not at that time succeed in getting rid of them; and they remained in the church, and, with the exception of Cloyse, in the village. They might at any time take the steps that would lead to a mutual council; and Mr. Parris was determined, at all events, to prevent that. It was evident that the members of that family would insist upon satisfaction being given them, in and through the church, for the wrongs he had done them. Although, in the absence of Cloyse, but two in number, there was danger that sympathy for them might reach others of the brethren. Thomas Wilkins, a member in good standing, son of old Bray Wilkins, and a connection of John Willard, an intelligent and resolute man, had already joined them. Parris felt that others might follow, and that whatever could be done to counteract them must be done quickly. He accordingly initiated proceedings in his church to rid himself of them, if not by excommunication, at least by getting them under discipline, so as to prevent the possibility of their dealing with him.
This led to one of the most remarkable passages of the kind in the annals of the New-England churches. It is narrated in detail by Mr. Parris, in his church record-book. It would not be easy to find anywhere an example of greater skill, wariness, or ability in a conflict of this sort. On the one side is Mr. Parris, backed by his church and the magistrates, and aided, it is probable, by Mr. Noyes; on the other, three husbandmen. They had no known backers or advisers; and, at frequent stages of the fencing match, had to parry or strike, without time to consult any
Page 492. one. Mr. Parris was ingenious, quick, a great strategist, and not over-scrupulous as to the use of his weapons. Nurse, Tarbell, and Wilkins were cautious, cool, steady, and persistent. Of course, they were wholly inexperienced in such things, and liable to make wrong moves, or to be driven or drawn to untenable ground. But they will not be found, I think, to have taken a false step from beginning to end. Their line of action was extremely narrow. It was necessary to avoid all personalities, and every appearance of passion or excitement; to make no charge against Mr. Parris that could touch the church, as such, or reflect upon the courts, magistrates, or any others that had taken part in the prosecutions. It was necessary to avoid putting any thing into writing, with their names attached, which could in any way be tortured into a libel. Parris lets fall expressions which show that he was on the watch for something of the kind to seize upon, to transfer the movement from the church to the courts. Entirely unaccustomed to public speaking, these three farmers had to meet assemblages composed of their opponents, and much wrought up against them; to make statements, and respond to interrogatories and propositions, the full and ultimate bearing of which was not always apparent: any unguarded expression might be fatal to their cause. Their safety depended upon using the right word at the right time and in the right manner, and in withholding the statement of their grievances, in adequate force of language, until they were under the shelter of a council. If, during the long-protracted conferences and communications, they had tripped at any point, allowed a phrase or syllable to escape which might be made the ground of discipline or censure, all would be lost; for Parris could not be reached but through a council, and a council could not even be asked for except by brethren in full and clear standing. It was often attempted to ensnare them into making charges against the church; but they kept their eye on Parris, and, as they told him more than once in the presence of the whole body of the people, on him alone. Limited as the ground was on which they could stand, they held it steadfastly, and finally drove him from his stronghold.
On the first movement of Mr. Parris offensively upon them, they commenced their movement upon him. The method by which alone they could proceed, according to ecclesiastical law
Page 493. and the platform of the churches, was precisely as it was understood to be laid down in Matt. xviii. 15-17. Following these directions, Samuel Nurse first called alone upon Mr. Parris, and privately made known his grievances. Parris gave him no satisfaction. Then, after a due interval, Nurse, Tarbell, and Wilkins called upon him together. He refused to see them together, but one at a time was allowed to go up into his study. Tarbell and Nurse each spent an hour or more with him, leaving no time for Wilkins. In these interviews, he not only failed to give satisfaction, but, according to his own account, treated them in the coolest and most unfeeling manner, not allowing himself to utter a soothing word, but actually reiterating his belief of the guilt of their mother; telling them, as he says, “that he had not seen sufficient grounds to vary his opinion.” Cloyse came soon after to the village, and had an interview with him for the same purpose. Parris saw them one only at a time, in order to preclude their taking the second step required by the gospel rule; that is, to have a brother of the church with them as a witness. He also took the ground that they could not be witnesses for each other, but that he should treat them all as only one person in the transaction. A sense of the injustice of his conduct, or some other consideration, led William Way, another of the brethren, to go with them as a witness. Nurse, Tarbell, Wilkins, Cloyse, and Way went to his house together. He said that the four first were but one person in the case; but admitted that Way was a distinct person, a brother of accredited standing, and a witness. He escaped, however, under the subterfuge that the gospel rule required “two or three witnesses.” In this way, the matter stood for some time; Parris saying that they had not complied with the conditions in Matt. xviii., and they maintaining that they had.
The course of Parris was fast diminishing his hold upon the public confidence. It was plain that the disaffected brethren had done what they could, in an orderly way, to procure a council. At length, the leading clergymen here and in Boston, whose minds were open to reason, thought it their duty to interpose their advice. They wrote to Parris, that he and his church ought to consent to a council. They wrote a second time in stronger terms. Not daring to quarrel with so large a portion of the clergy, Parris pretended to comply with their advice, but demanded a majority of the council
Page 494. to be chosen by him and his church. The disaffected brethren insisted upon a fair, mutual council; each party to have three ministers, with their delegates, in it. To this, Parris had finally to agree. The dissatisfied brethren named, as one of their three, a church at Ipswich. Parris objected to the Ipswich church. The dissenting brethren insisted that each side should be free to select its respective three churches. Parris was not willing to have Ipswich in the council. The other party insisted, and here the matter hung suspended. The truth is, that the disaffected brethren were resolved to have the Rev. John Wise in the council. They knew Cotton Mather would be there, on the side of Parris; and they knew that John Wise was the man to meet him. The public opinion settled down in favor of the dissatisfied brethren, on the ground that each party to a mutual council ought to — and, to make it really mutual, must — have free and full power to nominate the churches to be called by it. Parris, being afraid to have a mutual council, and particularly if Mr. Wise was in it, suddenly took a new position. He and his church called an ex parte council, at which the following ministers, with their delegates, were present: Samuel Checkley of the New South Church, James Allen of the First Church, Samuel Willard of the Old South, Increase and Cotton Mather of the North Church, — all of Boston; Samuel Torrey of Weymouth; Samuel Phillips of Rowley, and Edward Payson, also of Rowley. Among the delegates were many of the leading public men of the province. The Result was essentially damaging to Mr. Parris. The tide was now strongly set against him. The Boston ministers advised him to withdraw from the contest. They provided a settlement for him in Connecticut, and urged him to quit the village, and go there. But he refused, and prolonged the struggle. In the course of it, papers were drawn up and signed, one by his friends, another by his opponents, together embracing nearly all the men and women of the village. Those who did not sign either paper were understood to sympathize with the disaffected brethren. Many who signed the paper favorable to him acted undoubtedly from the motive stated in the heading; viz., that the removal of Mr. Parris could do no good, “for we have had three ministers removed already, and by every removal our differences have been rather aggravated.” Another removal, they thought, would utterly ruin them. They
Page 495. do not express any particular interest in Mr. Parris, but merely dread another change. They preferred to bear the ills they had, rather than fly to others that they knew not of. It is a very significant fact, that neither Mrs. Ann Putnam nor the widow Sarah Houlton signed either paper (the Sarah Houlton whose name appears was the wife of Joseph Houlton, Sr.). There is reason to believe that they regretted the part they had taken, particularly against Rebecca Nurse, and probably did not feel over favorably to the person who had led them into their dreadful responsibility.
In the mean time, the controversy continued to wax warm among the people. Mr. Parris was determined to hold his place, and, with it, the parsonage and ministry lands. The opposition was active, unappeasable, and effective. The following paper, handed about, illustrates the methods by which they assailed him: —
“As to the contest between Mr. Parris and his hearers, &c., it may be composed by a satisfactory answer to Lev. xx. 6:
And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a-whoring after them, I will set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.' 1 Chron. x. 13, 14:So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord, — even against the word of the Lord, which he kept not, — and also for asking counsel of one who had a familiar to inquire of it, and inquired not of the Lord: therefore he slew him,”' &c.
Mr. Parris mirrored, or rather daguerrotyped, his inmost thoughts upon the page of his church record-book. Whatever feeling happened to exercise his spirit, found expression there. This gives it a truly rare and singular interest. Among a variety of scraps variegating the record, and thrown in with other notices of deaths, he has the following: —
“1694, Oct. 27. — Ruth, daughter to Job Swinnerton (died), and buried the 28th instant, being the Lord's Day; and the corpse carried by the meeting-house door in time of singing before meeting afternoon, and more at the funeral than at the sermon.”
