Welcome to Fantastic Women Fridays! This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the nineteenth amendment, granting women the right to vote. As we come upon this important milestone, it is worth pausing to consider the close links between women’s history and the history of witchcraft. Though anyone could be accused of witchcraft, the individuals who were the most susceptible to accusations were women. Though estimates vary, approximately 75% of witchcraft accusations were brought against women in most regions of Europe. As women were such a high percentage of those accused during witch trials, it is no surprise that the image of the witch over time has primarily been that of a woman. In recognition of this important milestone, a new post will be added to this blog on the last Friday of each month, telling the stories of incredible women connected to the history of witch trials, the image of the witch, and the city of Salem!
Friday, June 26
Michi Nishiura Weglyn: Interment Camp Survivor and Author of Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps
If you have visited the Salem Witch Museum, you may have seen the exhibit, Witches: Evolving Perceptions. In this exhibit, our museum engages with the historical phenomena of witch-hunting by presenting a formula that can be used to describe the pattern of behavior responsible for sparking a witch-hunt. This formula, “fear plus a trigger leads to a scapegoat,” is one important way of connecting the history of witch trials with contemporary experience. While we present three significant witch-hunts in twentieth-century American history, one of the most devastating was the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans in camps during World War II.
Though it was the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that ultimately led to the forced internment of Japanese Americans, there had been increasing discrimination against Japanese and Asian immigrants in the United States since the mid-nineteenth century. This intolerance dates back to the 1860’s, when a massive recession in Japan led to a large influx of Japanese immigrants. As Japanese immigrants began to settle on the West Coast of the United States and took up jobs in agriculture and small business, public resentment increased. Eventually, legislation was put in place that made it illegal for Japanese Americans to own land, restricted citizenship, and limited further immigration from Asian countries. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the fear of these “alien” groups was triggered into wide-scale panic. In February 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the removal of any person deemed a threat living in the West Coast.
For many years we have carried the incredible book Farewell to Manzanar in our museum store. The classic memoir from Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston recounts her family’s struggle to survive the indignities of forced detention in an American internment camp. This account inspired us to seek out stories of other Japanese Americans who survived unjust imprisonment during World War II. Thanks to densho.org, we have learned about several amazing women who have been incredible, impactful leaders in human rights movements, for Japanese Americans and others.
One such story is that of Michi Nishiura Weglyn, born in Stockton, California in 1926. Like many other Japanese immigrants, her parents were tenant farmers in Brentwood. Michi was interned along with her family in Arizona’s Gila River War Relocation Center in 1942. Life in internment camps was bleak, uncomfortable, and frequently humiliating. Given the rate of the mass internment and deportation, the government struggled to build self-sufficient living facilities in extremely isolated, underdeveloped, and harsh regions of the country. Many of these camps were surrounded by barbed-wire and had armed guards posted around the exterior perimeter. Families were forced to sleep in wood and tarpaper barracks, use large communal latrines, and were given daily food rations. Though educational facilities were eventually provided, many did not receive books or resources until months after their opening. An excellent student before incarceration (she received a citizenship award from the American Legion in 1940), Michi kept up her schooling at Gila River, and led both a Girl Scout troop and a young woman’s association.
On July 2, 1945, the exclusion order was finally rescinded. Leaving internment camps was a strange and challenging experience, as many had lost their homes and businesses during evacuation. Unlike many others, Michi was able to leave the internment camp to peruse her education in 1944, one year before the exclusion order was rescinded. Because of her academic excellence, Michi received a full scholarship to Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. However, after one year at college, a bout with tuberculosis ended her Mount Holyoke education. A few years later, a second round of tuberculosis again sent Michi to a hospital while she was attending Barnard College in New York City. It is ironic that tuberculosis was a major problem in concentration camps in the 1940s – see the link below – yet Michi did not come down with the infection until after she left Gila River.
Once recovered, Michi Nishiura made her home in New York City, where she met her husband Walter Weglyn, a German Jew who had escaped Nazi Germany in his teens. The couple married in 1950. For much of the 1950s and 60s, Michi Weglyn designed and created theatrical costumes, most notably for The Perry Como Show from 1957 to 1966.
