No ‘memento mori’ for Mary

Sometimes you’re so sure your ancestor is buried in a certain cemetery, but you can’t find any proof. Unfortunately, someone went too far.

Besides the obvious lines to keep the lettering straight, these stones were not carved. You can tell by the B, the Y, and the numbers that one person forged these two markers by scratching out the details and filling them in with permanent marker on broken slate. In 2007, Chester and Julia True printed Burials in some cemeteries in the towns of Salisbury, Amesbury, and Merrimac, in Essex county, Massachusetts. These two markers, taken at a later date, are not listed in the book.

Plus, Mary’s dates are wrong:

In the same burying ground, you will find the couple’s grandson, Thomas Bradbury (1674-1718). And that’s an original gravestone.

Mary on Trial

On 26 May 1692, Ann Putnam Jr. and others were attacked by specters on Lecture Day, including the specter of Mary Bradbury of Salisbury. A month later, Mary was arrested. Despite friends and neighbors from Salisbury and Ipswich attesting to Mary’s good character, on 10 September 1692, Mary and five others were found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to hang. From the existing records, it appears Mary escaped jail before the hangings occurred 12 days later.

On 14 January 1693, Judge William Stoughton signed death warrants for five condemned witches from the previous Court of Oyer and Terminer, including Mary Bradbury. In his report to Governor William Phips, however, King’s Attorney Anthony Checkley was of the opinion that the earlier cases were much like the cleared cases before the new Supreme Court of Judicature, being based on spectral evidence. On 1 February 1693, Gov. Phips sent a reprieve to the Salem court, which infuriated Judge Stoughton, but saved the lives of Mary Bradbury and seven others who were expected to be hanged that day.

For many 17th century people, their gravestones do not exist today. But, Mary, we remember you.

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Treasures of the court house

Witch trial display, Essex County Court library

Witch trial display, Essex County Court library (photo credit: THD)

The Supreme Judicial Court celebrated its 325th anniversary in Salem in January. Previously known as the Superior Court of Judicature, this high court took over after the Court of Oyer and Terminer was dismissed by Governor William Phips in the fall of 1692. Appropriately enough, the law library inside the Essex County Superior Court building at 56 Federal Street, Salem, features a small witch trials display case.

The glass-topped pedestal display case contains a copy of the death warrant for Bridget Bishop, the first person hanged for witchcraft; a copy of the examination of Rebecca Nurse, in Rev. Samuel Parris’ handwriting; pins the afflicted accusers claimed were used by the “witches” to injure them in court; and the county seal used on the warrants. While there’s a debate whether the pins were used as 17th century staples to hold court papers together or if they were admitted as evidence, the county seal is genuine. First used in 1687, the seal affixed wax to documents, stamping them with the monogram “Essex.”

Note: To visit the library, you must go through security screening. Visitors are not allowed to bring cell phones and other electronic devices inside the building. Cameras require pre-approval from the security department.


Read about the 325th anniversary lectures and view pictures (including copies of Salem witch trial documents mounted on a display board):

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Q&A with Juliet Mofford on Abigail Accused: A Story of the Salem Witch Hunt

Recently, Juliet Haines Mofford published a historical novel on Abigail (Dane) Faulkner, accused of witchcraft in 1692 in Andover, Massachusetts. I had some questions for the author of The Devil Made Me Do It: Crime and Punishment in Early New England and other non-fiction books.

Abigail Accused by Juliet MoffordWitchesMassBay: How did you become interested in the Salem witch trials, and specifically in the witch hunts in Andover, Massachusetts?

Juliet Mofford: I first got hooked on the Salem witch trials when we moved to Andover and I learned that more citizens from here were imprisoned for witchcraft than from any other town in New England. I soon found little in print about Andover’s 1692 experience even though this town had the most persons who confessed to committing the capital crime of witchcraft and the most children arrested.

An assignment to write a local history required research into primary documents at the Andover and North Andover historical societies. In 1992, I presented “The Andover Witch Hunt” at the Tercentenary Conference in Salem. As a lifelong writer and a professional museum educator, I developed and directed such programs as Cry Witch!—The Andovers Remember 1692, a community play I scripted and produced under Massachusetts Cultural Council grants; The Suspicious Season, about the accused women of Reading; and an interactive play entitled The Judgment of Martha Carrier. Later, as Director of Education and Research at Andover Historical Society, I had access to early town, land, and court records. I have lectured and taught classes on the Salem witch trials at Phillips Academy, for Elderhostel, and at Middlesex Community College.

WitchesMassBay: Why did you decide to write a book about Abigail (Dane) Faulkner?

