Hawthorne in Salem Search Hawthorne in Salem

Facebook Page

Maine, Indian Land Speculation, and the Essex County Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692

Maine, Indian Land Speculation, and the Essex County Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692

By Emerson W. Baker and James Kences
from Maine History, volume 40, number 3, Fall 2001 (pp. 159-189)

Dr. Emerson Baker,Professor of History, Salem State College
Dr. Emerson Baker,Professor of History, Salem State College (photography by Lou Procopio)

On Thursday, September 1, 1692, the elite of Massachusetts society took a break from the ongoing horror of the Essex County witch trials to celebrate the marriage of Major John Richards and Anne Winthrop. It was the second marriage for Richards, a prominent merchant and member of the Governor's Council whose deceased first wife was the widow of Anne's uncle Adam Winthrop. It was the first marriage for the bride, the daughter of the late John Winthrop Jr., and no less a figure than Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton presided over the ceremony. Though no wedding list survives, one can come up with some of the likely attendees. As the Winthrop family had long awaited the marriage of spinster Anne, presumably much of her family was in attendance, including her brother, Councilor Wait Winthrop. Her sister Margaret would have made the trip from Salem, with her husband John Corwin, and perhaps even brother-in-law Jonathan Corwin. Though it is less likely, Bartholomew Gedney may have been there, for he was the father-in-law of Margaret and John Corwin's son. Councilor Samuel Sewall presumably also attended, for this family friend recorded the ceremony in his diary. The wedding was held at the home of Hezekiah Usher, a kinsman of the Winthrops through several marriages with the Tyng family, so various members of these clans may have been there as well. An outsider observing the wedding might have been struck with several observations. First, as a group the wedding attendees, their families, and business partners represented the principal land owners and speculators in New England, owning tens of thousands of acres of frontier lands scattered from Maine to Connecticut. Many of these families were allied by business as well as marriage. Second, six of the seven judges of the Essex County witchcraft trials may have been in attendance: John Richards, Wait Winthrop, Samuel Sewall, Jonathan Corwin, Bartholomew Gedney, and Chief Justice William Stoughton. Subsequently, there would also be a witchcraft victim in their midst, for soon their host, Hezekiah Usher, would join the growing list of the accused. These seemingly unrelated facts were far from coincidence. An exploration of the overlooked relationship between Indian property transactions and land speculation in Maine demonstrates that Massachusetts residents had pervasive ties to the frontier, a "dark corner" of Puritan society, seen to be occupied by non-Puritan Englishmen in addition to the enemy "heathen" Native Americans and their allies the "papist" French. These connections help to explain the witchcraft outbreak that gripped Essex County in 1692. In the past several decades, historians of the Essex County witchcraft outbreak have turned increasingly to the impact of the frontier, warfare, and Native Americans on the events of 1692. Although there is no single cause responsible for the witchcraft accusations, a growing number of historians view these events as largely the result of a war hysteria, triggered by the abandonment of the Maine frontier in the early years of King William's War. The effects of King Philip's War and King William's War on the people of Essex County have been well documented by these authors and other historians. Numerous participants in the witchcraft trials, including afflicted girls, accused witches, judges and witnesses, had ties to the northern frontier. Some were refugees from that region, and others were absentee Maine landholders. A few participants had family members killed on the frontier during King Phillip's War. Even the new leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Governor William Phips and his wife, Lady Mary Phips, came from Maine. This linkage between witchcraft and frontier war was readily apparent to contemporary observers. In his 1699 Decennium Luctuosum Cotton Mather compared King William's War to the struggle against Satan being waged in Salem and he blamed the Indians for both conflicts. The story of the prodigious war, made by the spirits of the invisible world upon the people of New-England, in the year 1692, hath entertain'd a great part of the English world with a just astonishment. And I have met with some strange things, not here to me mentioned, which have made me often think that this inexplicable war might have some of its original among the Indians, whose chief sagamores are well known unto some of our captives to have been horrid sorcerers, and hellish conjurers, and such as conversed with demons.

Though largely overlooked since Mather, this historiographical interpretation has grown in size and significance since 1984 when James Kences expanded on the connections between war and witchcraft initially put forward by Richard Slotkin, in Regeneration through Violence. Since then, a growing number of historians of witchcraft have included some exploration of witchcraft and the frontier. Carol Karlsen developed the ties between the afflicted girls as well as the alleged witches, and the frontier in The Devil in the Shape of a Woman. Peter Hoffer, Elaine Breslaw, and John McWilliam have explored the issue of the race of Reverend Parris's servants Tituba and Indian John. In 1998 Emerson Baker and John Reid provided a detailed examination of the links between witchcraft and the frontier in The New England Knight: Sir William Phips 1651-1695. More recently, Louise Breen has developed the relationship between witchcraft and its ties to Indians, religious radicals, and the frontier. Mary Beth Norton is currently writing an entire monograph on the topic that promises to extend all of these interpretations.

Although this growing body of literature establishes an important tie between the Maine frontier and the Essex County witchcraft outbreak, scholars have neglected the relationship between frontier land ownership and speculation in Maine and elsewhere and the purchase of lands from Native Americans. A close examination of these connections is crucial to explaining the origins of the witchcraft accusations in Essex County, for by 1692 land had become a critical issue. There was no longer adequate room in the established towns to provide for their growing populations. Land was also becoming less productive, as poor agricultural practices rapidly led to soil exhaustion, and timber and other natural resources were placed under heavy pressure. In addition to being an economic necessity, property also had an important psychological value. In seventeenth-century England, landed wealth was still the key to power, prominence, and legitimacy. Large tracts gave leading New Englanders the promise of landed wealth and thriving estates and the chance to emulate the English gentry. The leading families of Massachusetts Bay owned hundreds of acres of lands - usually given to them by the government as compensation for their services. These elites owned far more land than they could possibly use, so hundreds of acres were underutilized, while neighboring yeoman struggled on smaller farms with depleted resources.

