March 1692: The Salem Witch Trials

 

March is International Women’s History Month. It also marks the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials. Since this disturbing event in American history was centered largely around women, I thought it might be fun to explore the specifics!

Witch Trials continue to fascinate and puzzle historians. Witchcraft hysteria ran rampant throughout Europe in the 15th – 17th centuries, and carried over to the American colonies, solely driven by religious beliefs and outrageous superstition. But there was much more to the Salem Witch Trials than overactive imaginations…

Don’t Have a Hissy Fit!  But They Did…

In the winter of 1692, in Salem Village, nine year old Betty Parris and her eleven year old cousin Abigail Williams  began to have uncontrollable fits. The girls would scream, run around and throw things. They claimed they were being hit and attacked by some unknown presence. Luckily, Betty’s father Samuel Parris happened to be a Puritan Reverend and he had a perfect explanation: the Devil was afoot in New England.

Puritans had a strong belief in the Devil. He walked among men, unseen. He needed to get his bidding done, so he would recruit humans. Sometimes he chose men, but mostly he chose women — as they were weak, vulnerable and easily persuaded. You know. Like Eve.  Old Scratch would bring his book to sign – and it had to be signed in blood.  Once the transaction was complete, a woman gave away her soul and body, leaving the Devil to do with them as he pleased.

As Betty and Abigail continued to have their incurable fits, doctors were brought in. After several weeks, no one could diagnose the problem, but finally the girls blurted out that it was, in fact, the witchy spirit of Tituba, the family slave, who had been harming them.

There was a thing called ‘spectral evidence’ which became very important during the witchcraft trials. Any accuser could claim that the specter or spirit of a witch was harming them, and that claim was taken seriously.  It was not even necessary that another person actually see the specter.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, a girl named Anne Putnam was experiencing the same kinds of fits. She claimed the witches attacking her were two women – the neighborhood beggars – one Sarah Goode, and one Sarah Osborne.

Sarah Osborne was what Puritans would call a ‘loose woman’. She had lived with a man out of wedlock and did not attend church services. Osborne was elderly and also known to be argumentative.  Sarah Goode was married with a young daughter, but even her own husband suspected she was a witch. Both women were poor.

So, the first women accused were a slave and two social rejects. But the accusations didn’t stop there. They would go on to reach epic proportions. In order to understand the mentality of the trials, it is necessary to look at the outlying events which took place simultaneously.

Blame it on Politics

In 1692’s bleak winter, Salem Village was in bad shape. Fields were frozen and people were starving. Indians, wolves and other wild animals were a constant threat. To make matters worse, the territories of North America were engaged in a civil war.

In 1689, English rulers William and Mary had started a war with France in the American colonies. Known as ‘King William’s War’, or ‘The Second Indian War’, it ravaged regions of  what is now upstate New York, Massachusetts, Nova Scotia and Quebec. Homeless  refugees traipsed into the county of Essex and, specifically, into Salem Village.

The displaced people created a strain on Salem Village’s resources. The harsh terrain of New England had never been very fruitful, and there was only so much firewood and food to go around. Hunger, cold and poverty were rampant. In addition to all this trouble, the village’s two most prominent families – the Putnams and the Porters – were engaged in a power struggle.

Two Households, Both Alike in Dignity

The Putnam family had always been powerful in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  This stemmed from an English land grant given to their grandfather, way back in 1640.  The Putmans were farmers.  But in the rising change of fortune, new and lucrative opportunities were coming from the busy colony seaport. Commerce and trade, not farming, would be the business of the future.  The Putnams were losing their stronghold. The Porter family – up and coming sea merchants – were the ‘new money’ in Salem Village.

In what was perhaps a desperate attempt to use religion to gain back his influence, Thomas Putnam enlisted the services of Reverend Samuel Parris.

The Reverend Parris had not always been a reverend. He was, in fact, a struggling salesman who had lived most of his life in Barbados. He came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and took to the pulpit only after his business ventures had failed miserably.  He brought with him his wife, his daughter Betty, his niece Abigail Williams and two slaves – Tituba and John Indian.