This illustrates the state of things. The Swinnerton family were all along opposed to Mr. Parris, and kept remarkably clear from the witchcraft delusion. Originally, it was not customary to have prayers at funerals. At any rate, all that Mr. Parris had to do on the occasion was to witness and record the fact, which he
Page 496. indites in the pithy manner in which he often relieves his mind, that more people went to the distant burial-ground than came to hear him preach. The procession was made up of his opponents; the congregation, of his friends. At last, Captain John Putnam proposed that each party should choose an equal number from themselves to decide the controversy; and that Major Bartholomew Gedney, from the town, should be invited to act as moderator of the joint meeting. Both sides agreed, and appointed their representatives. Major Gedney consented to preside. But this movement came to nothing, probably owing to the refractoriness of Mr. Parris; for, from that moment, he had no supporters. The church ceased to act: its members were merged in the meeting of the inhabitants. There was no longer any division among them. The party that had acted as friends of Mr. Parris united thenceforward with his opponents to defend the parish in the suit he had brought against it in the courts. The controversy was quite protracted. The Court was determined to uphold him, and expressed its prejudice against the parish, sometimes with considerable severity of manner and action.*
The parish heeded not the frowns of the Court, but persisted inexorably in its purpose to get rid of Mr. Parris. After an obstinate contest, it prevailed. In the last stage of the controversy, it appointed four men, as its agents or attorneys, whose names indicate the spirit in which it acted, — John Tarbell, Samuel Nurse, Daniel Andrew, and Joseph Putnam. His dauntless son did not follow the wolf through the deep and dark recesses of his den with a more determined resolution than that with which Joseph Putnam pursued Samuel Parris through the windings of the law, until he ferreted him out, and rid the village of him for ever.
Finally, the inferior court of Common Pleas, before which Mr. Parris had carried the case, ordered that the matters in controversy between him and the inhabitants of Salem Village should be referred to arbitrators for decision. The following statement was laid before them by the persons representing the inhabitants: —
“To the Honorable Wait Winthrop, Elisha Cook, and Samuel Sewall, Esquires, Arbitrators, indifferently chosen, between Mr. Samuel Parris and the Inhabitants of Salem Village.
“The Remonstrances of several Aggrieved Persons in the said Village, with further Reasons why they conceive they ought not to hear Mr. Parris, nor to own him as a Minister of the Gospel, nor to contribute any Support to him as such for several years past, humbly offered as fit for consideration.
“We humbly conceive that, having, in April, 1693, given our reasons why we could not join with Mr. Parris in prayer, preaching, or sacrament, if these reasons are found sufficient for our withdrawing (and we cannot yet find but they are), then we conceive ourselves virtually discharged, not only in conscience, but also in law, which requires
Page 498. maintenance to be given to such as are orthodox and blameless; the said Mr. Parris having been teaching such dangerous errors, and preached such scandalous immoralities, as ought to discharge any (though ever so gifted otherways) from the work of the ministry, particularly in his oath against the lives of several, wherein he swears that the prisoners with their looks knock down those pretended sufferers. We humbly conceive that he that swears to more than he is certain of, is equally guilty of perjury with him that swears to what is false. And though they did fall at such a time, yet it could not be known that they did it, much less could they be certain of it; yet did swear positively against the lives of such as he could not have any knowledge but they might be innocent.
“His believing the Devil's accusations, and readily departing from all charity to persons, though of blameless and godly lives, upon such suggestions; his promoting such accusations; as also his partiality therein in stifling the accusations of some, and, at the same time, vigilantly promoting others, — as we conceive, are just causes for our refusal, &c.
“That Mr. Parris's going to Mary Walcot or Abigail Williams, and directing others to them, to know who afflicted the people in their illnesses, — we understand this to be a dealing with them that have a familiar spirit, and an implicit denying the providence of God, who alone, as we believe, can send afflictions, or cause devils to afflict any: this we also conceive sufficient to justify such refusal.
“That Mr. Parris, by these practices and principles, has been the beginner and procurer of the sorest afflictions, not to this village only, but to this whole country, that did ever befall them.
“We, the subscribers, in behalf of ourselves, and of several others of the same mind with us (touching these things), having some of us had our relations by these practices taken off by an untimely death; others have been imprisoned and suffered in our persons, reputations, and estates, — submit the whole to your honors' decision, to determine whether we are or ought to be any ways obliged to honor, respect, and support such an instrument of our miseries; praying God to guide your honors to act herein as may be for his glory, and the future settlement of our village in amity and unity.
Attorneys for the people of the Village.
The arbitrators decided that the inhabitants should pay to Mr. Parris a certain amount for arrearages, and also the sum of ¥79. 9s. 6d. for all his right and interest in the ministry house and land, and that he be forthwith dismissed; and his ministerial relation to the church and society in Salem Village dissolved. The parish raised the money with great alacrity. Nathaniel Ingersol, who had, as has been stated, made him a present at his settlement of a valuable piece of land adjoining the parsonage grounds, bought it back, paying him a liberal price for it, fully equal to its value; and he left the place, so far as appears, for ever.
On the 14th of July, 1696, in the midst of his controversy with his people, his wife died. She was an excellent woman; and was respected and lamented by all. He caused a stone slab to be placed at the head of her grave, with a suitable inscription, still plainly legible, concluding with four lines, to which his initials are appended, composed by him, of which this is one: “Farewell, best wife, choice mother, neighbor, friend.” Her ashes rest in what is called the Wadsworth burial ground.
Mr. Parris removed to Newton, then to Concord; and in November, 1697, began to preach at Stow, on a salary of forty pounds, half in money and half in provisions, &c. A grant from the general court was relied upon from year to year to help to make up the twenty pounds to be paid in money. Afterwards he preached at Dunstable, partly supported by a grant from the general court, and finally in Sudbury, where he died, Feb. 27, 1720. His daughter Elizabeth, who belonged, it will be remembered, to the circle of “afflicted children” in 1692, then nine years of age, in 1710 married Benjamin Barnes of Concord. Two other daughters married in Sudbury. His son Noyes, who graduated at Harvard College in 1721, became deranged, and was supported by the town. His other son Samuel was long deacon of the church at Sudbury, and died Nov. 22, 1792, aged ninety years.
In the “Boston News Letter,” No. 1433, July 15, 1731, is a notice, as follows: —
“Any person or persons who knew Mr. Samuel Parris, formerly of Barbadoes, afterwards of Boston in New England, merchant, and after that minister of Salem Village, &c., deceased to be a son of Thomas Parris of the island aforesaid, Esq. who deceased 1673, or
Page 500. sole heir by will to all his estate in said island, are desired to give or send notice thereof to the printer of this paper; and it shall be for their advantage.”
Whether the identity of Mr. Parris, of Salem Village, with the son of Thomas Parris, of Barbadoes, was established, we have no information. If it was, some relief may have come to his descendants. There is every reason to believe, that, after leaving the village, he and his family suffered from extremely limited means, if not from absolute poverty. The general ill-repute brought upon him by his conduct in the witchcraft prosecutions followed him to the last. He had forfeited the sympathy of his clerical brethren by his obstinate refusal to take their advice. They earnestly, over and over again, expostulated against his prolonging the controversy with the people of Salem Village, besought him to relinquish it, and promised him, if he would, to provide an eligible settlement elsewhere. They actually did provide one. But he rejected their counsels and persuasions, in expressions of ill-concealed bitterness. So that, when he was finally driven away, they felt under no obligations to befriend him; and with his eminent abilities he out a precarious and inadequate maintenance for himself and family, in feeble settlements in outskirt towns, during the rest of his days.
It is difficult to describe the character of this unfortunate man. Just as is the condemnation which facts compel history to pronounce, I have a feeling of relief in the thought, that, before the tribunal to which he so long ago passed, the mercy we all shall need, which comprehends all motives and allows for all infirmities, has been extended to him, in its infinite wisdom and benignity.
