More About Stephen Sewall Home, Site of

When Betty Parris and her cousin Abigail Williams started having fits in the Salem Village parsonage, they sparked the frenzy to come. Once Dr. Griggs had declared them “under an evil hand” and in the sway of the Devil, Reverend Parris was, of course, concerned about his daughter’s welfare. By March, thinking it would be better for her to be removed from the situation, the minister asked his friend Stephen Sewall to look after Betty in the Sewall home in Salem Town. Betty’s affliction stopped after a few weeks, and it is believed she spent the duration of the witchcraft period here on Essex Street. In later life, she appeared to have no scars from guilt, as some of her fellow accusers did. She married at 27, living with her husband and five children in the Concord-Sudbury area of Massachusetts, and died at the age of 77.


Betty Parris recovered from her “afflicted” behavior when removed from the parsonage. One wonders why more adults didn’t note this and separate the afflicted girls from each other. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that while Betty Parris was removed from Salem Village, the house she stayed in for the duration of the trials was in the center of the turmoil in Salem Town. Her host was the Court Clerk, who lived near two of the principle judges, Corwin and Hathorne, around the corner from Reverend Noyes, and minutes away from the Salem Courthouse. Betty Parris went from one disturbing environment to another, yet was clearly better off in Salem Town, away from the other accusers.


In his role as Court Clerk, Stephen Sewall was an eye-witness to the day-to-day activities of the trials. He received a letter from Cotton Mather in September of 1692, just two days before the last executions, requesting the trial records. Mather had been commissioned by Governor Phips to write a defense of the trials, which Mather would call Wonders of the Invisible World. Mather asked Sewall to include everything from the transcripts that could be used to persuade skeptics of the reality of witchcraft and specters. Both Sewall and Chief Justice William Stoughton gave their approval of Mather’s book when it was complete, stating in a note at the end, “We find the matters of fact and evidence truly reported.”


Stephen Sewall, who was born in Warwickshire, England in 1657, died in Salem Town in 1725 at the age of 68.


Additional note: In 1704, a dozen years after the witchcraft trials, Stephen Sewall, leading a group of 43 volunteers crammed into a fishing boat, captured the pirate John Quelch at the Isles of Shoals. Quelch was brought to Salem and then to Boston under heavy guard, where he and five of his crew were hanged on June 30.


Sewall Street connects Essex and Lynde Streets, next to the Y.M.C.A. building (at 1 Sewall Street). The home of Stephen Sewall was in this area, on Essex Street, between the YMCA and 274 Essex Street.