The Vengeful Putnams of Salem Village, Massachusetts

Salem Village

Salem Village

John Putnam, Jr. (1657-1722) – John Putnam was referred to as “John, Jr.” in the witch trial documents to differentiate him from his uncle, by the same name. He was born to Nathaniel Putnam and Elizabeth Hutchinson Putnam on March 26, 1657, in Salem Village. He would marry Hannah Cutler on December 2, 1678, and the couple would have 15 children. John and his large family lived on a farm in Salem Village that was located west of Hathorne’s Hill near the Ipswich River. His cousins, Thomas and Edward Putnam lived nearby. For unknown reasons he had the nickname of “Carolina John.” John was appointed to several minor political positions and also worked as a road surveyor. During the witchcraft excitement, he was serving as a constable in Salem Village.

He and his first cousin, Edward Putnam, signed the complaint that put Rebecca Towne Nurse behind bars, as well as the complaint against four-year-old Dorcas Good. Along with other members of his family, he would also swear out complaints and testify against numerous other people including, Giles Corey, Bridget Bishop, Mary Easty, Sarah Cloyce, and many others. During the trial of Rebecca Nurse, Mary Easty, and Sarah Cloyce, he would give a deposition blaming the death of their eight-week-old child, who appeared to be having fits, on witchcraft. In the same deposition, he would also say that he, too, had been afflicted and was taken by a strange type of fit. Later, when the whole witch affair was over, several of the wronged members of the church met at his home in 1698, where the majority agreed to live and “love together.” This was just one week after the ordination of the Reverend Joseph Green. Putnam died in September 1722 in Salem Village.

John Putnam, Sr. (1627-1710) – Referred to as “John, Sr.” in the witch trial documents to differentiate his testimonies from those of his nephew’s, this John Putnam was the son of the original patriarch, John Putnam and his wife, Priscilla Gould Putnam. He had a son named John, but he had already died by the time of the witch trials. He also had a son named Johnathan, who does appear in the trial documents. John Putnam was christened on May 27, 1627, in Aston Abbotts, Bucks, England and immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony with his parents in about 1634. He married Rebecca Prince on September 3, 1652. The two settled in Salem Village and would have ten children. Before 1673, he and his brother Nathaniel invested in an ironworks on lands they owned in nearby Rowley. When the financially-troubled enterprise burned in 1674, they sued the managers for negligence.

The Putnams were active in the village church and in 1683 when the Reverend George Burroughs‘ salary was halted for his services, he simply stopped meeting his congregation and left for Maine. The Salem Village committee, which included John Putnam, Sr., threatened to sue him for leaving his post. Being a man of honor, Burroughs returned to Salem Village to settle accounts, which included money owed to him as well as debts he owed to others of the community. Upon his return, he was threatened with arrest on a complaint made by John Putnam. Though it was found that Burroughs did not owe Putnam any money, he spent one night in jail. The next day, the money owed to Burroughs was paid and he, in turn, paid his debts. Obviously, there was some bad blood between the pair, that would later rise again almost a decade later.

When the witch accusations began in 1692, one of the first to be accused was Sarah Warren Prince Osborne, with whom the Putnams were in a legal battle with. Sarah, who had previously been married to Robert Prince, thought to have been John’s wife’s brother, had remarried after her first husband died and was allegedly attempting to take over her sons’ inheritance. The powerful Putnams had stepped in to save their nephews, James and Joseph Prince, from being cheated. Osborne would die in prison just a few months later. He and his wife, Rebecca, would also testify against the Reverend George Burroughs, who would be hanged on August 19, 1692. He would also give depositions against Rebecca Towne Nurse,  and John Williard, all of whom would be executed. The only person that he gave testimony against, that didn’t see the end of a noose, was Sarah Smith Buckley. John Putnam died on April 7, 1710.

Jonathan Putnam (1658-1739) – Born to John Putnam and Rebecca Prince Putnam on March 17, 1658, in Salem Village, Jonathan would grow up to marry Elizabeth Whipple in about 1681. Elizabeth died either while she was giving birth to her only child or, shortly thereafter in August 1682. Her son died a few months later. Jonathan then married Lydia Potter in 1683 and the couple would eventually have nine children. Jonathan Putnam built a house, not far from his father’s on the Topsfield road. He was a successful farmer and active in the community, chosen to the grand jury in 1683, and as a highway surveyor the following year. He also served as a selectman for a number of years. Serving in the Salem Militia, he rose to the rank of Captain. Like his father and other members of his family, they saw it their duty to protect their nephews from Sarah Warren Prince Osborne, who they claimed was cheating their nephews out their inheritance. When the witch hysteria broke out in 1692, Sarah Osborne was one of the first to be accused. Jonathan would testify against her, as well as Mary Easty, Rebecca Nurse, Dorcas Good, John Williard, and Sarah Buckley.

Nathaniel Putnam (1619-1700) – The son of the original patriarch, John Putnam and his wife, Elizabeth Gould Putnam, Nathaniel was baptized on October 11, 1619, at Aston Abbotts, Bucks, England. He immigrated with his parents to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in about 1634. He married Elizabeth Hutchinson in 1650 and the two would have seven children. For years, Nathaniel joined his neighbors in trying to make Salem Village independent from Salem Towne. In addition to wanting the village to have its own church, he also protested that Salem Towne was too far away for its men to be expected to share in mandatory guard duty there. Because he was so outspoken, in 1669 a Salem court ordered him to apologize publicly or pay a fine of £20. When Salem Village built its own church in 1672 he served on the building committee.

