On Monday, yet another sparkling summer day, I drove over to Framingham to look at an old house which has a direct connection to Salem, having been built by refugees from the Witch Trials of 1692. The Peter and Sarah Clayes House, appropriately situated on Salem End Road, has been in a state of decline for quite some time, and there is an ongoing and apparently intensifying effort to save it and attain placement on the National Register of Historic Places. Both of my parents grew up in Framingham, my father very close to the Clayes house, but I don’t remember ever visiting it or even hearing about it when I went to visit my grandparents: it was only later–after I moved to Salem and became curious about all things Salem–that I first became aware of it. And when I first saw it a few decades ago it looked a lot better than it does now.
Even in its present dilapidated state, the house doesn’t look very First Period: it has been extensively remodeled in several phases over its 300 year history (oddly there is no HABS report at the Library of Congress, but there is an inventory at MACRIS). As originally built by the Clayes after they fled Salem, it was a much smaller saltbox–and the center of a community of Salem exiles that came to include some 15 families in what was first known as “Salem Plain” and later as “Salem End”. For reasons that are a bit murky, Sarah Towne Bridges Clayes (or Cloyce, as she was known in Salem) managed to escape the fates of her sisters Rebecca Nurse and Mary Easty, who were among the 19 “witches” hanged on Gallows Hill in 1692. She too was arrested and imprisoned (in Ipswich, rather than Salem) but ultimately liberated through the combined efforts of her husband Peter and Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth, who had served as a magistrate in the early phase of the trials but apparently had serious regrets afterwards. Danforth had acquired large grants of land in the region west of Boston over the years, comprising what came to be known first as “Danforth’s Farm” and later as Framingham, and presumably he offered the Clayes and their fellow refugees sanctuary from Salem. So even before the official pardons, public apologies, and the legislative restitution that were decreed in the aftermath of 1692, the Clayes House stands as physical symbol of all of the above–and hopefully will for quite some time.