The declining opportunities for acquiring land within established towns raised animosity and put increasing pressure on modest farmers and renters, leading to inevitable legal conflict against large landowners. In their award winning Salem Possessed, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum saw witchcraft in Salem largely as a by-product of local conflict between the Porter and Putnam families and their allies. Even this dispute was partially rooted in land speculation and land ownership. For example, in 1686 a lengthy property dispute arose in Salem Village over the Corwin farm, a substantial tract that was virtually unoccupied. When the Trask family, kinsmen and allies of the Putnams, illegally harvested timber from this unused land, they were sued by the owners of the property, the heirs of the wealthy Salem merchant George Corwin. The litigants carried on this protracted and bitter dispute while they also faced the witchcraft outbreak. The suit was only resolved by the colony's highest court in 1693, months after opponents of the Corwin clan physically dragged off the property the small cabin of the tenant who had occupied the land as a symbol of the Corwin right of ownership. Faced with declining opportunity and escalating conflict over local lands, men of all ranks turned increasingly to the opportunity of "unclaimed" tribal territories beyond the line of settlement.

From the end of King Philip's War (1678) to the outbreak of King William's War (1688) there numerous transactions, covering thousands of acres of Indian lands as a part of a wild wave of speculative frenzy. With the defeat of the Indians of southern New England, speculators and would-be settlers pushed into the frontier. The weakened Indian survivors of the war were often forced to sell, in the face of English squatters who threatened to seize land. Selectmen in some established towns even purchased Indian deeds to bolster title to towns threatened by Edmund Andros and the Dominion of New England. Overall, this English involvement with Indians and their frontier lands could be seen as a taint on society, and very few people in Essex County could feel completely free of this stain. As early as King Phillip's War, Increase Mather lamented that settlers had fallen into worshiping the ownership of land itself.

Idolatry brings the Sword, and Covetousness is Idolatry. Land! Land! hath been the idol of many in New-England: whereas the first Planters here that they might keep themselves together were satisfied with one Acre for each person, as his propriety, and after that with twenty Acres for a Family, how have Men since coveted after the earth, that many hundreds, nay thousands of Acres, have been engrossed by one man, and they that profess themselves Christians have forsaken Churches, and Ordinances, and all for land and elbow-room enough in the World.

Speculation took place throughout New England. In Rhode Island competing land companies, including the Atherton Company, the Misquamicut Company, and the Pettaquamscut Company vied for the lands between the Connecticut border and Narragansett Bay. Joseph Dudley and William Stoughton led the efforts in the Nipmuc country of central Massachusetts. In 1682 these magistrates negotiated a settlement with the Nipmuc: the tribe would live on a twenty-five-square-mile tract, and sell the rest of their lands (approximately one thousand square miles) to Massachusetts for 50 and a coat. As a token of thanks, the General Court then granted a township of eight square miles of the Nipmuc Purchase to Dudley, Stoughton, and their three English partners. The speculators were not done yet. Dudley and Stoughton then purchased half of the remaining twenty-five-square-mile tract from the Nipmuc. Subsequently, several other major tracts were purchased from the tribe, both in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Speculators initiated a series of such ventures in this region by the mid 1680s, resulting in the eventual establishment of ten new towns. To the north, a similar process was at work in the Merrimac region. In 1686 Joseph Dudley, Stoughton, Richard Wharton, Samuel Shrimpton, and sixteen others had the Dudley Council confirm their title to the huge Million Acre purchase in the Merrimac River. The government also made other substantial grants, such as the Wamesit purchase (present-day Lowell, Massachusetts). A critic of the Dudley Council pointed out that most of its members "are possessed of great tracts of land by Indian purchase."

In Maine speculation was equally rampant, though it took a slightly different form than efforts in southern New England. By the time of King Phillip's War, English merchants and fur traders had already purchased most of southern coastal Maine from the Wabanaki Indians. There were few efforts to purchase lands further inland as in southern New England, because of the continued strength of the Wabanaki. Despite these factors, much land speculation would occur in Maine during these years as well. Refugees from King Phillip's War who had no desire to return to the dangerous frontier after the war frequently sold their holdings to speculators or those willing to move to Maine. Several new townships were carved from the wilderness, and merchants sold and mortgaged large tracts that had previously been purchased from Native Americans. Substantial investments were made in the Maine frontier as sawmills destroyed during King Philip's War were rebuilt and new ones constructed.