Before 1673, he and his brother John invested in an ironworks on lands they owned in nearby Rowley. When the financially-troubled enterprise burned in 1674, they sued the managers for negligence. In 1681, Nathaniel was second in wealth only to his brother Thomas and lived on a 75-acre spread he had acquired from his father-in-law Richard Hutchinson. In 1886, after his brother, Thomas, died, he became head of the prominent Putnam family. During the witchcraft hysteria of 1692, he signed complaints against Elizabeth Fosdick and Elizabeth Paine, and would also serve as a witness against John Willard and Sarah Buckley. Nathaniel died on July 23, 1700, in Salem Village.

Evil Man

Evil Man

Thomas Putnam, Jr. (1651-1699) – A third-generation member of Salem Village, Thomas was a significant accuser in the notorious 1692 Salem witch trials. He was born to immigrant Thomas Putnam and Ann Holyoke on January 12, 1651 (or ’52) in Salem Village, Massachusetts. When he grew up, he served in the local militia and fought in King Phillip’s War (1675-1678), obtaining the rank of sergeant. Upon returning home, he married Ann Carr, who came from a wealthy family, on November 25, 1678. The couple would eventually have 12 children. Beginning in the 1660s, Salem Village began the process of trying to separate itself from the larger nearby community of Salem Towne. The Putnam family supported this effort wholeheartedly. The village finally was allowed to build its own church and hire a minister in 1672. However, not all of Salem Village’s residents supported this idea, which would eventually split the settlement into two factions. Heading up the group who supported the independence of Salem Village was Thomas Putnam, Jr. Opposing him and his followers were the powerful Porter family. Both families were early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, both families had been successful, and both were large landowners in Salem Village. Over time, the division of the community became more and more heated.

Thomas Putnam, Jr. appears to have been an embittered man for a variety of reasons. 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.

Further adding to Putnam’s issues of “wealth” was the death of his father in 1686. Thomas, Jr.’s father and his wife Ann Holyoke had born ten children. But, when his mother died in childbirth in 1665, Thomas Sr. married for a second time to a woman named Mary Veren on November 14, 1666. This union would produce one child — Joseph, who was born on September 14, 1669. Thomas, Jr. did not get along well with his younger half-brother Joseph and when his father died in 1686, he felt cheated out of his inheritance when Thomas Sr. left almost all of his estate to his second wife Mary, and their son Joseph. Thomas, Jr. and his brother would contest the will, but their efforts were unsuccessful. Adding insult to injury, his half-brother Joseph married Elizabeth Porter, the daughter of his enemy Israel Porter, on April 21, 1690.

His wife, Ann Carr Putnam, had also been disinherited. When her wealthy father died, she got nothing, as his estate was given to her brothers. She also tried unsuccessfully to sue for her inheritance. She too was embittered and also said to have been a woman of a highly sensitive temperament. Before she had married Thomas Putnam, she had moved to Salem with her sister, Mary. When her sister’s three children died in quick succession, followed shortly by Mary herself in 1688, Ann’s mental stability was severely shaken and she went into a decline.

It was not long after the first of the “afflicted girls”, Elizabeth Parris began to have fits, that Thomas’ own daughter, Ann Putnam Jr., would also begin to show symptoms of having been afflicted by witchcraft. She was followed by Putnam’s niece, Mary Walcott, and a servant girl who lived in the Putnam household named Mercy Lewis. Twelve-year-old Ann Putnam, Jr. would become the most prolific accuser in the witchcraft trials, her name appearing over 400 times in the court documents. By the time the hysteria was over, she had accused nineteen people and had seen eleven of them hanged.

Thomas Putnam, Jr. gave his daughter’s accusations legal weight in first seeking warrants against the accused witches in February 1692. He would also participate by writing down the depositions of many of the “afflicted” girls, personally swear out a number of complaints, and write letters of encouragement to the judges. It is obvious that Thomas Putnam, Jr. had a great influence on the shape and progression of the trials. Though he has never been accused of deliberately setting up the hysteria, he, his family, and his friends benefited to some extent by eliminating their enemies.

Thomas Putnam, Jr. died on May 24, 1699, in Salem Village. Just two weeks later, on June 8th, his wife, Ann Carr Putnam, also passed away. Their daughter, Ann Putnam Jr., was left to bring up their younger children.

Captain Jonathan Walcott (1639–1699) – Born to William and Alice Ingersoll Walcott in 1639, William grew up to wed Mary Sibley about 1664 and the couple would have six children, one of whom was Mary Walcott, who would later become one of the “afflicted girls” in the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. During the years of 1675-76, he served in King Phillip’s War. Mary Sibley died on December 28, 1683, and Captain Walcott would marry a second time to Deliverance Putnam on April 23, 1685. Deliverance was the sister of Thomas Putnam, Jr. The couple would have seven children. A wheelwright by trade, Walcott also owned land next to his Uncle Nathaniel Ingersoll. In 1690, Jonathan Walcott was elected captain of the military company at Salem Village. His Uncle Nathaniel Ingersoll would also serve in the Salem militia, first as a corporal, then a sergeant, and finally as a lieutenant. When the witch hysteria broke out in 1692, he became involved and was known to have signed many of the complaints against the accused. He died on December 16, 1699.

Mary Walcott (1675-1752) – The daughter of Captain Jonathan Walcott and the cousin of Ann Putnam Jr., Mary Walcott was a regular witness in the witch trials of the Salem witch trials, testifying that she was afflicted by 59 people. See more HERE

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October 2021.

Also See:

The Salem Witchcraft Hysteria

Accused “Witches”

The “Afflicted” Girls

New England Puritans

Timeline of the Witchcraft Hysteria