A historical marker on Lafayette Road notes the site of the home of Major Robert Pike, built in 1639.
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More About Robert Pike Homestead, Site of
Major Robert Pike was one of the prominent voices in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was a militia leader, a judge in the Essex County Court, and a member of the General Court, representing Salisbury for 37 years. At the time of the 1692 witchcraft trials, Pike was 76 years old.
Pike recorded several of the depositions against Susannah (North) Martin prior to her June 29 trial. “Six witnesses who had deposed before Pike in Salisbury journeyed to Salem to reaffirm their testimony in person,” says Mary Beth Norton in her book In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. (Norton, whose roots go back to Salisbury, is a descendant of Mary Bradbury, Susannah Martin, and Robert Pike.) Pike and the North family were both early settlers of Salisbury – they had known each other for over 50 years by this time. In response to the numerous charges of spectral evidence leveled against her by her neighbors, Martin denied that she had ever used witchcraft. Nevertheless, she was convicted.
On August 8, just weeks after Martin and four others were hanged on Proctor’s Ledge at Gallows Hill, Pike wrote a letter and accompanying essay to Judge Jonathan Corwin, eloquently arguing that basing convictions solely on “spectral evidence” was a mistake, saying they were “more commonly false and delusive than real.”
Pike thought spectral evidence was unreliable and put innocent persons’ lives in danger. The accusers could be deluded or, he argued, the devil could disguise himself as an innocent person. Why, asked Pike, would anyone plead innocent if confessing would save their life? Why would the devil accuse his own witches? “The Devil is accuser and witness,” said Pike, becoming one of the most important skeptics of the entire legal process. His well-reasoned arguments would influence others in the coming months.
Because of all these doubts, Pike thought it better to “let a guilty person live till further discovery, than to put an innocent person to death.”
Robert Pike was also one of 115 people who signed a petition in defense of his friend of 50 years, the wealthy and eminent Salisbury resident Mary Bradbury, accused of witchcraft in May of 1692. Although found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to death on September 9, with her wealth and the help of her many friends, Mary was able to flee and elude execution.
Later, at October council meetings in Boston, Pike remained a critic of the proceedings.
Prior to the witchcraft hysteria of 1692, Pike was outspoken on other topics. He was arraigned in General Court in 1653 for his support of persecuted Quakers, and a long-standing feud with Salisbury’s pastor, Reverend John Wheelwright, led to his excommunication in 1677, as described by Norton in In the Devil’s Snare: “…an acrimonious dispute between Salisbury’s minister, the elderly John Wheelwright and Major Robert Pike, who disagreed vehemently with each other about a variety of matters. In 1676 their quarrel escalated, with Pike accusing Wheelwright of defamation, then trying to oust the clergyman from his pastorate; and with Wheelwright subsequently excommunicating Pike one Sabbath in early 1677 while he and his militiamen were absent responding to an alarm. The town thereupon promptly split into two factions.” Pike’s church membership was ultimately reinstated.
Frances Hill, in her book Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials, says, “Massachusetts could have done with many more men of Pike’s strength of character combined with independence of outlook.”
Robert Pike was born circa 1616 in Wiltshire, England, and traveled to Massachusetts with his father and siblings in 1635. Originally living in Newbury, MA, Pike moved to the other side of the Merrimack River in 1639 and was one of the first settlers of Salisbury, becoming a civic and military leader there. He married 19-year-old Sarah Sanders in 1641, in Newbury. Sarah was the sister of John Sanders, whose 1639 house is the oldest in Salisbury. The couple had eight children between 1642 and 1658, one of whom died at the age of three. Sarah died in 1679. Pike married a second time, to Martha Moyce, in 1684. Robert and Sarah’s son John became a minister in New Hampshire. Their daughter Sarah married Wymond Bradbury, son of Thomas and Mary Bradbury, and their daughter Elizabeth married William Carr, son of George Carr and brother of Ann (Carr) Putnam.
Robert Pike lived in Salisbury until he died in 1706 at the age of 90.
Robert Pike lived where the CVS Pharmacy is today. A historical sign marks the approximate site where is house, built in 1639, once stood.
2 Lafayette Road, near Salisbury Square
Portrait of Robert Pike.
A memorial to Major Robert Pike in the Colonial Burying Ground.
Pike family graves in the Colonial Burying Ground
More Pike graves in the Colonial Burying Ground.
Pikes are also buried in Salisbury's Maplewood Cemetery.
A memorial on Salisbury Town Common notes Pike's refusal to obey a warrant issued to flog three Quaker women in 1662.
The memorial on Salisbury Town Common.