Introduction

“Examination of a Witch”, painted by Thompkins H. Matteson in 1853. [Wikimedia Commons].
The series of legal proceedings that rocked the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692, commonly called the Salem Witch Trials, comprise one of the earliest sensational trials in the history of the United States. Over the course of a year, 19 colonists were executed, at least 5 more died as a result of other related legal proceedings, and scores more were accused and jailed1)While not executed, Giles Corey was pressed to death in an attempt to elicit a plea, and at least four other accused witches died in custody. Centuries of passionate amateur and professional scholarship as well as public fascination have sparked numerous opposing theories that attempt to explain the causes, circumstances, and occurrences of the Salem Witch Trials.

A photograph of the Salem Village Parsonage, taken and published for the Trials’ bicentennial in 1892. [Wikimedia Commons]
One such theory explains the trials as the result of socioeconomic and political tension between the poorer and largely more conservative residents of Salem Village and their wealthier and less religiously strict neighbors in Salem Town. Within the context of Salem Village’s quest for independence from Salem Town, this theory makes some sense. Tensions between town and village residents are well documented in numerous sources, and were varied.

While the farmers of Salem Village produced the majority of the area’s food, the merchants in Salem Town set the crop prices at market. Salem Town collected the taxes for both settlements, and the settlements shared a church. The villagers eventually built their own church, but struggled to maintain a minister. Several figures in the trial once served as ministers in Salem Village’s young church, including convicted and executed witch George Burroughs and Deodat Lawson, who wrote and published one of the earliest accounts of the trials2)Published by Benjamin Harris in Boston in 1692, Deodat Lawson’s narrative is also alternatively titled A brief and true narrative of some remarkable passages relating to sundry persons afflicted by witchcraft, in Salem Village: which happened from the nineteenth of March, to the fifth of April, 1692.. Despite having their own church, the ministers who preceded Samuel Parris in the village’s pulpit were not ordained, so the village congregation remained dependent and tied to the Salem Town church.

Often seen on primary school educational resources, this map depicts the geospatial relationship between accusers and accused witches in Salem in 1692 [Credit: Discover Education].
While this theory or narrative of the accusations seems sensible and contextually plausible, the question of its accuracy remains. As the map so often associated with this theory demonstrates, the accused witches lived nearer to the town, but not necessarily in town.  This narrative of the spread of accusations also ignores that, as documented by many writers and historians over the years, most of the accused witches lived in Andover. This site and the research documented therein seek to address the accuracy and broader applicability of this narrative by applying a similarly intersectional geospatial and socio-politcal or socio-cultural lens to a dataset of thirty convicted witches, some of whom were executed, pardoned, or died in custody.

References   [ + ]

1. While not executed, Giles Corey was pressed to death in an attempt to elicit a plea, and at least four other accused witches died in custody
2. Published by Benjamin Harris in Boston in 1692, Deodat Lawson’s narrative is also alternatively titled A brief and true narrative of some remarkable passages relating to sundry persons afflicted by witchcraft, in Salem Village: which happened from the nineteenth of March, to the fifth of April, 1692.