Witches are Sexier than Quakers

I would really love to buy the toleration rationale that is used almost universally to justify Salem’s exploitation of the 1692 Witch Trials for commercial gain, but I have several issues. The argument goes like this:  yes, we had a terrible tragedy here in 1692, but now we owe it to civilization to spread awareness of the intolerance of that community in order to raise awareness of intolerance in our own time. If we can make money at the same time, so be it, but it’s really all about teaching tolerance. I’ve written about this before, several times, so I’m not going to belabor the point, but I think this rationale reinforces a notion among some—actually many—that the victims of 1692 were doing something that was in some way aberrant or diverse, when in fact they were just plain old pious Protestants like their neighbors and accusers. The focus on toleration is supposed to connect the past to the present, but more than anything, it privileges the present over the past. My other problem with the toleration rationale is the exclusivity of its application: only to the Witch Trials, the intolerant episode with the most income-generating potential. We seldom hear of any other moments of intense intolerance in Salem’s history: the fining, whipping, and banishment of separatists, Baptists and Quakers in the seventeenth century, the anti-Catholicism and nativism of two centuries later. Certainly the Witch Trials were dramatic, but so too was the intense persecution in Massachusetts in general and Salem in particular over a slightly longer period, from 1656-1661: just read the title pages of these two incredibly influential texts which documented it.

Quakers 2012_NYR_02622_0107_000(quakers_--_burrough_edward_a_declaration_of_the_sad_and_great_persecut)

Quakers Bishop

Edward Burrough, A Declaration of the Sad and Great Persecution and Martyrdom of the People of God, called Quakers, in New England, for the Worshiping of God (1661; Christie’s —-the whole text can be found here); George Bishop, New England judged, not by man’s, but the spirit of the Lord: and the sum sealed up of New-England’s persecutions being a brief relation of the sufferings of the people called Quakers in those parts of America from the beginning of the fifth month 1656 (the time of their first arrival at Boston from England) to the later end of the tenth month, 1660 (1661; Doyle’s—the whole text is here).

The whipping, scourging, ear-cutting, hand-burning, tongue-boring, fining, imprisonment, starvation, banishment, execution, and attempted sale into slavery of Massachusetts Quakers by the colonial authorities is documented in almost-journalistic style by Edward Burrough and George Bishop and the former’s audience with a newly-restored King Charles II in 1661 resulted in a royal cease and desist missive carried straight to Governor Endicott by Salem’s own Samuel Shattuck, exiled Quaker and father of the Samuel Shattuck who would testify against Bridget Bishop in 1692. So yes, the Quakers accused the Puritans of intolerance far ahead of anyone else, and their detailed testimony offers many opportunities to explore an emerging conception of toleration in historical perspective: we don’t have to judge because they do. Every once in a while, an historical or genealogical initiative sheds some light on Salem’s Quakers—indeed, the Quaker Burying Ground on Essex Street was adorned by a lovely sign this very summer by the City, capping off some important restoration work on some of the stones—but their story is not the official/public/commercial Salem story: that’s all about “witches”.

Quaker Meeting House

Quaker Meeting House 1832




Quakers Grave

Much of Salem’s Quaker history is still around us: the Essex Institute reconstructed the first Quaker Meeting House in 1865 and it is still on the grounds of the PEM’s Essex Street campus (Boston Public Library photograph via Digital Commonwealth);  the c. 1832 meeting house formerly at the corner of Warren and South Pine Streets, Frank Cousins photograph from the Phillips Library Collection at Digital Commonwealth; the c. 1847 meeting house–now a dentist’s office overlooking the Friends’ Cemetery on upper Essex Street; Samuel Shattuck’s grave in the Charter Street Cemetery, Frank Cousins, c. 1890s, Phillips Library Collection at Digital Commonwealth.