The speculative bubble burst at the outbreak of King William's War as new settlements went up in smoke, and frontier lands throughout New England became worthless. The investors lost everything, in a financial panic akin to a modern day stock market crash. The heavy taxes of the war, combined with the financial burden of refugees from Maine made a bad situation worse. The crisis was particularly difficult in Essex County, which had the highest number of investors in the Maine frontier and was now close enough to the frontier to be exposed to attack. Furthermore, Essex County residents had the burden of hundreds of war refugees. The region had suffered through these exact same problems in King Phillip's War. Refugees had poured in from Maine, and Essex County had lost numerous sons in the fighting. The companies of prominent Essex County captains Thomas Lathrop and Benjamin Swett were nearly wiped out in two of the worst defeats of the war. Swett's company was ambushed in Maine in the summer of 1677, at the same time that the Wabanaki Indians were capturing vessels and killing fishermen of the Essex County fleet. In 1680 the selectmen of Salem complained of "our former greate losses by the indian warr, together with considerable losse since, and thereby many poore widows & fatherless children amonghts us." For all of these reasons, Essex County felt King William's War more than other parts of New England. Many of its residents must have felt a sense of desperation as they watched their finances collapse and war approach their doorsteps in the early 1690s.

Devastating raids on Pemaquid and Cocheco in 1689 were followed the next year by the Salmon Falls raid and the fall of Fort Loyal in Falmouth. Native Americans from Maine and surrounding territories made these attacks, though their allies, the French, provided some men and logistical support. In the process, all settlements north of Wells had been destroyed, with hundreds of English killed or taken captive. The fall of Fort Loyal must have proved to be particularly disturbing. After fighting for five days with great loss of life, the garrison negotiated their surrender with offer of safe passage to the nearest English settlement. When the disarmed garrison marched out to surrender, the Indians attacked. Despite the efforts of the French to control their allies, nearly all of the occupants of the fort were killed and the few survivors taken captive. It would be a grim reminder not to make a bargain with the enemy.

By the fall of 1691, Essex County was feeling a growing sense of alarm over the progress of the war. On October 31 the committee of militia in Salem complained of the "Ill Circumstances that we are under ye Expectation wee may Justly have of ye French and Indian Enemies coming down upon Our frontiers Especially Strawberry Banke ye likelihood yt Our Enimies will drive in Our frontiers upon us Naked and Seize thier provisions & Estates by which they will be inabled to proceed further upon us." Panic must have ensued in Salem when this prediction soon began to come true. Strawberry Banke's neighbor, York, Maine was virtually destroyed in a raid on January 24, 1692. Over one hundred people were killed or taken captive in the Candlemas Raid. Among the victims was Shubael Dummer, the first Puritan minister to die at the hands of the Indians. Cotton Mather soon observed that "you have seen a most Pious and Faithful Minister Lately Assinated by the Brutes of Our East." He perceived the event as an ominous sign and an urgent encouragement for moral reformation: "A church of saints is now lately in a manner dissipated by a sudden, furious, treacherous attack Doubtless the fall of one golden candlestick in our borders makes noise enough to awaken all out churches unto the doing of some remarkable thing in returning to God" Mather called for reform because of the gravity of the situation. The English had almost completely abandoned the Maine frontier, with only a few settlements left between the war front and Essex County. If the enemy could destroy a supposedly safe town like York, what community would next fall victim? Places like Salem Village could no longer ignore the threat of attack. Indeed, in the summer of 1692 a panic would spread through Gloucester, when people claimed to see armed French and Indians "skulking" about the town. Reverend John Emerson witnessed these events and observed "all rational persons could see that Glocester was not alarumed last summer for above a fortnight together by real French and Indians, but that the devil and his agents were the cause of all the molestation." Emerson's account demonstrates both the close relationship between the frontier fighting and the devil and the ambiguous identity of the enemy.

Furthermore, many Essex County residents had family ties to York and other Maine communities. Reverend Shubael Dummer himself came from a prominent Newbury family. Less than a month before the Candlemas Raid the minister had received money to aid the victims of the war from his cousin, Samuel Sewall. Soon after the raid, Salem Town parishioners voted to contribute 32 to a York relief fund administered by Sewall and Shubael's brother, Jeremiah Dummer. Thus, the Candlemas Raid may have represented a psychological breaking point. Soon after the raid, what had been the afflictions of just a couple of Salem Village girls quickly mushroomed into the largest witchcraft outbreak in American history. It appeared that Satan was indeed loose in New England. He was working in an unholy league with the "papist" French Catholics and their "heathen" Native American allies against the English. Certainly the English had long accused the Indians of New England of being heathens, or even witches. Many Puritans saw Native American religion as devil worship. Thus, contacts with the Native Americans, either in war or trade, placed a possible taint on Englishmen. These ties reinforced the danger of the frontier, its inhabitants, and their associations with witchcraft.

As they watched the destruction of frontier settlements, the witchcraft judges must have been among the most concerned citizens in the colony. Based on their business ventures, the judges of the Court of Oyer and Terminer were better qualified to preside over a land court than cases of witchcraft. Wait Winthrop held title to huge tracts of frontier lands in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. He inherited much of this land from his father, John Winthrop Jr., and grandfather Governor John Winthrop, though Wait and his brother Fitz-John had supplemented their holdings while both were councilors in Dudley's provisional government of 1686. Their brother-in-law John Richards had an interest in the Winthrop lands through his marriages to two Winthrop brides, but he also had a long history of involvement in the frontier, going back to his 1649 purchase of Arrowsic, Island, Maine, from the Androscoggin sachem Robin Hood. In the 1680s and 1690s Richards was also a major mortgage holder for property in greater Boston. Although these lands were far from the frontier, his investments would have been sensitive to the declines in real estate values of the day.