Reverend Parris was not popular. People thought he was greedy. For example, one law was imposed requiring villagers to give up their firewood as a new taxation plan that gave the wood to the Reverend. His sermons were guilt inducing, full of fire and brimstone. He strongly warned of dealings with the Devil. Many folk opted to attend a different church in Salem Town, rather than sit through Parris’ sermons. The influential Porters went to church in Salem Town.

It was as though there were two separate cities, and two separate philosophies. Salem Village was ‘Putnam-land’ –  backwater, bumpkin, farm-bound and superstitious.  Salem Town was ‘Porter territory’ – progressive, sophisticated, merchant-driven and logical.

Lizzie and Joseph: Forbidden Love

The story gets better!

Thomas Putnam had a half brother named Joseph. Joseph was the product of his father’s second marriage to one Mary Veren. When the father died in 1686, he left a good deal of his land holdings to young Joseph. Thomas and his brother Edmund were jealous, to say the least. They challenged their father’s will in court, but to no avail. Young Joseph Putman was known as the wealthiest man in Salem Village. And who did Joseph fall in love with? You guessed it – a Porter!

Seventeen year old Lizzie was the pride of the Porter family. Her father Israel was fond of Joseph, and also eager to wed his daughter to a rich landholder.

Twenty one year old Joseph married Lizzie on April 21, 1690. Needless to say, the wedding was much frowned upon by his half brothers. Thomas Putnam now stood to lose even more of his dwindling wealth and power.

Not coincidentally, the girls that made the first witchcraft accusations all had some tie to  Thomas Putnam.  These were: Betty (the Reverend’s daughter) Abigail (the Reverend’s niece) Anne Putman Jr. (Thomas’ daughter) Anne Putnam Sr. (Thomas’ wife) and Mary Walcott (Thomas’ niece).

Similarly, many of the accused had some tie to the Porter family.  These were: Rebecca Nurse, Giles and Martha Corey,  John and Elizabeth Proctor, and George Burroughs — all neighbors and associates of the Porters.  John Proctor and Giles Corey were landholders who sat in at town council meetings and were likely to cast votes to favor Israel Porter. (Of course, once accused of witchcraft, one’s land went forfeit and they no longer held that position… ) George Burroughs had been the Reverend of the church in Salem Town.

‘Fess Up!

On March 1, 1692, Tituba, Sarah Osborne and Sarah Goode were taken for questioning. Tituba confessed, telling a wild story of how the Devil had recruited her, but now she was repentant and wished forgiveness.  Osborne and Goode insisted upon their innocence. On March 7, the three were jailed in Boston.

Astonishingly, Sarah Goode’s four year old daughter Dorothy was put in jail as a witch also, making her probably the youngest prisoner ever. Months later, the child was released on a 50 pound bond — the equivalent of around $10,000 in today’s money.  Dorothy was referred to in court records as “it” rather than “she”.

Tituba was no fool. Puritan law at the time would allow an accused person freedom ONLY if he or she confessed. Those that would not confess would be hung. (Sarah Goode was later hung and Sarah Osborne died in prison.)

The accusers may have started by singling out the lowest of society, but eventually they made their way up the ladder. On March 19, Abigail accused a woman named Rebecca Nurse. Rebecca was considered a pillar of the community. She was kind, charitable, church-going and flawless. Fear spread like wildfire. If Rebecca could be accused, anyone could.

And anyone was! Before the trials were ended, over two hundred people were accused of witchcraft and jailed. Nineteen were hung, one was pressed to death, and at least four died in the squalid conditions of prison.

The Governor, Sir William Phipps, established a Court of Oyer and Terminer to investigate the allegations. It was presided over by all the top officials: Lieutenant Gov. William Stoughton, Nathaniel Saltonstall, Bartholomew Gedney, Peter Sergeant, Samuel Sewall, Wait Still Winthrop, John Richards, John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin.

Interesting aside — John Hathorne was an ancestor of author Nathaniel Hawthorne of Scarlet Letter fame.

Nathaniel changed the spelling of his name to avoid association with as elder Hathorne, who was the only judge that never apologized for his part in the witch trials.

