Salem Evening News
Thursday November 4th, 1999.
©, 1999

Documents shed new light on witchcraft trials

By Betsy Taylor
Originally published in the Salem Evening News
November 4, 1999

DANVERS - More than three centuries after the Salem witch trials, scholars have discovered a handful of documents that reveal the hysteria continued longer than previously thought and identify a new man among those accused.

An international effort is underway to re-transcribe papers relating to the witch hunts, with Danvers' town archivist Dick Trask serving as an associate editor. That book, and one other, will contain the new finds.

Scholars, by meticulously scouring archives this decade, have quietly added about 3 percent more official documentation to the collection relating to the 1692 proceedings, Trask said.

Witchcraft experts are particularly excited by discoveries of the past year.

"I think all of them are valuable, and I think some of them are pretty significant," said Bernard Rosenthal, a State University of New York at Binghamton professor. "It gives fresh insight.''

Rosenthal is the editor of a project to compile all the witch trial legal documentation into a new book.

When a group of girls and young women first accused townsfolk in Salem and its environs of being witches in the 17th century, a paper trail started which is still surfacing in the modern day.

One document, found within the past year, reveals that the zeal of Salem witchcraft accusations went on longer than historians had previously thought.

Even after the last of 19 hangings -- and after the governor had ordered a stop to the witch proceedings -- one teenage girl who had already accused 21 people of being witches continued to officially make further accusations, scholars have found.

Another identifies a new man, Daniel Eames, as being among the 144 people formally arrested and charged with witchcraft.

"Now there's another name to add to the list of the accused at Salem," said Cornell University American History Professor Mary Beth Norton, who found those documents. She's working on her own book about the witch trials.

She found four previously unknown manuscripts at the Massachusetts Historical Society by searching through a miscellaneous manuscripts file.

Hearing from the accused

In July, a University of Virginia professor Benjamin C. Ray came across two newly discovered examinations, or written accounts, of the questions asked of accused witches, which give gripping details into two women's ordeals for the first time.

One of the accused, Mrs. Ann Dolliver, admits to making puppets out of wax, but denies being a witch. Her accuser retorts that Dolliver's specter said she wanted to kill her own father and killed a little child.

In another newly found examination, a woman, Mary Ireson, stands stunned in the courtroom, her "eyes being fixed," after one of her accusers says Ireson's spirit threatened to tear out her accuser's throat if she did not become a witch by signing her name in the Devil's book.

"We never heard their voices before. This gives us a little more of the picture," said Ray. He's working on an interactive Witchcraft Web site. He found Dolliver and Ireson's examinations during his research at the Boston Public Library.

Both professors said their finds were not due to poor archiving, rather the result of thorough, directed research.

They've shared their discoveries with other scholars but have just gone public with the finds. The newly found documents will likely be included in a new volume, a re-transcribed and chronologically arranged collection of Salem witchcraft trial documents.

Over the past few years, these four witchcraft scholars, researching separately but updating one another on their efforts, have found about 3 percent more documentation to add to the approximately 850 known Salem witch trial records, explained Trask, the Danvers town archivist, historian and writer.

He's one of those who have made discoveries during recent years.

The town of Danvers was known as Salem Village in the 17th century, its archives are one of the sites where some of the historic documents are stored.

Trask found 19 documents, which he published as part of his 1997 book. Rosenthal found one, which he printed in his 1993 book.

The most recent attempt to transcribe all the documents occurred in the 1930s as part of a Work Projects Administration program when people were put to work during the Great Depression. It was published in 1977 but scholars said mistakes need to be corrected and new finds added.

This new edition of the Salem witch trial documents is scheduled to be published by Cambridge University Press in a few years. Norton is writing her own book, "In the Devil's Snare," which focuses more on the accusers and why the authorities were willing to listen to them.

As a Colonial history professor, Norton said them are three places in 17th century American history that people particularly recall: Plymouth, Jamestown, and Salem.

She said the phrase Salem Witch Trial still resonates with Americans, and the fascination with the trials remains. "I think everybody's interested in Salem," she said.

Ray said he thinks people will continue to be interested, seeking answers to their own questions about the trials. "We keep returning to it." he noted. "Its something we're not satisfied that we understand."

© 1999, Salem Evening News