The real estate interests of the Winthrops and Richards were among the most substantial in New England but their late brother-in-law, Richard Wharton possessed even greater landed wealth. As a member of the Atherton Company, Wharton owned lands in Rhode Island. He also was a partner with his kinsman Joseph Dudley in several efforts in the Nipmuc and Merrimac regions, including the Million Acre purchase, and he was an absentee proprietor of Dunstable. In 1683 and 1684 Wharton had purchased the Pejebscot Patent from the Purchase and Way families, and had the sale of the 500,000 acre parcel confirmed by six Indian sachems of the Androscoggin and Kennebec rivers. In 1686 Wharton along with Stoughton, Dudley, and several other men, formed a company to purchase lands from the Mohegans in Connecticut. One of these partners, John Blackwell, had invested in confiscated church lands in England in the 1650s. After the Restoration when these lands reverted back to the church, Blackwell and other speculators migrated to New England. Thus some of the frontier investors of the 1680s had ties to Puritan speculation in Cromwell's England. Wharton died in London in 1689, having traveled there to push for the replacement of Governor Edmund Andros, after the governor refused to confirm Wharton's title to Pejebscot.

Fellow witchcraft judges Samuel Sewall and Jonathan Corwin also maintained sizable interests in the frontier. Sewall and his wife Hannah inherited tremendous wealth, and huge tracts of land from her father, John Hull. The family owned shares in the Pettaquamscut Company, held numerous properties in the Greater Boston area, and also owned sawmills on the Maine frontier. In 1687 Samuel recorded in his diary a visit to his sawmills at Salmon Falls (in present-day Berwick). During the trip he spent the night in York, at the home of his cousin, Reverend Shubael Dummer. Sewall also went to Wells where it is possible he saw the mills belonging to Salem merchant Jonathan Corwin. For a time the mills were managed by Corwin's brother-in-law and business partner, Eleazar Hathorne. Jonathan became a judge of the court of Oyer and Terminer after Nathaniel Saltonstall resigned. Corwin and Eleazar Hathorne's brother William were also principal Salem magistrates in the pre-trial hearings of the Salem witch trials.

Judge Bartholomew Gedney was related by marriage to the Corwins and the Winthrops. In 1674 Gedney purchased an estimated 100,000 acres of land, in Westcustugo (present-day Yarmouth), from Thomas Stevens, shortly after the fur trader bought it from the sachem Robin Hood and his followers. Gedney's gristmill and two sawmills burned during King Philip's War; so after the war he rebuilt these operations and was granted a house lot in nearby Falmouth (present-day Portland). In 1686 Gedney, Richard Wharton, and several others (including Shubael Dummer's brother) supported an effort to setup lands in the Westcustugo region as a home for English refugees who had been forced out of Illuthera Island in the Bahamas by the Spanish. Barthlomew was not the only member of his family with sizable Maine interests. His brother married Mary Pateshall, whose family were Boston merchants and major investors in Maine lands. Mary's father had been killed on the Kennebec in King Phillip's War, and her brother died in the 1689 attack on Pemaquid.

Even Judge Nathaniel Saltonstall, who left the witchcraft court early in the proceedings, had extensive property interests. The judge's family owned thousands of acres of land, thanks largely to his grandfather, Massachusetts Bay Company undertaker and investor Sir Richard Saltonstall. Most of these tracts were in frontier areas, including Connecticut, and the Piscataqua. Nathaniel lived on a substantial estate in Haverhill, one of the most exposed frontier settlements in the colony. He also owned over 1,000 acres of land in Ipswich, where his family's properties included a sizable mill complex. In the early 1680s Saltonstall was granted a house lot in Falmouth, Maine, while there to help re-establish the government. After he resigned from the Court of Oyer and Terminer, Saltonstall himself would be accused of witchcraft.

The only member of the Court of Oyer and Terminer who was not a substantial holder of frontier lands was Peter Sergeant. However, even this wealthy Boston merchant had at least one such investment. He was a partner with Samuel Sewall and Eliakim Hutchinson in the 1684 purchase of 50% of the ironworks and saw mill in Braintree. He was also a kinsman of Samuel Shrimpton, one of the purchasers of the Million Acre Purchase. These business ties as well as his kinship ties meant that Sergeant shared the interests and presumably the views of his fellow members of the merchant class.

The witchcraft judges, their kin and their fellow merchants suffered the largest financial losses in King William's War but numerous residents of Essex County, drawn from the broad ranks of the citizenry, also held Maine lands that had become worthless. Some were absentee investors though a considerable number had lived in Maine until the outbreak of the war, and these refugees lost all their wealth and possessions when they fled the region. Many would play a role in the witchcraft outbreak.

Numerous Essex County men invested in Casco Bay lands after King Phillip's War including Bartholomew Gedney's kinsmen, the Putnams of Salem Village. Two Putnams were among the eleven Essex County proprietors of the new township of Westcustugo. Just to the south, Essex men played an important role in the resettlement of Falmouth, which had been abandoned during King Phillips's War. A 1688 list of Falmouth house lots contains five members of the Ingersoll family of Salem Village. Several Falmouth householders would later testify against George Burroughs, the former minister of Falmouth. Burroughs and another former Falmouth resident, Ann Pudeator, would both hang for witchcraft in 1692.

