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THE GREAT ANDOVER WITCH HUNT

Part I

During the spring and summer of 1692, at a moment when Andover people were still much concerned over possible attacks by hostile savages, they were harassed from another quarter by enemies both more insidious and more dangerous. In the words of Marion L. Starkey, the Devil took over Andover, and the village was paralyzed with terror. The story of how a neurotic, irresponsible group of children corrupted a supposedly mature and religious society is the saddest chapter in the annals of the town. For a few weeks the community was permeated, even dominated, by suspicion. At the crisis of the delusion, the worst and the best, the old and the young, might at any hour be charged with witchcraft and convicted on the most preposterous evidence. Nobody could tell who would be the next victim. If we believe the sworn testimony, warlocks and witches rode the air on broomsticks; strange apparitions desecrated marshes and meadows; unholy rites of baptism and dedication were celebrated; innocent men and women were marked and plagued with degrading symbols. Indeed all hell broke loose, and hate, with its twin emotion, fear, seized and held possession of even the most pious churchgoers. It was as if something morbid and repressed had been suddenly released to run its devastating course.

Even now, considerably more than two centuries and a half later, the subject is very much alive. An article in the New England Quarterly for December, 1955, by David Levin, opens, "In the last six years American publishers have issued one history, an anthology of trial documents, two novels, and two plays about the Salem witchcraft trials." Tourists nowadays visit Salem expecting to be shown where witches were "burned" and go away rather disappointed.

Not even Miss Starkey, who in The Devil in Massachusetts (1949) has examined the evidence with the perceptive honesty of a scholar, has been able to explain what made intelligent adults believe such absurdities. Modern psychiatry is aware that undisciplined girls, under encouragement, often resort to exhibitionism; but it is less easy to comprehend how "grownups" could be deceived by such antics. Behind the charges brought against such respectable citizens as Dudley Bradstreet or John Alden may have been some hidden envy or hatred; and it may well be that the Reverend Francis Dane, although a sainted figure to many, had enemies who were plotting his ruin. Furthermore, the agitation must be viewed against the background of a community highly sensitive because of the constant threat of Indian forays. But much of the panic was a form of mob spirit defying analysis. The conception of the Devil as an active power for evil; the literal interpretation of the Bible with its clear injunction, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live"; the gossipy folklore of the seventeenth century; the prevalence of superstition among the ignorant; what Cotton Mather called "The Wonders of the Invisible World" all these contributed to the panic.

Starting slowly with what seemed trivial and innocuous incidents, the sociological drama moved steadily towards its climaxes and catastrophes. It had its meanness and grandeur, its sufferings and its humor, its cowardice and its stoicism. Although it exposed some of the vilest elements in human nature, it also revealed amazing qualities of dignity and courage. It should have had lessons for posterity, lessons which were not fully learned. The heresy trials of the 1880s at Andover Theological Seminary were suspiciously like belated witch hunts. And even in the 1950s reputable men were being condemned on hearsay testimony, on unfounded but reiterated accusations. Perhaps we should not expect too much from our ancestors in 1692.

Fortunately we have detailed contemporary accounts which enable the historian to recreate the scene and help the psychiatrist to analyze the abnormal. Although we have no portraits of Martha Carrier and Abigail Faulkner and Samuel Wardwell, we do know how they behaved. Many of the dramatic incidents were reported by competent witnesses, some gullible and some skeptical; and the Works Progress Administration in 1938 completed a compilation in typescript of the various court proceedings bearing on the subject and scattered about the Commonwealth. The classic investigation of the subject was made by Charles W. Upham, in his two-volume Salem Witchcraft, published in 1867 but still authoritative. Miss Starkey's book, already mentioned, is the latest and best of recent studies of the affair. I shall discuss it only as it concerns Andover, although introductory explanation will be required to set the stage.

The witchcraft delusion is still associated with Salem, a city which had little to do with the course of events except to provide the town hall where some of the trials took place and the gallows where a few of the victims were executed. What is popularly known as the Salem Witchcraft originated in a small community which had been set apart in 1672 as Salem Village Parish but became Danvers in 1752. Moreover, the average reader of history does not realize to what extent Andover was implicated and what damage was caused to its citizens. Indeed in some respects the consequences of the hysteria at Andover were even more incredible than they were at Salem Village.