It was in the 1960s that Weglyn began work on her book: Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps, which was published in 1976. Often considered “The Bible of the Redress Movement,” and giving its author the name “Mother of Redress,” Years of Infamy helped inspire the reparations movement – which culminated in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The act, which approved redress checks for Japanese Americans wrongly incarcerated during World War II, also codified that the internment policy was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” The bill was supported by a majority of Democrats in Congress, while a majority of Republicans voted against it. It was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on August 10,1988. President Reagan opened the signing ceremony with these words: “We gather here today to right a grave wrong” and ended it by saying, “…the ideal of liberty and justice for all—that is still the American way.” Between 1990 and 1993, 82,219 former camp inmates, or their heirs, received reparations.
Michi Nishiura Weglyn continued her advocacy work for Japanese Americans and Japanese Peruvians, who were also taken from their homes by the U.S. government, throughout her life. She died in 1999 at the age of 72.
For further information, visit densho.org. “Densho documents the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II before their memories are extinguished. We offer these irreplaceable firsthand accounts, coupled with historic images and teacher resources, to explore principles of democracy, and promote equal justice for all.”
Also available at densho.org: Epidemics in American Concentration Camps: From the “White Plague” to Covid-19. Well worth reading.
Friday, May 29
The Wonderful Women of Oz: The Legacy of Matilda Joslyn Gage
In 1898, the gifted storyteller Lyman Frank Baum sat in his living room regaling an attentive audience made-up of his sons and neighborhood children with the tale of a magical world found somewhere far away, so far, in fact, it was over the rainbow. When the children asked him the name of this fantastic world, Baum glanced around the room, his eyes eventually falling on the bottom of a filing cabinet marked “O-Z.” “Why,” Baum replied, “It is called the Land of Oz!” This story, born of one afternoon’s entertainment, inspired a book that is considered by many to be America’s first fairy tale.
Though today popular culture is saturated with a variety of different witch images, some beautiful, some haggard, some kind, and some wicked, prior to 1900, the witch was primarily one distinct figure; an old, evil, shrew. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries, witches were defined by the older beliefs that survived from the witch-hunting period. Witches were the stuff of nightmares, the villains of the story. While literature and folklore included powerful female characters such as good fairies, goddesses, and female spirits, it was not until the 1900 publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that America was introduced to its first good witch.
While we will never know what precisely inspired Baum to include these good witches in his story, it is well worth noting the women actively involved in the world of this imaginative writer. On November 9, 1882, L. Frank Baum married Maud Gage Baum. The couple met when Maud was a student at Cornell University in 1881. Maud is often described as an independent, even headstrong woman, who fervently supported her husband. Interestingly, Maud Gage was the daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage. Though hers may be an unfamiliar name today, Gage was a trailblazing human rights activist in her time, advocating for women’s suffrage, Native American rights, and the abolitionist cause. As a young woman, she received an advanced education and attended the Clinton Liberal Institution in Clinton, New York. The Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation website describes her as, “Born with a hatred of oppression.” Gage attended the notorious National Women’s Rights Convention in Syracuse, New York in 1852, and cofounded the National Women Suffrage Association with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony in 1869. Her many accomplishments include working with Stanton to draft “The Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States,” holding the title of president of state and national suffrage organizations, and coediting the first three volumes of The History of Woman Suffrage with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
Now recognized for her important work in the early feminist movement, the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation website states: “One of the most radical, far-sighted and articulate early feminists, Matilda Joslyn Gage was deliberately written out of history after her death in 1898 by an increasingly conservative suffrage movement.” Though the names Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony are well-known today, Matilda Joslyn Gage has been robbed of her recognition as a leading suffragette. While the connection between Matilda Joslyn Gage and her son-in-law may at first seem inconsequential, it is certainly worthy of considering how a passionate pioneer in women’s rights advocacy may have influenced the outlook of this nineteenth-century writer.