Juliet Mofford: Since every person accused of being a witch in 1692 was different, each witchcraft case is unique. The daughter of Andover’s senior minister Francis Dane who opposed the trials, she was convicted of witchcraft and narrowly escaped the gallows. I wanted to get to know Abigail better so I might understand, for example, why her sister and her own daughters testified against her in court.

I was especially drawn to Abigail because she was a survivor and, obviously, a strong and articulate woman. The petition she wrote Governor William Phips from Salem prison won her early release on bond while another written in 1703 resulted in a Reversal of Attainders that revoked the court ruling and restored legal rights to those convicted.

WitchesMassBay: How does writing historical fiction help tell Abigail Faulkner’s story in ways beyond the basic historical record?

Juliet Mofford: Many myths and misconceptions about Puritans have been perpetuated by Victorian authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and passed down to us. And many historical errors are found among the countless books about Salem witchcraft, including Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible. Historical documents, and court records in particular, demonstrate that Puritans were not “goody-goodys,” all dressed in black who seldom dared laugh.

I wished to present an actual family whose members were impacted by the horrifying events of 1692, and base the book upon the original documents. I wanted to recreate the realities of their daily life and personal experiences such as courtship, marriage, childbirth, the sin of fornication, poverty, and—in Andover’s caseterrifying attacks by Native Americans and their French allies upon this frontier community.

WitchesMassBay: It’s been more than 300 years since the Salem Witch Trials. Why do you think it’s still relevant today?

Juliet Mofford: Abigail’s personal life has contemporary relevance because PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is in today’s news. This Colonial goodwife sustained her husband through the “fitts” he suffered as a result of sporadic Indian attacks.

Abigail Accused: A Story of the Salem Witch Hunt is the historical revelation of how one particular wife and mother, alongside her minister father, fought bigotry and religious fanaticism and helped bring an end to the deadly witch hunt. Petitions by both father and daughter represent landmark documents of free speech that serve to remind us of the ongoing struggle for human rights. Lessons hopefully learned from the Salem witch trials remain relevant today because, unfortunately, prejudice, intolerance, and xenophobia have raised their ugly heads throughout history and continue to happen.


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Salem: The perils of denial in an age of preservation

Kindness Rocks Project, Artist Row, Salem

The Salem of today is a vibrant city—upbeat, artsy, multicultural, progressive. That vibrancy comes from people who are willing to make their world a little better. Take, for example, Caroline Emmerton (1866-1942) who not only preserved the House of the Seven Gables and other historic Salem buildings, she used the income generated by the museum to support a settlement society that provided immigrants with medical care, education, job skills, and recreational opportunities.

But she was not alone. All around the city, from its maritime heyday to its manufacturing boom and the lulls in between, Salemites worked together to create a better society. The Marine Society at Salem (1766) offered relief to disabled and aged members and their families. The Salem Athenaeum (1810) provided books and conversation to its members years before Captain John Bertram’s family donated its mansion for the Salem Public Library (1889). The Salem Lyceum Society (1830) provided educational lectures and entertainment, including the first public telephone transmission between Alexander Graham Bell in Salem and Thomas Watson in Boston (1877). The Essex Institute (1848) encouraged the study of local history, genealogy, and art, while the Peabody Academy of Science (1867) explored the maritime history of New England, Pacific and Japanese ethnology, and the natural history of Essex county.

Yet one thing they didn’t do? Preserve the remnants of the Salem witch trials.

When people visit Salem today, they expect to see evidence of the 1692 witch trials. But where is the court house? The documents? The tangible objects that remind us of the victims, the accusers, the judges?*

Before there was such a thing as the tourist industry, people came to Salem to see “the witches.” In 1766, future U.S. president John Adams (1735-1826) visited “Witchcraft Hill” and mentioned in his journal the locust trees planted in memory of the witch-hunt victims. In 1831, Charles W. Upham started lecturing on the trials years before he published his two-volume Salem Witchcraft books (1867).

Click to enlarge article from The Pharmaceutical Era, 1898

Druggist George P. Farrington (1808-1885), who operated his pharmacy in Judge Jonathan Corwin’s old house (known as the Witch House), gave tours and charged admission. Abner C. Goodell (1831-1914), who collected works on witchcraft from all over the world, lectured and gave private tours of his home, which previously was the old Salem county jail before the new one was built around the corner in 1813. (The 1684 structure was rebuilt in 1763, with the frame and original timbers.) In 1935, his son Alfred P. Goodell (1877-1954) opened the Old Witch Jail and Dungeon after discovering an original 1692 bill for “keeping witches” in his home. Shortly after his death, the city of Salem tore down the historic building.


Salem is praised for its architecture, even for its doorways. Yet the city only has a few First Period houses (1626-1725) remaining, unlike Ipswich which boasts 59. Probably no one missed Bridget Bishop’s home and orchard, or remembrances of her sharp tongue, but why demolish Philip English’s mansion? Was it an effort to erase history?

