More About Hale Farm

Reverend John Hale lived in this house until his death in 1700. It is said the earliest part of the house was built for Hale in 1694, with additions added by Hale descendants over the following 200+ years. Historian Ed Brown and others suggest that the oldest part of the house may be quite a bit older than 1694, and that, in fact, John Hale was living in a town-owned “minister’s house” several decades earlier and “the record shows that in 1694, the town moved to thank John Hale for his long service and encourage his work in the ministry by granting him ownership of the house and ‘about two acres of land whereon he lived.’” At one time the property grew to 100 acres, including Dane Beach. In 1937, the daughters of Robert Hale Bancroft sold the house and remaining acre of land to the Beverly Historical Society (today Historic Beverly).


Reverend Hale was intimately involved in the witchcraft delusion of 1692. He was present at the ordination of Reverend Samuel Parris, the new minister of Salem Village, in 1689. Hale was one of the people Parris turned to when Betty Parris and her cousin Abigail Williams first became afflicted in the winter of 1692. Like the other powerful men of Essex County whose opinions were sought, Hale suggested Parris pray and fast before moving forward with witchcraft accusations. His eyewitness observations of the afflicted girls, however, made Hale an early believer that the witchcraft trials should move forward.


As the witchcraft hysteria grew, Hale attended examinations of the afflicted and the accused, prayed with the trial participants, took notes about his experiences, and testified about two of his parishioners. Hale believed in the invisible world, as did ministers of his day, but would come to doubt the proceedings by the end of 1692.


It was to Reverend Hale that one of the afflicted girls, un-named, confessed to fortune-telling with an egg and glass. This has led some to speculate that guilt about dabbling in counter-magic contributed to the outbreak of hysteria.


Reverend Hale testified in 1692 about his parishioner Sarah Bishop, who lived with her husband Edward on the border of Beverly and Salem Village. Hale had interceded in a disagreement between Sarah and her neighbor, Christian Trask a few years before. Trask, a mentally ill woman, complained about the noise and activities in the Bishops’ unlicensed tavern, which apparently went long into the night. Hale tried to keep the peace between the two. A few years later, Trask was found dead, her throat cut, small scissors lying nearby. Was this suicide or murder? Hale observed the body and felt some kind of witchcraft was afoot. Nevertheless, Sarah Bishop was not accused of witchcraft at this time, although both she and her husband were accused of witchcraft on April 21, 1692. (In a transcription, Hale referred to Sarah as “Goody Bishop, wife of Edward Bishop” which led to many years of confusion. There was another Goody Bishop, married to another Edward Bishop living in Salem Town – and that was Bridget, first to be executed for witchcraft in 1692. The descriptions of the two women became combined in the history books until the error was discovered in recent years.)


In July of 1692 Reverend Hale spoke to confessed witch Ann Foster in Salem jail, where she told him about a witches’ picnic and about her fear of Reverend George Burroughs and Martha Carrier, the king and queen of hell, whose specters had threatened to kill her.


Hale testified about another of his parishioners, Dorcas Hoar, one of the most colorful characters in the 1692 drama. Long known as a fortune-teller (Hale counseled her against this practice), she was also the head of a burglary ring operating in Beverly. Six of her children, as well as servants working in various Beverly homes, fenced their stolen goods through Hoar. Among her gang was 17-year-old Margaret Lord, live-in servant to Reverend Hale. In 1678, Hale and his first wife Rebecca realized they had been robbed by Lord over a period of time — of food, clothing, money, jewelry — something the Hale children were already aware of, but threats of harm from Lord had kept them silent. Dorcas Hoar and her children were prosecuted for their crimes in 1678, but got away with little more than a fine. Margaret Lord fled the area. In retaliation, a few of the Hoar children threw things at the Hale house and beat two of Reverend Hale’s cows, causing one of them to die. By 1692, with this kind of reputation, the widow Dorcas Hoar was an ideal target for witchcraft accusations. Although convicted and scheduled to hang on September 22, an eleventh-hour confession delayed Hoar’s execution. A reprieve was requested by Reverend Hale and three other ministers and granted by Judge William Stoughton, so that Hoar would have a month to prepare for her death. By that time, the executions were over. Hoar escaped hanging. The last eight to hang were executed without her on the 22nd.


In November of 1692, very late in the hysteria, Wenham’s Mary Herrick spoke to Wenham Reverend Joseph Gerrish and Reverend Hale, accusing Hale’s wife Sarah of spectral torment. Although Sarah Hale was never officially accused of witchcraft, historians believe this event certainly helped to change Reverend Hale’s support of the trials.


John Hale wrote his account of the events of 1692, A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft, in the Hale house in 1697. The elderly minster of Salem, Reverend John Higginson, wrote the foreword. By this time, Hale had come to realize that innocent lives had been lost. “We walked in the clouds and could not see our way,” he said. A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft was published in 1702, two years after Hale’s death.


Born in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1636, a 12-year-old John Hale witnessed the first execution of a convicted witch in Massachusetts, when Margaret Jones of Charlestown was hanged in 1648. Hale graduated from Harvard College in 1657. He married his first wife Rebecca Byley in 1664, the same year he moved to Beverly and became a teacher at the church. He was ordained as Beverly’s minister in 1667. Rebecca and John had two children. Their daughter Rebecca died at the age of 15; shortly thereafter, Rebecca Sr. died, in 1683. Hale married his second wife, Sarah Noyes (daughter of Reverend James Noyes of Newbury and cousin of Salem’s Assistant Minister Nicholas Noyes) a year later. The couple had four children, the last of whom was born late in 1692. Sarah died in 1695. Hale married for a third time, to widow Elizabeth Clark of Newbury, in 1698.


John Hale remained the minister of Beverly for more than thirty years, until his death in 1700.


Additional note: Nathan Hale was John Hale’s great-grandson. During the Revolutionary War, Nathan Hale agreed, under instruction from General George Washington, to disguise himself as a Dutch schoolmaster in order to infiltrate a British camp on Long Island, after Washington was forced to retreat after the Battle of Long Island. Hale successfully entered the British camp, making drawings and observations but, while waiting in Huntington, NY for a ferry to Norwalk, CT, he was captured by the British. Hanged as a spy on September 22, 1776, Hale famously said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Interestingly, September 22 was the last hanging day during the 1692 witchcraft trials.


Additional note: Edward Everett Hale was Nathan Hale’s grand-nephew. An author, historian, and Unitarian minister, Hale wrote “The Man Without A Country” in support of the Union in 1863 during the Civil War. In 1903, he became Chaplain for the United States Senate.


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