For more information about fascinating woman, visit the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation website: https://matildajoslyngage.org/
Friday April 24
Female Historians: Powerhouse History Detectives and Exceptional Writers
The historical writing about the Salem witch trials has a fascinating life of their own. It can be helpful to think of history as one long game of telephone—and it is the job of the historian to untangle fact from story. Each historian has their own “camp,” meaning their own perspectives and arguments. While historians of varying genders, ages, and backgrounds have made extremely important contributions to our historical understanding of the Salem witch trials, today we recognize the important work produced by female historians. These women writers have changed our understanding of the Salem witch trials, challenging us to look deeper, to keep searching, and never stop pursuing answers.
Marion Starkey- The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry into the Salem Witch Trials
Published in 1949, Marion Starkey’s The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry into the Salem Witch Trials was an extremely influential early account of the 1692 witch trials. Originally working as a newspaper editor and teacher at the Hampton Institute at the University of Connecticut at New London, Marion Starkey became interested in writing about the Salem witch trials after considering the atrocities perpetrated during the Holocaust. Her study focused on the motivations that led ordinary people to commit terrible acts of injustice and intolerance. Beginning her research in the Salem archives, Starkey became fascinated by the psychological behavior of the afflicted girls. Entering this body of scholarship, at a time when this topic was largely dominated by men, Starkey’s work was the first to argue that psychology should be used when examining these events. Reading this work today, it is certainly a reflection of its time, and many discoveries have been made since its writing. However, written in a clear, approachable style, The Devil in Massachusetts remained one of the principal books on the Salem witch trials for decades after its publication.
Elaine Breslaw- Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem
Elaine Breslaw is another extremely accomplished historian. She holds a PhD from the University of Maryland and worked as a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library in New York, and then as a professor of early American history at Morgan State University. In her incredible research study Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem, Elaine Breslaw takes on the monumental challenge of constructing a biography of Tituba, the slave of Reverend Samuel Parris and first person to confess to witchcraft in 1692. Uncovering the story of Tituba presents one the most frustrating and intriguing mysteries for historians of the Salem witch trials. As Tituba was such a significant figure in the events of 1692, it is shocking to find historians know almost nothing about her life. Based on an extremely impressive research effort, Elaine Breslaw argues that evidence in a Barbadian plantation record suggests Tituba was of the Arawak tribe and lived in South America before arriving in Massachusetts Bay Colony. This book is divided into two sections; the first focuses on the early life of Tituba living in Barbados. In the second section, Breslaw describes Tituba’s life in Massachusetts, outlining the first accusations of witchcraft and her eventual confession. In this unique biography, Breslaw attempts to show how Tituba may have viewed the world, and argues her confession was in some ways an act of slave resistance against her master. Though some historians dispute this argument, this book was an incredibly influential project, offering major contributions to both women’s and witchcraft history.
Elaine Breslaw’s website can be found here: http://www.elainebreslaw.com/about/
Mary Beth Norton- In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692
The work of Mary Beth Norton dramatically impacted our understanding of the Salem witch trials. Norton is an extremely accomplished American historian. She received a PhD from Harvard University, with her doctoral dissertation winning a notable prize from the Society of American Historians in 1970. Norton is currently a professor of history at Cornell University and has received considerable academic recognition throughout her career. Her 2002 book In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692, offered a new and important perspective on the Salem witch trials, placing these events into the larger context of two decades of ongoing wars between Native Americans and colonial settlers. By placing the magistrates and accusers into this context, Norton is able to show how the political instability of a colony decimated by war could have directly impacted the actions of both the magistrates and afflicted. Additionally, by focusing on the lives and experiences of some of the young female accusers, Norton argues Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, combined with the limitations of a female living in the colony during this time, may have potentially impacted the behavior of the accusers during the Salem witch trials. These seamlessly constructed arguments offered a new window into understanding the lives of those involved in the largest witch trials in American history. Since its publication, In the Devil’s Snare has become a foundational text for the study of the Salem witch trials.