Quakers can’t compete with “witches”, any more than factory workers, soldiers, inventors, poets, suffragists, educators, or statesmen or -women can: they’re just not sexy enough for a city whose “history” is primarily for sale. There was a time when I thought we could get the Bewitched statue out of Town House Square, but no more: it will certainly not be replaced by a Salem equivalent of the Boston memorial to Mary Dyer, one of the Boston Quaker “Martyrs”. The placement of a fictional television character in such a central place—just across from Salem’s original meeting house–and not, say, a memorial to Provided Southwick, whose parents were banished to Long Island, dying there in “privation and misery”, whose brother was whipped from town to town, and who would have been sold into slavery (along with another brother) near this same square if not for several tolerant Salem ship captains*, is a bit unbearable, but that’s Witch City. Apparently grass just won’t grow in this little sad space, so soon we will see the installation of artificial turf , which strikes me as completely appropriate.

Quakers Genealogy

Quakers Whittier


“The Attempted Sale into Slavery of Daniel and Provided Southwick, son [children] of Lawrence and Cassandra Southwick, by Governor Endicott and his Minions, for being Quakers”, from the Genealogy of the descendants of Lawrence and Cassandra Southwick of Salem, Mass. : the original emigrants, and the ancestors of the families who have since borne his name (1881); *John Greenleaf Whittier tells Provided’s tale under Cassandra’s (more romantic?) name, and adds the “tolerant ship captains”: we only know that the sale did not go through. The Mary Dyer Memorial in front of the statehouse, Boston, Massachusetts.

Appendix: There was a very public attempt to place a memorial statue to the Quaker persecution in Salem by millionaire Fred. C. Ayer, a Southwick descendant, in the early twentieth century which you can read about here and here: the Salem City Council (or Board of Aldermen, as it was then called) objected to the representation of Governor Endicott as a tiger devouring the Quakers, so the proposed installation on Salem Common was denied. If the aldermen had read Burrough’s and Bishop’s accounts,  I bet they would have been a bit more approving.

13 responses to “Witches are Sexier than Quakers

  • Generations of Nomads

    Great post, Donna! Lots I didn’t know and that certainly should be more widely known. Thanks, from this descendant of about 10 generations of English Quakers, including a couple of Quaker missionaries.

  • lisebreen

    Terrific post with a romp and stomp on some of New England’s most beloved, artificial, never-die turf. “We seldom hear of any other moments of intense intolerance in Salem’s history.” So, thank you for your work on the Remond family. The North Shore Magazine arrived in yesterday’s mail. Love Dinah Cardin’s article with the wonderful photographs which included both you and a Remond descendent, George Ford.

  • Helen Breen

    Donna, can you share that link with us too?

    Thanks for reminding us of “the other side of the story” when recalling Salem’s intolerance…

  • FairytaleFeminista

    My only hope lies in knowing that people who really care about history will still seek out information even if those who prefer their history neat, tidy, and sexy never do. A little history is better than no history at all, I guess.

  • Brian Bixby

    After reading the title of this post, my mind immediately drifted to the counterpoint: “Hot Sexy Quaker Babes Here in Salem!” But enough of that folly; I know what you meant. The whole idea that the witches are played up to raise the issue of tolerance is simply bogus. How one ever fits Rev. George Burroughs into a narrative of persecuting a group (which group?) is more than I can figure.

    Still, I doubt the persecution of Quakers will take the place of the witches. For one thing, there are still Quakers around, and they are distressingly normal. Maybe if the Quaker persecution was wrapped into the story of Salem as a cosmopolitan port in a provincial world, which could also be used to explain several other aspects of Salem history, including the witches.

    • daseger

      Well, I just try to explore the tolerance rationale from different angles—hoping to strike a chord! I wish we could have the comprehensive view of our history you describe in your last sentence but we’re just not equipped for that at present.

  • Lisa

    The proposed use of astro turf as a quick fix sheds light on some of the deeper problems in Salem. Sad.

  • fergysun

    I backed into an interest in the Salem which trials while filling out my a family members branch of an Ancestry family tree. My son in-law is a distant relative to Benjamin Abbott. Benjamin was an accuser of Martha Allen Carrier during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. It is reported that a land dispute between Carrier and Abbott lead to heated verbal exchanges and a subsequent charge by Abbot of Carrier practicing witchcraft. She was one of two that maintained her innocence until death. I suppose the Salem Witch Trials was an equal opportunity problem resolver.

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