The Thomas Putnam family of Salem Village, who were principle accusers during the witchcraft hysteria of 1692, lived on the southwest side of Hathorne Hill in 1692.
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Three principle accusers during the Salem witch trials in 1692 were members of the Putnam family: Sergeant Thomas Putnam (1652-1699), his wife Ann (Carr) Putnam (1661-1699), and their oldest daughter Ann Jr. (1680-1716). At the time of the trials, the Putnam clan owned hundreds of acres in the western part of Salem Village, on and around Hathorne Hill (originally settled by William Hathorne, father of Court of Oyer and Terminer judge John Hathorne). Thomas and his family were living in a house on the southwest side of the hill, while his brother Edward and his half-brother Joseph both lived nearby.
Thomas Putnam (Jr.) was from the third generation of Putnams in Salem Village. He was the eldest son of Thomas Putnam (Sr.), who himself was the eldest son of John Putnam, one of the founders of Salem Village who had arrived from England in the 1640s. The Putnams were a powerful and wealthy family, yet by the 1690s, Thomas Putnam was seeing his prospects diminish as property continued to be divided with each generation. He watched as neighbors like the Porters and the Nurses, who lived closer to Salem Town, became more prosperous. Thomas Putman had also aligned himself with the new village minister in 1689, Samuel Parris, a man who did not have everyone’s support. Disagreements about the minister’s wage, and firewood, and ownership of the parsonage caused ongoing division in the community.
Perhaps Thomas Putnam resented his neighbors’ successes, both economically and politically. Something drove him, along with his wife and twelve-year-old daughter, to accuse neighbors, and strangers, with practicing witchcraft. Many of their accusations resulted in the execution of innocent people.
Twenty-six-year-old Thomas married Ann Carr of Salisbury, MA, the youngest of ten children, in 1678. She was 17 years old. The couple moved to Salem Village after their marriage, living on a 150-acre farm bordered by the Ipswich River, given to them by Thomas’ father. Early in their married life, a community disagreement was brewing. At that time, Ann’s sister Mary was married to James Bailey (aka Bayley), Salem Village’s first minister. As would happen over and over, the village disagreed over their minister’s leadership, and the newly-married Putnams found themselves on the opposite “side” from some of their neighbors. Bailey left the village. More factionalism was to come.
Ann Sr. was at the center of the witchcraft delusion, along with her husband. Like many women in the 17th century, Ann Sr. had suffered trauma in her life, losing some of her siblings at an early age, losing children of her own, and watching as her sisters lost infants. In 1692, Ann had recently lost a child and was pregnant again. She was also fearful, like many, of native and French attacks. The tragedies she’d suffered, and her fear, may have caused her visions of ghosts and witches. It was Ann Sr. who often encouraged her young daughter Ann to name names.
The “afflictions” of young girls in Salem Village began in the winter of 1692, in the parsonage, with 9-year-old Betty Parris, daughter of Reverend Samuel Parris, and her 11-year-old cousin Abigail Williams. Other neighborhood girls soon joined in. By March, the Reverend had removed his daughter from the environment, sending her to live with friends in Salem Town. Once Betty was gone, 12-year-old Ann Putnam Jr. became the “leader” of a group of 17-to-20-year-old girls, young and older women, and even men, as the accusations escalated. Although there were other Putnam siblings, only Ann appears in the records as an accuser. Why would a 12-year-old-girl claim her neighbors, and strangers, were practicing witchcraft?
It was often her parents who encouraged Ann’s identification of “witches,” so she may have been used as a tool of revenge against their perceived enemies. People gathered at the Putnam house to discuss the presence of witches in their midst, so Ann likely heard all of the latest gossip. Reverend Parris constantly warned of evil in his sermons, frightening many of his parishioners, including young and impressionable children. Young girls in the 17th century were invisible and had no power, but the “afflicted” girls became the center of attention and wielded great influence. The feeling had to be addictive. Once the accusations grew, and more people were caught up in the fear, one can imagine how impossible it was to regain control of the situation.
Whatever her motives, Ann Putnam Jr. accused 18 of the 20 people who were eventually executed, and more than 40 more who were jailed.