An interview with Mary Beth Norton can be found here:
Carol Karlsen- The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England
Today it seems obvious to observe that most of those accused of witchcraft in colonial New England were women and these accusations were likely connected to contemporary social perceptions of gender. However, Carol Karlsen’s book The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, was the first to clearly define the relationship between gender and witchcraft in colonial New England. This work is particularly distinct, as Karlsen observed that it was not just poor, aggressive, or argumentative women that were accused, but women who inherited property were also common targets for witchcraft charges. In an extremely unique argument, Karlsen observes that women were often accused of witchcraft because their inheritance threatened to disrupt the transfer of land from father to son, leading to a larger disruption in the Puritan gender ideology. Carol Karlsen holds a PhD from Yale University and is a Professor Emerita of History and Museum Studies at the University of Michigan. She has received the American Council of Learned Societies Award and highly prestigious fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation. This work is another extremely important study, and is considered an incredibly valuable addition to the study of New England witchcraft.
Marilynne Roach– The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege
Marilynne Roach is currently one of the eminent scholars of the Salem witch trials. Coming to a historical career from a non-traditional route, Roach was initially an art student at Mass Art in Boston, she became fascinated by the history of the Salem witch trials after visiting Salem in the 1970’s. This interest sparked a lifelong research journey, ultimately resulting in some of the most detailed and comprehensive books on this subject. Her book The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege is an almost unbelievable undertaking. As the title suggests, this work provides a day-by-day account of the year 1692, and continues the story into the next several years. Her second book, Six Women of Salem is another exceptionally detailed book which follows the stories of six women involved in the Salem witch trials—showing the different perspectives of the accusers and accused. Most recently, Marilynne Roach was a member of the team that verified the location of the execution site used during the Salem witch trials. Though the site of the hangings had been speculated for years, and Roach published an article arguing for the precise location in October of 1997, this article received little response and the issue was largely dropped. It was not until 2010 when a group of researches, titled the Gallows Hill Group, finally formally verified the site. This group was comprised of Elizabeth Peterson, the director of the Witch House, Professors Emerson Baker, Benjamin Ray, and Peter Sablock, filmmaker Tom Phillips, and historian Marilynne Roach. In 2016, the Gallows Hill Group formally published their findings, confirming the location originally identified by Marillyne Roach in 1997. This time, the research received considerable public response. On July 19, 2017 the city of Salem erected a memorial on the spot known as Proctor’s Ledge. These research findings are listed in Archaeology Magazine’s list of the world’s most important discoveries of that year.
For more information about Marilynne Roach, visit her website:
An excellent article about the discovery of Proctor’s Ledge can be found here:
These are just five women who have made significant contributions to this body of knowledge. Other incredible female historians and authors include: Margo Burns, Francis Hill, Gretchen Adams, Kathleen Kent, Katherine Howe, Stacy Schiff, and Maryse Conde. These women have opened this subject, inviting us to reconsider history, challenge preconceived notions, and remind us that the imagination is an incredible tool when trying to understand the past.
Friday, March 27
Four Outstanding Women of Salem: Mary Spencer, Elizabeth Peabody, Sarah Parker Remond, and Caroline Emmerton
Countless strong women have contributed to Salem’s history over the years, from the city’s founding in 1626 to today. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which granted women the right to vote, we thought we’d take a brief look at the fascinating lives of four of these pioneering women.
Mary Spencer (circa 1775-1828) is credited with creating America’s first candy. She and her son Thomas survived an 1800 shipwreck in Salem, but lost everything else in the disaster. Mary found herself in a new world, a destitute single mother. With a barrel of sugar donated by a few of the women of Salem, she began making “Gibralters,” a British confection consisting of cream of tartar, sugar, corn starch, and lemon or peppermint flavoring. Initially Mary sold her candy on the steps of the First Church of Salem, but in time, she made enough money to buy a horse and cart, in which she traveled to surrounding towns selling her Gibralters. In 1806, she opened the first candy store in America, on the ground floor of a house on Buffum Street where she lived. In addition to running a candy business, Mary Spencer and her son Thomas were also active abolitionists. It is said that Mary transported escaped slaves, hidden beneath the seat of her cart, as she traveled around the area. After Mary’s death, Thomas Spencer sold the company to John William Pepper, who created America’s first stick candy, Black Jacks. Pepper then sold the company to his employee George Burkinshaw. The Burkinshaw family still owns Ye Olde Pepper Company of Salem, where they make lemon and peppermint Gibralters and Black Jacks to this day. Mary Spencer’s cart is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum.
