Salem's Witches

Salem Witch Museum, (photo by Abe Nowitz )
Salem Witch Museum

Boston is one of the fabulous destinations on our Northern Route road trip. Stop off at Salem and discover the town's history of witch-hunting.

In the mid-1600s, the colonies of Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts were caught up in a witch-killing fervour. On a bright June day in 1648 Bostonians hanged Margaret Jones of Charlestown, and for an encore on Boston Common they hanged the beautiful and cultured Anne Hibbins, widow of the colony’s former representative to England.

Against that lunatic history, the fanatical Rev. Cotton Mather sensed a great opportunity for self-promotion and professional success. He was already the colony’s most highly acclaimed clergyman. He was learned, brilliant, ambitious, but he yearned for more. He longed to succeed his father, the Rev. Increase Mather, as the president of Harvard. He decided it would boost his reputation and enhance his career if he could identify assorted witches and promote their executions. So he went to work and soon focused on a witch-suspect named Goodwife Glover, the mother of a North End laundress. With Mather’s help, poor Mrs Glover quickly wound up in the noose of a Boston Common gallows rope.

The Salem trials

In that same year, the fever struck Salem. The initial case involved a hot-tempered, trouble-making minister named Samuel Parris. He upset the serenity of his neighbors by arriving in town with two black slaves from the West Indies, a man named John and his wife, Tituba. Within two years, Tituba was teaching voodoo to a pair of young girls, Ann Putnam and Mercy Lewis. When they had learned all they needed to know from Tituba, they turned against the black woman with hysterical charges of witchcraft. And Tituba wound up in jail. Salem

At this point, Salem’s witchcraft surge really took off. Tituba pointed the witch-finger against two other Salem women, Sarah Osburn and Sarah Good. They in turn dragged in Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey. And the madness kept spreading like infection, with every suspect accusing somebody else, until scores of victims awaited death. Between June and September in 1692, the Salemites executed 14 women as witches and six men as warlocks. And, to leave nothing to chance, they also convicted and hanged two dogs.

Throughout the year, Cotton Mather was a frequent visitor to the town. He never missed an execution. He was a roaring orator at all hangings and would rant and rave, and preach and pray from the galllows platform, berating and denouncing the victim who was waiting to die, and thereafter adding a modest personal statement calculated to move his steps toward the presidency of Harvard.

Such was the situation in 1693 when William Phips, who had been busy fighting the Indians and the French in the northern woods, returned to his duties as the colony’s governor. Phips took one disgusted look at the witchery set-up and issued a proclamation freeing all suspects still incarcerated. Mercifully, the madness braked to an abrupt halt.


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