Witches – Salem and more

I ‘ve had a couple of questions about my most recent book, Death in Salem. Why didn’t I fully explore the witchcraft angle? Well, as I’ve said in earlier posts, Salem by 1797, was a very cosmopolitan city. It was not only the sixth largest, one of the most diverse (with the first East Indian immigrant populations in the US) but it was also the wealthiest. Salem’s witchcraft past was more an embarrassment.

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House of one of the judges.

 

The witchcraft spell has never completely left Salem, however. On one of our tours, the guide was the descendent of one of the accused witches. Reminders of this past abound.

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Graveyard includes memorials to those that were executed.

 

 

Although Salem became something other – a huge center of shipping and trading, however, the belief in witchcraft did not fade. In an earlier blog I wrote about trials that continued, right up to one in Russia in 1999.

And I wonder what is behind these accusations? Belief? Greed, malice, revenge? Hatred of women. With Gamer gate and all of the Internet attacks on women we certainly cannot discount that as a motive.

Christianity certainly plays a part.I think most of us are familiar with the quote from the Bible about not suffering a witch to live. During the middle ages and right up to modern times this has been used to execute any number of innocent people, primarily women.

I will blog  in the future about my research into witchcraft and goddesses – I think the two are tied. I decided, that since I did not explore witchcraft and the psychologies behind it in Death in Salem, I would do so in the next book. That book, titled The Devil”s Cold Dish, will be coming out next year. Spoiler alert: it does not take place in Salem.

 

 

Death in Salem books

 

I am thrilled to announce that I have received my first copies of Death in Salem and they look stunning. Here is the cover:

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The books look even better in real life. I will probably be having another Goodreads giveaway later in the summer.

To summarize the plot: Will Rees is on a weaving trip and stops in Salem to buy some imported cloth for Lydia. He gets stopped by a funeral and sees an old friend at the head. Anstiss Boothe, the deceased, has been ill a long time but the very next day her husband Jacob. a wealthy Salem merchant, is dead and this time it is clearly murder. Rees has already left Salem but his friend rides after him and draws him back to investigate.

Smuggling, piracy, prostitution, and of course all the dynamics of interpersonal relationships keep Rees investigating.

I had a lot of fun roaming Salem when I researched this book.

Goodreads Giveaway – One Day Left

I cracked the 500 level of requests. Yay! I am so close to 600 I am optimistic that I will cross that too. So, if you want a free book, put your name in. Reviews have been great.

Death in Salem Goodreads Giveaway

Well, I’m excited. After the first day of the giveaway, almost 200 people requested the book. Fantastic!

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 Tunnels – Smuggling as a way of life

In my new book, A Death in Salem, I use the tunnels under the city as an important plot device. Tunnels? Under Salem?

True, and one can see the remnants of these tunnels on a tour through the city, especially the great houses.

Salem has a long history as a maritime city. It was an era when smuggling was so accepted even gentlemen engaged pretty openly in smuggling. Don’t believe me? Well, in New York protection money was paid to Governor Fletcher and Thomas Tew, a Rhode Island Pirate, was frequently Fletcher’s dinner guest.

According to Salem Secret Underground by Christopher Jon Luke Dowgin, tunnels in Salem dated at least from 1667.

If people remember their American History, one of the causes leading to the War for Independence was the number of Acts and duties imposed on not just American goods but goods being imported into the colonies. Textiles, sugar, molasses – just about everything was taxed. To make matters worse, these were not duties imposed by an American government, but a government across the ocean. And a lot of the funds were used to pay troops who then patrolled for smugglers. One of the taglines from this period was ‘No taxation without representation.”

Furthermore, American ships were prohibited from sailing to India, for example, so all goods imported from the East had to come on British ships with the attached duties. American ships were permitted to sail to the Caribbean but with limits. Needless to say, American captains tried to circumvent these laws as best as they could. (No American ship went to the East until 1783 when Derby’s Grand Turk sailed to Indonesia. She returned with a cargo of pepper, a cargo that was sold at a 700 % profit.) As British imports flooded the market, the goods made in the Colonies rotted. There was no market for them.

The proscriptions upon American (Colonial) Trade enraged the Colonists. The Boston Tea Party was really the destruction of British imported Chinese tea. So American ships turned to smuggling and a lot of them became folk heroes. Britain tried to stop the smuggling by blockading the cost and stopping American ships (and impressing American seamen too.) And this became another flashpoint leading up to Revolution.

