Putnam Family Members Involved in the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria:
“I desire to be humbled before God for that sad and humbling experience that befell my father’s family in the year about ’92…”
– Ann Putnam, Jr., 1706
The old colonial Puritan Putnam family was founded by John and Priscilla Gould Putnam in the 17th century, in Salem, Massachusetts. Originally from Buckinghamshire, England, the family immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in about 1634. Head of the family, John Putnam, who had been born in 1580, was already in his 50’s by the time he immigrated. He had married Priscilla Gould in 1611, and the couple had seven children. Though already grown, some of John and Priscilla’s children immigrated with them, including his sons Thomas Putnam, Nathaniel Putnam, and John Putnam. The elder Putnam was well equipped for the work of settling in a new colony, and he and his sons were granted land. Each of his sons would have children of their own, and it would be this third generation of Putnams who would be involved in the witch trial frenzy of 1692. More specifically, it would be the children of his oldest son, Thomas Putnam.
When the colonists arrived at the Massachusetts Bay Colony and settled Salem, they soon found that the land in the immediate vicinity was not fertile and many settlers moved outside the “city” and numerous small farming communities emerged in the area. About five miles north of Salem, was an area that was first known as Salem Farms, where the Putnam family controlled much of the land. Later, it would be called Salem Village. These outer lands surrounding Salem Towne did not have separate identities and the farmers were required to be members of the Church of Salem. However, over time, as settlements began to grow outside the larger community of Salem, some began to break away and form independent towns, the first of which was Wenham in 1643. Desiring autonomy from the larger city as well as their own church, Salem Village began to petition for their independence in the late 1660s. However, the officials in Salem Towne initially refused to grant their independence, which would drive a dangerous wedge between the two communities. Many members of Salem Village began to resent the power that Salem Towne held over them, while those who resided in the larger community did not feel that this autonomy needed to be granted.
Not only did it create a wedge between the two communities; but, it also separated the village itself, as the farmers began to draw “battle lines” between those who wanted to separate from Salem Towne, and those who did not. However, the farmers continued to make requests, due to the distance from town. Finally, Salem Village was granted the right to build their own church and hire a minister in 1672. However, the villagers would officially remain members of the Salem Towne Church, which would govern the smaller parish. The village was also permitted to establish a committee of five, to assess and gather taxes from the villagers – including church-members and non-church members, for the ministry. For the first time, Salem Village had a degree of autonomy.
Unfortunately, when Salem Village gained the right to build its own church, it did not solve the problem of the two quarreling groups; rather, it made it worse. Two families emerged as leaders of the separate factions — the Putnams and the Porters. Both families were early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, both families had been successful, and both were large landowners in Salem Village.
The Putnams were farmers who followed the simple and austere lifestyle of traditional Puritans. They, along with other farmers in Salem Village, believed that the thriving economy of Salem Towne, and more specifically, thriving merchants, made people too individualistic, which was in opposition to the communal nature that Puritanism mandated. On the other hand, though the Porters derived much of their wealth from agricultural operations, they were also entrepreneurs who developed commercial interests in Salem Towne as well as other areas and were active in the governmental affairs of the larger community. Due to these differing viewpoints, the Porters’ diversified business interests allowed them to increase their family’s wealth, becoming one of the wealthiest families in the area. In the meantime, the Putnam family’s wealth was stagnated.
Making matters worse, in 1672, a Porter owned dam and sawmill flooded the Putnam farms, resulting in a lawsuit brought by the Putnams against the Porters. That very same year, when Salem Village was granted the right to hire a minister and build its own church, the Porters were part of the group who opposed the separation from Salem Towne. Of the 600 some residents of Salem Village, most of the farming families who wanted the separate church and independence from Salem Towne; while those who had closer ties to the city’s economy and rich harbors opposed the separation.
Having gained the right to build their own church and gain their own minister, the Putnams also sought to “control” the church, thereby, controlling the community. Heading up this group was Thomas Putnam, Jr., who forged an elite group that would remain in control of the village affairs for years. His allies included his brother, Edward Putnam, brother-in-law, Jonathan Walcott; Walcott’s uncle, the innkeeper Nathaniel Ingersoll, and other Salem Church deacons, committeemen, and church elders.
Having gained the right to its own church and minister, Salem Village soon brought in the Reverend James Bayley in October 1672, who would stay until 1680, even though the village remained quarrelsome. He was followed up by the Reverend George Burroughs, who would find himself in the midst of the witch hysteria years later; and Deodat Larson, who left in 1688. All three of these ministers had problems with the congregation and ended up leaving under conflict.