Even today, people question why we’re so interested in the past, in understanding the events of 1692, when they wish to forget.

The Salem witch-hunt has much to teach us as individuals and as a society.

Sign at 10 Federal Street

It has nothing to do with Halloween and the macabre. Some of the accused may have dabbled in fortunetelling, folk-healing, and the like, but they were not witches who made pacts with the devil, performed Satanic rites, or shapeshifted to harm their neighbors. They were ordinary people with flaws, just like you and me.


* The Salem court house was torn down in 1760. The existing witch trial documents are scattered through various libraries and archives. The Peabody Essex Museum owns numerous objects of witch-hunt victims, most of which are not on display.


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Salem witch trials’ 325th anniversary year in review

Sidney Perley at Proctor’s Ledge

The year 2017 marked the 325th anniversary of the Salem witch trials in which 19 people were found guilty of witchcraft and were hanged between June and September 1692. 

Lessons and legacies of 1692 symposium

On June 10, the anniversary of the hanging of Bridget Bishop, hundreds gathered at Salem State University for a special symposium, Salem’s Trials: Lessons and Legacies of 1692, sponsored by Salem State University’s history department, the Salem Award Foundation, and the Essex National Heritage Area. C-SPAN recorded four of the six sessions.

Proctor’s Ledge dedicated

In January 2016, the Gallows Hill Project team announced it had confirmed historian Sidney Perley’s theory that Proctor’s Ledge was the site of the hangings, not the summit of Gallows Hill or anywhere else. Using Perley’s research, a 1692 eyewitness account of the hangings, ground-penetrating radar, high-tech aerial photography, and maps, the team reached its conclusion. Fortunately, in 1936 the city had purchased the land between Pope and Proctor streets and in 2017, a memorial was created. The official unveiling of the memorial was held on July 19, with numerous descendants of the victims attending.

Reproduction of the meetinghouse at Rebecca Nurse homestead

Having her day

Governor Charlie Baker declared July 19 Rebecca Nurse Day in Massachusetts. At the Rebecca Nurse homestead in Danvers, archivist Richard Trask spoke on behalf of the five women executed 325 years before, including 71-year-old Nurse. Afterwards, a wreath was ceremoniously placed at the Nurse memorial inside the family cemetery.

Talks and walks

At History Camp: Boston 2017, presentations included Marilynne K. Roach on How Governor Phips Stopped the Salem Witch Trials (sort of); Jeanne Pickering on From Witchcraft to Slavery: The History of the Hoar/Slew Family; and Lori Stokes on Puritans. Margo Burns, project manager for the Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt, traveled throughout New Hampshire and parts of Massachusetts with her talk on The Capital Crime of Witchcraft: What the Sources Tell Us. At the North Andover Historical Society, Richard Hite gave a talk on witch trial-related burials at the Old Burial Ground and Char Lyons gave a tour of the cemetery. Kelly Daniell spoke at the Peabody Historical Society on the Life and Death of John Proctor. Emerson Baker gave a Salem Witch Trials Walking Tour. And Intramersive debuted its game theater experience, Daemonologie, in Salem.

World bewitch’d exhibit

On October 31, Cornell University opened its The World Bewitch’d: Visions of Witchcraft from the Cornell Collections exhibit. With 3,000+ items, Cornell owns the largest collection of books, manuscripts, and ephemera in North America about witchcraft, spanning from the 15th to 20th centuries. The exhibit, open through August 31, 2018, focuses on the spread of witchcraft beliefs in Europe, which ultimately caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

PEM library access

In December, the Peabody Essex Museum announced most of the Phillips Library collection will be moved to its new collections center in Rowley. People have been protesting the news, especially since much of the archives and materials form the backbone of Salem’s historical past, from documents of the Salem witch trials and seafaring ventures to local organizations’ records. The museum said it could not procure a Salem building fit for a climate-controlled space for storage and research facilities.


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Which Bishop? The one that got away

Wrong! Edward & Sarah Bishop house site

One of my reasons for creating the Witches of Massachusetts Bay website is to right the wrongs. Even though it’s been 325 years since the witch trials, the topic is still popular and relevant in our society. That’s why new discoveries and better interpretations are made. Yet we keep hearing, reading, and seeing the same historical inaccuracies repeated. Why? Our brains are more apt to believe something wrong but oft-repeated than to replace it with new (and correct) information.

Today, I wanted to know if a structure exists where Edward and Sarah Bishop once held raucous, late-night shuffleboard parties at their unlicensed tavern on the outskirts of Salem Village. Naturally, I turned to Google maps and typed in 238 Conant Street, Danvers. Ironically, a lawyer has an office at that location.

