The Beginning and After

Last week the Boston Globe ran a story about local responses to the unveiling of Salem’s new logo and slogan, “Still making History” (which I addressed in an earlier post), in which a business owner (dispensing witch wares  and psychic services) professed his “love” for the slogan, “because 319 years later witches are still here”.  So Salem’s falsely-accused “witches”, exonerated by their families’ appeals, the Massachusetts General Court, and a slew of historians, are victimized yet again.

On March 1, 1692 Salem Town magistrates John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin began their examinations of three Salem Village women–Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne–accused of witchcraft by a couple of  “afflicted” adolescent girls in the household of Reverend Samuel Parris.  This was the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials, a topic which I hope to avoid as much and often as possible based on my belief that all too often Salem’s history and identity are exclusively focused on this one event to the exclusion of everything else.  I am not a colonial American historian and I have nothing of value to add to the thousands of books that have been written on the Trials.  But I do live and work in Salem, and I am writing about Salem, so the topic will not always be easy to avoid.  Like today.

It seems to me that there have been too many narratives of the Salem Witch Trials and not enough discussion of their aftermath.  I am very happy to report that my colleague at Salem State University, Tad Baker, who is a colonial historian, will offer a corrective interpretation in his forthcoming book A Storm of Witchcraft (due out in 2013 from Oxford University Press).  Just a passing glance at the archival record reveals how fervently the families of the 1692 victims sought restitution and the repair of their loved ones’ reputations. This 1710 letter from William Good, husband of Sarah, is a poignant example of what came after.  I included a transcription below, as well as an image of the Massachusetts colonial Assembly’s reversal of the witchcraft convictions and a rather bleak view of the snow-covered tercentenary Witch Trial Memorial, taken yesterday.

To the Honourable Committee

The humble representation of William Good of the Damages sustained by him in the year 1692 by reason of the sufferings of his family upon the account of supposed witchcraft.  My wife Sarah Good was in prison about 4 months and then executed.  A sucking child died in prison before the mother’s execution. A child of 4 or 5 years old in prison 7 or 8 months and being chained in the dungeon was so hardly used and terrified that she hath over time seemed very changeable having little or no reason to govern herself.  And I leave it unto the Honourable Court to judge what damages I have sustained by such a destruction of my poor family.  And so rest.  Your Honours’ Humble Servant William Good.  Salem Sept. 13, 1710


Digital Sources for the Salem Witch Trials:  the most comprehensive site is the University of Virginia’s Salem Witch Trial Documentary Archive and Transcription Project.  Cornell University has both American and European sources in their Witchcraft Collection. The Reversal of Attainder broadside is from the Library of Congress’s Digital Collections.

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