Elizabeth Peabody (1804-1894), a pioneer of children’s education, opened the first kindergarten in the United States in 1860. Although she was born in Billerica, she spent her early years in Salem. She was the oldest of the three accomplished daughters of dentist Nathaniel Peabody. Her sister Mary was a writer and Sophia, a painter. A tireless educator, Elizabeth Peabody opened her first school in Lancaster, MA in 1820, and an all-girls school in Brookline, MA in 1825. In 1834, she helped Bronson Alcott establish his innovative and controversial Temple School in Boston, which she wrote about in Record of a School, published in 1835. Two years later, she was a founding member of the Transcendentalist Club, along with Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson (with whom she studied Greek years earlier), and William Ellery Channing. She opened a bookstore on West Street in Boston in 1842, which became a meeting place for intellectuals. It was also the setting for the weddings of her sisters: Mary to educator Horace Mann and Sophia to author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Thought to be the first woman publisher in America, Elizabeth Peabody published works on her own printing press, including Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience.” After closing her bookstore in 1850, Elizabeth taught, wrote and promoted public education throughout the following decade. In 1860, inspired by the kindergartens established by Friedrich Froebel in Germany, she opened America’s first formal kindergarten in Boston. Elizabeth died in 1894 at the age of 90 and is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, MA.
Sarah Parker Remond (1824-1894) was born into the most prominent African American family in Salem. Her father, John Remond, arrived in Salem in 1798 from Curacao and worked hard to improve his lot, traveling to Boston to learn the hairdressing and catering trades. According to a talk given by Dorothy Burnett Porter at the American Antiquarian Society in 1985, Remond returned to Salem in 1805 and moved into the Samuel McIntire-built Hamilton Hall. He worked out of Hamilton Hall for the next fifty years as the chief caterer for the many social events that took place there, including the famous dinner given for the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824. That same year, John and his wife Nancy (who assisted him in the catering business) had their seventh child, a daughter named Sarah. Although Sarah passed the entrance exam for her district school in Salem, she was not permitted to attend because of her race. In the following years, Sarah faced discrimination many times, in theaters, exhibitions, and hotels. Following in the footsteps of her older brother, famed lecturer and abolitionist Charles Lenox Remond, Sarah became an abolitionist and speaker at anti-slavery meetings and conventions in America. In 1859, she traveled to England, where she gave 45 anti-slavery lectures throughout the country over the next three years. By 1866, she had moved to Italy, where she studied medicine and became a practicing physician. Sarah died in 1894 at the age of 70. She is buried in Rome.
Caroline Emmerton (1866-1942) is remembered in Salem for her lifelong philanthropy and support of historic preservation. She followed the example of her grandfather, Captain John Bertram, who was a successful merchant and shipowner in Salem. Considered the richest man in town at the end of his life, Bertram donated to charities in support of men, women, and children in need. Caroline Emmerton, too, supported numerous charities including the Carpenter Street Home, a shelter for orphaned children. She was a founder of the first Boys and Girls Club established in Massachusetts and sat on the board of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (today Historic New England). In 1908, Emmerton took over Salem’s first settlement house which had been run by the YMCA and was located in the Seaman’s Bethel on Turner Street. Teaching programs offered to new immigrants included sewing, crafts, dancing, and more. Emmerton then purchased the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion next door. The 1668 house, which inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The House of the Seven Gables, had fallen into disrepair. Working with famed architect Joseph Everett Chandler, Emmerton brought the house back to life and opened it as the House of the Seven Gables museum in 1910, with admissions helping to fund her House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association. To this day, the Settlement Association helps immigrant families in Salem. Emmerton also saved other historic Salem buildings from demolition, including the Retire Becket House and the Hooper-Hathaway House, both of which were moved to the Gables’ property. Upon her death in 1942, The Salem Evening News called Caroline Emmerton “one of Salem’s Best Beloved Citizens,” saying, “she gave freely of her time and money for the benefit of underprivileged children and adults, winning the admiration and respect of the entire community.”