The accusing girls were at first revered by the community. They had rock-star status, traveling around pointing the finger at anyone they pleased, while onlookers begged to touch their garments.  However, as the accusations accumulated and crept steadily into the elites of society, folks became suspicious. Finally, the girls went too far.

One story claims that an accusation was made against the Governor’s wife, Mary Spencer Phipps.

The Governor adored and cherished his wife. The idea of her being a witch was abominable to him. Plus, by then he may have had his doubts about the accusations — as any reasoning human being would.  At any rate, in October of 1682, Governor Phipps dissolved the Court of Oyer and Terminer. In November he declared that spectral evidence would no longer be considered valid.  In May of the following year, Phipps pardoned all the remaining accused witches.

Fun Facts:

  • Tituba Indian was, in fact, a Native American Indian. Conquered Wampanoags from New England were often brought to Barbados as slaves. Historians believe Tituba was raised on a Barbados plantation, but was a member of the Wampanoag Tribe.

  • Although Tituba is often associated with voodoo, there is no historical evidence that she had knowledge of it. By her own confessions, any witchcraft she knew was taught to her by English mistresses.
  • Tituba even baked a ‘witch cake’ according to English traditions,  made with urine and rye, then fed to a dog who would reveal the true witches. (This tactic either did not work, or people did not believe the dog.)

  • Elizabeth Proctor was an herbal healer and may have been the only true witch in the bunch. She was pregnant at the time of her arrest and her life was spared, although her husband John was hung.
  • Giles Corey was pressed to death with boulders because he refused to declare himself innocent or guilty. Puritan laws stated that once an accused person acknowledged himself as innocent or guilty, his land would be forfeit. Not wanting to give up his land, Giles stubbornly succumbed to the crushing death, asking only for “More weight.”

  • Giles’ efforts paid off. The Corey land was kept in the family up to the 21st century!
  • Accused victims were made to pay for their own room and board in jail. The fees were collected from any savings they may have had. Freed persons usually left jail penniless, or in debt to the state for their rat infested stay.
  • Having confessed, Tituba was never put to death. However, after being released she was unable to pay her fees and was sold again into slavery.
  • Abigail Williams – portrayed as the ‘Femme Fatale’ of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, was, in fact only eleven years old. Miller recreated her as a seventeen year old who had an affair with John Proctor. Sex sells. The play was a huge hit!

  • Years after the trials, Anne Putnam Jr. admitted that she had lied about the accusations. However, she took no personal responsibility, insisting she had been under the influence of Satan. The Devil made her do it.
  • After the tragedy of the Salem Witch Trials, folk finally started to realize how ridiculous Puritanism was.  The religion was abandoned.

Happy Women’s History Month!

 

 

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The Ides of March

 

 

Shakespeare knew betrayal. He wrote about many. Perhaps one of the most chilling was the death of Julius Caesar, who apparently believed himself to be invincible.

On March 15, 44 BC Roman emperor Julius Caesar was stabbed to death near the Theater of Pompey, where his senate held a meeting.  His enemies, who had been conspiring for months, were unbeknownst to him. Total backstabbers! Caesar was loved by many and had apparently done little to provoke the attack.

The assassination, however, did not come without its warning. One month previous, Caesar had been approached by a soothsayer who told him: “Beware the Ides of March”. In ancient Rome, the “Ides” would have been understood to be the middle of the month, or March 15th.

Have a happy March 15th and watch your back!

Here is a re enactment from the 1970 film, Julius Caesar.  Hope you like it!

 

 

 

 

“Beware the Ides of March.”

 

julius-caesar-assassination

So warned the soothsayer to Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s famous play.   Alas poor Julius — he did not heed the advice, went against his own instincts and was stabbed to death in the senate. The bloody, infamous event occurred on March 15, 44 B.C.

Have you ever wondered what the ‘Ides’ of March actually means?

It was a designation for the middle of a month. Apparently, the ancient Romans did not number days of a month sequentially from first through last day. Instead, they divided the month and counted days from three specific points. These points were called the Nones (5th -7th of the month) the Ides (13th to 15th) and the Kalends (1st of the following month).

The divisions were determined by the full moon, which normally occurred between the 13th and 15th of the month. Thus the Roman senate would have actually gone ‘loony’ under the full moon.