He was a man of uncommon abilities, of extraordinary vivacity and activity of intellect. He does not appear to have been wilfully malevolent; although somewhat reckless in a contest, he was not deliberately untruthful; on the contrary, there is in his statements a singular ingenuousness and fairness, seldom to be found in a partisan, much more seldom in a principal. Although we get almost all we know of the examinations of accused parties in the witchcraft proceedings, and of his long contentions with his parish, from him, there is hardly any ground to regret that the parties on the other side had no friends to tell their story. A transparency
Page 501. of character, a sort of instinctive incontinency of mind, which made him let out every thing, or a sort of blindness which prevented his seeing the bearings of what was said and done, make his reports the vehicles of the materials for the defence of the very persons he was prosecuting. I know of no instance like it. His style is lucid, graphic, lively, natural to the highest degree; and whatever he describes, we see the whole, and, as it were, from all points of view. Language flowed from his pen with a facility, simplicity, expressiveness, and accuracy, not surpassed or often equalled. He wrote as men talk, using colloquial expressions without reserve, but always to the point. When we read, we hear him; abbreviating names, and clipping words, as in the most familiar and unguarded conversation. He was not hampered by fear of offending the rules which some think necessary to dignify composition. In his off-hand, free and easy, gossiping entries in the church-book, or in his carefully prepared productions, like the “Meditations for Peace,” read before his church and the dissatisfied brethren, we have specimens of plain good English, in its most translucent and effective forms. Considering that his academic education was early broken off, and many intermediate years were spent in commercial pursuits, his learning and attainments are quite remarkable. The various troubles and tragic mischiefs of his life, the terrible wrongs he inflicted on others, and the retributions he brought upon himself, are traccable to two or three peculiarities in his mental and moral organization.
He had a passion for a scene, a ceremony, an excitement. He delighted in the exercise of power, and rejoiced in conflicts or commotions, from the exhilaration they occasioned, and the opportunity they gave for the gratification of the activity of his nature. He pursued the object of getting possession of the ministry house and land with such desperate pertinacity, not, I think, from avaricious motives, but for the sake of the power it would give him as a considerable landholder. His love of form and public excitement led him to operate as he did with his church. He kept it in continual action during the few years of his ministry. He had at least seventy-five special meetings of that body, without counting those which probably occurred without number, but of which there is no record, during the six months of the witchcraft period. Twice, the brethren gave out, wholly exhausted; and the powers
Page 502. of the church were, by vote, transferred to a special committee, to act in its behalf, composed of persons who had time and strength to spare. But Mr. Parris, never weary of excitement, would have been delighted to preside over church-meetings, and to be a participator in vehement proceedings, every day of his life. The more noisy and heated the contention, the more he enjoyed it. During all the transactions connected with the witchcraft prosecutions, he was everywhere present, always wide awake, full of animation, if not cheerfulness, and ready to take any part to carry them on. These propensities and dispositions were fraught with danger, and prolific of evil in his case, in consequence of what looks very much like a total want in himself of many of the natural human sensibilities, and an inability to apprehend them in others. Through all the horrors of the witchcraft prosecutions, he never evinced the slightest sensibility, and never seemed to be aware that anybody else had any. It was not absolute cruelty, but the absence of what may be regarded as a natural sense. It was not a positive wickedness, but a negative defect. He seemed to be surprised that other people had sentiments, and could not understand why Tarbell and Nurse felt so badly about the execution of their mother. He told them to their faces, without dreaming of giving them offence, that, while they thought she was innocent, and he thought she was guilty and had been justly put to death, it was a mere difference of opinion, as about an indifferent matter. In his “Meditations for Peace,” presented to these dissatisfied brethren, for the purpose and with an earnest desire of appeasing them, he tells them that the indulgence of such feelings at all is a yielding to “temptation,” being under “the clouds of human weakness,” and “a bewraying of remaining corruption.” Indeed, the theology of that day, it must be allowed, bore very hard upon even the best and most sacred affections of our nature. The council, in their Result, allude to the feelings of those whose parents, and other most loved and honored relatives and connections, had been so cruelly torn from them and put to death, as “infirmities discovered by them in such an heart-breaking day,” and bespeak for their grief and lamentations a charitable construction. They ask the church, whose hands were red with the blood of their innocent and dearest friends, not to pursue them with “more critical and vigorous proceedings” in consequence of their exhibiting these
Page 503. natural sensibilities on the occasion, but “to treat them with bowels of much compassion.” These views had taken full effect upon Mr. Parris, and obliterated from his breast all such “infirmities.” This is the only explanation or apology that can be made for him.
Of the history of Cotton Mather, subsequently to the witchcraft prosecutions, and more or less in consequence of his agency in them, it may be said that the residue of his life was doomed to disappointment, and imbittered by reproach and defeat. The storm of fanatical delusion, which he doubted not would carry him to the heights of clerical and spiritual power, in America and everywhere, had left him a wreck. His political aspirations, always one of his strongest passions, were wholly blasted; and the great aim and crown of his ambition, the Presidency of Harvard College, once and again and for ever had eluded his grasp. I leave him to tell his story, and reveal the state of his mind and heart in his own most free and full expressions from his private diary for the year 1724.
“1. What has a gracious Lord helped me to do for the seafaring tribe, in prayers for them, in sermons to them, in books bestowed upon them, and in various projections and endeavors to render the sailors a happy generation? And yet there is not a man in the world so reviled, so slandered, so cursed among sailors.
“2. What has a gracious Lord helped me to do for the instruction and salvation and comfort of the poor negroes? And yet some, on purpose to affront me, call their negroes by the name of COTTON MATHER, that so they may, with some shadow of truth, assert crimes as committed by one of that name, which the hearers take to be Me.
“3. What has a gracious Lord given me to do for the profit and honor of the female sex, especially in publishing the virtuous and laudable characters of holy women? And yet where is the man whom the female sex have spit more of their venom at? I have cause to question whether there are twice ten in the town but what have, at some time or other, spoken basely of me.
“4. What has a gracious Lord given me to do, that I may be a blessing to my relatives? I keep a catalogue of them, and not a week passes me without some good devised for some or other of them, till I have taken all of them under my cognizance. And yet where is the man who has been so tormented with such monstrous relatives? Job said, `I am a brother to dragons.'
“5. What has a gracious Lord given me to do for the vindication and reputation of the Scottish nation? And yet no Englishman has been so vilified by the tongues and pens of Scots as I have been.
“6. What has a gracious Lord given me to do for the good of the country, in applications without number for it in all its interests, besides publications of things useful to it and for it? And yet there is no man whom the country so loads with disrespect and calumnies and manifold expressions of aversion.
“7. What has a gracious Lord given me to do for the upholding of the government, and the strengthening of it, and the bespeaking of regards unto it? And yet the discountenance I have almost perpetually received from the government! Yea, the indecencies and indignities which it has multiplied upon me are such as no other man has been treated with.
“8. What has a gracious Lord given me to do, that the College may be owned for the bringing forth such as are somewhat known in the world, and have read and wrote as much as many have done in other places? And yet the College for ever puts all possible marks of disesteem upon me. If I were the greatest blockhead that ever came from it, or the greatest blemish that ever came to it, they could not easily show me more contempt than they do.
“9. What has a gracious Lord given me to do for the study of a profitable conversation? For nearly fifty years together, I have hardly ever gone into any company, or had any coming to me, without some explicit contrivance to speak something or other that they might be the wiser or the better for. And yet my company is as little sought for, and there is as little resort unto it, as any minister that I am acquainted with.
“10. What has a gracious Lord given me to do in good offices, wherever I could find opportunities for the doing of them? I for ever entertain them with alacrity. I have offered pecuniary recompenses to such as would advise me of them. And yet I see no man for whom all are so loth to do good offices. Indeed I find some cordial friends, but how few! Often have I said, What would I give if there were any one man in the world to do for me what I am willing to do for every man in the world!
“11. What has a gracious Lord given me to do in the writing of many books for the advancing of piety and the promoting of his kingdom? There are, I suppose, more than three hundred of them. And yet I have had more books written against me, more pamphlets to traduce and reproach me and belie me, than any man I know in the world.
“12. What has a gracious Lord given me to do in a variety of
Page 505. services? For many lustres of years, not a day has passed me, without some devices, even written devices, to be serviceable. And yet my sufferings! They seem to be (as in reason they should be) more than my services. Everybody points at me, and speaks of me as by far the most afflicted minister in all New England. And many look on me as the greatest sinner, because the greatest sufferer; and are pretty arbitrary in their conjectures upon my punished miscarriages.”
“Diary, May 7, 1724. — The sudden death of the unhappy man who sustained the place of President in our College will open a door for my doing singular services in the best of interests. I do not know that the care of the College will now be cast upon me, though I am told that it is what is most generally wished for. If it should be, I shall be in abundance of distress about it; but, if it should not, yet I may do many things for the good of the College more quietly and more hopefully than formerly.