Friday, February 28
The Lost Voices of the Salem Witch Trials: Tituba Indian
Finding information about women’s lives can often be an impossible task for historians, and is even more so the case when researching women of color. If not for her role in the Salem witch trials, we would know almost nothing about the life of Tituba. In 1692, Tituba was the slave of Salem Village minister Samuel Parris. Very little is known about her life outside of the year 1692. When Reverend Parris moved to Salem Village in 1688, he brought with him two “Spanish Indian” slaves, Tituba and John Indian. It is unclear if he brought the couple back from Barbados or purchased them in Boston. It is also unclear if they were born in the Caribbean or, as some have suggested, south Florida. Another slave in the household, described in records as a “Negro lad” of 15, died in 1689. The ages of Tituba and John Indian are unknown.
Tituba and John lived in the home of Reverend Parris along with his 11-year-old orphaned niece Abigail Williams, his wife Elizabeth, and their three children, Thomas, aged 10, Betty, aged 9, and 5-year-old Susannah. In mid-January of 1692, first Betty and then Abigail suddenly fell ill, struck by a mysterious, frightening sickness. This illness would later spread to a group of neighborhood girls, and then across Essex County. Towards the end of February ,Tituba became the first person to be accused of witchcraft by the afflicted girls. As a slave she was already considered an outsider, and was looked at with suspicion and even hatred by those around her. At this time, the Devil was often called “The Black Man,” and the ongoing bloody wars between Native American tribes and the settlers seemed to confirm for many that indigenous people were in fact servants of the Devil himself. Though we do not know if Tituba was Native American, her dark skin would have associated her in the minds of the settlers with these Native groups. As a slave with no one to defend her, seen as an enemy by those around her, Tituba was a perfect target for accusation.
Tituba was first examined on March 1st at Ingersoll’s ordinary, and for days afterward in jail. Although initially she denied any knowledge of witchcraft, she would soon describe elaborate visions. The tormenting of the children, she said, was performed by the specters of Sarah Osborne (alternate spellings Osborn, Osburn, Osbourne), Sarah Good, two other women she didn’t know, and a man in black with white hair. She herself had ridden on a stick with Osborne and Good to torment Ann Putnam Jr. She had seen any number of supernatural animals – a black dog, a black hog, a yellow bird, cats, even a human-headed bird. All were “familiars,” companions of witches in animal form. She had signed the Devil’s book, where she saw the marks of nine witches. It is speculated that Reverend Parris beat her to obtain these confessions. Even if she was not beaten, as a slave with no one to defend her, Tituba may have realized her best chance of survival was to tell the judges what they wanted to hear. Although Tituba was jailed after her examination, she was not scheduled for execution.The judges thought that, kept alive, Tituba could lead to the discovery of additional witches. Tituba remained imprisoned for months, living through both a brutal summer and harsh winter.
When the trials came to an end , Tituba was still alive and remained imprisoned awaiting someone to pay her bail. Tituba, one of the first to be accused, was among the last to be released from jail in the Spring of 1693. Ultimately, Samuel Parris sold Tituba to pay for her jail expanses. Once she was released from jail, she seems to have been taken away by her new owner. Like so many others, Tituba then disappears from the historical record.
