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.
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.
Slavery in Puritan Times
The history of slavery spans nearly every culture, nationality, 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
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.
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.
The writers of court records in Essex County didn’t follow many writing conventions during the early colonial period. So, we have a variety of spellings found for Richard, Mehitabel, and Joan Braybrooke and Alice Ellis.
Here are some of the variants I uncovered:
Mehitabel, Mehitabell, Mehitable
Joan, Joanne, Joanna
Alice Eliss, Ellis, Eyliss
Braybrooke, Braybrook, Brabrook, Brabrooke, Brabruck
I settled on Mehitabel for the correct spelling as that is how Mehitabel spelled it in a very important letter she signed to the governor of Massachusetts in 1692.
Writers agonize over writing conventions such as spelling and punctuation, but we come to a greater appreciation of them when we struggle with these old documents.