“June 5. — The College is in great hazard of dissipation and grievous destruction and confusion. My advice to some that have some influence on the public may be seasonable.
“July 1, 1724. — This day being our insipid, ill-contrived anniversary, which we call the Commencement, I chose to spend it at home in supplications, partly on the behalf of the College that it may not be foolishly thrown away, but that God may bestow such a President upon it as may prove a rich blessing unto it and unto all our churches.”
On the 18th of November, 1724, the corporation of Harvard College elected the Rev. Benjamin Colman, pastor of the Brattle Church in Boston, to the vacant presidential chair. He declined the appointment. The question hung in suspense another six months. In June, 1725, the Rev. Benjamin Wadsworth, pastor of the First Church in Boston, was elected, accepted the office, and held it to his death, on the 16th of March, 1737. It may easily be imagined how keenly these repeated slights were felt by Cotton Mather. He died on the 13th of February, 1728.
From the early part of the spring of 1695, when the abortive attempt to settle the difficulty between Mr. Parris and the people of the village, by the umpirage of Major Gedney, was made, it evidently became the settled purpose of the leading men, on both sides, to restore harmony to the place. On all committees, persons who had been prominent in opposition to each other were joined together, that, thus co-operating, they might become reconciled.
Page 506. This is strikingly illustrated in the “seating of the meeting-house,” as it was called. In 1699, in a seat accommodating three persons, John Putnam the son of Nathaniel, and John Tarbell, were two of the three. Another seat for three was occupied by James and John Putnam, sons of John, and by Thomas Wilkins. Thomas Putnam and Samuel Nurse were placed in the same seat; and so were the wives of Thomas Putnam and Samuel Nurse, and the widow Sarah Houlton. The widow Preston, daughter of Rebecca Nurse, was seated with the widow Walcot, mother of Mary, one of the accusing girls.
We see in this the effect of the wise and decisive course adopted by Mr. Parris's successor, the Rev. Joseph Green. Immediately upon his ordination, Nov. 10, 1698, he addressed himself in earnest to the work of reconciliation in that distracted parish. From the date of its existence, nearly thirty years before, it had been torn by constant strife. It had just passed through scenes which had brought all hearts into the most terrible alienation. A man of less faith would not have believed it possible, that the horrors and outrages of those scenes could ever be forgotten, forgiven, or atoned for, by those who had suffered or committed the wrongs. But he knew the infinite power of the divine love, which, as a minister of Christ, it was his office to inspire and diffuse. He knew that, with the blessing of God, that people, who had from the first been devouring each other, and upon whose garments the stain of the blood of brethren and sisters was fresh, might be made “kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven” them. In this heroic and Christ-like faith, he entered upon and steadfastly adhered to his divine work. He pursued it with patience, wisdom, and courageous energy. No ministry in the whole history of the New-England churches has had a more difficult task put upon it, and none has more perfectly succeeded in its labors. I shall describe the administration of this good man, as a minister of reconciliation, in his own words, transcribed from his church records: —
“Nov. 25, 1698, being spent in holy exercises (in order to our preparation for the sacrament of the Lord's Supper), at John Putnam, Jr.'s, after the exercise, I desired the church to manifest, by the usual sign, that they were so cordially satisfied with their brethren, Thomas Wilkins, John Tarbell, and Samuel Nurse, that they were heartily
Page 507. desirous that they would join with us in all ordinances, that so we might all live lovingly together. This they consented unto, and none made any objection, but voted it by lifting up their hands. And further, that whatever articles they had drawn up against these brethren formerly, they now looked upon them as nothing, but let them fall to the ground, being willing that they should be buried for ever.
“Feb. 5, 1699. — This day, also our brother John Tarbell, and his wife, and Thomas Wilkins and his wife, and Samuel Nurse's wife, joined with us in the Lord's Supper; which is a matter of thankfulness, seeing they have for a long time been so offended as that they could not comfortably join with us.
“1702. — In December, the pastor spake to the church, on the sabbath, as followeth: `Brethren, I find in your church-book a record of Martha Corey's being excommunicated for witchcraft; and, the generality of the land being sensible of the errors that prevailed in that day, some of her friends have moved me several times to propose to the church whether it be not our duty to recall that sentence, that so it may not stand against her to all generations; and I myself being a stranger to her, and being ignorant of what was alleged against her, I shall now only leave it to your consideration, and shall determine the matter by a vote the next convenient opportunity.
“Feb. 14, 170⅔. — The major part of the brethren consented to the following: `Whereas this church passed a vote, Sept. 11, 1692, for the excommunication of Martha Corey, and that sentence was pronounced against her Sept. 14, by Mr. Samuel Parris, formerly the pastor of this church; she being, before her excommunication, condemned, and afterwards executed, for supposed witchcraft; and there being a record of this in our church-book, page 12, we being moved hereunto, do freely consent and heartily desire that the same sentence may be revoked, and that it may stand no longer against her; for we are, through God's mercy to us, convinced that we were at that dark day under the power of those errors which then prevailed in the land; and we are sensible that we had not sufficient grounds to think her guilty of that crime for which she was condemned and executed; and that her excommunication was not according to the mind of God, and therefore we desire that this may be entered in our church-book, to take off that odium that is cast on her name, and that so God may forgive our sin, and may be atoned for the land; and we humbly pray that God will not leave us any more to such errors and sins, but will teach and enable us always to do that which is right in his sight.'
“There was a major part voted, and six or seven dissented.
The First Church in Salem rescinded its votes of excommunication of Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey, in March, 1712. The church at the village was nearly ten years before it, in this act of justice to itself and to the memory of the injured dead. Mr. Green did not wait until the public sentiment drove him to it. He regarded it as his duty to lead, and keep in front of that sentiment, in the right direction. He did not wait until everybody demanded it to be done, but instantly began to prepare his people for it. At the proper time, he gave notice that he was about to bring the question before them; and he accordingly did so. He had no idea of allowing a few narrow-minded, obstinate individuals to keep the blot any longer upon the records of his church. His conduct is honorable to his name, and to the name of the village. By wise, prudent, but persistent efforts, he gradually repaired every breach, brought his parish out from under reproach, and set them right with each other, with the obligations of justice, and with the spirit of Christianity. It is affecting to read his ejaculations of praise and gratitude to God for every symptom of the prevalence of harmony and love among the people of his charge.
The man who extinguished the fires of passion in a community that had ever before been consumed by them deserves to be held in lasting honor. The history of the witchcraft delusion in Salem Village would, indeed, be imperfectly written, if it failed to present the character of him who healed its wounds, obliterated the traces of its malign influence on the hearts and lives of those who acted, and repaired the wrongs done to the memory of those who suffered, in it. Joseph Green had a manly and amiable nature. He was a studious scholar and an able preacher. He was devoted to his ministry and faithful to its obligations. He was a leader of his people, and shared in their occupations and experiences. He was active in the ordinary employments of life and daily concerns of society. Possessed of independent property, he was frugal and simple in his habits, and liberal in the use of his means. The parsonage, while he lived in it, was the abode of hospitality, and frequented by the best society in the neighborhood. By mingled firmness and kindliness, he met and removed difficulties. He had a cheerful temperament, was not irritated by the course of events, even when of an unpleasant character. While Mr. Noyes was disturbed, even to resentment, by encroachments upon his parish,
Page 509. in the formation of new societies in the middle precinct of Salem, now South Danvers, and in the second precinct of Beverly, now Upper Beverly, Mr. Green, although they drew away from him as many as from Mr. Noyes, went to participate in the raising of their meeting-houses. Of a genial disposition, he countenanced innocent amusements. He was fond of the sports of the field. The catamount was among the trophies of his sure aim, and he came home with his huntsman's bag filled with wild pigeons. He would take his little sons before and behind him on his horse, and spend a day with them fishing and fowling on Wilkins's Pond; and, when Indians threatened the settlements, he would shoulder his musket, join the brave young men of his parish, and be the first in the encounter, and the last to relinquish the pursuit of the savage foe.
He was always, everywhere, a peacemaker; by his genial manner, and his genuine dignity and decision of character, he removed dissensions from his church and neighborhood, and secured the respect while he won the love of all. That such a person was raised up and placed where he was at that time, was truly a providence of God.