Back to Salem

 

 

The  Customs House in Salem has now been set up as a Museum. It had some really interesting artifacts from the early sailing period. (Can anyone tell how much I love this town?)  The Customs House is set right across from the Derby wharf.

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History of the custom house with a shot of the wharves and the pier during their busiest times.

Maps of Salem’s trade routes. Remember, this was in the days of wind power and those little bitty ships.

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the Derby wharf which is still there today. In the late 1700s, all the wharves were lined with warehouses to hold the goods imported from India, Indonesia and China as well as slips where the ships were tied up.

 

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The golden eagle sat on top of the Customs House. (I believe this is a replica). It is much larger than it appears in the photo. It must have been quite a sight to see for the ships sailing into port.

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The counting houses, simple desk above, took in millions of dollars – and that was millions in the money of that time. Salem was not only the sixth largest city in the new US but also the wealthiest. The customs duties pretty much supported the federal government.

Tunnels had been constructed underneath Salem. I’ve read a number of reasons for this, including hiding the amount of wealth pouring into the city. The one that makes the most sense to me is that the merchants did not want to carry such enormous funds through the streets. It would have been very difficult to avoid paying customs since the Custom Officer rowed three miles out to where the incoming ships docked and assessed the duties then.

Finally, one final note. The museum has pieces of eight. Remember, anything that mentions pirates always includes pieces of eight. Well, this was money, made so that it could be broken into eight pieces. Can you imagine going to the store and breaking off a piece of a quarter and handing it to the shopkeeper? Wild, right?

Sailor Superstitions

 

I got started researching superstitions when I was researching my new book Death in Salem. It turns out sailors are a superstitious lot. As one might expect, many sailors thought women on board were bad luck. I wonder what happened to the wives of the captains who sailed with their husbands. Moreover, there were women who sent in disguise as men. (Always wondered how that was possible but it did happen.)

Sailors would also not sign up if there was a Jonah, someone who had served on more than one unlucky ship. They were afraid he might be the one who had caused the bad luck. I wonder how much this affected the sailors in Salem. They were very diverse, from Africans and Indians to escaped slaves, Irish, Portuguese and more. I would guess that this very diversity mitigated some of the superstitions carried over from England, and added a few new ones.

One belief that was carried over from Europe was a belief that killing dolphins was bad luck. And it may have been. There are plenty of stories of dolphins carrying sailors in danger of drowning to shore.

The belief that the caul (the membrane that covers newborns) protected from drowning was widespread and for awhile cauls were valuable. When a sailor left the sea, he sold his caul to another sailor.

It was once customary for sailors to be tattooed with good luck symbols to ward off evil. The compass rose was supposed to help a sailor find his way back home. Later on, the tattoos became more generalized and often identified which journeys the sailor had made, whether around the cape or to China.

A note about keelhauling. I remember hearing about this when I watched Popeye cartoons. (I know, right?) Anyway, the American Navy abolished this in 1800 and the British Navy in 1835. What a brutal punishment this was! The prisoners arms and legs were fastened with a long line. The end was held at the opposite end of the ship. The prisoner was dropped into the water and dragged underneath the ship (along the keel). Invariably he drowned or bled to death from the cuts left by the barnacles on the hull. Hanging would have been more humane.

Salem, past and present

One of the things I like to do when researching a book is visit the location where it is set. I did that with Salem when I was writing Death in Salem.

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I like getting the feel of the place and a sense of the geography.

Salem is a good place to research since they have kept a lot of their past. Not all of it but enough. And a number of reminders of Salem’s past. and the past of the United States, are still present. The Burying Point, the cemetery, is there. I like that you can still visit this place and see the headstones from the distant past.

Not the accused witches, however. Witches were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground so  were dumped. Families, although forbidden to do so, frequently found the bodies and buried them properly. This meant a great deal in this religious past. But the burying point does have memorials to these men and women. (even two dogs were accused and executed!)

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The witch trials are well remembered and some of the houses were built in that time, 400 years ago.

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Salem still has many houses from the period of the merchantmen also. Below is the Derby house, built within sight of Derby wharf. Although there are many fine houses on the waterfront, a short walk to Chestnut Street reveals a block of beautiful houses, many from the late 1700’s.

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As the merchantmen grew wealthy, they built houses on Chestnut Street. And many of these houses are still occupied.

Although the 1790’s are not ancient compared to Europe and their long history, for these United States it represents the early part of our history and so I find it exciting.