S is for Spectral Evidence

One of the greatest travesties of justice in American history was that spectral evidence was allowed as court testimony during the Salem Witchcraft Trials in 1692. Spectral evidence is based on the visions, hallucinations, or dreams of the accuser. Today, it is inconceivable that any sane person would consider this type of evidence as valid, and there were some in colonial New England who would have agreed

A specter is a spirit or ghostly apparition that causes torment to its victims. The problem is that others cannot see the specter even though they may observe the alleged victim writhing in pain. Only the “victim” and perhaps a few of her friends were privy to observe the specter. This evidence was considered admissible at the time because the Puritans believed that the Devil and his minions were at work and powerful enough to send their evil spirits to lead pure, religious people astray.

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Q is for Quakers

 

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The Quakers couldn’t have presented a more dramatic contrast to the established church in Essex County. Puritans evidenced no tolerance for other faiths, and the Quakers seemed to incur more than their share of the community’s disdain and intolerance.

The Puritan church held a high and strict version of Calvinist theology. Their narrow interpretation of scripture did not tolerate even the slightest deviation, and sin and crime were synonymous. Their ministers were jealous gatekeepers of God’s Word, and no concept threatened them like the Quaker belief in an ordained ministers’ irrelevance.

Quakers ideas were far less rigid than other faiths, especially in their rejection of many ordinances and rituals. They discarded baptism, the Lord’s Supper and even paid ordained clergy. The Puritans considered these beliefs as heretical, especially the Quaker’s reliance of the “Inner Light” to guide them. Their worship consisted of waiting in silence until moved by the Inner Light which was then shared with the other members.

These early Quakers were not viewed as peaceful or docile but were instead just as zealous in their beliefs as the Puritans. They would burst into church services, bang pots and pans together, and would even strip naked to show they weren’t attached to worldly things. The Quakers patterned their protestations after the prophet Isaiah who went naked for three years as a sign of judgment and their impending doom.

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The Puritans in New England were prepared when the first Quaker preachers arrived in Boston Harbor in 1656. Ann Austin and Mary Fisher who thought they had the gift of prophecy, were arrested as witches before they even set foot onshore. While still on board ship, Austin and Fisher were ordered to be stripped naked and searched for signs of witchcraft (Devil’s Marks). Their literature was burned, and the women were jailed for five weeks before being banished from the colony.

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Although the Quakers were intensely persecuted by Puritans, they continued to arrive in the Massachusetts Colony.  They seemed intent upon disrupting the staunch Puritan Society and would stand in the Meetinghouse to speak after sermons and would shout from their jail cells. The prisons became filled with Quakers, and at least four were executed.  Those who refused to comply with laws prohibiting writing and speaking out were subjected to hideous deterrents such as cutting off an ear or having their tongues bored through with a hot iron.

Despite these persecutions, the Quakers found a number of supporters amongst locals and were repeated imprisoned, fined and physically punished. In 1663, which was a banner year for Quaker protests, a group of women appeared in church naked as the day they were born. They attempted to demonstrate that they were like newborns:  innocent and without shame. Deborah Wilson’s sentence for this crime was wrought with irony. She was stripped to the waist, tied to a cart, and whipped as she was paraded through town.

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A “King’s Missive” from King Charles II halted all Quaker executions, although less severe punishments continued.  After 1675, Quakers were able to freely live, work and worship after the Massachusetts’ Bay Colony experienced an influx of other faith groups.

 

N is for Nimrod the Rebellious Indian and O is for Ordinaries or Taverns

N is for Nimrod, the Indian who made it into the Essex Court Records a few times. At first, he was like most of the other Native Americans from the area and hoped that the Puritans would help to defend his tribe against their more aggressive enemies.  Eventually, Nimrod began more antagonistic actions towards the Puritan community. The delicate and controversial topic of the Puritans and the Native Americans needs to be reviewed before Nimrod’s actions can be understood.

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The Puritan’s initial contacts with the Indians were mostly for trade and diplomacy.  In the earliest colonial decades, Puritans were vastly outnumbered by the Native Americans and were attempting to establish themselves in the area.  Missionary attempts to convert the native populations were still considered too much of a risk.

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Some Much Needed Rennovation

Recent Additions and Website Reconstruction

I finally took the time to clean up and organize my website.  The menu is now a bit clearer since this site has many varied topics of interest.

The Redemption of Mehitabel  Braybrooke contains “all things Puritan” relating to Mehitabel and my upcoming historical novel to be published by Heritage Beacon in March 2018.

The History of Niwiska and Anna Grabiec’s Letters contain the fascinating history of this Polish village and one of its heroines during WWII, Anna Grabiec.

The ABC’s of Crime and Punishment in Puritan Times provides details on that topic and will be continued very soon.

Europe is an area of interest for those seeking information on Poland and Sweden, although I will branch out to England, German, Spain, Iceland, Denmark and Italy in the future.

Please sign up to follow my site.  I truly appreciate all of my readers from the USA, Canada, Australia, Poland, Ukraine, Brazil, India, Ireland and more!  Thank you.

 

Slavery in Puritan Times

For the documentary

Slavery in Puritan Times

      The history of slavery spans nearly every culturenationality, and religion and from ancient times to the present day. We don’t usually relate slavery as part of New England’s history.  Massachusetts was the first state to ban slavery and became a hotbed of abolitionist sentiment in the early 1800’s when abolitionist newspapers and pamphlets sprang into existence.  Despite these noble endeavors, the reality is that slavery in the northern colonies had originated a few hundred years before the abolitionist movement began. Continue reading

Where is Gallows’ Hill in Salem?

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We now know the precise location where the nineteen hangings took place during the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria in 1692. Executions were intended as public events so everyone could witness the terrible consequences that awaited those who committed serious crimes. The details of the Salem Witchcraft hangings were poorly documented and appeared lost in history.

There was much speculation over the past centuries, and scientists were recently called in to collaborate on the Gallow Hills Project. The team confirmed the correct location is a lower section of Gallows Hill, which spans several acres, known as Proctor’s Ledge.

Many eminent past historians had proclaimed Proctor’s Ledge as the likely site. It was never marked, and the executions were placed broadly on the summit of Gallow’s Hill. This location is unlikely as the victims were transported by cart and the trek to the summit would have been next to impossible. Also, recent geo-plotting reveals that Gallows Hill would not have been visible from the McCarter House and the Symonds house where eyewitness claimed to have witnessed the hangings.

Tradition and family legends tell us that the twenty victims in 1692 were recovered under cover of darkness and buried on family lands. Results from geo-archaeological remote sensing on the site also support this theory. They found soil less than three feet deep, not deep enough to bury people. No skeletal remains have ever been found on Proctor’s ledge.

Many people incorrectly assumed the hangings took place on wooden gallows based on some artwork depicting the hangings. The experts concluded that the victims were hung from a large tree, a common practice of that period.

Salem’s plans for Proctor’s Ledge includes a modest memorial. The location of the site is in a residential neighborhood. Click below for More information about the Gallow Hill’s Project.

http://w3.salemstate.edu/~ebaker/Gallows_Hill#mediacoverage

 

The Tithingman

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The above  image of a tithingman might imply that his job was a cross between a spiritual policeman and a royal fool.  In fact, his position was one of the most important in Puritan New England and went beyond just policing unruly children.

The key responsibility for a tithingman was to keep order in church during the long services conducted in the meeting house or early church buildings.   Most buildings had no heat or fireplace so winter services must have been a challenge.  Stifling hot church services were no reason to keep the congregation at home sitting under the shade of an old oak tree.

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