The part performed in the witchcraft tragedy by the extraordinary child of twelve years of age, Ann Putnam, has been fully set forth. As has been stated, both her parents (and no one can measure their share of responsibility, nor that of others behind them, for her conduct) died within a fortnight of each other, in 1699. She was then nineteen years of age; a large family of children, all younger than herself, was left with her in the most melancholy orphanage. How many there were, we do not exactly know: eight survived her. Although their uncles, Edward and Joseph, were near, and kind, and able to care for them, the burden thrown upon her must have been great. With the terrible remembrance of the scenes of 1692, it was greater than she could bear. Her health began to decline, and she was long an invalid. Under the tender and faithful guidance of Mr. Green, she did all that she could to seek the forgiveness of God and man. After consultations with him, in visits to his study, a confession was drawn up, which she desired publicly to make. Upon conferring with Samuel Nurse, it was found to be satisfactory to him, as the representative of those who had suffered from her testimony. It was her desire to offer this
Page 510. confession and a profession of religion at the same time. The day was fixed, and made known to the public. On the 25th of August, 1706, a great concourse assembled in the meeting-house. Large numbers came from other places, particularly from the town of Salem. The following document, having been judged sufficient and suitable, was written out in the church-book the evening before, and signed by her. It was read by the pastor before the congregation, who were seated; she standing in her place while it was read, and owning it as hers by a declaration to that effect at its close, and also acknowledging the signature.
“The Confession of Anne Putnam, when she was received to Communion, 1706.
“I desire to be humbled before God for that sad and humbling providence that befell my father's family in the year about '92; that I, then being in my childhood, should, by such a providence of God, be made an instrument for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken away from them, whom now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons; and that it was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time, whereby I justly fear I have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon myself and this land the guilt of innocent blood; though what was said or done by me against any person I can truly and uprightly say, before God and man, I did it not out of any anger, malice, or ill-will to any person, for I had no such thing against one of them; but what I did was ignorantly, being deluded by Satan. And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing of Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humbled for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offence, whose relations were taken away or accused.
“This confession was read before the congregation, together with her relation, Aug. 25, 1706; and she acknowledged it.
“J. Green, Pastor.
This paper shows the baleful influence of the doctrine of Satan
Page 511. then received. It afforded a refuge and escape from the compunctions of conscience. The load of sin was easily thrown upon the back of Satan. This young woman was undoubtedly sincere in her penitence, and was forgiven, we trust and believe; but she failed to see the depth of her iniquity, and of those who instigated and aided her, in her false accusations. The blame, and the deed, were wholly hers and theirs. Satan had no share in it. Human responsibility cannot thus be avoided.
While, in a certain sense, she imputes the blame to Satan, this declaration of Ann Putnam is conclusive evidence that she and her confederate accusers did not believe in any communications having been made to them by invisible spirits of any kind. Those persons, in our day, who imagine that they hold intercourse, by rapping or otherwise, with spiritual beings, have sometimes found arguments in favor of their belief in the phenomena of the witchcraft trials. But Ann Putnam's confession is decisive against this. If she had really received from invisible beings, subordinate spirits, or the spirits of deceased persons, the matters to which she testified, or ever believed that she had, she would have said so. On the contrary, she declares that she had no foundation whatever, from any source, for what she said, but was under the subtle and mysterious influence of the Devil himself.
She died at about the age of thirty-six years. Her will is dated May 20, 1715, and was presented in probate June 29, 1716. Its preamble is as follows: —
“In the name of God, amen. I, Anne Putnam, of the town of Salem, single woman, being oftentimes sick and weak in body, but of a disposing mind and memory, blessed be God! and calling to mind the mortality of my body, and that it is appointed for all men once to die, do make this my last will and testament. First of all, I recommend my spirit into the hands of God, through Jesus Christ my Redeemer, with whom I hope to live for ever; and, as for my body, I commit it to the earth, to be buried in a Christian and decent manner, at the discretion of my executor, hereafter named, nothing doubting but, by the mighty power of God, to receive the same again at the resurrection.”
She divided her land to her four brothers, and her personal estate to her four sisters.
It seems that she was frequently the subject of sickness, and
Page 512. her bodily powers much weakened. The probability is, that the long-continued strain kept upon her muscular and nervous organization, during the witchcraft scenes, had destroyed her constitution. Such uninterrupted and vehement exercise, to their utmost tension, of the imaginative, intellectual, and physical powers, in crowded and heated rooms, before the public gaze, and under the feverish and consuming influence of bewildering and all but delirious excitement, could hardly fail to sap the foundations of health in so young a child. The tradition is, that she had a slow and fluctuating decline. The language of her will intimates, that, at intervals, there were apparent checks to her discase, and rallies of strength, — “oftentimes sick and weak in body.” She inherited from her mother a sensitive and fragile constitution; but her father, although brought to the grave, probably by the terrible responsibilities and trials in which he had been involved, at a comparatively early age, belonged to a long-lived race and neighborhood. The opposite elements of her composition struggled in a protracted contest, — on the one side, a nature morbidly subject to nervous excitability sinking under the exhaustion of an overworked, overburdened, and shattered system; on the other, tenacity of life. The conflict continued with alternating success for years; but the latter gave way at last. Her story, in all its aspects, is worthy of the study of the psychologist. Her confession, profession, and death point the moral.
The Rev. Joseph Green died Nov. 26, 1715. The following tribute to his memory is inscribed on the records of the church. It is in the handwriting, and style of thought and language, of Deacon Edward Putnam.
“Then was the choicest flower and greenest olive-tree in the garden of our God here cut down in its prime and flourishing estate at the age of forty years and two days, who had been a faithful ambassador from God to us eighteen years. Then did that bright star set, and never more to appear here among us; then did our sun go down; and now what darkness is come upon us! Put away and pardon our iniquities, O Lord! which have been the cause of thy sore displeasure, and return to us again in mercy, and provide yet again for this thy flock a pastor after thy own heart, as thou hath promised to thy people in thy word; on which promise we have hope, for we are called by thy name; and, oh, leave us not!”
The Rev. Peter Clark was ordained June 5, 1717. The termination of the connection between the Salem Village church and the witchcraft delusion, and all similar kinds of absurdity and wickedness, is marked by the following record, which fully and for ever redeems its character. If Samuel Parris had been as wise and brave as Peter Clark, he would, in the same decisive manner, have nipped the thing in the bud.
“Salem Village Church Records.
“Sept. 5, 1746. — At a church meeting appointed on the lecture, the day before, on the occasion of several persons in this parish being reported to have resorted to a woman of a very ill reputation, pretending to the art of divination and fortune-telling, &c., to make inquiry into that matter, and to take such resolutions as may be thought proper on the occasion, the brethren of the church then present came into the following votes; viz., That for Christians, especially church-members, to seek to and consult reputed witches or fortune-tellers, this church is clearly of opinion, and firmly believes on the testimony of the Word of God, is highly impious and scandalous, being a violation of the Christian covenant sealed in baptism, rendering the persons guilty of it subject to the just censure of the church.
“No proof appearing against any of the members of this church (some of whom had been strongly suspected of this crime), so as to convict them of their being guilty, it was further voted, That the pastor, in the name of the church, should publicly testify their disapprobation and abhorrence of this infamous and ungodly practice of consulting witches or fortune-tellers, or any that are reputed such; exhorting all under their watch, who may have been guilty of it, to an hearty repentance and returning to God, earnestly seeking forgiveness in the blood of Christ, and warning all against the like practice for the time to come.
“Sept. 7. — This testimony, exhortation, and warning, voted by the church, was publicly given by the pastor, before the dismission of the congregation.”
The Salem Village Parish, when its present pastor, the Rev. Charles B. Rice, was settled, Sept. 2, 1863, had been in existence a hundred and ninety-one years. During its first twenty-five years, it had four ministers, whose aggregate period of service was eighteen years. During the succeeding hundred and sixty years, it had four ministers, whose aggregate period of service
Page 514. was one hundred and fifty-eight years. They had all been well educated, several were men of uncommon endowments, and without exception they possessed qualities suitable for success and usefulness in their calling.
The first period was filled with an uninterrupted series of troubles, quarrels, and animosities, culminating in the most terrific and horrible disaster that ever fell upon a people. The second period was an uninterrupted reign of peace, harmony, and unity; no religious society ever enjoying more comfort in its privileges, or exhibiting a better example of all that ought to characterize a Christian congregation.
The contrast between the lives of its ministers, in the two periods respectively, is as great as between their pastorates. The first four suffered from inadequate means of support, and, owing to the feuds in the congregation, rates not being collected, were hardly supplied with the necessaries of life. There is no symptom in the records of the second period of there having ever been any difficulty on this score. The prompt fulfilment of their contracts by the people, and the favor of Providence, placed the ministers above the reach or approach of inconvenience or annoyance from that quarter.