Then I saw in the Google box that the address was labeled a landmark for Bridget Bishop. (Of course I had to send Google a correction.)

“I doe tell the truth I never hurt these persons in [my] life I never saw them before”

On April 19, 1692, Bridget Bishop was confronted by Mercy Lewis, Ann Putnam Jr., and others who charged her with “sundry acts of witchcraft” (RSWH, doc. 63, pp. 183-184). Judge Jonathan Hathorne didn’t believe Bishop’s statement that she didn’t know these girls. But it’s true. Bridget Bishop lived in Salem Town and probably had no reason to visit Salem Village.

(Of course, the judges and clerks didn’t know all the people brought before the court. That’s why we see notations like the name “Dorcas” being crossed out and replaced with “Dorothy.” Yet people still call Sarah Good’s 5-year-old daughter “Dorcas”—even though it was corrected in the original documents.)

In 1981, The American Genealogist (TAG) published David L. Greene’s article showing how the court and historians confused two women named Goody Bishop (“Salem Witches I: Bridget Bishop,” vol. 157, p. 130). It was three-time widow Bridget (Playfer) (Wasselbe) (Oliver) Bishop (c.1640-1692) who wore the flashy red bodice and lived in Salem Town who was the first person hanged in 1692. She lived at 43 Church Street in Salem, now Turner’s Seafood at Lyceum Hall.

Like Bridget, Sarah (Wildes) Bishop was married to a man named Edward Bishop (1648-1711). Those two disturbed the neighbors with their drunken parties in Salem Village, now Danvers. Both Sarah and Edward were accused of witchcraft, but they escaped jail.

So 238 Conant Street in Danvers? Site of Sarah’s house, not Bridget’s.

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A ‘temporary’ move now permanent? Salem’s archives remain offsite

An international art, architectural, and cultural museum, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem started as the East India Marine Society in 1799. Through mergers of several societies, the museum grew from seafaring treasures to include local history, nature, and science collections. Most of these materials were donated by local families, businesses, and organizations from Salem and Essex county.

Complaint against George Burroughs, 30 April 1692, in the Phillips Library collections

The Peabody Essex became stewards of what’s known as the Phillips Library. The collections contain 520+ original Salem witch trial documents; Puritan religious tracts and Bibles; local genealogies; the Winthrop papers; scrapbooks and manuscripts; Frank Cousins’ negatives and photographs of Salem and Essex county sites; “Essex county history reports, circulars, advertisements, and other publications of Essex County societies, businesses, municipalities, and other institutions”; full newspaper runs; 600+ volumes of works by authors of Essex county; “as well as the publications (books and periodicals) of local presses and publishers.”

A decade ago, Plummer Hall, which housed the Phillips Library, was renovated to include “the addition of climate-controlled archives, galleries, reading rooms, and a new compact storage space for the library’s extensive collection.” Curiously, in 2011, the Phillips Library closed again for major renovations and its collections were moved to a temporary facility in Peabody, with limited hours for visitors. In September 2017, that temporary facility was closed and “all access to the collection of books and manuscripts is suspended through March 31, 2018.”

Donna Seger, history professor at Salem State University, wrote a must-read post called “Losing Our History” on her blog, Streets of Salem, about this closure.

On December 6, 2017, the Peabody Essex needed permission from the Historical Commission for outside renovations to Plummer Hall. Thanks to concerned citizens on social media, people attended the Historical Commission meeting to find out the Peabody Essex’s intent, which changed the tenor of the meeting from architectural changes to PEM’s plans for its historic library collections. It turns out that, unbeknownst to the people who use the collections, the Phillips Library is turning into office space and the bulk of its collections will be in Rowley, Massachusetts.

The Peabody Essex had acquired “a 112,000-square-foot building located 35-40 minutes from the museum that is currently being retrofitted to serve as PEM’s new Collections Center. It will provide fully climate-controlled storage for all of the museum’s collections, the highest level of security protection, space for a new Conservation Lab, Photography Studio, scholarly research, and special small-scale programs related to the collections,” according to information on its website. Touted in a press release, “Research and access to the collection is a key priority for the museum.” Taking the collections away from the city does not sound like improved access.

Read the Salem News story, “Bulk of Phillips Library collection won’t return to Salem.”

Professor Seger calls the Peabody Essex “Shameless Stewards” for taking the Salem collections outside the city, especially without letting the public know beforehand.

Find out what you can do in Jen Ratliff’s post, “Saving Salem’s History – Phillips Library,” on her blog, History by the Sea.

Read the Peabody Essex Museum’s “Statement regarding PEM’s Phillips Library” (12/8/2017).


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Hello world!

Welcome to my latest endeavor. I figured since I spend so much time reading books about the 1692 witch hunts that maybe I needed to share some of my research.

This is just the beginning.

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