October 18, 1679 marked the beginning of the short and miserable life of Ann Putnam, one of the principal accusers in the “circle” of girls who initiated and sustained the Salem Witch Trials in the spring, summer and fall of 1692. She claimed to have been afflicted by 62 people, and testified against many before the Court of Oyer and Terminer, in a series of well-attended dramatic performances (you can read her testimonies here). It is easy to paint Ann as a villain, despite her youth, but many historians believe that she was manipulated by her powerful and vengeful father Thomas, along with her equally-afflicted mother Ann Sr., who shared the stage with her.
“There is a flock of yellow birds around her”: Ann Putnam and the “Afflicted Girls” in the courtroom in an illustration by Howard Pyle for “Giles Cory, Yeoman,” a play by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume LXXXVI, 1893.
I am wondering how the Putnams were perceived by their neighbors after Governor William Phips dissolved the Court in late October of 1692. One very strong indication might be the fact that Thomas and Ann, Sr., who both died within weeks of each other in 1699, are buried in unmarked graves in the Putnam family cemetery in Danvers, Massachusetts, along with their daughter Ann, who died in 1716 at the relatively young age of thirty-seven. Ann’s post-Trials life seems to have been characterized by drudgery (caring for her nine younger siblings after their parents’ deaths), isolation, and contrition: she is the only one of her Circle to apologize for her actions in 1692. This very public apology, written as a condition for her re-admission to the Salem Village Church and read aloud to the congregation by the Reverend Joseph Green in 1706, remains a powerful statement merely because of its exclusivity, even though its references to the delusions of Satan might be unsatisfactory for modern mentalities:
“I desire to be humbled before God for that sad and humbling providence that befell my father’s family in the year about ’92; that I, then being in my childhood, should, by such a providence of God, be made an instrument for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken away from them, whom now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons; and that it was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time, whereby I justly fear I have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon myself and this land the guilt of innocent blood; though what was said or done by me against any person I can truly and uprightly say, before God and man, I did it not out of any anger, malice, or ill-will to any person, for I had no such thing against one of them; but what I did was ignorantly, being deluded by Satan. And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing of Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humbled for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offence, whose relations were taken away or accused.”
A variant on Ann’s proclaimed desire to “lie in the dust” is the title of a new graphic novel, Lies in the Dust. A Tale of Remorse in the Salem Witch Trials, written by Jakob Crane and illustrated by Timothy Decker. If you are in the Salem area, there is an accompanying exhibition at the Winfisky Gallery at Salem State University. I looked at the illustrations yesterday, and then drove over to look for the Putnams’ grave, which is a slightly-elevated, unmarked mound in the family cemetery, wedged between the Massachusetts State Police headquarters and a professional office building off Route 62 in Danvers–which was then Salem Village, where it all began. The site of the cemetery is so Danvers, which quietly and respectfully acknowledges its role in the Witch Trials, in sharp contrast to SCREAMING Salem Town, the Witch City.