Salem Evening News
Wednesday January 6th, 1999.
©, 1999

Witch Web site provides historic truth

By Peter DeMarco
Originally published in the Salem Evening News
January 6, 1999

DANVERS -- Those accused of witchcraft in Old Salem Village 300 years ago were put to death by hanging. But try and find that vital fact on the Internet, and you might be out of luck.

"You see things like ... they were burned at the stake," said Richard Trask, town archivist. "There's so much bogus stuff out there, it's amazing."

There is at least one Web site with accurate information about the witchcraft hysteria, though.

It's the new Danvers Archives home page, which can be reached at

The site, which has been up and running only a few weeks, contains court documents from the Rebecca Nurse trial.

There's information about historical sites in Danvers, the witchcraft memorial, and an excerpt from Trask's book "The Devil Hath Been Raised."

So far about 70 pages of historic material have been entered into the system, Trask says, with more to be added this year.

The site is the brainchild of Ben Ray, a professor of religion studies at the University of Virginia.

As the story goes, Ray came to Danvers about five years ago hoping to find out about his ancestors, a prominent Danvers family.

Through Trask and Anthony Patton, a Locust Street resident who lives in a Colonial home once owned by Ray's family, the professor learned that four of his ancestors signed petitions supporting Nurse.

But when Ray turned to the Internet for more information about the witchcraft trials, he found little of substance.

"A lot of it was sensationalist or New Age," he said. "There was (information) that the Salem witches were of an ancient pagan religion, which is a terrible distortion."

"What I objected to the most was the celebration (on some sites) of the whole thing," he said. "I began thinking about what I might do in a small way to correct that."

So Ray, through the university, teamed with Trask, the authority on the witchcraft trials, to establish the first Danvers Archives Web site. He also had it listed on major search engines.

Witchcraft in Salem Village Young woman fainting
The Danvers Archives home page shows accurate information about the Salem Witchcraft trials.

And that's just the beginning. Ray has received $15,000 in grant money to establish a University of Virginia witchcraft Web site for in-depth research. The site will contain all information available about the witchcraft trials and should serve as a warehouse for data on the hysteria. "People will be able to investigate demographic question like ... how many women we accused who had no sons or heirs to their property," Ray said.

The site will also feature maps and complete courtroom texts.

Trask and other scholars act as consultants on the project, Ray said. It will be linked to the Danvers Archives site.