The US Congress passed the Embargo Act of 1807 today, restricting American ships—-SALEM ships—-from engaging in foreign trade. This act, in conjunction with the oddly-named “Nonintercourse Acts” and the War of 1812, was devestating to the port of Salem and its merchants. Anyone who walks the streets of Salem can see the architectural legacy of the massive wealth accumulated in the Federal era, and the Embargo Act led Salem into a new era and identity: from cosmopolitan port to “Witch City” . I am not an American historian so it’s easy for me to be somewhat cavalier about this transition: Salem lost its economic foundation and so created a somewhat superficial and tawdry new one based on the dark events of 1692.
Today Salem seems to be embracing and emphasizing its comprehensive past and leaving “Witch City” somewhat behind, but it will never shed that label completely. I am a fierce critic of witchcraft tourism and the pseudo-“museums” downtown, but even I was tempted to purchase an adorable, locally-made witch hat at Pamplemousse on Essex Street!