Belief in demonology was part of the Puritan creed. According to William F. Poole, twelve persons were executed for witchcraft in New England before 1692. George L. Burr, in the introduction to his Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, reminds us, "These narratives of witchcraft are no fairy tales. Weird though they seem to us, they were to thousands of men and women in seventeenth-century America the intensest of realities." Witch panics had previously occurred in England, where the latest execution for witchcraft had taken place only ten years before. Increase Mather, in his Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences (1684), describes various persons who had been "vext by evil spirits" and relates with some gusto the notorious case of the "Maid of Groton" (Elizabeth Knapp), who in 1671 "was taken after a very strange manner, sometimes weeping, sometimes laughing, sometimes roaring hideously, with violent motions and agitations of her body." All this, however, was negligible when compared with what was to come.

The trouble started in February, 1692, a gloomy time in the New England calendar, when a group of what we should now call "teenagers" in Salem Village, headed by an eleven-year-old "show-off," Abigail Williams, and abetted to some extent by an ignorant Negro servant, Tituba, displayed symptoms of epilepsy and declared themselves "bewitched." No Girl Scouts then existed to give them a healthful physical outlet for their emotional disturbances. At this point a good sound parental thrashing might have been efficacious and perhaps would have prevented many later legal murders. Instead, the local physician, Dr. Griggs, unable to make a satisfactory medical diagnosis, declared that the evil hand was upon them; and the local clergyman, the Reverend Samuel Parris, whose nine-year-old daughter was one of the girls involved, took seriously their wild convulsions and wailings and declared a day of public fasting and prayer. Thus the two leaders who should have used their calming influence to check these absurdities actually added fuel to the flames; and, as one writer had said, "Ignorance placed the seal of doom upon the village."

Pressed as to the cause of their antics, the girls accused certain women of the neighborhood as being responsible. Of course there were skeptics, but the contagion spread so fast that they were afraid to lift their voices. Formal charges were preferred, investigations were conducted, and three persons were consigned to Ipswich prison, entirely on evidence supplied by these misguided girls.

As spring moved along and the dazzling success of their methods was apparent, the girls grew more and more daring and specific in their denunciations. Ann Putnam, twelve-year-old daughter of the eminently respectable Sergeant Thomas Putnam, was perhaps the most audacious and, as it turned out, the most dangerous. Some persons of spotless reputation, like the septuagenarian, Rebecca Nurse, were haled before the magistrates, and the jail was soon crowded with victims awaiting trial. Many of them, weary and bewildered, made "confessions," which they later repudiated but which were naturally confusing. The apprehension of each new "witch" stimulated the girls in their sadistic pastime.

As the tension rose, malignant influences, now difficult to trace, began to operate. In the excitement half-forgotten quarrels were remembered and petty spites revived. Older people with grudges undoubtedly put ideas into the susceptible childish heads. The inquisitors employed "brainwashing" techniques, using the power of reiterated suggestion to evoke confessions. Even worse, the magistrates accepted as a premise the assumption that the Devil cannot take on the shape of an innocent person; and on this basis the accuser's hallucination was taken as ipso facto proof of the guilt of the accused. This shocking doctrine of "spectral evidence" was early questioned by such theologians as Cotton Mather and later abandoned, but not until it had been the deciding factor in the conviction of more than one suspect.

What was happening at Salem Village was cause for scandal throughout the colony, and the news spread rapidly. Other townships, however, avoided the infection all except Andover! The first sensational figure in the Andover picture was a woman named Martha Allen, daughter of Andrew Allen, one of the town's earliest freeholders. She had married Thomas Carrier and moved to Billerica. About 1690, however, the Carriers decided to return to Andover with their children and made their home with Martha's mother, the "Widdow" Allen, in the south end of the township. Martha could not have been very old, for she had a child, Hannah, born in 1689.

