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Villages of the Witch Trials - Page 4

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Reading, Massachusetts, early 1900sReading - Pronounced like like "red-ing", this city, situated in Middlesex County, Massachusetts is just about ten miles north of central Boston. In the 1630's, the original settlers of Massachusetts arrived establishing the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Nine years later, in 1639, some citizens of Lynn petitioned the government of the colony for a "place for an inland plantation". They were initially granted six square miles, followed by an additional four. The first settlement in this grant was at called "Lynn Village" and was located on the south shore of Lake Quannapowitt. On June 10, 1644 the settlement was incorporated by the House of Deputies as the Town of Reading, taking its name from Reading, England.

The first church was organized soon after the settlement, and the first parish, later known as South Reading, became Wakefield in 1868. A special grant in 1651 added land north of the Ipswich River to the Town of Reading. This area would later become the separate Town of North Reading in 1853. John Parker was one of the founders of Reading and served as a deacon of the 12th Congregational Church (now the First Parish Congregational Church), which he also was instrumental in establishing. He would also serve as a selectman, constable, and a judicial commissioner.


When the witch hunts of the area began in 1692, there were a number of people accused in Reading including several members of the Dustin family. The first to be arrested was the widow, Lydia Dustin. Though she was never tried and was eventually found to be not guilty, she died in prison before she could be released. Later, her daughters, Sarah Duston and Mary Colson were also arrested. Though a warrant was issued for her granddaughter, Elizabeth Colson, Constable John Parker was unable to find her, reporting to the court that she had escaped and was likely in Boston preparing to leave the country. Also arrested were Mary Harrington Taylor, Jane Lilly, and Sarah Davis Rice. No one from Reading was found guilty of witchcraft. Today, though Reading is located near Boston, it continues to have a small-town feel. It is called home to almost 25,000 people.


Rowley - Situated in Essex County, Rowley was first settled in the spring of 1639 as a plantation by Reverend Ezekiel Rogers. As more people came to the area, the town of Rowley was incorporated the following spring, which at that time also included portions of modern day Byfield, Georgetown, and Haverhill. The town was named after Rowley, Yorkshire, England where Rogers had served as pastor for twenty years before coming the United States. That first year, a church was built and the Reverend Rogers became its pastor in December. In the early 1640's, two mills were built and the town soon became known for its hemp, flax, and cotton cloth. In 1642, a Keystone arch bridge and a dam were built on the Mill River. The first stone arch bridge in North America, it was constructed entirely of hand-chiseled granite and contained no mortar. It was rebuilt in the mid 19th Century. In 1669, a sawmill was established, which is still in business today.


The Jewell Mill in Rowley still standsIn 1675, the westerly section of the Rowley, known as the "Merrimack Lands," or "Rowley Village by Merrimack," which began to be settled in about 1650, was incorporated as a separate town called Bradford. By 1680, Rowley was called home to about 129 families. In 1685, the southwestern section of the town, long known as "Rowley Village," was incorporated as the town of Boxford. In 1689, several Rowley men were ordered to the defense of Haverhill and Dover against the Indians; but, it is not known that any of them were slain. In 1690, when Sir William Phips led an expedition against Quebec during King Phillip's war, Rowley furnished one captain, Philip Nelson, one lieutenant, and thirty other men. Of these, John Bailey and Moses Wood died on their way to Canada.


When the witch hysteria broke out, Rowley had its share of accused including John Howard, John Jackson, Sr., John Jackson, Jr., who were thought to have been related to Elizabeth Jackson Howe of Topsfield, who had been found guilty and hanged July 19, 1692. Also accused was Mary Post, who was the daughter of  Mary Tyler Post Bridges, of Andover, who had also been accused of witchcraft. But, Rowley's saddest loss was

Margaret Stevenson Scott, an impoverished woman in her 70's, who was hanged on September 22, 1692.


A month later, Rowley would see more turmoil on October 23rd, when Rowley suffered its only Indian raid. In what was then called Byfield Parish, and now called Georgetown, Benjamin Goodrich, his wife and two of his daughters were killed by the Indians. Another daughter named Deborah, aged seven, was taken captive but redeemed at the expense of the province the next year.


Today, this small town of about 5,500 people is filled with colonial homes, mixed with later architectural styles.






Salem's First Meeting HouseSalem Towne - The county seat of Essex County, Salem was the scene of the witchcraft trials in 1692. Many of those that were accused spent months in Salem's jail and those that were condemned were hanged on Gallows Hill. Salem was founded by a company of fishermen from Cape Ann led by Roger Conant at the mouth of the Naumkeag River in 1626. This was the site of an ancient Native American village and trading center that was called Naumkeag. The settlement was renamed Salem when it was incorporated in 1629. Salem originally included much of the North Shore, including Marblehead. Middleton, Topsfield, Wenham and Manchester-by-the-Sea. The people who originally came to Massachusetts were English Protestants, called Puritans, who had immigrated to obtain religious freedom. These religious folks; however, were very harsh, with laws and punishments that included fines, deprivation of property, banishment, imprisonment, and execution. Puritans also generally believed witchcraft to be real which caused much fear if people appeared to be possessed by demons, and witchcraft was a serious felony.

Once people settled in Salem Town, they found the ground not very fertile so many settlers moved outside the "city" and numerous small communities emerged including Salem Village, which was permanently settled in 1636. The villagers called the larger community of Salem -- "Salem Towne" to differentiate it from their village. The witch hysteria of 1692 was a series of accusations, hearings, and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693. Despite being generally known as the Salem witch trials, the preliminary hearings in 1692 were conducted in a variety of towns across the province including Salem Village (now Danvers), Ipswich, and Andover. The hysteria began in Salem Village, which, at the time, was known for its many internal disputes, including arguments about property lines, grazing rights, church privileges, and challenges with the church in Salem Town. But, as the community was but a parish of Salem, and didn't have its own government, most of the legal actions quickly moved to the larger city, where the court, authorities and prison were located.

After the witch frenzy was over, Salem Towne continued to prosper and during the American Revolution, it would become a center for privateering. One peace was declared, the city became very active in overseas trading and its seaport would become one of the most significant in early America.

Today, Salem is a residential and tourist area which includes the neighborhoods of Salem Neck, The Point, South Salem and North Salem, Witchcraft Heights, Pickering Wharf, and the McIntire Historic District. There are a number of landmarks of the notorious witch trials as well as museums, tours and attractions that expand on the history. Related spots include: The Witch House, also known as the Corwin House, where witch trials Judge Jonathan Corwin lived. The only remaining structure with direct ties to the trials, it is a museum today. Other sites include the Old Burying Point, Gallows Hill, the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Salem Witch Museum, the Wax Museum of Witches & Seafarers and the Witch History Museum.

Though a great fire swept through the town in 1914, destroying some 400 buildings and leaving some 3,500 families homeless, the city still includes hundreds of remarkably well preserved structures that are on the state and national registers of historic places. The city is called home to about 41,000 people today.


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