Salem Witch Trials
Image: The Towne Sisters
This plaster statue depicts sisters Rebecca Towne Nurse, Mary Towne Easty, and Sarah Towne Cloyce wearing shackles. Nurse and Easty were hanged, but Cloyce was later released. The statue is located in the Salem Wax Museum of Witches and Seafarers.
Rebecca Towne was baptized at Yarmouth, England, on February 21, 1621. She came to Salem, Massachusetts with her family in 1640. In about 1645, she married Francis Nurse, who was described as a tray maker. The making of trays and similar articles of domestic use was important employment in the remote countryside.
In 1692, the “black cloud of the witchcraft delusion descended upon Salem Village.” Rebecca Nurse was a 71-year-old invalid who had raised a family of eight children. Her family had been involved in several land disputes, which could have caused ill-feelings among some of the residents of Salem. Nevertheless, most of her contemporaries sympathized with her.
Salem Witch Trials
Susannah North Martin
Reading her Bible in Salem Jail
Susannah North was baptized at Olney, Buckinghamshire, England, September 30, 1621. Her mother died when she was a child, and her stepmother was named Ursula. She came to America with her father, stepmother, and at least one sister. Her family moved to Salisbury, Massachusetts, around 1639. On August 11, 1646, Susannah became the second wife of George Martin, a blacksmith with whom she had eight children.
In 1669, Susannah was first formally accused of witchcraft by William Sargent. Susannah was required to post 100 pounds bond to appear in court on a charge of witchcraft, a capital offense. George Martin sued Sargent for slander against Susannah for accusing her of being a witch, but the Court upheld the accusation of witchcraft. A higher court later dismissed the witchcraft charges.
Salem Witch Trials
In 1692 the Puritans had governmental control of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and only members of the Puritan church were allowed to vote. Well-to-do merchants were complaining, and King Charles I was considering changing the charter for Massachusetts to allow all property owners to vote. This would mean loss of power for the Puritans. All the upper echelons of the church were enraged at the prospect.
John Wildes’ first wife Priscilla died in 1662, and he remarried in 1663 to Sarah Averill. By this time, John was very prominent in Topsfield politics (at the time of his death he was known in Topsfield as “Old Father Wildes.” He was responsible for surveying the land to establish the boundary between Topsfield and Salem. The survey was a matter of great contention, and it was ultimately resolved in Topsfield’s favor.
New England Witch Trials
New England was organized into townships roughly six miles square with a village surrounding the “commons”, which was a central community grazing ground, with the church and community meeting house facing the commons. Town meetings elected town officers and the sheriff, raised taxes, and tried to resolve any problems present in the community. Many communities set up different rules than those pronounced by the General Court in Boston.
The people of such communities were very dependent upon each other. Individuals interacted by means of the sale of goods or labor or by barter for other goods or labor. One’s ability to generate trades was economically necessary, but generosity was needed as well since all these dealings were seen and known throughout the whole community.
Salem Witch Trials
Seventeenth century laws on witchcraft in New England paralleled those in England, based on a verse from the King James translation of the Bible. The verse, Exodus 22:18, reads “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” The King James version of the Bible was ordered by King James I, who ruled from 1603 to 1625. By 1647, all New England colonies had made witchcraft a capital crime, punishable by death.
Sarah Solart was the daughter of a prosperous Wenham innkeeper, John Solart. Solart took his own life by drowning in 1672 when Sarah was 17, leaving an estate of 500 pounds. After testimony of an oral will, the estate was divided between his widow and her two eldest sons, with a portion to be paid to each of the seven daughters when they came of age. Mrs. Solart quickly remarried, and her new husband came into possession of her share and the unpaid shares of the daughters, and most of the daughters never received a portion of the Solart estate.
Accused of Witchcraft
Image: Tituba’s Encounter with Cotton Mather in the Woods of Salem
A scene from the play Giles Corey of the Salem Farms
Illustration in The Political Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Volume II
Tituba was a South American Indian woman, not an African American slave, as is commonly believed. She was originally from an Arawak village in South America, where she was captured as a child, taken to Barbados and sold into slavery. It was in Barbados that her life first became entangled with that of Reverend Samuel Parris.
Witchcraft in 17th Century Massachusetts
Image: Witchcraft Victims on the Way to the Gallows
Illustration in the Boston Herald 14 May 1930
Scattered episodes of witch trials and hangings occurred throughout New England from the middle sixteen hundreds. The only escape for the accused or condemned was to confess and claim to negate the pact with the Devil, or to escape south out of New England to New York or Pennsylvania where witchcraft was not punished. Most of the accused were not wealthy enough to escape south fast enough to stay ahead of the sheriff sent to detain them.
A Woman’s Place
Because most colonial women married, the term good wife came into existence and a code of ethics developed that would govern female life in New England from 1650 to 1750. Good wives had legal rights in colonial America, and actually had more freedom than nineteenth-century women would have.
With This Ring
Marriage was considered the normal state for all adult residents in the colonies. Most men first married in their mid-twenties, and women at around age 20. Second marriages were not uncommon, and widows and widowers faced social and economic pressures to remarry. On average, most widows and widowers remarried within six months to a year.
Native American, Dutch and English Women
Image: Lenape Woman
Native American Lenape women were the first New Jersey women. They lived in the Land of the Lenape for more than 12,000 years. They were a highly developed culture with communities that included a great hall, a central building for government, agricultural and spiritual meetings. Smallpox and other imported diseases ravaged the Lenape population. Although Lenape were known as a peaceful people, they were forced to defend themselves and their land against Dutch settlers in the 1600s.
Lenape communities included separate buildings for trade, food storage, cooking, children’s education, medical purposes, and a building for teaching war tactics. Lenape communities also included single-family dwellings for newlyweds and elders. The central and largest building was used for gatherings to celebrate engagements, weddings, births, spring festival, and annual harvest.
The Year: 1662
In each of the New England colonies, witchcraft was a capital crime that involved having some type of relationship with or entertaining Satan. The earliest laws of Connecticut and New Haven colonies, the Blue Laws, made it a capital offense.
The largest witch-hunt in mid-seventeenth century New England occurred in Hartford, Connecticut. After the execution of John and Joan Carrington of Wethersfield in 1651 and Lydia Gilbert of Windsor in 1654, a witchcraft tragedy took place among Hartford’s residents.