Twenty-four innocent victims lost their lives in the Salem witchcraft hysteria. The events of 1692 took place during a difficult and confusing period for Salem Village. As part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Salem was under British rule. When the hysteria began, the colony was waiting for a new governor and had no charter to enforce laws. By the time the new governor, William Phips, arrived in Massachusetts, the jails were already filled with “witches.” Farming was often a painstaking task in the harsh climate and rough terrain, and a drought or flood could ruin a year’s harvest. An epidemic of smallpox could kill a family. In a world where people saw the Devil lurking behind every misfortune, it is little wonder they believed evil spirits were at work.
There may have been even stronger factors behind the witch hunts — the Puritan lifestyle, a strong belief in the Devil and witchcraft, and the divisions within Salem Village. Puritans believed the Devil was as real as God; those who followed Satan were considered witches, and witchcraft was one of the greatest crimes a person could commit, punishable by death.
Salem was divided into two distinct parts: Salem Town and Salem Village. Residents of Salem Village were mostly poor farmers who made their living cultivating crops in the rocky terrain. Salem Town, on the other hand, was a prosperous port town at the center of trade with London. Many of the Salem Village farmers who lived far from prosperity believed the worldliness and affluence of Salem Town threatened their Puritan values, and Reverend Samuel Parris denounced the economic prosperity of Salem Town as the influence of the Devil. In 1692, Puritan children were expected to behave under the same strict code as the adults. Children rarely played, as toys and games were scarce or outlawed; Puritans saw these activities as sinful distractions. At a time when young girls were forbidden to act out or express themselves, it is easy to see why they were so enraptured by the attention they received when they became “bewitched.” Unfortunately, the girls may have been the ones to spark the witch hunt, but it was the adults who set the wheels into motion.
Twelve-year-old Ann Putnam was a key witness in the Salem Witch Trials. Ann’s parents, Thomas and Ann, also accused dozens of townspeople of witchcraft — most of whom were enemies of the influential Putnam family. By the time the witch hunt was over, the young Ann had accused 62 people. But she did something none of the other accusing girls would do — publicly acknowledge her role in the trials. In 1706, she stood before the church as the pastor read her apology:
“I desire to be humbled before God for that sad and humbling providence that befell my father’s family in the year about ninety-two; that I, then being in my childhood, should, by such a providence of God, be made an instrument for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken away from them, whom, now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons; and that it was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time, whereby I justly fear I have been instrumental, with others, though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon myself and this land the guilt of innocent blood; though, what was said or done by me against any person, I can truly and uprightly say, before God and man, I did it not out of any anger, malice, or ill will to any person, for I had no such thing against one of them; but what I did was ignorantly, being deluded by Satan.
And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humble for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity to them and their families; for which cause I desire to lie in the dust, and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offense, whose relations were taken away or accused.” — Ann Putnam
Having obtained an electronic copy of James Savage’s Genealogical Dictionary of The First Settlers of New England, Before 1692, Volume 2, I have finally put the genealogical pieces together to show that my great-great-great-great-grandfather’s sister-in-law was the young Ann Putnam’s first cousin thrice-removed.