After the death of Caesar, the 15th of March seemed to carry its own specific dark cloud. Many other tragedies have occurred on this day. For example:

 A Raid on Southern England, 1360
A French raiding party began a 48-hour spree of rape, pillage and murder in southern England. King Edward III interrupted his own pillaging spree in France to retaliate.

king edward

 Czar Nicholas II Abdicated His Throne, 1917                                                              Czar Nicholas II of Russia signed his abdication papers, ending a 304-year-old royal dynasty. Enter the Bolsheviks!

bolshevik

 Germany Occupied Czechoslovakia, 1939
Nazi troops seized the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, effectively wiping Czechoslovakia off the map. The beginning of Hitler’s destruction.

 A Deadly Blizzard on the Great Plains, 1941
A Saturday-night blizzard struck the northern Great Plains, leaving at least 60 people dead in North Dakota and Minnesota and six more in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

 World Record Rainfall, 1952
Rain fell on the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion—and kept falling, hard enough to register the world’s most voluminous 24-hour rainfall: 73.62 inches. Reportedly, no arks were built 🙂

 CBS Cancelled the “Ed Sullivan Show,” 1971
CBS-TV  cancelled “The Ed Sullivan Show” after 23 years on the network. Ed brought us the Beatles!

beatles

But it need not be all doom and gloom.

If you are looking to brush up on Julius Caesar, or just want to view some beautiful cinematography and great acting, I recommend this (somewhat lengthy) but very entertaining film. Shown as a miniseries in 2002, it stars Jeremy Sisto as Caesar, with a supporting cast that includes Christopher Walken, Richard Harris and Christopher Noth. Running time is 3 hours. Hope you get a chance to watch!

 

Happy Ides of March!

 

 

 

The Bigamist and the Pregnant Bride

 

henryviii_maclise

On January 25, 1533, King Henry VIII married his adulterous lover Anne Boleyn in a secret ceremony held in London and presided over by very few witnesses.  Henry was, by all applicable laws, still married to his first wife Queen Catherine of Aragon. Anne Boleyn was pregnant. She would give birth to her only daughter Elizabeth on September 7 of that same year, approximately seven months after the wedding.

It was the shotgun wedding of a bigamist king and a pregnant lady in waiting. Oh, but what a king, and what a lady!  The Pope never approved Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and Henry was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. This changed  the direction of religion not only in England but much of Europe as well, as Protestant Reformations spread across the land.

Although Anne’s daughter Elizabeth would go on to become one of the most powerful monarchs of England, her status as ‘illegitimate bastard’ would always be in question. This led to great paranoia. Elizabeth was constantly in fear for her life and established a network of spies that would put the CIA, the FBI and the Mata Hari to shame.

 

red head

Conventional wisdom would have surely suggested that this marriage was ill fated. As you know, it ended badly. Just three years later, Henry  charged Anne with adultery and treason. She was beheaded.  While imprisoned in the Tower of London, Anne famously joked about her ‘little neck’ which would make the executioner’s task easy.

neck

Yet when they first met sparks flew.  Henry and Anne were totally  infatuated with each other, evident in Henry’s many love letters to her.  This awesome scene from ‘The Tudors’ depicts the passion, fascination and lust they must have felt. (Not sure if the ‘masked ball’ is historically correct, but it is a great Romeo and Juliet steal. I think Shakespeare would have approved!)

 

 

 

Angel of Death

 

Gothic-Fallen-Angel-gothic pd

The aftermath was easy.  For me there was no blood, no guts, no cleanup. I merely escorted them to the place they had longed for, the world they had envisioned but  yet remained unseen by them.   I gave them the utopias they were incapable of achieving within their waking lives.

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was perhaps my easiest case. Similar to Abraham and John Fitzgerald, he knew beforehand he was to die, having taken on such a gargantuan and dangerous task.  Indeed, when I took John Fitzgerald from the convertible car in Dallas Texas, Martin realized his fate already. He immediately said to his wife Coretta: “This is what is going to happen to me also. I keep telling you, this is a sick society.”

Martin was right on both counts. The society was sick. My duty was inevitable.