The history of the New-England churches presents no epoch more melancholy, distressful, and stormy than the first, and none more united, prosperous, or commendable than the second period in the annals of the Salem Village church.
The contrast between the fortunes and fates of the ministers of these two periods is worthy of being stated in detail.
James Bayley began to preach at the Village at the formation of the society, when he was quite a young man, within three years from receiving his degree at Harvard College. After about seven years, during which he buried his wife and three children, and encountered a bitter and turbulent opposition, — so far as we can see, most causeless and unreasonable, — he relinquished the ministry altogether, and spent the residue of his life in another profession elsewhere.
The ministry of George Burroughs, at the Village, lasted about two years. The violence of both parties to the controversy by which the parish had been rent was concentrated upon his innocent and unsheltered head. He was, at a public assembly of his
Page 515. people, in his own meeting-house, arrested, and taken out in the custody of the marshal of the county, a prisoner for a debt incurred to meet the expenses of his wife's recent funeral, of an amount less than the salary then due him, and which, in point of fact, he had paid at the time by an order upon the parish treasurer. From such outrageous ill-treatment, he escaped by resigning his ministry. He was followed to his retreat in a remote settlement, and while engaged there, a laborious, self-sacrificing, and devoted minister, was by the malignity of his enemies at the Village, suddenly seized, all unconscious of having wronged a human creature, snatched from the table where he was taking his frugal meal in his humble home, torn from his helpless family, hurried up to the Village; overwhelmed in a storm of falsehood, rage, and folly; loaded with irons, immured in a dungeon, carried to the place of execution, consigned to the death of a felon; and his uncoffined remains thrown among the clefts of the rocks of Witch Hill, and left but half buried, — for a crime of which he was as innocent as the unborn child.
Deodat Lawson, a great scholar and great preacher, after a two years' trial, and having buried his wife and daughter at the Village, abandoned the attempt to quell the storm of passion there. He found another settlement on the other side of Massachusetts Bay, which he left without taking leave, and was never heard of more by his people. Eight years afterwards, he re-appeared in the reprint, at London, of his famous Salem Village sermon, and then vanished for ever from sight. A cloud of impenetrable darkness envelopes his name at that point. Of his fate nothing is known, except that it was an “unhappy” one.
Samuel Parris, after a ministry of seven years, crowded from the very beginning with contention and animosity, and closed in desolation, ruin, and woes unutterable, havoc scattered among his people and the whole country round, was driven from the parish, the blood of the innocent charged upon his head, and, for the rest of his days, consigned to obscurity and penury. The place of his abode has upon it no habitation or structure of man; and the only vestiges left of him are his records of the long quarrel with his congregation, and his inscription on the headstone, erected by him, as he left the Village for ever, over the fresh grave of his wife.
Surely, the annals of no church present a more dismal, shocking, or shameful history than this.
Joseph Green, on the 26th of November, 1715, terminated with his life a ministry of eighteen years, as useful, beneficent, and honorable as it had been throughout harmonious and happy. Peter Clark died in office, June 10, 1768, after a service of fifty-one years. He was recognized throughout the country as an able minister and a learned divine. Peace and prosperity reigned, without a moment's intermission, among the people of his charge. Benjamin Wadsworth, D.D., also died in office, Jan. 18, 1826, after a service of fifty-four years. Through life he was universally esteemed and loved in all the churches. Milton P. Braman, D.D., on the 1st of April, 1861, terminated by resignation a ministry of thirty-five years. He always enjoyed universal respect and affection, and the parish under his care, uninterrupted union and prosperity. He did not leave his people, but remains among them, participating in the enjoyment of their privileges, and upholding the hands of his successor. His eminent talents are occasionally exercised in neighboring pulpits, and in other services of public usefulness. He lives in honored retirement on land originally belonging to Nathaniel Putnam, distant only a few rods, a little to the north of east, from the spot owned and occupied by his first predecessor, James Bayley.
It can be said with assurance, of this epoch in the history of the Salem Village church and society, that it can hardly be paralleled in all that indicates the well-being of man or the blessings of Heaven. No such contrast, as these two periods in the annals of this parish present, can elsewhere be found.
Prosecutions for witchcraft continued in the older countries after they had been abandoned here; although it soon began to be difficult, everywhere, to procure the conviction of a person accused of witchcraft. In 1716, a Mrs. Hicks and her daughter, the latter aged nine years, were hanged in Huntingdon, in England, for witchcraft. In the year 1720, an attempt, already alluded to, was made to renew the Salem excitement in Littleton, Mass., but it failed: the people had learned wisdom at a price too dear to allow them so soon to forget it. In a letter to Cotton Mather, written Feb. 19, 1720, the excellent Dr. Watts, after having expressed his doubts respecting the sufficiency of the spectral
Page 517. evidence for condemnation, says, in reference to the Salem witchcraft, “I am much persuaded that there was much immediate agency of the Devil in these affairs, and perhaps there were some real witches too.” Not far from this time, we find what was probably the opinion of the most liberal-minded and cultivated people in England expressed in the following language of Addison: “To speak my thoughts freely, I believe, in general, that there is and has been such a thing as witchcraft, but, at the same time, can give no credit to any particular instance of it.”
There was an execution for witchcraft in Scotland in 1722. As late as the middle of the last century, an annual discourse, commemorative of executions that took place in Huntingdon during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, continued to be delivered in that place. An act of a Presbyterian synod in Scotland, published in 1743, and reprinted at Glasgow in 1766, denounced as a national sin the repeal of the penal laws against witchcraft.
Blackstone, the great oracle of British law, and who flourished in the latter half of the last century, declared his belief in witchcraft in the following strong terms: “To deny the possibility, nay, the actual existence, of witchcraft and sorcery, is at once flatly to contradict the revealed Word of God, in various passages both of the Old and New Testament; and the thing itself is a truth to which every nation in the world hath in its turn borne testimony, either by examples seemingly well attested, or by prohibitory laws, which at least suppose the possibility of commerce with evil spirits.”
It is related, in White's “Natural History of Selborne,” that, in the year 1751, the people of Tring, a market town of Hertfordshire, and scarcely more than thirty miles from London, “seized on two superannuated wretches, crazed with age and overwhelmed with infirmities, on a suspicion of witchcraft.” They were carried to the edge of a horse-pond, and there subjected to the water ordeal. The trial resulted in the acquittal of the prisoners; but they were both drowned in the process.
A systematic effort seems to have been made during the eighteenth century to strengthen and renew the power of superstition. Alarmed by the progress of infidelity, many eminent and excellent men availed themselves of the facilities which their position at the head of the prevailing literature afforded them, to push the
Page 518. faith of the people as far as possible towards the opposite extreme of credulity. It was a most unwise, and, in its effects, deplorable policy. It was a betrayal of the cause of true religion. It was an acknowledgment that it could not be vindicated before the tribunal of severe reason. Besides all the misery produced by filling the imagination with unreal objects of terror, the restoration to influence, during the last century, of the fables and delusions of an ignorant age, has done incalculable injury, by preventing the progress of Christian truth and sound philosophy; thus promoting the cause of the very infidelity it was intended to check. The idea of putting down one error by setting up another cannot have suggested itself to any mind that had ever been led to appreciate the value or the force of truth. But this was the policy of Christian writers from the time of Addison to that of Johnson. The latter expressly confesses, that it was necessary to maintain the credit of the belief of the existence and agency of ghosts, and other supernatural beings, in order to help on the argument for a future state as founded upon the Bible.
Dr. Hibbert, in his excellent book on the “Philosophy of Apparitions,” illustrates some remarks similar to those just made, by the following quotation from Mr. Wesley: —
“It is true, that the English in general, and indeed most of the men in Europe, have given up all accounts of witches and apparitions as mere old wives' fables. I am sorry for it; and I willingly take this opportunity of entering my solemn protest against this violent compliment, which so many that believe the Bible pay to those who do not believe it. I owe them no such service. I take knowledge, these are at the bottom of the outcry which has been raised, and with such insolence spread throughout the nation, in direct opposition, not only to the Bible, but to the suffrage of the wisest and best men in all ages and nations. They well know (whether Christians know it or not), that the giving up witchcraft is, in effect, giving up the Bible. And they know, on the other hand, that, if but one account of the intercourse of men with separate spirits be admitted, their whole castle in the air (Deism, Atheism, Materialism) falls to the ground. I know no reason, therefore, why we should suffer even this weapon to be wrested out of our hands. Indeed, there are numerous arguments besides, which abundantly confute their vain imaginations. But we need not be hooted out of one: neither reason nor religion requires this.”