The Casco Bay settlements were not the only Maine communities with ties to Salem and Essex County. Walter Phillips was the largest landholder on the Damariscotta River, having acquired his holdings in three purchases from the Indians from 1661 to 1674. He was also recorder of deeds for the County of Cornwall, which was established by the Duke of York in 1665 for the English settlements east of the Kennebec River. In King Phillip's War Phillips sought refuge in Massachusetts. His family would retain their Maine lands, but they would live on the eastern limit of Salem Village, where they ran a tavern. In 1692 Phillips, his wife Margaret, and daughter Tabitha signed a petition of support for their neighbor Rebecca Nurse when she was accused of witchcraft. Meanwhile, daughter Jane was afflicted by witches, and her husband, Benjamin Hutchinson would accuse four women of witchcraft, and testify against George Burroughs.

Though the Phillips family remained in Massachusetts, others would return to Maine after King Philip's War to settle and to speculate in lands. One area of investment was the lower Saco River. In the early 1680s the heirs of the proprietors of present-day Saco sold about 25 percent of the township to Benjamin Blackman, a Harvard-educated minister. The young minister had moved to Scarborough in 1680, where he received land from his father-in-law, the prominent Boston merchant Joshua Scottow. As commander of the garrison at Scarborough's Black Point during King Philip's War, Scottow was accused of profiteering by putting the garrison to work on his extensive personal holdings. After a year in Scarborough, Blackman moved south to Saco where he bought several large tracts, acting at times on behalf of some Andover men who planned to settle there. The move apparently never took place, and the identity of the men is unknown, but the demand for land was real. Philip Greven has demonstrated that land in Andover was controlled by a small number of men who only grudgingly gave lands to their sons. The tension that resulted may have spilled out in 1692, for in that year more people were accused of witchcraft in Andover than any other Essex County town. The Andover accused included Mary Marston, who may have been the wife or daughter-in-law of a Westcustugo proprietor.

When he moved to Saco, Blackman gave up the ministry to concentrate on his land ventures as well as building a sawmill with Sampson Sheafe, a kinsman of Judge Jonathan Corwin. Instead of Blackman, William Milbourne would be the new minister in Saco. Milbourne was a Baptist who fled from Bermuda after the governor of the colony called him a Fifth Monarchist - a radical who believed that King Jesus would directly intervene in British politics to bring about reform. In 1689 his brother, Jacob Milbourne, would attempt his own radical reforms, as one of the leader of Leisler's Rebellion in New York. Three years later Governor Phips would order the arrest of William Milbourne for sedition, when the minister questioned the legitimacy of the witchcraft proceedings. The spectacle of a Harvard-trained minister giving up his calling to speculate in land and saw mills, only to be replaced by a dangerous radical must have been viewed as an ominous sign by many Puritans. Observers may have also noted that Blackman was partly responsible for the outbreak of King William's War. A militia captain, Blackman seized twenty Wabanaki in the summer of 1688 and shipped them to Boston as hostages after Natives had killed some cattle. The Indians retaliated by taking English prisoners and these events rapidly escalated into war. During the Salem witchcraft trials, people repeatedly referred to the devil as a "black man." Those who knew Benjamin Blackman may have struck by the irony of this description.

Speculation caught hold on the other bank of the Saco long before Blackman's arrival. In 1659 Major William Phillips of Boston purchased the patent to present-day Biddeford and moved to the township. Once there, he proceeded to buy thousands of acres in the Saco Valley as well as land along the upper Mousam River in a series of transactions with Native Americans. One of the tracts supposedly contained a silver mine, though Phillips also made more orthodox investments by developing saw mills. Phillips moved to the Saco for its economic promise but he may have also departed Boston to find a friendlier climate for his third wife Bridget, whom he had recently married. Bridget Hutchinson Phillips was the daughter of Anne Hutchinson, the controversial Antinomian leader. She shared her mother's religious radicalism, joining a group of Quakers in Maine. In 1671 when members of this group were brought before the court for being absent from public worship, one told the judges their worship was "false and idolatrous," and another said the magistrates "worship divills and not God." Six years later a Maine Quakeress accompanied Margaret Brewster when she walked into the South Boston church in sack cloth and smeared in ashes in the middle of Sunday service. A shocked Samuel Sewall stressed that "it occasioned the most amazing uproar that I ever saw."

During King Phillip's War the Phillips Garrison withstood a major raid, though it was eventually abandoned and burned. Major Phillips died as a refugee in Boston but Bridget would return to the Saco and forcefully press the government for confirmation of the family's extensive land claims until the outbreak of King William's War. It was rare for early New England women to take such a public role in business and politics, though perhaps it is not surprising that Anne Hutchinson's daughter would act in this way. Major Phillips was assisted in his ventures by his son-in-law, Captain John Alden, a merchant, ship's captain, and militia officer who frequently sailed the coast of Maine, trading with Native Americans. It was probably this familiarity with the Indians that led Phillips to have Alden witness two of their deeds. Alden was accused of witchcraft in 1692, and even of selling "Powder and Shot to the Indians and has fathered Indian papooses." Scholars have pointed out that he was probably accused because he was tainted by both his connections to Indians and the Quakers, but his ties to Indian land speculation added a third reason for Alden to be singled out.

