Though decidedly against the concept of witchcraft, Reverend Francis Dane was accused of being a witch during the Salem Village hysteria of 1692; but was never charged.
He was baptized in Bishop’s Stortford, England, on November 20, 1615, and was probably born there. He attended King’s College at the University of Cambridge, England, when he grew up, graduating in 1633. He and his parents, John Dane and Frances Bowyer Dane, immigrated to Massachusetts in 1633, first setting in Ipswich and Roxbury. Somewhere along the line, Francis married Elizabeth Ingalls, and the couple would have two sons and four daughters. In 1649, he became the second pastor of the North Parish Church in Andover, Massachusetts, and founded its first school.
His views on witchcraft were well known, having come down against the concept in 1658 when John Godfrey was accused of witchcraft, more than 30 years before the infamous witch trials of Salem. Godfrey was charged with injuring the wife of Job Tyler by “Satanic acts,” The Reverend Francis Dane testified on Godfrey’s behalf, judging against the probability of witchcraft, and Godfrey was freed of all charges.
There is no record of discord between Reverend Dane and his congregation in the first three decades of his service. Dane was a highly respected and influential member of the Andover community. Unfortunately, Dane’s wife, Elizabeth, died in 1676, and a year later, he married Mary Thomas.
Things began to change for Dane in 1680 when he was 65 years old. At that time, church members began to complain about his capabilities and requested a younger, more vibrant minister for their church. In January 1682, the congregation hired the young Reverend Thomas Barnard, a recent Harvard graduate and Cotton Mather protege. A short time later, the congregation stopped paying Dane’s salary and gave Barnard a full salary. However, Dane petitioned the General Court in Boston, and the Andover Church was required to split the annual salary between the two pastors who would share the duties. The town complied but split the £80 annual salary unevenly.
The split would pay Dane £30 per year, and Barnard £50, with the stipulation that when Dane retired or died, Barnard would receive the total annual salary. Neither man was pleased with the solution.
Though there was no significant politics in the church over the next decade, there was tension between the two pastors. In 1689, Reverend Dane lost his second wife and, the following year, married for the third and final time to Hannah Abbot.
When the Salem witch trials began in 1692, Dane was 76 years old and had lived in Andover for 44 years. What earlier had been tension between the two pastors would become an all-out conflict when the Reverend Thomas Barnard invited two of the Salem Village accusers to attend prayer meetings in the church that included “touch tests” to find practitioners of witchcraft. While Barnard was instrumental in spreading the witchcraft hysteria, the Reverend Dane refused to participate in the witch hunt from the outset. He would later begin a petition to the governor and the General Court, condemning the witch trials and requesting that they end.
The community picked up this split between the two pastors. Before it was over, more members of Dane’s family were accused than any other single family during the witch hysteria. In addition to members of Dane’s extended family, two of his daughters, Elizabeth Dane Johnson and Abigail Dane Faulkner, and his daughter-in-law, Deliverance Haseltine Dane, were all arrested. Five of his grandchildren were also accused. The reverend himself was also accused but never charged.
The Reverend Dane was the driving force behind ending the trials in Andover. He first arranged for the Andover children to be released from jail on bond in October 1692. Husbands, brothers, and fathers of the accused witches then joined Dane in petitioning the General Court to release the Andover women because they were needed at home and, with the coming of winter, would not fare well in the prisons.
On October 18, 1692, he wrote a petition addressing what he believed to be the forced and false confessions of guilt made by women during the frenzy of the “touch tests” to save themselves from trial and possible execution. In the petition, he wrote that there was “reason to think that the extreme urgency that was used with some of them by their friends and others who privately examined them, and the fear they were then under, hath been an inducement to them to admit such things.”
This was his first attempt to explain the confessions of those accused and to condemn the use of spectral evidence. Several more petitions would be sent and letters to the courts and his fellow ministers condemning the procedures, stating: “I believe the reports have been scandalous and unjust, neither will bear y light.” Slander charges filed by Dane and members of his family, particularly Abigail Dane Faulkner, also aided in deterring the resurgence of accusations in Andover.
The Reverend Dane remained in Andover until his death on February 17, 1697. He is buried at the Old North Parish Burying Ground in North Andover. Unfortunately, his grave is unmarked.
The Salem Witchcraft Hysteria (Main article)