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.
WitchesMassBay: 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 case—terrifying 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.