The Phillips holdings were bounded on the south by Coxhall, a tract measuring six miles by four miles. This land had initially been purchased from sachem Sosowen and his son Fluellin - the same Indians who later sold land to Phillips. In the 1660s Harlakenden Symonds acquired Coxhall. Harlackenden lived in Wells for from 1655 to 1660, and his brother William was a prominent citizen of the town most of his adult life. Over time, Harlackenden would deed hundreds of acres to his father, Deputy Governor Saumel Symonds, his sisters, kinsmen, and other Essex County people. The Symonds family was one of the most powerful and well connected in all of New England, whose kin included even the Winthrops. Samuel Symonds was related to several ministers, both on the frontier and in Salem Village. Son-in-law John Emerson, minister in Berwick from 1683 to 1689, was taking refuge in Gloucester in 1692 when he witnessed the war scare that he believed was caused by the devil. Symonds's step-grandson Richard Martin, Jr. served as minister of Wells until he died of smallpox in December 1690. Reverend Martin was aided and succeeded in his post by George Burroughs, who fled to Wells when Falmouth was destroyed in the spring of 1690. Symonds's grandson, Daniel Epps, Jr., served as interim minister in Salem Village in 1683-1684, after George Burroughs left the position. The Salem Village church records in late December 1683 referred to a vote to "give Mr. Epps for the time he doth preach with us twenty shillings per day," with the money to be collected by Thomas Putnam and Nathaniel Ingersoll. Two years earlier, Epps purchased a small plot of land in Salem from Bridget Bishop. In 1692 Bishop would be the first witch to be condemned and executed. In 1660 Daniel Epps, Sr. had acquired a claim to the entire township of Wells from John Wadleigh, who had bought the town from the Indians in 1649. Finally, Reverend John Hale of Beverly was one of the first ministers called to Salem Village to deal with the witchcraft outbreak. Hale was the son-in-law of Deputy Governor Samuel Symonds and "my sonne John Hale" was named an overseer of his probate estate.

In June 1688 Harlackenden Symonds sold Coxhall to 38 men from Ipswich and other Essex County towns. Many of these men would have some tie to the witchcraft outbreak. Six of the proprietors were kinsmen of witches. Three proprietors testified against witches while four signed petitions supporting the accused. Some proprietors had multiple ties to the trials. For example, proprietor Thomas Higginson was the son of Salem's esteemed minister, Reverend John Higginson. His brother, Captain John Higginson was a court officer during the witch trials, and his sister, Ann Higginson Dolliver was an accused witch. Proprietors were also the alleged victims of witchcraft. One proprietor's son was said to be killed by magic, while a witch supposedly made proprietor Nicholas Rust's beer magically disappear. There were many other ties among Wells, Essex County and witchcraft. For example, the Symonds were also kinsmen of the Littlefields, who owned saw mills and extensive lands in Wells - lands purchased in part from Indians. The Littlefields were also kinsmen of Peter Cloyce a Wells landholder who moved to Salem Village during King Philip's War. Cloyce's second wife was Sarah Towne Bridges, who would be arrested for witchcraft and jailed for many months. Her two sisters, Mary Easty and Rebecca Nurse were not so fortunate - both were hanged. Accused witch Sarah Wilds was a kinswoman of Thomas Averill of Wells. In March 1692 Joseph Bayley of Newbury would purchase a 156 acre homestead in Wells, that had been abandoned during the war. Later that year Joseph would testify against a Salem witch. His brother, James Bayley, had been the controversial first minister of Salem Village. Admittedly, the Coxhall proprietors and residents of Wells represent a maze of genealogical connections among Essex County, the frontier, and Salem Village. Today it is easy to minimize the significance of distant relatives and kinship ties, however these ties were all-important in the seventeenth century. As recent immigrants in a new land, most settlers had few close relatives on this side of the Atlantic. Wartime depredations must have been quite traumatic in Puritan Massachusetts, a society that placed a particularly strong emphasis on family. Under such circumstances, any relations would have represented important social and economic ties, with even distant kin taking on heightened significance.

Not all lands purchased from Indians in the 1680s were in remote areas like Coxhall. In Massachusetts, where the General Court granted townships, some selectmen bolstered their town's grant by purchasing Native title to the entire town, on behalf of all of its citizens. In 1680 Judge Nathaniel Saltonstall had witnessed such a reaffirmation of the Native sale of his town of Haverhill to the town fathers. These deeds soon became important insurance policies when Governor Andros threatened to vacate titles to lands granted by towns and to eliminate their right to divide land among the town's freemen. For example, William Bassett and other civic leaders of Lynn purchased their township from the heirs of the late Sagamore George, the last sachem of Lynn. Sagamore George's heirs must have considered the silver they received for these deeds to be an unexpected windfall with no downside, for it formally acknowledged long-standing political and geographic reality - English possession and Native dispossession of Lynn. William Bassett's wife, two daughters, and a grandson were all accused of witchcraft in 1692. His son-in-law John Proctor was convicted and executed.

Even towns far from the frontier, such as Lynn, had to interact with Native Americans to secure their title. In this process, people not only exposed themselves to avarice and greed but to a further danger - contact with Indians whom many Puritans believed to be agents of the devil. This portrayal of Native Americans, an on-going theme of early English writers, took on a new intensity during times of conflict. For example, in describing the Pequot War, John Underhill called the tribe "wicked imps" aided by Satan, and under his command. Reverend William Hubbard described two Wabanaki sachems as "not without some shew of a Kind of Religion, which no doubt they have learned from the Prince of Darkness .... It is also said they have received some Visions and Revelations." Hubbard went so far as to label these enemy commanders of King Philip's War as "Minsters of Satan."