In 1699, an unknown illness killed both of her parents within two weeks of each other. Thomas was 46-years-old. Ann Sr. was 36. Ann Putnam Jr. was left to raise her siblings. In 1706, with encouragement from Salem Village’s new minister Joseph Green, Ann stood in front of the village congregation while Green read her apology aloud, which included these words:
“And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humbled for it, in that I was a cause, with others, of so sad a calamity and earnestly beg forgiveness of God, and from all those unto whom I have given just cause of sorrow and offence, whose relations were taken away or accused.”
Ann died, unmarried, at the age of 36, in 1716.
Another person in the Putnam household who was at the center of the accusations was family servant Mercy Lewis. She was a core member of the Salem Village girls who were in attendance at many of the examinations, almost as active an accuser as Ann Putnam Jr. She was one of the earliest to join the accusing group, experiencing afflictions by March.
Mercy, 19-years-old in 1692, was one of the accusers who had experienced native attacks in Maine as a small child. In 1676, when just a toddler, a Wabanaki attack in Falmouth, Maine, killed her grandparents, uncles, and cousins. She and her parents survived by fleeing to an island, along with their minister, George Burroughs. After the attack, Burroughs moved to Salisbury, MA and would later be hired as the second minister in Salem Village (a position he held from 1681-1683). The Lewis family moved to Salem Town for a short time, before returning to Casco Bay in 1683. In 1689, Mercy was orphaned at the age of 16 when her parents were killed in another native attack. She may have lived for a short time, as a servant, in the house of George Burroughs, also back in Maine after his short-lived ministry in Salem Village. Mercy eventually moved south again and became a servant in the home of Thomas and Ann Putnam.
Mercy Lewis’ traumatic past likely colored her behavior. When Martha Corey visited the Putnam home in March, inquiring why she had been falsely accused of witchcraft, Mercy’s torments were so strong that, according to Marilynne Roach in The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege, “two or three men were needed to restrain her.” It took several strong men to keep her from being pulled, invisibly, into the fire. In April, she had a vision of bright light. Was this an angel of God, or the devil in disguise? She once saw the specter of Reverend Burroughs, a man she’d known since childhood, who now, she claimed, told her he was working for the devil himself.
Burroughs was eventually arrested and brought to Salem Town for questioning. Before his May 9 examination, Mercy said she had been abducted by Burroughs and shown the kingdoms of the world from a mountain top, all of which, he said, could be hers if she made a pact with the devil. Mercy was also afflicted by the specter of Mary Esty in May. By this time, she had left the employ of Thomas Putnam and was working for his cousin, Constable John Putnam. Writhing and choking in bed, and crying out “Pray for the salvation of my soul,” Mercy was visited by some of the other girls – Ann Putnam Jr., Abigail Williams, and Mary Walcott – who identified Esty and John Willard as her tormentors. More neighbors gathered around to keep vigil, fearing Mercy would die from her seizures. She survived, slowly recovering after Mary Esty was arrested and placed in chains.
Mercy Lewis’ torments continued into 1693. Two years later, she bore a child out of wedlock in New Hampshire, and later married a man named Allen and moved to Boston.
In 1692, the Thomas Putnam family lived on the southwest side of Hathorne Hill, approximately in the area of what is today Danielle Drive. (For many years, a house that stands back from Putnam Lane was misidentified as the Putnam House, but was likely built circa 1891.) Shortly after the trials were over, the family built a new house farther up the hill, in the general area of what is today Dayton and Maple Streets. It was here that the family was living when Thomas and Ann Sr. died in 1699, and here where Ann Putnam Jr. raised her siblings.
Approximate location of Putnam house in 1692
Opposite the cornfields on Maple Street was the site of the second Putnam home, built after 1692
The field on Maple Street where the Putnam's second home was built.
The intersection of Maple and Dayton Streets.
This Danvers Historical Society image was published in Harriet Silvester Tapley's 1823 book Chronicles of Danvers. It has since been learned that it is not the Putnam House, but was likely built circa 1891.