Humankind amazed me. They had such an immense capacity for love. Their enormous striving and goals were honorable, but perplexing. The altruistic visions of many were squashed by the hatred and destruction of a few.  Love and fear battled fiercely, and at that time fear won. Evil forces conspired against Martin.

He was a man of peace, one who studied the works of Mahatma Gandhi, one who determined that real change could only come about in the human world through peaceful protest and non violence. Martin was, of course, unarmed when he happened to walk out on his balcony of the Lorraine Motel on that evening of April 4th, 1968.

 

mlk-on-balcony-of-lorraine-motel

I arrived long before it happened, my own consciousness informing me of what was to occur.

I watched in silence as Martin breathed in the hot Tennessee air. The evil ones had already gathered around him, their slimy presence palpable to me though invisible to the human eye.  Their odor was putrid and their deadly intentions sent a shiver down my spine.

“Why did you not intervene, Azrael?” you may ask me. “Why did you not save him, block the shot, do what was well within your power to do?”  This is a question I have encountered many a time. But intervention was not my duty. Aftermath was my duty.

I still remember how the gunshot blasted through the pink Memphis sky, just as the gold sun set upon its horizon.  I heard that shot loudly, and I shuddered, for even angels have ears. We too know terror. There was the seeping of blood as the bullet bolted through Martin’s cheek and I hastened to take him from the pain of his physical body. The ambulance arrived, rushing him to Saint Joseph’s Hospital where doctors would pronounce him dead within the hour.

Later the people were brought to their knees in grief. There would be protests and rioting, Martin’s death inciting the very violence he so abhorred. Yet humankind felt justified within this violence, for what more could they do?

The world of 1968 America was not ready of the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King.  And so I took him from it.

Most would lay the blame upon a man named James Earl Ray. James Earl would be given a prison sentence of 90 years. But he was not the real shooter. Many knew this. Coretta knew it, wise woman. She is with Martin now, so in case you’re wondering, you can set your mind at ease. Justice is as justice does, though the laws of humankind are often corrupt. Nonetheless, all righting of wrongs is achieved on the karmic wheel. It matters not who pulls a trigger. The shot that struck Martin was delivered by not one, but a vast array of organizations.

The humans are peculiar creatures. Whenever one of them seeks truth, it is a government which ITSELF claims to be truthful that engineers their demise. So it was with Abraham, with John Fitzgerald and his brother Robert. So it was with the one called ‘X’, so it was with the one called Lennon, and so it was with Martin.

In America they kill their best.

The plot to kill Martin was deep and intricate, spreading its grimy tentacles across countries and governments. It involved CIA operatives, FBI leaders, Illumanati and Mafiosa, those so steeped in corruption that their lives were nothing more than power and greed. These are the Reptilians, the dark forces that dwell among you. They are known by many names. Beware them, for their mission is as old as earth itself. In as much as an angel can hate, I have hated them, for they have brought grief upon many a soul.

I cradled Martin gently in the soft April night. He was unused to his body of spirit, although his faith was deep. He was not even surprised to see me. I can still picture his smile, dazzling but expectant, the exquisite light in his eyes. He had always known me.

martin-luther-king-jr-2

“Where will you take me, Angel?” he asked.

“To the Promised Land, of course,” I answered. “After all Martin, you had a Dream.”

He still watches you from dimensions exponential. He sees his vision achieved in a world much alien to planet earth. He still  hopes that one day this piece of heaven will be brought to his America, that people will measure one another not by the color of their skin, but  by the content of their character

Humankind, I am told, have a long way to go.

stairway-to-heaven

“Free at last, they took your life, they could not take your pride.”

 

 

 

Love Alone

 

wallis-simpson

What was the mystical allure of Wallis Simpson?

It was eighty years ago, on December 10, 1936 that King Edward VIII of England announced his abdication of the throne. He gave up the most powerful position in the world in order to marry the love of his life, Wallis Simpson.  Wallis was  forbidden fruit, a twice divorced,  free-living American socialite who could never be an appropriate wife for a king. Edward gave up a kingdom for her.

Jamaican musician Harry Belafonte wrote the song ‘Love Alone’, which told the story of Edward and Wallis to a Calypso beat. Hope you like it!