This association between Native Americans and Satan can even be glimpsed in land transactions. In deeds, the English used nicknames they had given to the Indians. Names like Robin Hood, Little John, and Jack Pudding (a rustic buffoon or clown) are clear allusions to English carnival culture. They reflect an English sense of superiority, but also perhaps a slight playfulness, or sense of humor. Several nicknames, however, suggests a darker connotation. "Black Will," the sachem of Nahant reinforced the image of the devil as "black man." It is unclear if the name Fluellin is of Native or English origin, however Fluellin was also an herb that was believed to be used by witches. John Cotta, a nickname given to a Native of the Damariscotta River region, was also the name of one of the leading contemporary English authorities on witchcraft. This nickname is a bit of a pun. It reflects the English attitude that Indians practiced pagan rites that bordered on devil worship. Thus, a Native American from Damariscotta was deemed an expert on witchcraft, just like the learned scholar John Cotta. It is also notable that Robin Hood and John Cotta lived near the place the English called Merrymeeting Bay, for the gathering of witches' covens were often called "merry meetings."

Increase Mather observed that demons were "not so frequent in places where the Gospel prevaileth as in the dark corners of the earth," and suggested that these apparitions particularly infested the "East and West Indians" as well as the "popish countries." Maine was a particularly "dark corner" of piety - inhabited by "heathen" Indians, "Papist" Frenchmen, non-Puritan protestants, and Godless fishermen. The Province of Maine had begun life as an Anglican colony that tolerated diverse beliefs, even allowing Reverend John Wheelwright and his Antinomian followers to establish Wells. After Massachusetts absorbed the region in the 1650s, officials had to allow more religious latitude than in Massachusetts proper. Still the presence of Quakers in Maine, such as Bridget Phillips, unnerved the Puritans. Accused of witchcraft, John Alden was also accused of being a Quaker. An denouncer cried out "there stands Aldin, a bold fellow with his Hat on before the judges." Only a Quaker would refuse to offer hat service. Quakers and Antinomians were not the only radical sects in Maine. In the early 1680s the Baptists formed a short-lived congregation in Kittery, and during the witchcraft trials witnesses accused Reverend George Burroughs of being a Baptist.

In the seventeenth century, religious radicalism was often intertwined with social and political extremism. During the English Civil Wars, the radical Levelers had posed a serious if short-lived threat to social order. The Levelers established colonies in several English villages, including Coggeshall (or Coxhall) and Dunstable. It is an interesting coincidence that the names Coxhall and Dunstable were also given to two speculative frontier townships in New England. Probably both of these frontier towns were named in honor of the English homes of early settlers and promoters. Still, to many people these names held a potent symbol of the dangerous radicalism of the Civil Wars and the frontier. The experience of Reverend Shubael Dummer illustrates the complex relationship among frontier land speculation, Indians, witchcraft, and orthodoxy. Like the witchcraft judges, Dummer had claims to extensive lands on Casco Bay, for his father had been granted 800 acres of the Lygonia Patent by George Cleeve. Though he appears to have been a respected minister, there may have been some who suspected his orthodoxy. His father had been a prominent supporter of the controversial Antinomian, Reverend John Wheelwright. Perhaps it was not altogether a coincidence that Shubael ended up as minister in a town adjacent to Wells, which had been founded by Wheelwright and his fellow Antinomians. South of York lay Kittery, a town that fell under the control of Quakers in the 1660s. Land speculation and radicalism may have tainted even this "golden candlestick."

The violent death of Reverend Dummer was yet another sign of God's displeasure with New England. Puritans saw the events around them as signs of God's favoror disfavor. King Philip's War, the loss of the Massachusetts Bay charter, and the imposition of the Dominion of New England were among the ominous signs that God was unhappy with the declining religious fervor and increasing worldliness of Puritan New England. Puritan ministers, including Salem Village's Samuel Parris preached their jeremiads, warning of the Jehovah's wrath, but to no avail. The destruction of the frontier in King William's War was a further sign of displeasure as well as evidence that Satan was loose in Massachusetts. The conflict began on the frontier, a stronghold of the devil, and scene of Puritan speculative greed. Massachusetts Puritans looked at Maine and saw all of New England's problems. Here lived Fifth Monarchists, Antinomians, Baptists and Quakers. Harvard ministers who went to Maine became land speculators or were killed by Indians. Merchants turned to silver mining, profiteering, and even consorting with the enemy. The outbreak in Maine of King William's War seemed to justify Puritan fears of the frontier. Satan, working through his Native, French and English agents, had taken over the region, and now threatened to end the entire Puritan experiment. In the "more Pagan [out-]skirts of New-England" warned Cotton Mather, "Satan terribly makes a prey of you, and Leads you Captive to do his Will." Rather than stem the tide of advancing French and Indians, the settlers of the frontier had abandoned it. As poor refugees, they overburdened the over-taxed townships of Essex County and threatened to contaminate Massachusetts with their radicalism.

In addition to these concerns, the abandonment of Maine settlements was an economic blow to the hundreds of Massachusetts residents who had participated in land speculation as settlers or investors. Samuel Sewell estimated that he and his father-in-law had invested 2,000 in their Kittery sawmills destroyed in raids in 1689 and 1690. Indians also burned the mills owned by Bartholomew Gedney, Jonathan Corwin, and many others. Without the mills, New England lost one of its most important exports, which helped to drive the region's economy. Beyond this, the value of the lands themselves had declined - making them worthless for the time being. The tens of thousands of acres had no buyers. As a result there would be no new lands for the next generation and more and more people crowded onto the old farms of eastern Massachusetts. The Coxhall Proprietors must have felt particularly the financial pinch, having purchased their township only two months before the outbreak of war - before settlement could commence. Thus, the collapse of the frontier in King William's War was an economic and psychological loss in addition to a military defeat against the forces of Satan.

