Formerly known as "Creepy-chusetts, Strange-chusetts".

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Salem Village - where Salem witch hysteria began

Witchcraft Victims' Memorial

When I visited Danvers on September 11, a tension was wafting. Is the pastor really going to burn the Quran?  What will happen if he does? He said he's not going to burn but why do I trust him?

Until recently, I didn’t know that Danvers, formally known as Salem Village, is the place where 1692 Salem Witch Trial began. The mass hysteria which lasted for a year executed nineteen people, killed one man by torture, and imprisoned over hundred-fifty people.

Some History
On a winter day of 1692, the village girls gathered at Salem Village parsonage for fortune telling. The house was occupied by pastor Samuel Parris, his wife, four children and a Caribbean slave couple named Tituba and John Indian.

On that day, Parris wasn’t at home, and his wife had been ill. The hysteria began when the fortune telling, conducted by Tituba, went terribly wrong; one of the girls’ future turned out to be ominous. The girls in fits began decrying some of the villagers as witches who were tormenting the poor souls.

Nurse Homestead

Nurse Homestead circa 1678
Looking entryway from the house
I headed to Rebecca Nurse Homestead situated off the main street. On the day of her arrest on March 24, the accused seventy-one year old grandma was sick in bed at upstairs bedroom. She was executed on July 19.

Bedroom - Rebecca Nurse Homestead
On her arrest day, what did she see from this window ?

She was a respectable hard-working old lady who earned a living in a comfortable red farm house.  Behind her house, there is a family graveyard open to public. She is definitely buried here, but the exact location is not certain.

I remember when I previously visited the cemetery on a cold drizzly day in March.  There was a monument engraving the names of people who pleaded Rebecca’s innocence. As I and my husband read the names aloud (it was tough to read), the quiet space became suddenly cacophonous because the birds on the surrounding trees began to tweet in a rather excited manner. Are the birds’ before-lives the people who pleaded her innocence? Okay, I’m being new-agey.

From graveyard: you can see her red house next to the covered hey-rolls
What caused the hysteria?
This is my particular interest.The knowledgeable guide at Nurse Homestead explained that there were two factions in the village: the one wanted to become independent from the neighboring Salem Town (modern day Salem) as a solid farming community, and another wanted to keep the relationship with the town.

Rev. Parris, who was regarded as an unpopular pastor, belonged to the former faction leaded by Thomas Putnam. Rebecca Nurse belonged to the other represented by the local gentry of Porters. To be short, the Putnams used the hysteria to let the other faction down. (Note:  Joseph Putnam, the youngest of the Putnams and also the Porters’ son-in-law, criticized the witch-hunt as gossip went out of control. The Putnam Pantry visible from Route 1 is located next to his house now owned by a local historical society.)

Replica of Old Meeting House, Nurse Homestead
Interior: preliminary hearing was carried out here
Needless to say, there were plethora of external factors that abetted the hysteria. The Indian’s attack was a real threat; the guide pointed out that one of the girls who exhibited the sign of “possession” might have been suffered from PTSD. Mercy Lewis, a servant of the Putnams from Maine, was an orphan girl. She managed to avoid the attack by climbing up to a space above the fireplace. She might have heard her parents being killed... Puritanical life which regarded even fortune telling as heresy doesn’t sound like a fun girl’s life. I would be struck by cabin fever if I stuck with a stressed out father who was regarded as an unpopular guy in the village. Land dispute, small pox, inclement weather...hey, there is even a possibility of ergot poisoning (L!S!D!).

Salem Village Personage

Left: 1681 Parsonage, Right: 1734 Addition
It was little difficult to find the site of Samuel Parris house tucked behind Centre Street. After visiting Nurse’s house, I was surprised how small the remained cellar hole is; it is about the size of my living room. It is hard to imagine how eight people lived there. (However, Frances Hill suggests it was “a good-sized house” that contained only eight people. My suspicion over cabin fever has deepened! )

Entryway to parsonage
It was already 6pm, the nippy, shadowy air reminded me the summer is ending. How strange that I am in the place where the Salem Witch hysteria began. Would I imagine ending up here when I was a little girl in Japan? Definitely, the puritan girls wouldn't imagine so, either.

Locate Salem Village @ Google Map

A Delusion of Satan by Frances Hill
The Devil in Massachusetts by Marion L. Starkey useful site contains a list and map of the places I visited if you read Japanese
Wikipedia links:

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