The belief in witchcraft continued to hold a conspicuous place among popular superstitions during the whole of the last century. Many now living can remember the time when it prevailed very generally. Each town or village had its peculiar traditionary tales, which were gravely related by the old, and deeply impressed upon the young.
The legend of the “Screeching Woman” of Marblehead is worthy of being generally known. The story runs thus: A piratical cruiser, having captured a Spanish vessel during the seventeenth century, brought her into Marblehead harbor, which was then the site of a few humble dwellings. The male inhabitants were all absent on their fishing voyages. The pirates brought their prisoners ashore, carried them at the dead of the night into a retired glen, and there murdered them. Among the captives was an English female passenger. The women who belonged to the place heard her dying outcries, as they rose through the midnight air, and erverberated far and wide along the silent shores. She was heard to exclaim, “O mercy, mercy! Lord Jesus Christ, save me! Lord Jesus Christ, save me!” Her body was buried by the pirates on the spot. The same piercing voice is believed to be heard at intervals, more or less often, almost every year, in the stillness of a calm starlight or clear moonlight night. There is something, it is said, so wild, mysterious, and evidently superhuman in the sound, as to strike a chill of dread into the hearts of all who listen to it. The writer of an article on this subject, in the “Marblehead Register” of April 3, 1830, declares, that “there are not wanting, at the present day, persons of unimpeachable veracity and known respectability, who still continue firmly to believe the tradition, and to assert that they themselves have been auditors of the sounds described, which they declare were of such an unearthly nature as to preclude the idea of imposition or deception.”
When “the silver moon unclouded holds her way,” or when the stars are glistening in the clear, cold sky, and the dark forms of the moored vessels are at rest upon the sleeping bosom of the harbor; when no natural sound comes forth from the animate or inanimate creation but the dull and melancholy rote of the sea along the rocky and winding coast, — how often is the watcher startled from the reveries of an excited imagination by the piteous,
Page 520. dismal, and terrific screams of the unlaid ghost of the murdered lady!
A negro died, fifty years ago, in that part of Danvers called originally Salem Village, at a very advanced age. He was supposed to have reached his hundredth year. He never could be prevailed upon to admit that there was any delusion or mistake in the proceedings of 1692. To him, the whole affair was easy of explanation. He believed that the witchcraft was occasioned by the circumstance of the Devil's having purloined the church-book, and that it subsided so soon as the book was recovered from his grasp. Perhaps the particular hypothesis of the venerable African was peculiar to himself; but those persons must have a slight acquaintance with the history of opinions in this and every other country, who are not aware that the superstition on which it was founded has been extensively entertained by men of every color, almost, if not quite, up to the present day. If the doctrines of demonology have been completely overthrown and exterminated in our villages and cities, it is a very recent achievement; nay, I fear that in many places the auspicious event remains to take place.
In the year 1808, the inhabitants of Great Paxton, a village of Huntingdonshire, in England, within sixty miles of London, rose in a body, attacked the house of an humble, and, so far as appears, inoffensive and estimable woman, named Ann Izard, suspected of bewitching three young females, — Alice Brown, Fanny Amey, and Mary Fox, — dragged her out of her bed into the fields, pierced her arms and body with pins, and tore her flesh with their nails, until she was covered with blood. They committed the same barbarous outrage upon her again, a short time afterwards; and would have subjected her to the water ordeal, had she not found means to fly from that part of the country.
The writer of the article “Witchcraft,” in Rees's “Cyclopædia,” gravely maintains the doctrine of “ocular fascination.”
Prosecutions for witchcraft are stated to have occurred, in the first half of the present century, in some of the interior districts of our Southern States. The civilized world is even yet full of necromancers and thaumaturgists of every kind. The science of “palmistry” is still practised by many a muttering vagrant; and perhaps some in this neighborhood remember when, in the days
Page 521. of their youthful fancy, they held out their hands, that their future fortunes might be read in the lines of their palms, and their wild and giddy curiosity and anxious affections be gratified by information respecting wedding-day or absent lover.
The most celebrated fortune-teller, perhaps, that ever lived, resided in an adjoining town. The character of “Moll Pitcher” is familiarly known in all parts of the commercial world. She died in 1813. Her place of abode was beneath the projecting and elevated summit of High Rock, in Lynn, and commanded a view of the wild and indented coast of Marblehead, of the extended and resounding beaches of Lynn and Chelsea, of Nahant Rocks, of the vessels and islands of Boston's beautiful bay, and of its remote southern shore. She derived her mysterious gifts by inheritance, her grandfather having practised them before in Marblehead. Sailors, merchants, and adventurers of every kind, visited her residence, and placed confidence in her predictions. People came from great distances to learn the fate of missing friends, or recover the possession of lost goods; while the young of both sexes, impatient of the tardy pace of time, and burning with curiosity to discern the secrets of futurity, availed themselves of every opportunity to visit her lowly dwelling, and hear from her prophetic lips the revelation of the most tender incidents and important events of their coming lives. She read the future, and traced what to mere mortal eyes were the mysteries of the present or the past, in the arrangement and aspect of the grounds or settlings of a cup of tea or coffee. Her name has everywhere become the generic title of fortune-tellers, and occupies a conspicuous place in the legends and ballads of popular superstition. Her renown has gone abroad to the farthest regions, and her memory will be perpetuated in the annals of credulity and imposture. An air of romance is breathed around the scenes where she practised her mystic art, the interest and charm of which will increase as the lapse of time removes her history back towards the dimness of the distant past.
The elements of the witchcraft delusion of 1692 are slumbering still in the bosom of society. We hear occasionally of haunted houses, cases of second-sight, and communications from the spiritual world. It always will be so. The human mind feels instinctively its connection with a higher sphere. Some will ever be
Page 522. impatient of the restraints of our present mode of being, and prone to break away from them; eager to pry into the secrets of the invisible world, willing to venture beyond the bounds of ascertainable knowledge, and, in the pursuit of truth, to aspire where the laws of evidence cannot follow them. A love of the marvellous is inherent to the sense of limitation while in these terrestrial bodies; and many will always be found not content to wait until this tabernacle is dissolved and we shall be clothed upon with a body which is from Heaven.
- The facts and considerations in reference to the authorship of the letter to Jonathan Corwin may be summarily stated as follows: —
The letter is signed “R. P.” Under these initials is written, “Robert Pain,” in a different hand, and, as the ink as well as the chirography shows, at a somewhat later date. R. P. are blotted over, but with ink of such lighter hue that the original letters are clearly discernible under it. A Robert Paine graduated at Harvard College, in 1656. But he was probably the foreman of the grand jury that brought in all the indictments in the witchcraft trials; and therefore could not, from the declarations in the letter itself, have been its author. The only other person of that name at the time, of whom we have knowledge, was his father, who seems, by the evidence we have, to have died in 1693. (That date is given in the Harvard Triennial for the death of Robert Paine, the graduate; but erroneously, I think, as signatures to documents, and conveyances of property subsequently, can hardly be ascribed to any other person.) Robert Paine, the father, from the earliest settlement of Ipswich, had been one of the leading men of the town, apparently of larger property than any other, often its deputy in the General Court, and, for a great length of time, ruling elder of the church. “Elder Pain,” or Penn, as the name was often spelled, enjoyed the friendship of John Norton, and all the ministers far and near; and religious meetings were often held at his house. We know nothing to justify us in saying that he could not have been the author of this paper; but we also know nothing, except the appearance of his name upon it, to impute it to him.
The document is dated from “Salisbury.” So far as we know, Elder Paine always lived in Ipswich; although, having property in the upper county, he may have often been, and possibly in his last years resided, there. It is, it is true, a strong circumstance, that his name is written, although by a late hand, under the initials. It shows that the person who wrote it thought that “R. P.” meant Robert Paine; but any one conversant especially with the antiquities of Ipswich, or this part of the county, might naturally fall into such a mistake. The authorship of documents was often erroneously ascribed. The words “Robert Pain” were, probably, not on the paper when the indorsement was made, “A letter to my grandfather,” &c. Elder Robert Paine, if living in 1692, was ninety-one years of age. The document under consideration, if composed by him, is truly a marvellous production, — an intellectual phenomenon not easily to be paralleled.