Overall the witchcraft judges particularly and many other people in Salem Village and Essex County had a direct stake in the frontier. What impact did this have on the events of 1692? The judges of the court of Oyer and Terminer played a central role in the trials and convictions. As owners of extensive frontier lands and mills that were now worthless, they and their families had already suffered considerably from the actions of the perceived agents of Satan on the frontier. The judges now had the opportunity to identify some of these minions and bring them to justice. In this light it is easy to see why these judges would be predisposed to accept spectral evidence and convict so many people.

Of course, the judges were not the only people who had suffered from the frontier war. Throughout Essex County families were counting their financial and personal losses. Who did these people hold responsible for their difficulties? The witchcraft accusations suggest that several groups were singled out, including the merchant class, which included the judges of the Court of Oyer and Terminer themselves. This group demonstrated the declining religious fervor of New England - where concerns for profits seemed to take a growing precedent over everything else. The merchants had led the speculation in frontier lands, convincing others that it was a safe and wise investment. Merchants had bargained with the heathen Indians and incited them to war, and they had blurred the boundary between Godliness and worldliness. Symbolic of this unholy spirit, Sir William Phips, a merchant and a speculator born in Maine, was the new governor of the colony. Although the merchants profited from the frontier, it was the common man who defended it at substantial cost. The militia of Essex County had suffered great losses in King Phillip's War and the casualties mounted in King William's War. Many kindred of these war dead would be accusers and witnesses in 1692. John Alden, Phillip English, Hezekiah Usher and Lady Mary Phips were accused of witchcraft, as people lashed out at the merchant class. While most of the judges themselves were above accusation, these business allies were not. Indeed, after Judge Nathaniel Saltonstall withdrew from the bench he would eventually join the list of the accused.

Observers and participants in the witchcraft trials could not help but feel that the events on the frontier were a sign of divine displeasure. Furthermore, this disaster showed what happened when you tried to bargain with Satan. When the occupants of Fort Loyal had bargained for their safety with the perceived agents of the devil, they had paid with their lives. Likewise, dealing with Indian lands could also be seen as a bargain with evil. People who confessed to practicing witchcraft said they signed the devil's book, much as one would sign a property transaction. Cotton Mather described the torment of Mercy Short, a former Indian captive who had lost most of her family during the Salmon Falls raid: "There exhibited himself unto her a Divel having the Figure of a Short and Black Man . hee was not of a Negro, but of a Tawney, or Indian colour." The devil showed her his book "somewhat long and thick (Like the wast-books of many Traders) and filled not only with the Names or Marks, but also with the explicit ... Covenants." Satan and his company tempted her to sign and receive great wealth, showing her "very splendid garments and many more conveniences When all these persuasives were ineffectual, They terrify'd her with horrible Threatenings of miseries which they would inflict upon her." This encounter sounds incredibly similar to an Indian land sale. Tempted by wealth, a merchant enters into a covenant, written in his ledger, with an Indian. In 1692 it became all too easy for people to equate signing a Native American deed to signing Satan's book. Many men had made written agreements with heathen agents of the devil that they thought would bring them great wealth, but Satan had tricked them and the lands purchased in an unholy covenant were now worthless. Thus, Indian land speculation tainted society and helped fuel the witchcraft outbreak. This encounter can also be interpreted the other way. An English merchant's promises of "fine garments and many more conveniences" might tempt an Indian to sell their lands. If not, then threats might be employed. When you finally signed the merchant's book, you gave up your land, and with it, your soul. While English land traders may have considered their Indian grantors minions of Satan, perhaps the real tempting devils were the English grantees themselves.

Although scholars are just beginning to explore the links between witchcraft and Maine land speculation, residents of Salem understood it over 150 years ago. Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables focuses on the descendants of Judge Pyncheon, a man who condemned to death the alleged wizard Mathew Maule then seized Maule's property to build an imposing mansion. A subplot of the novel is the Indian land deed, granted to the judge by Indians. It "comprised the greater part of what is now known as Waldo County, in the State of Maine, and were more extensive than many a dukedom." The deed was lost, and Judge Pyncheon died before he could use his influence to confirm his title. So the Pyncheon family could never claim what they believed was rightfully theirs - the potential source of "incalculable wealth to the Pyncheon blood." Instead they had to be content to maintain a map of their purchase, "grotesquely illuminated with the pictures of Indians and wild beasts." Scholars readily acknowledge that the House of Seven Gables contains historical autobiographical information about Salem and Hawthorne. He was a descendant of the Judge John Hathorne, who heard many of the preliminary hearings in the witchcraft cases. The real House of Seven Gables was built by merchant John Turner's family, whose daughter Elizabeth was the sister-in-law of Judge Bartholomew Gedney. Hawthorne borrowed the last name of his wizard from Thomas Maule, a Salem Quaker and outspoken critic of the witchcraft trials. The real Pyncheon (or Pynchon) family were land barons in seventeenth-century western Massachusetts, purchasing countless acres from the Indians. While their history may have influenced Hawthorne, much of Waldo County was actually purchased from Sachem Madockawando by Sir William Phips, the Maine native who was Governor of Massachusetts during the witchcraft trials. Less than a year after signing the deed Phips died unexpectedly, before he could legitimately establish his family's claim to their "dukedom." Like so many others, Sir William had bargained with Satan, and ended up with nothing.

Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/10205/

About US Privacy Policy Copyright Credits Site Map Site Help