For some reason Martha was not popular. Possibly the Andover proprietors simply did not wish to have any more settlers occupying or claiming the lands under their control. More probably the woman was a sharp-tongued, contentious female who quarreled with her neighbors, like others of her sex in the pages of Edith Wharton and Robert Frost. At any rate, she was formally "warned out" of the village, in accordance with the New England practice; and when it was noised about that the "Widdow" Allen had taken into her household members of her family suffering from "that contagious disease, the small pox," the local constable was ordered to instruct the ill persons that they must not go near any house or public meeting until they were recovered.

Martha's new south end neighbors complained that she had threatened several of them with disaster; and on May 28, 1692, while the agitation in Salem Village was raging, she was arrested in Andover on complaint of Joseph Houlton and John Walcott, of Salem, and escorted by John Ballard, the constable, to Salem Village for examination. What part Houlton and Walcott played in bringing about the arrest is obscure, for neither one appeared later in the records of the trial. Three days later Martha was brought into the church and confronted with five girls, who promptly "fell into the most intolerable cries and agonies" as soon as she looked at them.

Mrs. Carrier's bearing was defiant, and she never ceased to assert her innocence. Indeed at one point she turned desperately upon the magistrates, exclaiming, "It is false; and it is a shame for you to mind what these say that are out of their wits." But the girls continued to writhe on the floor and roll their eyes and utter outlandish sounds, and their antics were so convincing that Martha Carrier was led off to jail again, handcuffed and fettered, to await further trial. With her were placed her sons and little daughter, who had presumably been contaminated. She was no "arrant hag," as the Reverend Cotton Mather described her, but a relatively young woman. Again and again, as the weeks went by, she was to receive the dubious honor of being mentioned as "Queen of Hell."

While Martha Carrier lay in prison, events in Salem Village were reaching a crisis. On June 10, Bridget Bishop, a somewhat flamboyant local "character" who kept an inn for the entertainment of lighthearted roisterers, was convicted. Cotton Mather remarked naively at the time, "There was little occasion to prove the witchcraft, this being evident." Bridget had been prosecuted under Section 2 of the Laws and Liberties passed in 1648, reading as follows: "If any man or woman be a witch, that is, hath consulted with a familiar spirit, they shall be put to death." The General Court sustained the sentence and on June 10, two days after her conviction, Bridget was hanged from the branches of a spreading oak on Gallows Hill in Salem.

Bridget Bishop was the first Salem Village "witch" to pay for her crime with her life. On July 19, however, followed a group hanging of five other women who had been pronounced guilty. Among these was Rebecca Nurse, a truly noble personality whose tragic fate is now commemorated by a granite shaft erected in 1885 in the village in which she was condemned. On it are carved Whittier's lines: Oh! Christian martyr! who for truth could die, When all about them owned the hideous lie, The world redeemed by Superstition's sway Is breathing freer for thy sake today. In early August, Martha Carrier was at last brought up for trial, under conditions which made her acquittal impossible. Her two sons had been tied "neck and heel till the blood was ready to come of their noses," and only under this torture were willing to testify against their mother. Her seven-year-old daughter was asked, "What made you a witch?" Unaware of the inferences to be drawn from her reply, she answered, "My mother. She made me set my hand to a book." Under further interrogation the child confessed that she had seen a cat, who said that it would tear her to pieces if she did not sign the book. "How did you know that the cat was your mother?" was asked, and back came the words, "Because the cat told me so!"

Throughout these humiliations Martha Carrier still stoutly maintained her innocence, even with the accumulated evidence against her. The scene as she faced her accusers would make a fine theme for a painting by Grant Wood the ostentatiously incorruptible magistrates, the highly emotional girls, the trembling children, the spectators who had come to watch and listen and wonder, and in the center the victim, like a modern Joan of Arc, puzzled yet undaunted. She was condemned, almost as a matter of course, and hanged, August 19, 1692, along with four men, one of whom was a former minister of Salem Village, the Reverend George Burroughs. Of all these martyrs, Martha Carrier stands out as the most heroic. She was the only one who never under any circumstances broke down and made a confession. Even on the scaffold she remained calm and unafraid.

To Part II

Extracted from chapter 8 of an out-of-print book called "Andover: Symbol of New England" by Claude M. Fuess.