Salem witches – Personal relationships

I wonder what happened when officials stepped in from outside put a halt to the goings on in Salem. Think what it must have been like living there at this time. Actions have consequences. Salem ( a misnomer since the action really took place in a small town named Danvers and, later, Salem Village) was a small community. Those accused were friends, family and neighbors of their accusers. How could you forgive the ones who hanged one of your family members as a witch and terrorized the others? What kind of amends would be enough? Speaking for myself, I am not sure this is something I could ever forgive. I would guess that, despite the end of the witch hunts, this village remained troubled for years.

Some believe that the curses laid upon the accusers, the judges, and the ones who executed the alleged witches are in effect to this day. Giles Corey was pressed to death, the only one not hanged. He cursed all the Sheriffs to die before their time forever. Oddly enough, quite a few have died from various chest related illnesses.

Financial reparations were paid beginning in the early 1700s. Would this be enough to ease the grief? Many of those whose family members had been accused or hanged moved away to a new Village called Salem’s End. We can’t know what they are feeling but I would guess PTSD would be the least of it. How could one every trust anyone ever again? People on both sides: the accused and the accusers, changed their names. One of the hanging judges was a Hathorne; Nathaniel Hawthorne added the w. And the Nurse family, right in the thick of the storm, moved away and became Nourses.

And what about those who remained firm in their belief that the accusations had merit? That the hangings were valid?

Reverend Parris was one who continued to defend his actions, refusing to believe – or behave as though he believed – that he had been in the wrong. Right from the beginning he was a believer in the girls’ tales. He accepted the testimony of ‘spectral evidence’.  He remained in his post in the village. (Can you imagine what Sunday morning in church must have been like? All the hard looks and muttered comments and the minister who had really supported the crisis sermonizing from the pulpit.) It must have been a nightmare.

Anyway, those who opposed Parris (and I would guess there would be many) tried to force him to leave.  The battle went on for several years. Finally ministers and other important personages from Boston were called in to render an opinion. But it was not until 1696, four years later, that Parris finally stepped down.

Parrish had a very hard time finding another post. (Consequences, remember?) He finally ended up in a tiny town in western Mass, the frontier at that time and the target of regular Indian attacks. Salem had trouble finding a replacement. (Anyone surprised?) The village finally accepted a young man just out of school.

In the wider political world, the storm in Salem adversely affected the futures of both Cotton and Increase Mather, destroying their influence.  Admittedly, I am not as conversant with the politics of that time as perhaps I could be but in my view there was some duplicity in Cotton Mather’s behavior during the witch trials.  In any event, the witch trials and all the consequences stemming from them destroyed the hold of Puritanism on New England and the developing country.


Salem tunnels late eighteenth century

So there were already some tunnels in Salem linking the fine houses, the docks, the brothels and the counting houses. Many of the men who had made their fortunes running privateers became Senators, a Secretary of State, and other wealthy and influential men. As Salem shipping  imported cargo from Russia, India, the East Indies, and finally China, Salem became not only the sixth largest city in the U.S. but the wealthiest.  Custom duties to a large degree supported the Federal Government.

To collect these duties during the time Rees visited Salem, the merchant ships were required to tie up about three miles out. The customs inspector would row out to inspect the cargo and assess the duties. Do I believe that this prevented smuggling? Not a chance. I’m sure a number of shippers found ways to circumvent these efforts and used the already existing tunnels to transport goods to the counting houses out of sight of the prying eyes.

In 1801 Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States and began, not only enforcing the already existing laws on the books but put in new strict laws on the collection of duties. The harbor was silting up and New Bedford, Boston, and other ports would soon become more prominent. Elias Haskell Derby Jr. found it difficult to maintain his lifestyle.  He embarked on a building program in the Commons, and put in tunnels to the wharves, the counting houses and the banks. But isn’t 1801 is several years after Death in Salem? Yes, that is so but a number of the houses listed as having tunnels connected to them were built before 1797.

I made a leap and decided to claim there were many tunnels prior to the Derby scion in 1801. The tunnels would have been helpful during the Revolutionary War and the British incursion, especially when it would have been important to move goods without British knowledge.

Finally, my excuse for this bit of slippery history is: Well, the story is fiction and I think the tunnels could have been there and been used as I described.

Salem and the scarlet Letter

After my research journey to Salem this spring, I decided to reread both The Scarlet Letter and the House of Seven Gables. I read both but a long time ago – because they were on reading lists. Let me tell you, I missed a lot in The Scarlet Letter as a fourteen year old reader. I don’t know yet what I missed in The House Of Seven Gables – I haven’t read it yet. but I’ll be willing to bet I missed most of the important points.








It was clearly owned by a wealthy family.


There really is a house of the seven gables. Who knew?




This is one of the ceilings. and there was an attic for the servants and slaves to sleep in.

Puritanism and the witch trials are clearly part of the history – and not just the tourist parts either. We stopped at the Old Burying Point.







There were a lot of small gravestones for little children. Some families lost five and six kids. Heartbreaking. But one of the most poignant were the large memorials to the people executed during the witch trials. Since they had been found guilty of witchcraft the victims could not be buried in consecrated ground. It is thought the families slipped out at night and found the bodies and gave them a decent burial. But no one knows for sure. And the graves of course cannot be located.







Each memorial is inscribed with the name and date of execution of one of the nineteen victims. Sobering.

I read The scarlet Letter with an entirely different perspective.

Here’s a fun fact about Hawthorne. He did not want to be associated with the Judge who sent the accused to the gallows ( a direct ancestor) so he added a w to his name.