Saturday, October 29, 2011

Eight Historic Sites in Danvers Connected to Salem Witch Trials

Local sites offer a fascinating glimpse into a dark period of local history.


As usual, tourists from around the country are flocking to Salem this October to celebrate Halloween and get a first-hand look at some of the city's historic sites – especially those connected to the infamous witch trials of 1692.
Did you know, however, that the events of that dark chapter of history first began in Danvers?
Sorry Salem. The initial accusations spread from a group of local girls in Salem Village (present-day Danvers) against other residents of that parish and most of the examinations during which the victims were publicly condemned as witches took place in the church meetinghouse, which once stood off Hobart Street.
Today, a historical sign in front of the First Church of Danvers, which is located at the corner of Hobart and Centre streets, marks the old parish as the site of the witch hysteria.
Various historic sites across town, which was the district of Salem Village until 1752, stand in memory of key figures in those tragic events, both a handful of local victims who were executed as witches and their accusers.

Rebecca Nurse Homestead

Those who attended local schools likely remember stories about people, such as Rebecca Nurse, the 71-year-old victim of the hysteria whose pious reputation drew support from several dozen of her neighbors at the time. She was convicted of witchcraft in April 1692 and hanged that July. Her homestead is a familiar landmark on Pine Street.
Today, the Rebecca Nurse Homestead is open to the public for a fee. The 27-acre property features the original homestead, open fields and the Nurse family cemetery. The property is owned by the Danvers Alarm List Company, which may be best known for its Revolutionary War reenactments held each year during the strawberry festival at the homestead.
Locals have long known Rebecca Nurse's body is buried somewhere on the property, having been secretly laid to rest by family members after her execution. There is no specific gravestone for her in the cemetery, but there is an obelisk memorial that was added in 1885 containing a poetic epitaph composed by John Greenleaf Whittier.
Candice Clemenzi, a homestead employee whose grandfather, Robert Osgood, helped found the alarm company, told Danvers Patch that several basic fieldstones in the cemetery are likely the earliest family grave markers; one of them could possibly be Nurse's grave.
"We don't know exactly who's underneath there," she said.
Another prominent occupant of the Nurse family cemetery and a witch hysteria victim was laid to rest there in 1992. According to Clemenzi, the remains of George Jacobs were discovered on the empty lot next to Sunnyside Bowladrome on Water Street several decades ago.
His body had been found in the 1800s, only to be moved to the spot where it was discovered a century later. Jacobs' body is actually the only one of a hysteria victim ever recovered.
Jacobs is considered a Salem resident by historians, but Clemenzi notes that he lived closer to the Danversport area, which would have placed him very close to Salem Village.

Samuel Holten House

Less than a mile from the Rebecca Nurse Homestead is another familiar Danvers landmark that has its own connection to the witch trials: the Samuel Holten House.
The home is named for the Revolutionary War-era physician and judge who signed the Articles of Confederation and served in the Continental Congress. But decades before Judge Holten made his mark in history, the property was home to a more notorious historical figure: Sarah Holten, who in 1692 testified against Rebecca Nurse in the witch trials, sealing the woman's fate at the gallows.
The property is now owned by the General Israel Putnam Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The public can tour the house by appointment. Visit www.generalisraelputnamchapter.orgfor more details.

The Putnam House

Another famed local landmark, the Putnam House, is known to many as the home of the Revolutionary War hero, Gen. Israel Putnam – and of course, Putnam Pantry.
Years before General Putnam was born, his ancestor Ann Putnam lived there and helped initiate the hysteria with a handful of other local girls by falsely claiming they were being attacked by supernatural forces. Tours of the Putnam House can be arranged with the Danvers Historical Society, with more information available at www.danvershistory.org.

Salem Village Parsonage

An important, but obscure surviving relic of the era, is the Salem Village Parsonage. The site is all but invisible to motorists driving down Centre Street, with the only remotely visible indicator being a blue historical sign mostly covered over by surrounding tree branches.
The archaeological site is located at the rear of 67 Centre St. and features a short path leading to the foundations of several small structures.
At this site, the West Indian servant Tituba is said to have shared stories of the supernatural with the niece and daughter of Rev. Samuel Parris, as well as other local girls. Parris was the Puritan minister of Salem Village in 1692 and thus lived in the parsonage.
One of Parris' predecessors, Rev. George Burroughs, also lived in the parsonage in the early 1680s and was eventually strung up during the hysteria as well. After the hysteria, Parris remained in the town for a few years before moving to another part of Massachusetts. Like Ann Putnam Jr., he was also eventually forced to apologize for his actions in the hysteria.
There are also a couple of private homes in Danvers that played a role in the hysteria. For example, the Ingersoll House at 199 Hobart St. was the home of Deacon Nathaniel Ingersoll, who examined some of the accused in his home before they went to trial. Also, the Sarah Osburn House at 273 Maple St. is home to one of the first victims executed in the hysteria.

Salem Village Witchcraft Victims' Memorial

Not all of the town's sites pertaining to the witchcraft hysteria date back three centuries. In 1992, the town observed the 300th anniversary of the trials by erecting the Salem Village Witchcraft Victims Memorial at 176 Hobart St.
The memorial bears the names and towns of the victims – 25 in total, including Salem Village resident Sarah Good's infant daughter, who died in jail in July 1692. Along with Good and her daughter, Burroughs, Nurse and Osburn comprise the five Salem Village residents who were executed in the witchcraft hysteria.
As a Danvers native, my own exposure to the Salem Witch Trials began the same way it did for many other area residents – during grade school field trips and class units on local history. I remember hearing about Tituba and her tales of witches and the supernatural as a fourth-grader and recall class field trips to the Salem Witch Dungeon. I also spent many years of my life living on Pine Street, within easy walking distance of the Rebecca Nurse house.

In my adult years, I became fascinated with history, locally and in certain areas of the world, but I never really found myself reading about the witch trials again. That's possibly because it's just depressing and disappointing to think about the ignorance and religious extremism that existed in these parts not that long ago.

Still, my recent look at the historical sites of Danvers has reminded me that our town has indeed played a crucial role in the story of America and in the development of some of the legal rights and freedoms we enjoy to this day. During my research, I also learned some fascinating new things about our town's history. It is my pleasure to share this information with other residents who may have been equally unaware of the role their town has played in our national history.


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