In early histories of the witchcraft trials, including Charles Upham’s Salem Witchcraft, Tituba is essentially blamed for starting the afflictions and strange behavior of the afflicted girls. These early histories argue Tituba taught magic and voodoo to the susceptible girls of Salem Village to relieve the boredom of long winter nights. Marion Starkey’s 1949 work The Devil in Massachusetts is a notable example, as it was one of the first major twentieth-century accounts of the Salem witch trials. Influenced by this scholarship, Arthur Miller included wild scenes of Tituba leading witchy celebrations in the woods in his fictional play The Crucible. The Salem Witch Museum opened its doors in 1972, as the first institution in Salem to teach the story of the Salem witch trials. At this time, the dominant scholarship maintained this depiction of Tituba. Since the 1970’s, the Salem witch trials has finally become an extremely popular field of research. Much information has been discovered since this time, and there has been a massive debunking of this initial depiction of Tituba. As our museum prepares for its 50th anniversary in 2022 we are undergoing a series of updates to our interpretive content, one of the most significant changes being to the role of Tituba in this story.
Both Marilynne Roach’s book Six Women of Salem and Elaine Breslaw’s Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem are incredible examples of historians revealing more about Tituba’s story and are must reads!
Friday, January 31
Three Defiant Women of the Witchcraft Trials: Sarah Good, Susannah Martin, and Martha Carrier
Women were accused of practicing witchcraft in 1692 Essex County for a number of reasons. Some were widows, wealthy or otherwise, who had no one to defend them. Some were suffering from physical or mental ailments that caused them to behave strangely, or to miss regular church meetings.
Frequently, women who were bold and argumentative were the ones who brought on their neighbors’ accusations, especially if they, or members of their families, had been accused previously. Three such women were Sarah Good, Susannah Martin, and Martha Carrier. All three were accused, convicted, and hanged for witchcraft in 1692.
Thirty-eight-year-old Sarah Good was one of the first three to be accused. Sarah had been cheated out of her inheritance by her stepfather, and, after two poor choices for husbands, was reduced to homelessness and begging by 1692. With her four-year-old daughter Dorothy in tow, Good traveled door-to-door, asking for help and making her neighbors uncomfortable with her grumbling. Despite her circumstances, she was a proud woman, and claimed her innocence to the end. Good is remembered for the words she spoke from the gallows on July 19, 1692, as Reverend Nicholas Noyes pressured her to confess. “I am no more a witch than you are a wizard and if you kill me, God will give you blood to drink!” she said.
Widow Susannah Martin, 71-years-old in 1692, was the only person from Amesbury to be executed for witchcraft. By all reports, her reputation made her a prime target. A victim of decades of gossip, she was no stranger to altercations with her neighbors. Forthright and confrontational, Goody Martin’s past included six unsuccessful lawsuits to inherit her father’s estate and she had appeared in court as a defendant numerous times for a variety of offenses. She was accused of witchcraft on two occasions before 1692, with the charges eventually dropped. Martin was hardened by thirty years of gossip. She laughed at her accusers during her May examination, treating them with contempt. Skeptical of the witch hunt, when confronted with the afflicted girls’ charges, Martin replied, “I have led a most virtuous and holy life.” Cotton Mather, who observed her trial, called Martin one of the most “impudent, Scurrilous, wicked creatures in the world.” A memorial marker in Amesbury notes that, in truth, Susannah Martin was an honest, hard-working Christian woman and was “a Martyr of Superstition.” She was hanged on July 19, 1692.
The first person to be accused of witchcraft in 1692 Andover was Martha Carrier, aged fifty-eight. Wife of the Welshman Thomas Carrier and raising five children at the time of the trials, Carrier was another rebellious and unruly woman. She was fearless in confrontations with her neighbors, many of whom suspected her of witchcraft because the town’s 1690 smallpox epidemic began in her home. They blamed her for the bewitchment of their family members and their livestock. As the Andover hysteria grew, four of her children were also accused of witchcraft and jailed, as were her sister Mary, brother-in-law Roger Toothaker, and their daughter Margaret, all of whom lived in neighboring Billerica. Unlike many in Andover who confessed in order to save their lives, Carrier remained defiant. Faced with afflicted accusers who claimed the Devil himself had promised her the title “Queen in Hell, and pressured by relentless magistrates, Carrier said, “It is a shameful thing that you should mind these folks that are out of their wits.” Carrier was hanged on August 19, 1692.