The facts in reference to Robert Pike, of Salisbury, as they bear upon the question of the authorship of the document, are these. He was seventy-six years of age in 1692, and had always resided in “Salisbury.” The letter and argument are both in the handwriting of Captain Thomas Bradbury, Recorder of old Norfolk County. On this point, there can be no question. Bradbury and Pike had been fellow-townsmen for more than half a century, connected by all the ties of neighborhood and family intermarriage, and jointly or alternately had borne all the civic and military honors the people could bestow. The document was prepared and delivered to the judge while Mrs. Bradbury was in prison, and just one month before her trial. Pike, as has been shown (p. 226), was deeply interested in her behalf. The original signature (“R. P.”) has the marked characteristics of the same initial letters as found in innumerable autographs of his, on file or record. There are interlineations, beyond question in Pike's handwriting. These facts demonstrate that both Pike and Bradbury were concerned in producing the document.
The history of Robert Pike proves that he was a man of great ability, had a turn of mind towards logical exercises, and was, from early life, conversant with disputations. Nearly fifty years before, he argued in town-meeting against the propriety, in view of civil and ecclesiastical law, of certain acts of the General Court. They arraigned, disfranchised, and otherwise punished him for his “litigiousness:” but the weight of his character soon compelled them to restore his political rights; and the people of Salisbury, the very next year, sent him among them as their deputy, and continued him from time to time in that capacity. At a subsequent period, he was the leader and spokesman of a party in a controversy about some ecclesiastical affairs, involving apparently certain nice questions of theology, which created a great stir through the country. The contest reached so high a point, that the church at Salisbury excommunicated him; but the public voice demanded a council of churches, which assembled in September, 1676, and re-instated Major Pike condemning his excommunication, “finding it not justifiable upon divers grounds.” On this occasion, as before, the General Court frowned upon and denounced him; but the people came again to his rescue, sending him at the next election into the House of Deputies, and kept him there until raised to the Upper House as an Assistant. He was in the practice of conducting causes in the courts, and was long a local magistrate and one of the county judges.
He does not appear to have been present at any of the trials or examinations of 1692; but his official position as Assistant caused many depositions taken in his neighborhood to be acknowledged and sworn before him. While entertaining the prevalent views about diabolical agency, he always disapproved of the proceedings of the Court in the particulars to which the arguments of the communication to Jonathan Corwin apply, — the “spectre evidence,” — and the statements and actings of “the afflicted children.” There are indications that sometimes he saw through the folly of the stories told by persons whose depositions he was called to attest. One John Pressy was circulating a wonderful tale about an encounter he had with the spectre of Susanna Martin. Pike sent for him, and took his deposition. Pressy averred, that, one evening, coming from Amesbury Ferry, he fell in with the shape of Martin in the form of a body of light, which “seemed to be about the bigness of a half-bushel.” After much dodging and manœuvring, and being lost and bewildered, wandering to and fro, tumbling into holes, — where, as the deposition states, no “such pitts” were known to exist, — and other misadventures, he came to blows with the light, and had several brushes with it, striking it with his stick. At one time, “he thinks he gave her at least forty blows.” He finally succeeded in finding “his own house: but, being then seized with fear, could not speak till his wife spoke to him at the door, and was in such a condition that the family was afraid of him; which story being carried to the town the next day, it was, upon inquiry, understood, that said Goodwife Martin was in such a miserable case and in such pain that they swabbed her body, as was reported.” He concludes his deposition by saying, that Major Pike “seemed to be troubled that this deponent had not told him of it in season that she might have been viewed to have seen what her all was.” The affair had happened “about twenty-four years ago.” Probably neither Pressy nor the Court appreciated the keenness of the major's expression of regret. It broke the bubble of the deposition. The whole story was the product of a benighted imagination, disordered by fear, filled with inebriate vagaries, exaggerated in nightmare, and resting upon wild and empty rumors. Robert Pike's course, in the case of Mrs. Bradbury, harmonizes with the supposition that he was Corwin's correspondent.
Materials may be brought to light that will change the evidence on the point. It may be found that Elder Paine died before 1692: that would dispose of the question. It may appear that he was living in Salisbury at the time, and acted with Pike and Bradbury, they giving to the paper the authority of his venerable name and years. But all that is now known, constrains me to the conclusion stated in the text.
- As an illustration of the oblivion that had settled over the details of the transactions and characters connected with the witchcraft prosecutions, it may be mentioned, that when, thirty-five years ago, I prepared the work entitled `Lectures on Witchcraft; comprising a History of the Delusion in 1692,' although professional engagements prevented my making the elaborate exploration that has now been given to the subject, I extended the investigation over the ordinary fields of research, and took particular pains to obtain information brought down by tradition, gleaned all that could be gathered from the memories of old persons then living of what they had heard from their predecessors, and sought for every thing that local antiquaries and genealogists could contribute. I find, by the methods of inquiry adopted in the preparation of the present work, how inadequate and meagre was the knowledge then possessed. Most of the persons accused and executed, like Giles Corey, his wife Martha, and Bridget Bishop, were supposed to have been of humble, if not mean condition, of vagrant habits, and more or less despicable repute. By following the threads placed in my hands, in the files of the county-offices of Registry of Deeds and Wills, and documents connected with trials at law, and by a collation of conveyances and the administration of estates, I find that Corey, however eccentric or open to criticism in some features of character and passages of his life, was a large landholder, and a man of singular force and acuteness of intellect; while his wife had an intelligence in advance of her times, and was a woman of eminent piety. The same is found to have been the case with most of those who suffered.
The reader may judge of my surprise in now discovering, that, while at different times. Neither are records always to be relied upon as to precision. In the record-book of the village church, Mr. Parris enters the age of Mrs. Ann Putnam, at the date of her admission, June 4, 1691, as “Ann: ætat: 27.” But an “Account of the Early Settlers of Salisbury,” in the “New-England Historical and Genealogical Register,” vol. vii. p. 314, gives the date of her birth “15, 4, 1661.” Her age is stated above according to this last authority; and, if correct, she was not so young, at the time of her marriage, as intimated (vol. i. p. 253), but seventeen years five months and ten days. It is difficult, however, to conceive how Parris, who was careful about such matters, and undoubtedly had his information from her own lips, could have been so far out of the way. Her brother, William Carr, in 1692, deposed that he was then forty-one years of age or thereabouts; whereas, the “Account of the Early Settlers of Salisbury,” just referred to, gives the date of his birth “15, 1, 1648.” It is indeed singular, that two members of a family of their standing should have been under an error as to their own age; one to an extent of almost, the other of some months more than, three years.
- The following passage is from the parish records: —
“On the 3d of February, 1693, a warrant was issued for a meeting of the inhabitants of the village, signed by Thomas Preston, Joseph Pope, Joseph Houlton, and John Tarbell, of the standing annual committee, to be held Feb. 14, “to consider and agree and determine who are capable of voting in our public transactions, by the power given us by the General-court order at our first settlement; and to consider of and make void a vote in our book of records, on the 18th of June, 1689, where there is a salary of sixty-six pounds stated to Mr. Parris, he not complying with it; also to consider of and make void several votes in the book of records on the 10th of October, 1692, where our ministry house and barn and two acres of land seem to be conveyed from us after a fraudulent manner.”
At this meeting, it was voted, that “all men that are ratable, or hereafter shall be living within that tract of land mentioned in our General-court order, shall have liberty in nominating and appointing a committee, and voting in any of our public concerns.”
By referring to the account, in the First Part, of the controversy between the inhabitants of the village and Mr. Bayley, “the power” above alluded to, “given us by the General Court,” will be seen fully described. In its earnestness to fasten Mr. Bayley upon “the inhabitants,” the Court elaborately ordained the system by which they should be constrained to provide for him, and compelled to raise the means of paying his salary. As no church had then been organized, the General Court fastened the duty upon “householders.” The fact had not been forgotten, and the above vote showed that the parish intended to hold on to the power then given them. This highly incensed the Court of Sessions. It ordered the parish book of records to be produced before it, and caused a condemnation of such a claim of right to be written out, in open Court, on the face of the record, where it is now to be seen. It is as follows: —
“At the General Sessions of the Peace holden at Ipswich, March the 28th, 1693. This Court having viewed and considered the above agreement or vote contained in the last five lines, finding the same to be repugnant to the laws of this province, do declare the same to be null and void, and that this order be recorded with the records of this Court.
“Attest, Stephen Sewall, Clerk.”