Villages of the Salem Witch Trials

Lynn, Massachusetts in 1911

Lynn, Massachusetts in 1911

Lynn – Located in Essex County, Lynn was first settled in 1629 by Edmund Ingalls, who was followed by a number of other settlers who wanted to find a less crowded area. They bargained with the Nipmuck Indians for some land known as Saugus and in 1631 the settlement was incorporated as Saugus. The land originally purchased from the Indians now encompasses not only the city of Lynn, but also Reading, Swampscott, Nahant, Saugus, and Lynnfield. In 1637, the settlement’s first official minister, Samuel Whiting, arrived from King’s Lynn, England. The settlers were so excited that they changed the name of their community to Lynn in honor of him. Although mostly an agricultural community, early settlers also relied on shellfishing, and there were many who were skilled in making leather shoes, resulting in the first tannery in the United States being established in Lynn in 1629.

Lynn had its first “witch scare” in 1669 when Ann Holland Basset Burt, a Quaker and a midwife, was brought up on charges of witchcraft. Because she was not a doctor but was successful at curing the sick, some people felt she could only have medical skills if she were a witch. Apparently, no action was taken against Ann Burt as a result of these charges. However, some of her descendants would not be so lucky. Her granddaughter, Elizabeth Bassett Proctor, of Peabody, Massachusetts would be accused of witchcraft, found guilty, and condemned to die. She was only spared because she was pregnant. Her husband, John Proctor would be hanged for wizardry. Several more in the family would also be accused.

During the witch hysteria, there were a number of people from Lynn who were accused of witchcraft including Sarah Hood Bassett, Sarah Aslett Cole, Jane Greepe Collins, Thomas Farrar, Margaret Gifford, Elizabeth Huthinson Hart, and Mary Leach Ireson.

Today, Lynn is the largest city in Essex County. It is an urban manufacturing and commercial center, densely populated and culturally diverse. Residents are proud of the city’s long history, which parallels the history of New England as a whole. It is called home to more than 90,000 residents.

Malden, Massachusetts in 1906

Malden, Massachusetts in 1906

Malden – Situated in a hilly woodland area north of the Mystic River in Middlesex County, Malden is about 16 miles southwest of what was once called Salem Village. It was settled by Puritans in 1640 on land purchased in 1629 from the Pennacook Indian tribe. The area was originally called the “Mistick Side” and was a part of Charlestown. It was incorporated as a separate town in May 1649. The name Malden was selected by Joseph Hills, an early settler, and landholder, and was named after a small parish in Surrey County, England. That same Joseph Hills compiled the first code of enacted laws printed in New England in 1648. A church was organized in 1649, but the date of the erection of the first meeting-house is not known. Among the early ministers was the Reverend Michael Wigglesworth, a poet as well as a preacher, who was ordained in 1656, and continued as pastor until his death, June 10, 1705. Malden originally included what are now the adjacent cities of Melrose (until 1850) and Everett (until 1870).

During the witch hunts of 1692, several Malden residents were accused including Mary Cox, Elizabeth Betts Fosdic, and Elizabeth Carrington Paine. The influential Captain John Floyd, who lived in Chelsea at the time of his accusation, had earlier lived in Malden.

Today, Malden is a large and prosperous town situated just four miles north of Boston. It is called home to more than 59,000 people.

Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1907

Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1907

Marblehead – Located in Essex County, Marblehead was first settled as a plantation of Salem in 1629 by John Peach, Sr. At that time, the area was inhabited by the Naumkeag tribe; but smallpox epidemics in 1615–1619 and 1633, devastated the tribe. What was left of the tribe would later sell 3,700 acres to area residents in 1684. Over the years, more and more people migrated from nearby Salem, often to escape the strict discipline of the intensely religious Puritans. These people co-existed peacefully with the Naumkeag tribe. Twenty years after John Peach, Sr. had settled his plantation, enough people had come to the area that a town was incorporated in 1649. It was first called Massebequash after the river which ran between it and Salem. It was also referred to Marvell Head and Marble Harbor.

Later, the town’s name was changed to Marblehead by settlers who mistook its granite ledges for marble. The town prospered as a fishing village with narrow, crooked streets, gradually growing inland from the harbor. In fact, the fisherman did so well, that more people, hearing of the abundant fish, began to arrive from England to settle in Marblehead. On December 12, 1648, members of a Salem Towne Meeting voted, subject to the approval of the Massachusetts General Court, to grant Marblehead its complete independence from Salem.

Two years later, Marblehead would deal with its first official witch accusation. In 1650, a fisherman named Peter Pittford claimed that he had seen the “Goodwife James” step aboard a boat and put to sea “in the likeness of a cat!” He also insisted that she employed her evil talents to ruin his corn and beans. Jane James was the wife of a ship carpenter, who had, years earlier in 1639, been convicted of stealing. This created for her, a bad reputation and she soon became the target of numerous rumors. By 1650, neighbors began to cast her in the role of a witch. That year, as well as the next – 1651, and again in 1667, formal complaints would be made that James was a witch. Though she was never convicted, and all three times, won lawsuits against her accusers for slander, her reputation in the “court of public opinion” was forever ruined.

The next person accused of witchcraft in Marblehead would not be so lucky. Marblehead’s sole victim during the witch hysteria of 1692 was Wilmot Redd, the wife of a fisherman who was known for her bad temper and many disputes with her neighbors. She was accused by several of the “afflicted girls” of Salem Village, a warrant was issued for her arrest in May 1692, and she was examined in Salem Village. Several months later, in September, she was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged. Her execution was carried out on September 22, 1692. Years later, Marblehead would be known for another celebrity “witch” —  Moll Pitcher. Though she never claimed to be a “witch,” many thought of her as such. She was actually a sought-after fortune-teller, who was thought to have been very accurate, so much so, that some sailors would not set foot on their vessels if she predicted any type of bad luck. Had she been “practicing” her skill a century earlier, she probably would have been hanged.

Today, Marblehead displays much of its early architecture from its heydays commercial fishing era. It is called home to almost 20,000 people. Several sites from the witch hysteria of 1692 can be seen. Redd’s Pond, located at the intersection of Pond and Norman Streets, is named for Wilmot Redd who was one of the many executed during the infamous witch trials. Her home once stood near here. Adjacent to Redd’s Pond is the Old Burial Hill, founded in 1638. Though Wilmot Redd was not buried here as the law would not allow her to be buried in consecrated ground, she was probably buried in an unmarked grave near her home. Today; however, a memorial marker now stands next to her husband’s grave in Old Burial Hill. The historic cemetery also features numerous other historic Puritan gravestones. It is located on the high ground between Marblehead’s colonial-era residential and retail district, called “Old Town”, and the Barnegat neighborhood that stretches from Little Harbor to Doliber’s Cove. It is accessible via a walkway at Redd’s Pond and a stairway at the intersection of Orne and Pond Streets.

Also still standing in Marblehead is the Ambrose Gale House, built about 1663. Ambrose Gale is known for his testimony against Wilmot Redd, who would later be hanged for witchcraft. The privately-owned house is located at 17 Franklin Street, between Washington and Selman Streets.

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated September 2020.

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