September 22, 1692 was an unfortunate verification of that trite proverb that it is always darkest before the dawn: it marked the worst day of the Salem Witch Trials and the beginning of their end. Eight victims were executed that day: Ann Pudeator and Alice Parker of Salem, Martha Corey of Salem Farms (Peabody), Samuel Wardwell and Mary Parker of Andover, Wilmot Redd of Marblehead, Margaret Scott of Rowley, and Mary Easty of Topsfield. Theirs were the last executions: Massachusetts Governor William Phips dissolved his specially-commissioned Court of Oyer and Terminer a month later as both the hysteria and confidence in its procedures had dissipated. But on September 22 the Devil was still very much present in Salem: in More Wonders of the Invisible World (1700), Robert Calef reports that the cart, going to the hill with these eight to execution, was for some time at a set; the afflicted and others said that the devil hindered it, etc. and just after the executions, the Reverend Nicholas Noyes of Salem remarked that “What a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands of hell hanging there!”
Illustrations from Winfield S. Nevins, “Stories of Salem Witchcraft,” The New England Magazine Volume 5 (1892).
It has always seemed to me that the Reverend Noyes, who was associate pastor of the First Church in Salem Town, has escaped indictment for his rather involved role in the Trials. Of the participating pastors, Samuel Parris and Cotton Mather seem to get a lot more blame and attention, but Noyes seems to have been an eager attendant. Earlier in 1692 he had tangled with Sarah Good during her trial, calling on her to confess to witchcraft and prompting her famous reply that I am no more a Witch than you are a Wizard, and if you take away my life, God will give you blood to drink, a curse that was later incorporated into Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables in varied form. Noyes called Martha Corey’s witchcraft “apparent” and went after Alice Parker with zeal. Later in life Noyes (who is always described as a rather corpulent bachelor) apologized and repented for his involvement, which might have gotten him off the hook–but at least Frank Cousins refers to him as “rabid”.
September 22 is my own personal day of reflection and remembrance for the victims of 1692: typically I read some of their testimonies, wander over to the Witch Trials Memorial, and then up to Gallows Hill–a vaguely-located place then and now. The downtown Witch Trials Memorial, designed by Maggie Smith and James Cutler and installed for the Tercentenary of the Trials in 1992, is wonderful in every way, but even at this time of year, just before Witch City shifts into high gear, it feels encroached-upon to me: a little island of propriety in a sea of vulgarity. So I like to go up to Gallows Hill–or hills. We know that the victims of 1692 were hung somewhere up there (see Calef’s first quote above), but not precisely where, which I think is a good thing. An elevated area along the western border of Salem, the Gallows Hill area features rocky ledges, rather barren soil, and woods interspersed among older houses and a 1970s residential development named “Witchcraft Heights”. The site where the victims were executed was thought to be the most elevated spot, in what is now Gallows Hill Park, in the nineteenth century, but the research of Sidney Perley in the early twentieth seems to have shifted the location to a smaller copse of ledge and trees down below–a rather forlorn lot behind a Walgreen’s parking lot–nearly the same location where the Great Salem Fire began a century ago. Both locations–the park above and the copse below–are actually rather forlorn and very still, so they are nice places in which to reflect and remember with little danger of encountering a fried-dough-eating sexy witch.
Witches’ Hill, encompassing Gallows Hill, Salem, including the Park above and the “Gallows Plat”, below, behind the Walgreen’s parking lot on Boston and Proctor Streets. Illustrations from Scribner’s Popular History of the United States, William Cullen Bryant, et. al., 1892, and Sidney Perley’s article “Where the Witches were Hanged”, Essex Institute Historical Collections 57 (January 1921).